E-News // The Roots of Co-operation // Dec 2014




By Erbin Crowell & Bonnie Hudspeth, Neighboring Food Co-op Association

Imagine you are a poor mill worker in the north of England in the mid 1800s. The Industrial Revolution has made production more profitable, but it has also cost skilled artisans their jobs and concentrated wealth and control among a small group of factory owners. Many in the community are unemployed, while others don’t make enough to afford basic groceries. What would you do to provide healthy food for your family? How might you work with your neighbors to improve the lives of people in your community?

On December 21, 1844, after years of organizing and experimentation, a group of weavers, workers and community activists opened a modest grocery store on Toad Lane in Rochdale, England. Their goal was to provide basic goods members such as butter, flour, oatmeal and candles. Their vision, however, was a transformation of the food system and economy.

“What was the motivation of the Rochdale Pioneers, who codified the values and principles on which the co-operative movement has based since 1844?” asked Dame Pauline Green, President of the International Co-operative Alliance.  “We know it today as food security.”

At a time when access to nutritious food was limited and adulterated products were common, the Pioneers saw an urgent need for an alternative. The co-operative movement that they helped launch now includes over a billion members around the world and operates in nearly every sector of the food system and economy. From food co-ops to farmer co-ops, worker co-ops to credit unions, co-operative enterprise has empowered people to have more control over their lives and communities.

Today, the results of the global recession have dramatically affected the ability of people to provide themselves and their families with healthy food.  In the U.S., 23.5 million Americans (including 6.5 million children) live in areas with limited access to affordable and nutritious food, particularly in low-income neighborhoods and communities. In New England, the relative cost of high-nutrition less processed foods is among the highest in the country, when compared to low-nutrition, highly processed foods. Additionally, childhood obesity rates are higher in many parts of the region than the national average.

In this context, it may come as no surprise that people are again turning to co-operative enterprise for solutions. Food co-ops in New England have been pioneers and innovators in food security.  Some date back to the Great Depression, while others were founded in the 1970s and 80s, emerging as community-based responses to limited access to healthy, affordable food.  In recent years, a new wave of food co-ops has emerged, reflecting growing interest in local foods and democratic ownership.  Rooted in their communities, co-operative enterprises are an effective tool for building healthy food access, stable markets for local producers, and sustainable jobs.

As food security has again emerged as an urgent issue in our region, the Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA) has been working to develop solutions that balance financial sustainability with offering healthy affordable food, supporting local economies, and building fair relationships with workers and producers.  In collaboration with the New England Farmers Union, Cooperative Fund of New England, and Hunger Free Vermont, the member co-ops of the NFCA are sharing what they have learned from “healthy food access” programs already in place, and supporting their neighboring food co-ops to roll out these programs and create new approaches to make healthy food and member-ownership more accessible.

In the last year alone, six food co-ops have implemented new “Food For All” programs, offering community members with limited income access to co-op member-ownership and discounts on their groceries every time they shop.

In their day, the Rochdale Pioneers saw a solution to their challenges in economic empowerment through democratically governed, community-owned businesses (co-ops).  As we gather to celebrate the holidays together, our Neighboring Food Co-ops are reaching back to their roots, building on a legacy of food security as we move forward together, continuing to use the co-op business model to find solutions to the challenges of our time.

To learn more about the Neighboring Food Co-op Association’s Healthy Food Access work, visit: www.nfca.coop/healthyfoodaccess.

Feel free to re-print this article in your co-op newsletter, and let us know when you do!: info@nfca.coop


In a MetroWest Daily News article, “Food Co-op’s Future Looks Appetizing” (Dec. 1, 2014), reporter Lorne Bell shines a light on the growing success of Neighboring Food Co-ops and start-ups in Western Massachusetts.

For example, Assabet Village Food Co-op, a start-up in Maynard, MA, is gaining momentum and members.  Heather Nickle, a member of the co-op’s board, the organizers’ vision for their co-op: “…a customer-owned, village market – one that buys much of its products from local producers and returns revenue to the local community instead of shipping profits to faraway corporate headquarters.”

Stuart Reid of the Food Co-op Initiative has been providing support to the co-op, alongside Neighboring Food Co-op Association staff.  He noted that,  “the success rate [of food co-op start-ups] far exceeds that of typical small businesses, and the community impact can be transformative.”

Reid also points to the competitive advantage of the co-operative model.  In food co-ops, he notes, “The owners are the customers, so there’s no better incentive to use a business. And you’re buying from local suppliers, so the multiplier factor is significant. I’ve seen neighborhoods that have been entirely renovated because of the presence of a food co-op.’”

Start-ups such as Assabet Village Food Co-op also have the advantage of neighboring food co-ops to offer their skills and experience.  For example, River Valley Market Co-op in Northampton opened its doors in 2008 and has been successful far beyond their projections.

“This year, the co-op bought $3.7 million in products from 350 local farms and businesses,” the article notes. “It employs more than 130 workers, and 86 percent are full time earning a living wage.  Terry Masterson, economic development director of Northampton, said that the co-op has a significant impact on the local economy through job creation and local sourcing, but it is also a catalyst for property appreciation.”

And, with stores in Greenfield and Shelburne Falls, MA, neighboring Franklin Community Co-op has been in operation since 1977. “‘We are basically a community center,’ said General Manager John Williams, who oversees both stores. ‘People trust us to be here. They count on us, and we give member-owners a chance to be economic partners in their downtown’s success. It’s pretty phenomenal.’”

Read the full article here: http://s.coop/macoopmetrowest



Family Farmers Play a Significant Role in Eradicating World Hunger

In celebration of the United Nations’ 2014 International Year of Family Farming, National Farmers Union (NFU) is highlighting the substantial impact family farmers have on world hunger and food security issues.

“Family farming is the backbone of agriculture, not only in the United States, but worldwide,” said NFU President Roger Johnson. “The role family farmers play in addressing hunger, health and food security issues in both the U.S. and around the world, though not always adequately recognized, is significant.”

Family farms hold the responsibility of feeding more than 7 billion people, 805 million (one in nine) of which do not have enough food to lead a healthy life. One out of every six children is underweight, and poor nutrition causes nearly half (45 percent) of deaths in children under five – 3.1 million children each year. Despite these staggering numbers, conditions have dramatically improved in the last two decades, as prevalence of undernourishment has fallen from 18.7 to 11.3 percent globally.

Johnson noted the solutions family farms offer to solving hunger and health issues around the world. Smallholder farmers consistently have healthier soil and larger yields, and those who have diversified their crops have been most successful in increasing consumption of nutrient-dense foods. “Healthier food production leads to a healthier planet,” said Johnson. “Family farms provide a model for the world to diminish major health and hunger issues.”

According to the recent Census of Agriculture, 87 percent of U.S. farms are owned by families or individuals, and in 2012, there were 2.1 million farms in the U.S, with an average farm size of 418 acres. But according to that same census, those numbers of farms are falling, down more than four percent from 2007, while the average farm size has continued to grow.

“NFU has a role to play in ensuring that family farmers remain competitive and productive,” said Johnson. “Farmers Union is continually fighting at the local, state, and national levels to ensure family farmers well-being so that they may continue to play an integral role in eradicating hunger and health issues worldwide.

Founded as the Farmers Educational Cooperative Union of America in Point, Texas, to help the family farmer address profitability issues and monopolistic practices, National Farmers Union has been working to protect and enhance the economic well-being and quality of life for family farmers, ranchers and rural communities through advocating grassroots-driven policy positions adopted by its membership. Learn more: www.nfu.org.



Have you noticed the “Cave to Co-op” signs in the cheese section of your neighboring food co-op? December’s “Cave to Co-op” special artisan cheese is Boucher Blue, from Boucher Family Farm. Based on a French Fourme d’Ambert, Boucher Blue is a true farmhouse cheese.  The cheese is firm and smooth, very creamy, and mild. It carries the flavors of milk, earth and woods with undertones of chestnuts, sweet hay, and truffles.

Boucher Blue is delicious as part of cheese plate and pairs well with sweet dessert wine. Its mild character and smooth flavor does not overpower as other, more classic blues can. As we’re in the season of holiday meals, check out some unique Boucher Blue variations on classic recipes for vegetable side dishes, including a great old-fashioned dip that works great as an appetizer while your guests are waiting for the main meal.

Look for the “Cave to Co-op” sign in the cheese section at your Neighboring Food Co-op. And for more information on Boucher Blue and some recipes to try out, please visit: https://nfca.coop/CaveToCo-opDecember

Cave to Co-op is a partnership between Provisions International and the Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA) to support local, artisanal cheese producers in our region and make their products more easily available to co-op shoppers. For more information on the program, please visit www.nfca.coop/CaveToCo-op.


The New England Farmers Union (NEFU) has evolved and adapted over the past five years, and it has been an honor and privilege to serve as NEFU president for the past two years. As we celebrate our fifth Annual Convention, we can be very proud of the changes we have navigated.

We have continued to build our membership. We’ve partnered with several insurance providers to strengthen our member-benefits package. We’ve demonstrated the relevance of our members’ priorities to those who enact agricultural policy, ensuring that a NEFU membership brings value where it matters most. As we look toward the coming year, we will continue to work toward our mission to protect and enhance the economic well-being and quality of life of family farmers, fishermen, workers and consumers across our region.

During 2014, we advanced our work — work founded on Farmers Union’s founding principles: Legislation, Co-operation and Education.

Legislation:  The beginning of 2014 brought the passage of a new farm bill. As the year unfolded, we worked to ensure the implementation of those farm bill programs that benefit our members— conservation programs, programs that support local and regional food systems, the Whole-Farm Revenue Protection program and the Dairy Margin Protection Program. We educated members of Congress on New England farmers’ priorities during the National Farmers Union’s 2014 Legislative Fly -In, and awarded Golden Triangle awards to legislative leaders who have been instrumental in representing our interests in Washington.

NEFU continued to show leadership as an advocate for food safety regulations that work for small and mid-size diversified farms. In meetings with the Food and Drug Administration and on the heels of a major comment-gathering campaign, NEFU was able to communicate to policy-makers how the original proposed rules could damage New England agriculture. Supplemental rules, released in September, showed that FDA listened, a big win for our members.

Co-operation: Through the NEFU Education Foundation, we hosted a Convening on Co-operatives with leaders throughout the region attending. We conducted a survey on co-ops with more than 200 respondents. The results informed the publication of “Growing a Food System for the Future: A Manual for Co-operative Enterprise Development, of which we have distributed more than 350 copies to date. NEFU also assisted the formation of a worker owned co-operative farm and a retail food co-op, both in Massachusetts.

We continued work with partners, the Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA), to enable a program called Healthy Food Access, which helps food co-ops offer affordable options for low-income individuals, essentially expanding the market farmers have for their products. We also continued work with Deep Root Organic Co-op to offer frozen vegetables through food co-op members of NFCA.

Education: Before the planting season, we were busy at farm shows throughout New England, leading workshops on policy, the co-operative model and how food safety regulations could impact New England farms. We enabled two New England farmer leaders to attend Women Making Waves, a conference put on by National Farmers Union with content from Annie’s Project. We built on relationships with regional farmer-education organizations, receiving an award from Connecticut FFA Association for our service to New England agriculture. We also initiated a $500 scholarship for NEFU members and their children to support the next generation of farmers.

As we close out 2014, the UN-proclaimed International Year of Family Farming, we are grateful for the opportunity we had to advocate for the family farmers of this region. Moving into 2015, we plan to keep working, arming farmers with the tools they need to successfully navigate challenges and steering toward a thriving agricultural economy.

Sincerely, Roger Noonan (President), December 2014

For a full copy of NEFU’s Annual Report for 2014, please visit:


The Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA) is an affiliate member of the New England Farmers Union (NEFU), representing our commitment to collaboration among consumers and our region’s family farmers and fishermen to influence food system policy and build a more vibrant, resilient and co-operative food system in New England. NFCA Executive Director Erbin Crowell serves as Vice President of NEFU, and many of our Neighboring Food Co-ops are organizational members.  For more information on our partnership and how you can become a member, please visit www.newenglandfarmersunion.org/co-operation.


Come to NOFA MA Winter Conference, January 10, 2015 at Worcester State University, Worcester, MA, for over 60 workshops, exhibits, an all-day seminar and keynote by Greg Judy, rotational grazer and carbon sequestration advocate.

The Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA) is sponsoring the conference again this year, as part of our commitment to a healthy, just and sustainable regional food system. We are also partnering with the Cooperative Fund of New England to raise the profile of food co-ops at the conference.  Bonnie Hudspeth (Neighboring Food Co-op Association) and Micha Josephy (Cooperative Fund of New England) are offering a workshop, How Co-ops Make Healthy, Local Food More Accessible, exploring the co-op model can support food security and how food co-ops are working to leverage community ownership and make local, nutritious food more accessible to families with limited budgets.

The NOFA MASS Winter Conference is fun for the whole family! The children’s conference (ages 3-12) provides a lively, interactive way for kids to get educated.  Lots of do-it-yourself workshops keep teens active and engaged.

Register today:  http://www.nofamass.org/events/wc#.VHyQRSeSlKo

Neighboring Food Co-op Association
PO Box 93, Shelburne Falls, MA 01370

email: info@nfca.coop
website: www.nfca.coop
facebook: http://www.facebook.com/neighboring