Food Co-op Impact // NFCA News May 2024


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Food Co-op Impact

The Neighboring Food Co-op Association’s annual survey shows that Food Co-ops have a big impact on our regional food system, empowering people to work together to build a more inclusive economy that works for everyone.

Every year, the Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA) conducts a survey of member co-ops to help us communicate what how we benefit our communities.  Food co-ops aren’t just places to find healthy food for you and your family.  They are engines of local economies, meeting spaces for your neighbors, and a more sustainable way of doing business.  Food co-ops are also jointly-owned by the people who shop and work there, enabling them to work together to increase access to healthy, affordable food, support local producers, and sustain good jobs.

As we look toward the second International Year of Co-ops coming up in 2025, the NFCA is particularly excited to share the results of our most recent survey, which showed that our food co-ops continue to grow in their impact in 2023.  For example, your Neighboring Food Co-ops:

  • Are jointly-owned by more than 185,000 people in communities across New England and New York State;
  • Generated Annual Revenue of $442.5 million (up from $425 million in 2022);
  • Contributed over $1 million to community organizations;
  • Operated retail locations in 39 neighborhoods throughout the Northeast;
  • Employed 2,545 people (60% of whom are also member-owners), and
  • Sold $121 million dollars in local products — or an average of 27% of total sales!

As we look toward the second International Year of Co-ops coming up in 2025, the NFCA is highlighting the contributions of our co-operatives to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).   One example is the goal of “Zero Hunger.”  Since the beginnings of our movement, people have formed co-ops in order to increase community access to basic goods and services, and particularly healthy, nutritious food.  Just as important, co-ops empower people to meet their needs together through mutual self-help and co-operative membership. 

One of the central projects of the NFCA has been to expand Healthy Food Access programs that make good food available to everyone in their communities. When we began this work, just a handful of food co-ops had programs address barriers to participation. But by working together and with partner organizations we have supported dramatic growth in “Food for All” initiatives making healthy food more affordable, with the goal of encouraging all of member co-ops to adopt such program.

According to responses to our recent survey, more than half of our member co-ops have launched these initiatives, distributing nearly $1.3 million in discounts to more than 3,445 people on food assistance. Just as important, our co-ops are recognizing the importance of mutual self-help and ensuring that co-op membership is also accessible, leading to our development of model “Membership for All” programs and tools for our food co-ops to increase access to economic participation.

Co-operatives are also having impact by raising their voices for better food system policy, advocating for programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which makes nutritious food more accessible to low-income families, and for more healthy options for WIC (Women, Infants, and Children Nutrition Program). In 2022, the NFCA worked with our partners at the National Cooperative Business Association to send representatives from our Neighboring Food Co-ops to the historic Second White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, joining calls for national action on food security. More recently, the NFCA has launched a partnership with the New England Farmers Union and CoBank to increase our impact on food system policy.

In an economy that can feel unsustainable, unaccountable to our communities, and focused on profit above all else, people are looking for ways to work with their neighbors to make a difference. Not surprisingly, the NFCA continues to see growing interest in co-operatives, with more than 10,000 people joining our member food co-ops in 2023 alone. In addition, two new food co-ops, Assabet Co-op Market (Maynard, MA) and Dorchester Food Co-op (Dorchester, MA), opened their doors last year, reflecting the tireless commitment of organizers to bring the power of co-operation to their communities.

On a global level, the International Cooperative Alliance’s Co-ops for 2030 campaign is calling on co-ops to increase their efforts to contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. “People unite to form co-operatives in order to meet their economic, social and cultural needs,” notes the ICA. “These needs are often related to access: to shelter, to energy, to water, to markets, to decent work, to financial services or to fresh and quality food, to name only a few.” Co-operative enterprise is a tested and proven model for creating real change, enabling people from all walks of life to building a more just, sustainable, and inclusive economy that works for everyone. The NFCA’s annual impact survey consistently shows the power of co-operation to make a difference in locally, regionally, and around the world.

For more a map of your neighboring food co-ops across the Northeast and state-by-state impact statistics, please visit https://nfca.coop/members/.


Voter Registration Day

Democracy is one of the core Values that guide the International Co-operative Movement, and co-ops can continue to be leaders in promoting civic engagement.

As discussed in the International Co-operative Alliance’s Guidance Notes to the Co-operative Principles, “the principle of member democratic control was very radical when the first co-operatives were founded in the mid-19th century, particularly its universal application to all members, including women.”  Indeed, “the struggle for democratic rights on a political level is a common theme of the history of the last two centuries, and remains so in many parts of the world today.”

As we approach local and national elections this fall, co-ops can continue to play an important role in supporting a healthy democracy and civic participation.  One simple way is to sign up as a Community Partner for National Voter Registration Day, and hosting a registration drive, promoting registration in social media, and sharing the event in your co-op’s networks.

Held this year on September 17, 2024, National Voter Registration Day is a nonpartisan civic holiday celebrating our democracy. It has quickly gained momentum since it was first observed in 2012, with more than 5 million voters registered to vote on the holiday to date. Celebrated annually, the event involves volunteers and organizations from all over the country in a single day of coordinated field, technology, and media efforts. 

According to U.S. Census data from 2020, as many as 1 in 4 eligible Americans are not registered to vote. Every year, millions of Americans find themselves unable to vote because they miss a registration deadline, don’t update their registration, or aren’t sure how to register. National Voter Registration Day efforts are designed to ensure every eligible voter has the opportunity to vote, creating broad awareness of voter registration opportunities to reach tens of thousands of voters who may not register otherwise.

As part of our Policy Advocacy collaboration with the New England Farmers Union and CoBank, the Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA) has signed up as a National Voter Registration Day Community Partner and is encouraging our member co-ops to do so as well.  When you do, you can receive free stickers, posters and other resources to assist in planning voter registration drives, which can also be a great opportunity for participation by member volunteers.

“As people-centered business, built on economic participation and democratic control, co-ops are uniquely positioned to support civic engagement,” said Suzette Snow-Cobb, NFCA Associate Director.  “And National Voter Registration Day is a simple, nonpartisan way that we can make a difference in our communities.”

For more information on Voter Registration Day and to sign up as a Community Partner, visit their website at https://nationalvoterregistrationday.org.


Fare Share Food Co-op

The Neighboring Food Co-op Association is proud to welcome Fare Share Food Co-op as our newest member! 

We are thrilled to welcome Fare Share Co-op in Norway, ME, as our newest member of the Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA)!  

Founded in 1978 as a non-profit, Fare Share re-incorporated as a co-operative in 2019. The co-op serves a community with a diversity of income levels, offering organic and natural foods, locally-sourced, sustainably-produced and ethically-traded products. Over half of their products are sourced locally and regionally.

Since 2001, after buying and renovating their historic Main Street building, their co-op has become an anchor business with space that includes The Commons, a community space that houses the Center for Ecology-Based Economy (CEBE), as well as upstairs rental offices providing space for Western Foothills Land Trust and other non-profits. “Fare Share Food Co-op is honored to be part of such a thriving co-operative network like the Neighboring Food Co-op Association,” said Zizi Vlaun, General Manager of Fare Share. “We are a small rural co-op and it’s hard to get access to resources to help get us to the next level of our growth. Having the support of NFCA is necessary and we feel fortunate to be a part of it.”


Cooperative Fund of the Northeast

Caption: Some of the CFNE staff including Outreach Officers, Administration, and Development Team members.
The Cooperative Fund of the Northeast (CFNE) is a non-profit community loan fund that supports and lends to cooperatives in New England and New York.

What began in 1975 by a group of idealistic young cooperative organizers, an accountant, and a couple of enlightened investors has become a highly respected community loan fund that is supported by hundreds of investors and donors, both individual and institutional.

CFNE’s mission is to work for economic, social, and racial justice by advancing community based, co-operative, and democratically owned or managed enterprises with a preference to assisting co-operatives in low-income communities by:

  • Providing financial products at reasonable rates
  • Developing business skills
  • Offering an investment opportunity that promotes socially conscious enterprise

For more information, please visit https://cooperativefund.org.


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

Your Food Co-ops organized for this amazing natural event on April 8th. Some co-ops in the path of totality closed briefly to allow for all to experience the community event. There were special displays, group viewings, safety glasses info and collection sites to re-use those glasses, here’s a sampling of photos.


May Cave-to-Co-op Special

This month’s special cheese is Goat from Mt. Mansfield, Morrisville, VT

Stan Biasini and Debora Wickart are the cheesemakers and dairy farmers at Mt. Mansfield Creamery. 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 to the St. Albans Cooperative. They make small batches of cheese only 8 to 12 times per month and increase 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.

Mt. Mansfield Creamery started in June of 2009 and they make cheese year around. Debora milks about 30 cows per day and receives awards for the quality of milk she produces. Stan, a graduate of Paul Smith’s College, has put his chef days behind him to concentrate on their recipes for cheese.

The cheese facility is in the heart of Morrisville, in the old United Farmers Creamery building. Not only did they renovate the building, but they also built their own cheese cave in the basement. They wash and brush the rinds to keep them thin to ensure that their products are one hundred percent edible.

While it is named Goat, it is really is only 17% goat milk from a neighboring farm. The Joneslan Farm, who supplies the goat milk, is in Hyde Park, VT and has an interesting farming story itself. Joneslan Farm is a 150 year old, multi-generational farm that converted from milking cows to goats.  Read their story here.

“Goat” is a raw goat and cow milk Havarti style and is aged for three months in the caves. Once aged it features a full body flavor with buttery notes, balanced by only a faint goat tang, and is perfect for melted cheese on burgers and more. Try it alone on a cheese board or with this fritter recipe.

Cheese Fritters with Goat cheese and Scallions

Serves 4

  • 4 oz fresh breadcrumbs 4 oz grated Goat cheese 2 scallions, minced
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1⁄4 tsp dry mustard
  • 2 tbsp minced parsley
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1 tbsp each oil and butter for sautéing the fritters
  1. Mix the breadcrumbs, cheese, scallions, lemon zest, dry mustard and parsley with the yolks.
  2. Add salt and pepper to taste. If the mixture is a little stiff add a bit of milk; it should be stiff but spoonable.
  3. Whisk the egg whites and fold them in.
  4. Heat a little oil and butter in a large frying pan, add the mixture in spoonfuls (do this in batches if your pan is small). Fry until golden and then turn over to cook the other side. They need about 5-6 minutes in all to make sure the middles are cooked through.
  5. Drain and serve with a spicy relish or salsa.

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 importance of Safe Food Handling

Food safety is important for producers, retailors, and consumers. From farm to table, learning about safe food handling supports a healthy farm and healthy community.

The National Farmers Union Foundation’s Local Food Safety Collaborative (LFSC) is an FDA-funded initiative to provide training, education, and technical assistance to local food producers. Its core mission is to build fundamental knowledge of food safety and support compliance with Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) regulations. Food safety is a critical component of good farm management.

Agriculture organizations and academic institutions across the country work together to leverage their expertise and address the food safety needs of small-scale, diversified, sustainable, organic, and identity-preserved growers and processors, building food safety knowledge and supporting FSMA compliance. Sourcing products from local farms is a priority for our food co-ops. Supporting our regional economy builds resilience in our communities and in our food production infrastructure. Last year NFCA co-ops sold $121 million dollars in local products, an average a quarter of their overall sales! 

Here are two educational projects for listening and viewing covering pertinent topics for farmers and producers. Learn about pollinators, advocating for your farm community, record keeping, produce recall, crisis management and more!

The Food Safety Dish is a production dishing on all things food safety, brought to you by National Farmers Union’s Local Food Safety Collaborative. Recorded talks with farmer and expert voices on their subject specialties, they share practical advice, wisdom, and how to incorporate good food safety practices into grower operations as well as topics of interest to gardeners and consumers. Now in its second season, you can listen to the podcast episodes here: https://rss.com/podcasts/thefoodsafetydish/

Another medium is a video series Food Safety in Action! which highlights exemplary food safety practices for good farm management and business success. Over the course of ten videos get acquainted with two Minnesota operations and their food safety measures and learn how food safety can uplift communities. To kick off the series you meet Joan and Nick Olson of Prairie Drifter Farm in Litchfield, who share how they started ramping up food safety practices on their 33-acre organic farm, the benefits of these practices, and how they’ve evolved over time. View the videos here.

Share these resources with your co-op community and local farmers. Help build a resilient food system with food safety.

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

See you at CCMA!

CCMA – the national conference for food co-ops – is coming back to the East Coast, hosted by Portland Food Co-op!

This year’s conference theme draws inspiration from the metaphor “a rising tide lifts all boats,” emphasizing the idea that as co-operatives flourish, they elevate the overall well-being and prosperity of the communities they serve.  We’re looking forward to seeing you there!