Our Future is Co-operative // NFCA News, March 2021

Your Neighboring Food Co-ops

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Our Future is Co-operative!

On March 20, 2021, co-operators from across the Northeast gathered online for the Neighboring Food Co-op Association’s 10th Annual Meeting.

Organized around the theme of Celebrating a Decade Growing a More Just, Sustainable & Inclusive Food System, the event brought together 80 representatives from more than 47 food co-ops, startup initiatives, and partner organizations.

NFCA President and City Market Director Faye Mack welcomed attendees: “It’s my honor to be part of the NFCA and to represent the Board of Directors as we celebrate ten years of co-operation together, reflect on a really hard year, and look ahead to what’s coming,” said Mack, inviting attendees to join her in a toast to our community of food co-ops and, “everyone out there who is striving toward a more just, inclusive, sustainable, and co-operative future.”

“I especially want to thank our co-ops you know the staff directors and managers that have worked so hard during this past year to keep our communities healthy and safe, to keep our farmers and producers connected to our shoppers,” said NFCA Executive Director Erbin Crowell. “For our staff it’s been inspiring and humbling just to see all of our co-ops in action this year, wrestling not just with the pandemic but also stepping up on issues of racial and economic justice.”

Special guest Cornelius Blanding, Executive Director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives / Land Assistance Fund, joined a panel of leaders from food co-ops across our region to reflect on the past decade and visions for the future, including Kari Bradley (General Manager at Hunger Mountain Co-op, VT), Annie Gaillard (President, Buffalo Mountain Co-op, VT), Ed King (General Manager, Littleton Food Co-op, NH), and Joanne Todd (Director, Willimantic Food Co-op and CEO, Northeast Family Credit Union, CT).

The Federation, which includes 75 co-ops in the Southeast U.S., grew out of the Civil Rights movement in the 60s and focuses on co-operative development, advocacy and land retention for Black farmers. “There are always connections between co-operative associations,” said Cornelius. “For us, this has been about that Sixth Principle of cooperation among co-operatives, and not only looking at how co-ops within the Federation collaborate, but how we can collaborate with other associations, and particularly, the NFCA.”

The NFCA is an affiliate member of the New England Farmers Union (NEFU), and NEFU President Roger Noonan provided an update on legislative efforts. “The previous four years have been a challenge for those of us advocating for small and socially disadvantaged farmers,” said Noonan. “But especially during the pandemic this past year, we’ve been pretty effective at elevating our voices to assure that small farmers and co-ops were included in a lot of the emergency legislation that is still coming out.”

Roger then invited special guest Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (ME) to address the gathering. A national leader in food policy representing Maine’s 1st District, Pingree started her career as an organic farmer in the 1970s and has been engaged in food system reform ever since.

“Co-ops have been as important or more important in this past year than ever… So many things that are integral to food co-ops are really the kinds of things we need,” said Pingree. “I was particularly pleased to read that about a third of the food at your co-ops is locally procured, which I think is really quite amazing. Even if it was only half that it would be amazing because your average grocery store has only two to three percent locally grown food.”

Jacqueline Hannah, Assistant Director of Food Co-op Initiative (FCI), was honored with the “Neighboring Co-operator” award in recognition of leadership and collaboration in supporting food co-op startups here in the Northeast and nationwide.

“The vision you had to create the NFCA and to continue to support your association when it’s harder and when it’s easier to spare those dollars to make this collaboration happen amongst yourselves–it’s really amazing, really visionary, and it’s having effects not just in the Northeast but beyond your region,” said Hannah. “Thank you all.”

Individuals and organizations are invited to make a tax-deductible contribution in honor of Jacqueline to the Cooperative Education Fund of the Cooperative Development Foundation, which supports training and education for food co-op staff, managers, and board members. To learn more and make a donation, visit www.cdf.coop/nfca.

In addition to reports from the NFCA Board of Directors and Staff, the results of this year’s elections were announced, with Kathleen Krider (Willimantic Food Co-op, CT), Rachel Watrous (Fiddleheads Food Co-op, CT), and Chris Whiton (Littleton Food Co-op, NH) all elected to three-year terms.

Doug O’Brien, President & CEO of the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA CLUSA), closed the meeting, noting that “all of the work that you do in the Northeast really does have an impact on the wider co-operative community. We’ve been on a path of putting co-ops at the center of the conversation around building a more inclusive economy, and the NFCA has been such a big part of that work.”

Incorporated as a co-operative of 17 food co-ops in 2011, the NFCA now includes over 40 food co-ops and startup initiatives across the Northeast, jointly owned by over 163,000 members. For more information, please visit www.nfca.coop.

The NFCA’s 10th Annual Meeting was supported by generous sponsors including CoBank, Cabot Creamery Co-op, Local Food Safety Collaborative, Nationwide, National Cooperative Bank (NCB), New England Farmers Union, Organic Valley, Cooperative Development Foundation, Cooperative Fund of New England, CUNA Mutual, Dorsey LLP, ECRS, National Co+op Grocers, & Shared Capital Co-op.

Welcome High Falls Food Co-op

The Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA) is proud to welcome High Falls Food Co-op in High Falls, NY as a new member!

The co-op is the fourth New York state co-op to join NFCA.

High Falls Food Co-op was incorporated in 1976 as a community resource for education and affordable organic food options. As the Hudson Valley has changed over the years, the co-op has remained a steadfast staple. Approach their 45th anniversary this November, HFFC is poised for revitalization.

“We are examining our accessibility and beginning to engage with members and our community on a deeper level. The resources and networking available to us through NFCA will be integral support as we plan for the future,” says General Manager Lucy Geogeoff.

The NFCA includes over 40 food co-ops and startups across the Northeast that are working together toward a vision a thriving co-operative economy, rooted in a healthy, just, and sustainable food system and a vibrant community of co-operative enterprise.

For a map of your Neighboring Food Co-ops, please  visit: https://nfca.coop/members 

Organic Valley Clean Energy Fund

New co-operative fund offers nation’s most farmer-friendly renewable energy loan program.

Advancing its commitment to regenerative farming systems, Organic Valley is partnering with Clean Energy Credit Union (“Clean Energy CU”) to launch the Powering the Good Loan Fund to provide the best loan terms for farmers seeking to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels with renewable energy and efficiencies. The program is first of its kind for both co-operatives, pioneering a unique clean energy loan fund for over 1,700 farmers across the country.

To accelerate energy improvements, Organic Valley and Clean Energy CU will roll out a $1 million fund with plans to expand. As the nation’s largest organic, farmer owned co-operative, Organic Valley pulls carbon out of the air through regenerative practices like rotational grazing, while also working to reduce carbon emitted wherever possible.

“Organic Valley leads on renewable energy. We have been 100% renewable powered in our owned facilities since 2019, and now we are going a step further,” said Bob Kirchoff, Organic Valley CEO. “We are focused on a whole systems approach to renewable energy, and I’m excited to debut this energy loan fund. From the farm to the shelf, I see renewable energy playing a bigger role in organic food. We are providing farmers a means to reduce their energy costs and become more self-sufficient and sustainable. Farmers who participate in this loan fund contribute to a healthy, regenerative future for the next generation.”

Loans supplied to Organic Valley farmers through Clean Energy CU will be used for:

  • Solar electric systems to offset farm energy consumption.
  • Farm energy efficiency improvements such as plate coolers, VFDs, LED lighting, insulation, ventilation and more.
  • Geothermal systems and ground-source heat pumps for farm heating and cooling.

The two cooperatives are experienced with advancing renewable energy and are now combining forces to accelerate renewable energy installations on farms across rural America.

“This is a great example of cooperation among cooperatives to pursue our aligned missions,” said Blake Jones, Volunteer Board chair of Clean Energy CU. “Organic Valley is already helping to protect the environment through regenerative and organic farming practices, and now they’re going one step further by supporting the installation of renewable energy and energy efficiency projects for their farmer-members. In addition to the environmental benefits, we’re also excited about helping family farmers throughout the USA to lower their energy costs and improve the bottom line of their independently owned farms.”

Organic Valley is America’s largest co-operative of organic farmers and one of the nation’s leading organic brands. Founded in 1988, the co-operative represents nearly 1,800 farmers in 34 U.S. states, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom and achieved $1.1 billion in 2019 sales. Focused on its founding mission of saving family farms through organic farming, Organic Valley produces a wide range of organic dairy, egg and produce products. As a leader in pasture-based, regenerative organic farming, Organic Valley works with nature, not against it. For more information visit www.organicvalley.coop.

Over the past ten years, Organic Valley has partnered with the Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA) to educate food co-ops and their shoppers about the role of co-ops in empowering and sustaining family farms here in the Northeast and across the country, and building cross-sector collaboration for a more healthy, just, and sustainable food system and economy. Organic Valley member farmers have hosted dairy buyers and marketing staff from member food co-ops and have been regular presenters at our gatherings.

In 2015, Jerry McGeorge, Executive Vice President of People for Organic Valley, addressed our Annual Meeting as keynote. “Co-operators are idealists and tend to be humble, which is good,” said Jerry. “However, we need to be better at telling our story, telling the people in our lives why co-ops are a superior business model. This is my challenge to you.”

March’s Cave to Co-op Special 

Patrolman’s Blues, Mt. Mansfield Creamery, Morrisville, VT 

Patrolman’s Blues is a raw farmstead cow-milk cheese, hand pierced blue by cheesemakers Stan Biasini and Debora Wickart.

The cheese facility of Mt. Mansfield Creamery is in the heart of Morrisville, in the old United Farmers Creamery building. Not only did the Stan and Debora renovate the building, but built their own cheese cave in the basement. With the creamery four miles from the farm, Stan transports their milk to the creamery on cheese making days. Debora milks the cows and ships some to St. Albans Co-operative. They make small batches of cheese only 8 to 12 times per month and are increasing production according to demand. They milk registered Holsteins and Brown Swiss cows that are on rotational grazing in the summer months and fed grain and hay during the winter.

Patrolman’s Blues is aged three months beginning with hand ladling of the milk into the forms, then after a few days Stan hand-pierces the cheese to allow oxygen in to allow the p.roqueforti to grow. They wash and brush the rinds to keep them thin to ensure that their product are one hundred percent edible and after 90 days of aging, the result is a buttery and robustly blue cheese that begs to be paired with dessert wines, stout or lambic beers, or off-dry cider.

Patrolman’s Blues is a unique blue cheese, delightful atop salads or try it out with one of the recipes on our March Cave to Co-op page.

Each month our Cave to Co-op partnership between Provisions Internationaland the Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA) offers a delicious regional cheese featured at a great price. Strengthening our local and regional farmers and producers by supporting artisanal cheesemakers is a key goal of the Cave to Co-op program. 

Farmers Union: Pandemic Assistance for Producers

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) new Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative offers financial assistance to farmers and ranchers affected by pandemic-related disruptions.

This endeavor will direct about $6 billion towards new outreach and support programs, with a particular focus on parts of the food system that were overlooked in previous rounds of assistance. This includes small and socially disadvantaged producers, specialty crop and organic producers, producers of renewable fuel, and local and regional food processing facilities. Pre-existing pandemic programs like the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), which will be umbrellaed under the initiative, will receive additional funding, as will several other permanent USDA programs.

Throughout the pandemic, National Farmers Union (NFU) has urged USDA to ensure that aid is distributed “fairly and equitably” and that “payments are commensurate with demonstrated need.” In a statement, NFU President Rob Larew thanked the agency for reevaluating its methods and taking steps to serve farmers who were initially excluded.

“Federal assistance has been absolutely fundamental to the agriculture industry’s survival during the pandemic,” said Larew. “Unfortunately, as National Farmers Union has pointed out, some farmers – particularly those who are socially disadvantaged, run smaller operations, grow specialty crops, or sell into local and value-added markets – have been largely unable to access the help they need due to inadequate outreach and structural flaws. Because those producers already tend to lack financial security, we were concerned that the lack of support could lead to a wave of farm closures.”

At the Neighboring Food Co-op Association’s (NFCA) recent Annual Meeting, New England Farmers Union President Roger Noonan described advocacy efforts to ensure support for marginalized farmers. “We know that family farmers of color and indigenous farmers have been more heavily impacted by the pandemic,” said Noonan. “And these are also farmers who are all too often are left behind in USDA have programs. So we applaud Secretary Vilsack for taking the necessary measures to ensure equitable deployment of pandemic relief to BIPOC farmers.”

Our Local Farmers & Fishermen Need You!

Do you care about where your food comes from and want to support the people who produce it? Join the NEFU as a Friend of the Farmer for just $15. Your membership will help ensure that our region’s producers and consumers are heard by policy makers here at home and in Washington, DC. For more information, please visit www.newenglandfarmersunion.org.

Co-op Calendar

April 25 – May 1, 2021

Join your Neighboring Co-operators as we raise funds for Co-operative Development!

Click HERE to download a flyer to share at your food co-op


For More Co-op Events, Visit https://nfca.coop/calendar

The Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA) is a co-operative federation of over 40 food co-ops and startup initiatives across New England, working together toward a shared vision of a thriving co-operative economy, rooted in a healthy, just, and sustainable food system and a vibrant community of  co-operative enterprise.