The Old Creamery

by Kristen Wilmer, CISA Program Assistant

Published in the October 2012 CISA E-Newsletter

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The Old Creamery is all about community – and, now on the verge of becoming a community-owned cooperative, is about to become even more locally-rooted.  Downstairs, you can find products from countless local farms, food businesses, artists and others.  Upstairs is the “Sustainability Library,” where community members can come to read a wide variety of books on topics related to sustainable living.  The Creamery also hosts a knitting exchange, seed exchange, and offers free internet access to further encourage its use as a community gathering space.  “If there’s a fire,” says Kimberly Longey, “the Creamery is there with sandwiches for the fire department.”   Kimberly is the president of the co-op’s founding board of directors, and is as enthusiastic about the Creamery’s past service to the community as she is about its future as a community-owned cooperative.

Ever since Alice Cozzolino and Amy Pulley purchased the Old Creamery in 2000, they have thrown their heart and soul into making the small country store vibrant community gathering place and model of sustainability.  Under their guidance, the Creamery has long taken special care to source products from the local community.  They have also been proactive in developing alternatives to the packaging that is nearly unavoidable in retail these days: they spawned a bag-share program, have minimized their use of pre-packaged deli or prepared foods, and installed a commercial dishwasher to avoid using disposable plates and utensils in their café.  They formed a zero-waste bulk foods club as well – for a small fee, members of the club can buy discounted amounts in bulk, receiving hand-sewn bags and mason jars in which to take home food from their bulk purchases.

“Lots of other projects have spun out of the creamery,” says Kimberly, among them the Hilltown Sustainability group, an active community group with the mission of educating the community about sustainable living.  “Alice and Amy drove that sort of thing with their personal energy and the store’s contributions of space or staff time.”

When Alice and Amy began to explore options for selling the business in 2009, they were interested in the cooperative model, and reached out to the Cooperative Development Institute and other local organizations for advice on transitioning to a cooperative.  That winter, they organized a series of community meetings to discuss the future of the Creamery.  At the last of these meetings three hundred people showed up, far exceeding Alice and Amy’s expectations.  “It was relatively mind-blowing,” said Kimberly.  “To have this much turnout in the depths of January was one of the big indicators of solid support.”  A volunteer co-op steering committee formed at this meeting, which later became the founding board of the co-op when the Creamery incorporated in August 2010.

And the community support has only grown since then. “We’ve really blown by all of our goals and expectations,” said Kimberly.  They reached their initial membership goal in six weeks and now have over 500 founding member-owners on board.  The Board of Directors far surpassed their fundraising goals for both gifts and member-loans.   “This community really rallied,” said Kimberly – it’s a further indication of the long-standing support Alice and Amy have generated with their store.”

Currently, as the Creamery transitions to a cooperative structure, the six Board of Directors members are the official members of the cooperative.  This affords Alice and Amy a measure of confidentiality, enabling them to more freely share the intimate details of their business with these board members, knowing this information will only be public once the transition is complete.  Full membership for the remaining 500+ founding members will be initiated as soon as the co-op purchases the Creamery, and at that time a new board will be democratically elected by these members.

As the Creamery transitions to a cooperative many of its core values undoubtedly will remain the same.   “There’s a lot of behind the scenes support for the community that we will probably formalize once we’re in operation – so that members can have a say,” explains Kimberly.  The approach to this community service may change – for example, while Alice and Amy have often asked for donations, as a cooperative the Creamery will strive to be profitable so it can reinvest in its business or redistribute to its member-owners.  “But we imagine the values will be similar,” says Kimberly.  “A focus on small rural towns, focus on food producers and people… those are all things that I can imagine will be shared values among our members.”

And as community members share more in the leadership and responsibilities of the Creamery, the community’s investment in the Creamery (and vice versa) can only become stronger.  Up until now, says Kimberly, “the community has had all of the benefits of a co-op with none of the responsibility – so, when afforded the opportunity to step up, they did.”

Such an impressive show of support from the community – as well as abundant support from other local cooperatives and networks like the Neighboring Food Co-op Association – bode will for the Creamery’s future as a cornerstone of the community.  “Support for new cooperatives,” says Kimberly, is “really strong in our region.  I think it’s a huge part of our launch success and I think it will be a huge part of our sustainability over time.”

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