A Great Time Was Had at the 2024 NFCA Annual Meeting! // NFCA News April 2024

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In this edition:

Annual Meeting Wrap Up!

Neighboring Co-operators at the 2024 NFCA Annual Meeting raising their hands to say this was their first time at a NFCA Annual Meeting!
On March 16, 2024, co-operators from across the Northeast U.S. gathered in Greenfield, MA, for the 13th Annual Meeting of the Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA).  The event brought together 85 representatives from over 30 food co-ops, start-ups, and partner organizations.

“The theme for this year’s meeting is ‘Co-operation: Our Foundation,’” said John Crane, General Manager of Portland Food Co-op (ME) and NFCA President.  “And I want to remind everyone that what we are doing here is unique… groups of people getting together, getting their co-ops together and trying to have a larger voice and a larger impact in not just their community but in their region.  I appreciate all of you for coming and continuing to be involved, because the NFCA is us.”

A central topic of the day was the declaration of 2025 as the Second International Year of Co-ops and the contribution of food co-ops to the United Nations Agenda for Sustainable Development and efforts to address food security, climate change, and more inclusive economy. 

“The theme of our gathering this year not only highlights the shared Values and Principles at the heart of our business model,” said Erbin Crowell, Executive Director.  “But also, our impact on global efforts to address food security, climate change, and economic inclusion.  Our co-ops have been leaders in these efforts, and this International Year of Co-ops offers a unique opportunity to tell our stories better — and challenge ourselves to do more, together.”

In addition to reports from the NFCA Board of Directors and Staff, peer-to-peer dialogues provided an opportunity for exchanges on issues including food security, climate action, and supporting start-up food co-ops. 

“Our table had some lively discussion about different discount programs to make good food more accessible,” said Chris Whiton, Operations Manager at Littleton Food Co-op (NH) and a member of the NFCA Board of Directors.  “I saw several co-ops making contacts with others who had some great programs to bring back to their store.”

Afternoon workshops offered deeper dives into topics such the NFCA’s expanded collaboration with the New England Farmers Union on policy advocacy, efforts to bring small and rural food co-ops together for shared success, and their partnership with the Northeast Organic Family Partnership to support our region’s dairy farmers.

“It was my first year attending,” said Heather Lanphear of Buffalo Mountain Co-op Market (VT).  “I didn’t know what to expect, but it was a great networking day.”

The NFCA is a co-operative federation of food co-ops from across the Northeast, and the Annual Meeting included the announcement of Board of Directors elections. NFCA President John Crane announced the reelection of Chris Whiton (Operations Manager, Littleton Food Co-op, NH) and welcomed newly elected directors to three-year terms: Philip Trevvett (Board of Directors, Urban Greens Co-op Market, RI) and George Touloumtzis (Board of Directors, Franklin Community Co-op, MA).  Continuing on the Board are Katharine Arnold (Buffalo Mountain Co-op, VT), John Crane (Portland Food Co-op, ME), Lucy Georgeff (High Falls Food Co-op, NY), Mary Mullally (Hunger Mountain Co-op, VT), and Michael Wells (Putney Food Co-op, VT).  Outgoing Directors Kathleen Krider (Willimantic Food Co-op, CT) and Rachel Watrous (Fiddleheads Food Co-op, CT) were also thanked for their service on the NFCA Board. 

Reflecting on the day, Shawna Mefferd Kelty, President of North Country Food Co-op (NY), shared that “it was so wonderful to spend the day with others who are also working towards the same co-operative goals and to generate ideas towards how we can bring those goals into fruition for our communities.”

For resources and action items from the NFCA Annual Meeting, please visit https://nfca.coop/membergatherings.

Our Neighboring Co-operator

The Neighboring Co-operator Award is given to a “Staff Member, Director or Member of an NFCA Member Co-op or Partner Organization or representative of such organization for special contributions to the NFCA and the advancement of our Vision.” 

At this year’s Annual Meeting of the Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA), the Neighboring Co-operator award was given to Alice Rubin, a leader whose quiet, unassuming and unwavering commitment to our shared Values and Principles has shaped the co-operative economy far beyond the 8,000 square feet called “The Willimantic Food Co-op.”

Alice began her co-operative career back in 1980, making deliveries for a co-operative warehouse in Hartford to a fledgling food buying club in Willimantic, CT.  This work was the foundation for a 40-year career with a food co-op that would grow to become a leading voice in the sector, and instrumental in the genesis of many other community initiatives, businesses and organizations, including the Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA).

Under Alice Rubin’s leadership, the Willimantic Food Co-op has grown from a 40 member buyers’ club in a church basement to a 7,000 member, property-owning, policy-changing, community-engaging, “All are Welcome” co-operative business at the heart Connecticut’s “Quiet Corner.”  Her visionary mindset has had impact beyond the growth and success of the Co-op.  For example, she planted the seed for CLiCK, a shared-use commercial kitchen in Willimantic that incubates new local food businesses and supports food justice throughout the area, and helped establish Grow Windham, an educational organization focused on creating space for youth in our local food system.

Alice has contributed to the success of our regional network of food co-ops through active support of the establishment and growth of the NFCA as well as numerous start-ups in southern New England, including Fiddleheads Food Co-op in New London, CT, and Urban Greens Co-op Market in Providence, RI.  Her mentorship has supported the development of other leaders both within her co-op and in our wider community, and she has advocated for greater collaboration among farmer co-ops, credit unions, and other co-operatives in our region.  Under her leadership, Willimantic Food Co-op played a key role in helping update state statutes to make it easier to form a co-operative enterprise, working in characteristic collaboration with the NFCA and other member co-ops, credit unions, and partners including the New England Farmers Union and NCBA CLUSA.  These efforts will continue to have an impact for co-operative development in the state of Connecticut for into the future.  And she has done this while running her own business, Alice’s Greenhouse which is where you can find her today, with Bodhi and Finn, making soil blocks and potting tomato plants.

Reflecting Alice’s commitment to economic inclusion, the Willimantic Food Co-op Board of Directors has established a solidarity fund in her honor that offsets the cost of membership for low-income individuals.  For more information on how you can contribute to the “Go Ask Alice” fund, visit the Willimantic Food Co-op website.

In honor of recipient, and in recognition of her commitment to co-operative education and leadership development, the NFCA invites our community — individuals, co-ops, and partner organizations — to join us in making a donation to CDF’s Cooperative Education Fund.  For more information, on the Neighboring Co-operator Award, please visit https://cdf.coop/nfca.

Co-ops Celebrate Earth Month

Since the first Earth Day in 1970, millions of people from around the world raise environmental issues and take action during April and celebrate Earth Day on April 22nd.

Our co-ops have long been central in promoting conservation, organic growing practices, reduced packaging, eating local, and sharing information on building sustainable communities and safeguarding the environment. So, it is no surprise that co-ops use April to hold Earth Day and environmental awareness events and activities. Here’s a sampling:

  • Holding their Annual Meeting on April 20th, High Falls Food Co-op has an Earth Day theme with speaker Tom Konrad, Marbletown Environmental Commission Chair.
  • Celebrate all month long! Check out Monadnock Food Co-op’s activities planned throughout the month including Earth Fest film screenings, bulk shopping tips, and roll out or Electric Vehicle charging stations.
  • Challenge shoppers to “Slash their Trash” and pledge to reduce waste with give-away incentives at the Blue Hill Co-op.
  • Encourage  new shopping habits with incentives like Buffalo Mountain Market Co-op’s Sustainability Sundays when shoppers get 10% discount when they bring their own container to fill for bulk liquids.
  • Partnering to install solar panels and make solar electricity available to low-income households like River Valley Co-op’s Climate Justice Initiative.
  • Working together to support local. Last year NFCA co-ops collectively sold more than $121 million dollars in local products, that’s 27% of total sales!

Working together and sharing ideas, our food co-ops are helping to build a more healthy, just, and sustainable world during April and all year long.

Co-ops in the News

co-ops in the news logo
Has your co-op been in the news recently? Send your item to info@nfca.coop

April Cave-to-Co-op Special

This month’s special cheese is Riley’s 2×4, from Blue Ledge Farm in Salisbury, VT

Rileys 2×4 is a raw milk Blue Ledge Farm original, named for their herding dog “Riley”. This cheese is a blend of MoSe Farm’s Ayrshire cow milk and their goats milk, hand-made and pressed into 6 lb wheels and cave aged three months.  It’s nutty, smooth, and full-bodied matched with a finish of sweetness.

Hannah and Greg believe in a food system that is based on a cornerstone of respect for the land, the animals, and the consumer as well as the local community. They both celebrate the opportunity to raise healthy, contented animals and make great cheese!

Blue Ledge Farm began as a dream in Florence, Italy where Greg and Hannah met while studying the art and culture of Europe. In 2000, the two began the work of transforming an old cow dairy farm back into production with goats. The barn, which once housed seventy Holstein cows, would now be home to Alpine and La Mancha dairy goats. They began milking four goats at Blue Ledge Farm and began processing cheese two years later. Today Hannah and Greg milk over one hundred goats and produce eleven types of cheese, from very fresh to semi-aged bloomy rind cheeses, to harder cheeses aged three months. True to their mission with a focus that is always on sustaining a high-quality, consistent product with lots of attention and gentle handling.

Hunger Mountain Co-op had a wonderful highlight of Blue Ledge Farm as their Featured Vendor in December 2018. You can read their in-depth article here.

The 150 acres of Blue Ledge Farm consist of woods, hay-land, pasture and wetland. In 2004 they financed the cheese room construction by selling development rights to the Vermont Land Trust, thereby ensuring that the land will always be open and never developed. In 2009, wetlands were identified as one of the farm’s great natural resources and so they agreed to conserve those fifty acres of wetland and return them to their natural state as a valuable part of the local ecosystem. The goats spend their spring, summer, and fall days browsing in the woods, return to the barn for 4 pm milking and lounge around in a grass pasture as evening sets.

Blue Ledge Farm notes that 2023 was a big year for Riley’s 2×4.  It has been a staff favorite for years and thanks to the collaboration of cows and goats they hope for continued growth of this cheese, serving as a model of sustainable dairy farming, and supporting Vermont’s family farms and rural communities.

Each month our Cave to Co-op partnership between Provisions International and the Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA) offers a delicious regional cheese featured at a great price.

Look for the “Cave to Co-opsign in the cheese section at your local food co-op. To find one near you, visit www.nfca.coop/members.

New England Farmers Union: The 122nd Convention of the National Farmers Union

New England Delegates to the National Farmers Union Convention, 2024 — Rebecca White (Hanover Co-op Food  Stores), Mary Castonguay (Dairy Farmer & Organic Valley Member), Zoe Fox (New England Consulting Services) & Roger Noonan (NEFU President).
In March, members of the New England Farmers Union — including representatives from your Neighboring Food Co-ops — attended the 122nd Convention of the National Farmers Union, participating in dialogs on family farming, food system policy, and the co-operative movement.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) closed its 2024 Convention in Scottsdale, AZ, by adopting the organization’s grassroots policy book, laying the foundation for advocating on behalf of family farmers and ranchers across the country. Convention delegates also adopted six special orders of business focused on issues of particular importance in the coming year.  For example, the Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA) is an affiliate member of the New England Farmers Union and helped develop a statement supporting the declaration of 2025 as the Second International Year of Co-ops, which was approved unanimously by the gathering.

“With a projected decline in commodity prices, continued high input costs, increasingly extreme weather events and an unpredictable policy and political environment, 2024 will be a pivotal year for family farmers and ranchers,” said NFU President Rob Larew. “With our member-driven policy priorities set, NFU is perfectly positioned to help farmers, ranchers and rural communities navigate the challenges ahead.” 

Following a full program of speakers and sessions, delegates took part in the democratic policy debate that is fundamental to Farmers Union’s structure. This grassroots process informs NFU’s advocacy work throughout the year.  

“There’s something magical about the cooperation that has grown alongside National Farmer’s Union’s membership and policy book,” said Rebecca White, Public & Government Affairs Associate, Hanover Co-op Food Stores, NH & VT. “The organization tackles policy head on and brings the realities and needs of family farmers and ranchers into focus for policy makers. This is a critical part of improving farm viability and creating strong food systems.”

During the policy debate, delegates approved six special orders of business:

You can make a difference: Join the Farmers UnionThe Neighboring Food Co-op Association is an affiliate member of the New England Farmers Union – and invites farmers, food co-ops, and consumers to join us!  NFCA Member Co-ops and individual members can join at a special discount.  The National Farmers Union advocates on behalf of nearly 200,000 American farm families and their communities. We envision a world in which farm families and their communities are respected, valued, and enjoy economic prosperity and social justice. For more information, please visit www.newenglandfarmersunion.org.

Upcoming Events

Join Our Team for the Co-op 5K

A Virtual Road Race for Co-op Development, April 20 – May 3, 2024!

Join co-op members, staff, and directors from across the Northeast us for the Co-op 5k, a fun, family-friendly event and fundraiser for the Cooperative Development Foundation — celebrating 80 years in 2024!  Walk, run, roll or stroll with us as we defend our title of Most Co-op Spirit

Click here for more information and to download a flyer to post at your co-op!  The deadline to sign up and get a t-shirt in your size is March 31.