Owning Our Identity: Co-op Month 2023! // NFCA News October 2023

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Owning Our Identity: Co-op Month 2023!

Members of co-operatives and credit unions across the United States are celebrating Co-op Month!

Observed nationally since 1964, this year’s theme is “Owning Our Identity,” chosen by the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA CLUSA) as an opportunity to engage members, customers, employees, and the general public about the co-operative difference.

From in-store events, special sales and membership drives to community activities and more, our Neighboring Food Co-ops are spreading the word about the Co-operative Difference across our region:

  • Member food co-ops are highlighting co-op producers on their store shelves, on websites and in their newsletters. They have co-op producer tastings scheduled utilizing NFCA’s list of co-op producers and you can look for the GO Co-op shelf tags.
  • Thirty co-ops, credit unions and support organizations — including our Neighboring Food Co-ops — are participating in print and online ads organized by the Valley Co-operative Business Association (MA) covering Western MA and Southern VT. 
  • Co-ops will take to the airwaves again this month to continue sharing the Co-op Difference. Past years include River Valley Co-op (MA), Franklin Community Co-op (MA), Putney Food Co-op (VT), Brattleboro Food Co-op (VT), Old Creamery Co-op (MA), co-op producers, Real Pickles and Our Family Farms, and the Valley Alliance of Worker Co-ops (VAWC) for a local station’s annual radio show focusing on co-operatives. The recording of WHMP’s Bill Newman programs in 2022’s here and 2021’s here.
  • The NFCA has teamed up with co-ops, credit unions, and support organizations across Vermont to host a cross-sector Co-op Month Gathering and Celebration in Southern VT and online. For details and schedule: https://veoc.org/upcoming-events/vermont-co-op-month-events.
  • The NFCA and our Member Co-ops are participating in the Cooperative Development Foundation’s Co-op Hall of Fame, celebrating the 2023 inductees and raising funds for co-operative development. 
  • Our Neighboring Food Co-ops will be showing off their Co-op Pride in our annual Co-op Month Photo Competition.  Check back each week for new postings! 
  • Our co-ops are holding member drives throughout the month. Join your NFCA Member Co-op in October and be automatically entered to win a prize from these collaborating co-ops: Cabot Creamery, REI or Mad River Ski Area.

“The International Cooperative Alliance approved the Statement on the Cooperative Identity in 1995,” said Erbin Crowell, executive director of the Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA) and a member of the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) Cooperative Identity Advisory Group.  “And Co-op Month is a unique opportunity for co-ops to communicate the shared values that guide us and the principles that make them real in how we conduct business.”

The Statement defines a co-operative as “an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.”  This means that co-ops are governed by their members, the everyday people who use the business, as opposed to investors or shareholders.  These members may be consumers, workers, producers, or independent business owners who govern the co-op on a democratic basis. 

Next, the Statement notes that co-ops “are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity.”  These values set the co-operative movement apart from other business models in that their purpose is not simply to generate profit, but to enable people to work together to build a better future for everyone.  Further, co-ops and their members “believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.”  Co-ops and their members set a high standard for themselves and are working constantly to live up to their ideals.

Finally, the Co-operative Identity includes a list of principles, or “guidelines by which co-operatives put their values into practice.”  These are the operational characteristics of co-operative enterprises – or what makes a co-op a co-op – and include Voluntary and Open Membership (all are welcome and no one is forced to join), Democratic Member Control (co-ops are controlled by the people who use the business for shared benefit), Member Economic Participation (members participate in the business and contribute capital to support growth and success), Autonomy and Independence (co-ops are controlled by their members, rather than outside organizations, governments, or investors), Education, Training, and Information (co-ops educate and empower their members, policymakers, and the public), Cooperation among Cooperatives (by working together, co-ops are more successful can have more impact), and Concern for Community (co-ops are member-focused — but also work for a more democratic, sustainable, and inclusive economy for everyone).

Across the Northeast, people have used food co-ops to improve access to healthy, local, affordable food, and build stronger, more inclusive communities.  For example, a survey by the Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA) found that grocery co-ops across New England and New York play a key role on supporting our regional economy, selling more than $112 million in local products annually — or an amazing 25% of total sales.  Taken together, these co-ops are locally owned by 173,000 members and provide employment for over 2,465 people, more than 60% of whom are also members, sharing in the ownership of their local grocery store. 

From farmer co-ops to worker co-ops, credit unions to mutual insurance, and housing co-ops to energy co-ops, co-operative businesses thrive across the U.S. economy, where 1 in three people are co-op members.  Around the world, around 1 billion people are members of about 3 million co-operatives, and 10% of the world’s population, or around 280 million people, are employed by co-ops.  And because they are member-owned, co-operatives are rooted in their communities and governed by the people who use them to meet their needs.

Stop in at your local food co-op during Co-op Month to learn more about what makes co-operatives different.  And while you’re there, look for the “Go Co-op” signs on the shelves that identify co-op made products. You may be surprised by what you find, including dairy products from Cabot Creamery Co-op and Organic Valley, fresh produce from Deep Root Organic Co-op, fairly traded coffee, tea, and chocolate from Equal Exchange, beverages from Katalyst Kombucha and La Riojana wines, seeds and bulbs from FEDCO, naturally fermented vegetables from Real Pickles — and many others. 

For more information on Co-op Month, please visit https://nfca.coop/Co-opMonth.

20 Years of Co-operative Education

April Harkness of Hanover Co-op Food Stores, receiving her MMCCU diploma!

On September 21 and 22, 2023, the Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA) joined over seventy founders, faculty, staff, students, alumni, partners, and friends gathered at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada to mark the 20-year anniversary of the International Centre for Co-operative Management (ICCM).

“We can and must do all we can to build a better economy – a co-operative economy that serves people and communities rather than capital,” said Tom Webb, Co-Founder, Former Program Manager, and Adjunct Professor. “The celebration reminded me it is possible to build a better world and provide support for hope. Thanks to all who have contributed to building the program.”

Also in attendance were NFCA Executive Director Erbin Crowell, who graduated from the program with a Master of Management: Co-operatives & Credit Unions (MMCCU) in 2009, and Associate Director Suzette Snow-Cobb, who received her degree in 2013.  Crowell also serves on the Board of Directors of the Cooperative Management Education Co-operative, which oversees the program, and teaches a course on “Co-operative Business Management”. 

In addition to celebrating 20 years of growth and impact, the event offered an opportunity for shared learning, networking, and visioning, including tours of local co-operatives, a cruise of Halifax Harbor, and convocation for the class of 2023.  Graduating this year were April Harkness (pictured above), ESG Program Manager at Hanover Co-op Food Stores (NH & VT), and Natasha LaTour, Directior of Marketing at River Valley Co-op (MA).

“The MMCCU program was life-changing for me and demonstrated the crucial role of our Values and Principles in building successful co-operative enterprises,” said Crowell.  “It was so inspiring to celebrate with the Class of 2023 and watch this community of graduates continue to grow and make a difference for our movement.”

This year marks two decades since the Centre launched its flagship Master of Management: Co-operatives & Credit Unions (MMCCU).  Today, the program offers a suite of online, part-time graduate programs, short courses, a credit union leadership program, international co-op study tours and special topics webinars.  ICCM’s education and training programs have engaged over 1,100 co-operative professionals in over 360 organizations from 41 nations.  Additionally, ICCM is acknowledged as a global leader in co-operative research, which has culminated in symposia, books, journal articles and reports.ICCM exists to elevate the global co-operative sector through education and research that is by, for and about co-operatives.  For more information, visit https://www.smu.ca/iccm.

Co-ops in the News

September 15, 2023
Circuitous Millpond WIT (Leverett Village Co-op at 34:36)

NEPM’s The Fabulous 413

September 15, 2023
Has your co-op been in the news recently? Send your item to info@nfca.coop

Partner Profile: Cabot Creamery Co-op

Thanks to our friends at Cabot Creamery Co-op, when you join your local food co-ops during October – National Co-op Month – you could be a winner!

Become a new member of our local Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA) co-op during October and you will be automatically entered to win one of 8 great prize packages from Cabot Creamery Co-op, Mad River Glen Co-operative, and REI Co-op! (No purchase is necessary, and you can find more information at this link.)

As one of our region’s best known and most-awarded co-operative brands, Cabot has been honored for Best Cheddar at the U.S. and World Championship Cheese Contests, the American Cheese Society competition and the World Dairy Expo.  Today, this regional co-operative offers a full line of dairy products including cheese, butter, sour cream, cottage cheese and yogurt.

Underlying Cabot’s business success is its commitment to working with different co-op sectors such as food co-ops, credit unions and energy co-ops to spread the word about the co-operative difference. Community, democracy and local ownership are integral to our business model — service to, and for, the communities in which members live, work and shop. In this spirit, Cabot has partnered with the NFCA to grow the wider co-operative movement with this special Co-op Month celebration. Cabot Creamery Co-operative is proud to be owned by the farmer members who provide the fresh milk for its award-winning cheeses and dairy products.

To learn more visit https://cabotcheese.coop.

*No purchase necessary

October Cave-to-Co-op Special

photo of Cave-to-Co-op's October cheese offering: Swallow Tail Tomme by Stony Pond Farm, Enosburg Falls,
This month’s special cheese is Swallow Tail Tomme, Stony Pond Farm, Enosburg, Vermont

Stony Pond Farm is a 260-acre certified organic first- generation farm owned and operated by Tyler and Melanie Webb in Enosburg Falls, Vermont. When Tyler bought the farm in 2004 it was run down, had poor pastures, and no roads; it was exactly what he was looking for.

After a stint at a large conventional farm and then for the National Resource Conservation Service of the USDA he realized the conventional methods were not the path he wanted to take. It took sitting in at organic grazing meetings at conferences to point him towards the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont and that particular run-down farm.
By 2007 Tyler had a herd of cattle, had built miles of fence, and was bringing the land back to life. To earn money, he was selling frozen grass-fed beef alongside cheeseburgers at Burlington’s Farmers Market; one week, a photographer from Brooklyn was visiting friends and stopped to grab a burger.

Melanie is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon and brings both business acumen and creative flair to Stony Pond. Leaving the city behind, but not her cameras, she moved to the Green Mountains and hasn’t looked back. In addition to working for a non-profit that advocates for people with disabilities, and along with promoting local biodynamic communities, Melanie’s also full-time mom to Willow and Wyatt.

People looking at Stony Pond Farm’s cattle might come away scratching their heads. The mix of breeds is a little strange for most New England farms. There are Jerseys, Devons, and British White mixed together. The calves are even more unique. The milk comes from the pretty faced Jerseys and some of the Devons, giving plentiful and rich milk, which until summer of 2019 was sold to Organic Valley. A lifelong dream of making cheese had Melanie and Tyler converting an un-used part of their property into a cheesemaking room and another into an aging room where cheese is made 2-3 times a week.

If you were to ask a cheese pro what a Tomme is they’d likely give an answer along the lines of: it’s a small format natural rind farmer’s cheese. Another answer might be: Tommes refer to small cheeses made in the summer months while the ruminants are out eating fresh grass. Both definitions would apply to Swallow Tail Tomme.

Swallow Tail Tomme is named after swallows that swoop and dive over the fields at Stony Pond, controlling pests that would bother cow and human alike. Made using raw milk from a single milking, then aging for an average of ninety days, this cheese is a time capsule of the organic fields spring through early fall.

Recipes using Swallow Tail can be found here.

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

NEFU’s 2023 Fall Legislative Fly-in representatives: farmers Amber Brouillette and Greg Pollock, Cornell student Ashton Pihl and NEFU president Roger Noonan, (L to R)

Farmers Union Legislative Fly-in

In September, 300 Farmers Union members from across the country joined together in Washington, DC to advocate for family farmers as part of the National Farmers Union (NFU) Fall Legislative Fly-In. Over the course of the week, Farmers Union members attended hundreds of Congressional meetings and meet with fifteen federal agencies.

For the opening session of Fly-In, Farmers Union members heard from United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack, along with a variety of panels featuring speakers from USDA’s Marketing and Regulatory Programs and Farm Production and Conservation mission areas.

In his remarks to Fly-In attendees, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack addressed farm bill programs, along with the importance of USDA programs that are working to stem the loss of family farms.

Sign at the 2023 National Farmers Union Fall Legislative Fly-In  detailing different Sponsors

 “We were fortunate to have beginning farmers Greg Pollock and Amber Brouillette of SunFox Farms in Concord and Deerfield, NH sharing their perspectives as new farmers and representing NEFU.” said Roger Noonan President of the New England Farmers Union (NEFU)

Farmers Union members prioritized their support for Fairness for Farmers legislation in the 2023 Farm Bill, which includes a competition title so that family farmers, ranchers, and our communities have access to fair, open, and competitive markets. Additionally, members advocated for a strong farm safety net and climate change policies that support farmers and ranchers.

Since 1909, Farmers Union members have traveled to Washington, DC as part of the organization’s grassroots policy and advocacy work. For more information on NFU’s policy priorities, visit nfu.org/fly-in.

Upcoming Opportunity

Women’s Conference, November 12-14, 2023

National Farmers Union is excited to bring Women’s Conference to Albuquerque, NM for the first time this November! Join Farmers Union members from across the country for two days of interactive sessions on ag business management, leadership development, cooperative education, and more.

To be a woman in agriculture is to persevere. The 2023 National Farmers Union Women’s Conference will explore the theme of preservation –– from environmental preservation efforts to cultural preservation, community preservation to the preservation of mental wellness, and, of course, the preservation of farm business health. Through each of these topics, National Farmers Union hopes this conference will inspire you to continue the work that they’ve been leading for over 120 years: preserving a future for family farmers.

Three days of workshops, speakers and panels including “How Cooperatives are Supporting Indigenous Communities,” a panel discussion exploring how the cooperative business model supports and empowers indigenous communities.

This year’s conference registration is now full. For more information: https://www.eventcreate.com/e/nfuwomensconference

Join the Farmers UnionThe 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.  The Neighboring Food Co-op Association is an affiliate member of the New England Farmers Union chapter – and invites farmers, food co-ops, and consumers to join us!  For more information, please visit www.newenglandfarmersunion.org.

October is Co-op Month!


A great time to stop in at your local food co-op and learn more about the difference that people are making in their communities through co-operation.  From in-store events, special sales, and membership drives to community activities and more, our Neighboring Food Co-ops are spreading the word about the Co-operative Difference across our region.  Learn more at https://nfca.coop/Co-opMonth.  

Upcoming Events