Western Massachusetts Food Co-ops

2012 Local Hero Awardee

Ranging in size from 185 members to more than 5,000, the five food co-ops in western Massachusetts share a participatory economic model of member ownership and deep roots in their communities. Purchasing locally is a priority for all the co-ops, providing a valuable market for local farmers. Their sales range from $85,000 to $14 million annually; as a group these five co-ops represent a significant part of the local food economy with total sales of almost $23 million. Each business is controlled by a board of directors elected by the co-op’s members, and their profits are reinvested into the co-op and local community.

Franklin Community Co-op, which is celebrating its 35th anniversary in 2012, is the only co-op in this area to operate two storefronts – in Greenfield and Shelburne Falls. North Quabbin Co-op in Orange is both the smallest co-op in the region and the only one run entirely by volunteers. The Old Creamery in Cummington, long a community center for Hilltown residents, incorporated as a co-op in 2010. Leverett Village Co-op is a vibrant hub for its rural community. River Valley Market, the largest co-op in the area, opened in Northampton just months before the 2008 economic crisis and yet in its first four years has exceeded all of its financial goals.

As a steady retail outlet for local farms, food co-ops play a significant role in the regional agricultural economy. “Starting up a new farm and finding new markets is challenging,” notes Ray Young, farmer at Next Barn Over in Hadley. “River Valley Market has been great to work with and an important source of sales for our burgeoning farm. It’s clear they are committed to supporting local farmers and they’re playing a key role in building a vibrant local food system.”

In the face of current economic challenges, food co-ops are further strengthening the local economy through creative collaborations. Several western Massachusetts co-ops, for example, are working with the Neighboring Food Co-op Association’s “Farm to Freezer” pilot project to extend the availability of the season’s harvest to local consumers.

In declaring 2012 the “International Year of Co-ops,” the United Nations estimated that globally one billion people are members of cooperatives. About one in four people in the U.S. belongs to a co-op. With the loyal support of their members, the western Massachusetts food co-ops have surmounted challenges, supported each other as well as other co-ops, and provided inspiration during difficult economic times. CISA honors these five co-ops for demonstrating the viability of a democratic economic model, providing valuable markets for local farms, and strengthening communities in our region.

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