Pat Fitzgerald’s Co-op Experience: From Peanut Butter Beginnings to Food So Fresh the Cupboards Stay Bare

Pat Fitzgerald’s Co-op Experience: From Peanut Butter Beginnings to Food So Fresh the Cupboards Stay Bare

By: Cerrisa Snethen,
Oneota Co-op Member/Owner

Pat Fitzgerald’s not even sure why she joined the Co-op in 1987, except that the peanut butter in the Olleville store was fantastic.  “I guess I just thought it was a good idea,” she smiles. After graduating from Luther and beginning a teaching career in Decorah, Fitzgerald’s love of nutrition is what finally brought her to where she is now, now feeling as though she’s “really evolved as a full member of the Co-op.”  Walk into Fitzgerald’s kitchen today and you’re likely to find the cupboards basically bare. Her graduated approach to food, after all, involves so many fresh and unprocessed ingredients that she instead shops “Like a European”, cloth bag in hand, several days a week.

You may just find Pat perusing Produce after her Monday yoga class, or when she lunches with friends at the Water Street Cafe, which she assures me is “the best place to go when you just want some really good vegetables.” Pat’s relationship with the Co-op has evolved and expanded with each Co-op location. Over the years, she remained unsurprised by the store’s growth and expansion. “I always knew it would find its niche,” she told me, citing several people who she’s known who have literally moved to Decorah in whole or in part because the Co-op exists as a nucleus of the community. In fact, when the Co-op moved into its latest diggs, Fitzgerald was all too happy to purchase preferred stock to help support the expansion. At this point, with Pat’s passion for food, all things local, and appetite for knowledge, she may as well hold a degree in nutrition. She’s continually learning, and on her quest for new and varied information on health, the Co-op has become a cornerstone on the journey. “I read all of these books, and they all say the same thing – avoid what’s processed and eat what’s fresh and local.”

She talks fondly about time spent with Gretchen in Wellness, who invariably knows the answers, and how each and every time she stumbles on a new health-enhancer (her most recents are Bragg’s Liquid Aminos and the oh-so-wonderous coconut oil, for example), she knows she’ll find it at the Co-op. “It never fails,” she says “They always have it. It’s amazing!”  Pat believes that food is our most important medicine and that that medicine sometimes includes a healthy dose of dark chocolate and a handful of nuts. She relishes being able to buy small amounts of them in Bulk, keeping them fresh until her next visit. “It’s just a fun place,” she emphasizes.  “It might seem like a small store, but it’s just loaded with good things!”  Pat feels at home at the Co-op, and the Co-op seems to feel perfectly at home with her. As we spoke, she was spotted by numerous friends, and our interview culminated with her running off for a chat with yet another.

“Sometimes my friends might think I’m crazy,” she says. “The grass-fed beef we get is something like $7 a pound. Sure, but we get three meals out of it!” She explains how some of the same folks who might call this decision into question, also may think nothing of spending $10 to go out for a burger. Pat chooses instead to keep her cooking close to home. Except, of course for Water Street Cafe’s famous Amish Chicken – which she buys weekly and turns into several meals, including the soup that was cooking in her crock pot as we spoke. “It’s always so good,” she says. She’s glad to get all of that goodness without the hormones and antibiotics she might otherwise find. Pat’s health shows. She’s radiant and healthy.  She and her husband Mike both remain very active in their retirement relishing in Decorah’s trails with bike rides, hikes, and walks, and taking advantage of the town’s diverse exercise classes. The mother of three grown children, I had a hard time believing that one of her seven grandchildren is about to graduate from college. Fitzgerald is just so youthful, thoughtful, and ahead of the curve. She opts to pay for good food rather than health care.

It’s a philosophy she’s happy to share. Full of useful information, Fitzgerald listens to weekly podcasts on health and fills me in on her latest nutrition-related reads. She and Mike (retired Decorah High School guidance counselor) love to attend the Co-op’s “Meet the Producer” events and are regulars at each year’s festive “Taste of the Holidays” celebratory fundraising meal. “Eat good, healthy food,” says Pat, “and your body can pretty much take care of itself.” Her next culinary mission? Conquering quinoa. No, Fitzgerald won’t be slowing down anytime soon. “I just love it. I really feel like I belong here.”