Making Co-ops Part of the Debate // NFCA News, September 2019

Your Neighboring Food Co-ops

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Making Co-ops Part of the Debate

Co-ops Have Been Central to U.S. Economic Policy — And Should be Again

by Erbin Crowell

At various times in our nation’s history, co-operative enterprise has been at the center of innovative federal policies designed to empower communities to meet their own needs in a way that other business models could or would not. Many of the conditions that inspired these approaches may be familiar to us today: family farmers struggling against corporate consolidation, a widening gap in wealth and opportunity, working people trying to stay out of debt while accessing higher education and a better life, communities excluded from some of the basic advantages of advances in technology.

These government programs were built on the foundation of successful experiments of co-operatives to date, both within the U.S. and in other countries, and were rooted in values of democracy, self-responsibility, and self-help. Federal support has focused primarily on legislation that would reinforce the unique nature of co-ops as user-owned, user-governed, and user-benefiting business, clear obstacles to co-operative business development, and open the way for co-operative entrepreneurs. Where government support was necessary, the long-term goal was for co-ops to become self-governing, self-sustaining, and accountable to the communities that they served over time. In this sense, they appealed to people across the political spectrum.

For example, in 1922 Congress enacted the Capper-Volsted Act — often referred to as the “Co-operative Bill of Rights” — opening the way for the growth of agricultural co-ops. Recognizing the role of co-operatives in enabling family farmers to compete and negotiate with much larger corporations, the federal government soon moved beyond basic provisions enabling their formation to providing formal technical and financial support. With the passage of the Cooperative Marketing Act in 1926, the USDA became directly involved in co-operative development. Today, a majority of America’s 2 million farmers are co-op members with familiar co-ops active in our region including Deep Root Organic Co-op, Organic Valley, Pioneer Valley Growers Association, and Cabot Creamery Co-op (part of Agri-Mark), which is celebrating its centennial this year.

Similarly, in 1933, the Farm Credit Act funded the establishment of financial co-ops for farmers and rural communities, and the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 provided isolated communities unable to access electricity and other utilities with federal loans to build power infrastructure themselves. Structured as community-based co-ops, these businesses continue to provide electric services to the majority of the American land mass. Examples in our region include the Vermont Electric Co-op, Washington Electric Co-op (VT), the New Hampshire Electric Co-op, and the Delaware and Otsego Electric Co-ops in New York State.

Other examples of government support for co-operative enterprise include the Federal Credit Union Act (1936), which enabled working people to charter credit unions under federal law, opening access to affordable credit and other financial services, and rooting capital in local communities. (Today, 115 million Americans are credit union members.) In the 1950s and ‘60s, Federal Housing Acts sought to address issues of affordable housing thought the development of housing co-ops. And in 1978, the National Cooperative Bank was chartered by Congress to provide financial services to co-ops and the members.

While awareness of the long-term impact of co-ops and credit unions has increased dramatically in recent years, they have been largely absent from the policy platforms of our Presidential candidates. An exception has been Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, whose policy statement on “Revitalizing Rural America” calls for programs that would “incentivize rural co-operative business models and utilities, such as rural electric co-operatives, food co-ops, and credit unions.”

New York Senator and recent Presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand is also no stranger to co-ops, having co-sponsored the Mainstreet Employee Ownership Act. Passed in 2018, this legislation seeks to transform the challenge of business owner retirements into an opportunity, providing a path for conversion of these enterprises to worker co-ops and other models for employee ownership.

In August, Gillibrand released her plan for a “National Partnership for a Prosperous Rural America,” with the goal of “putting power back in the hands of rural Americans” to grow the economy and address challenges of climate change and health care. In keeping with ideals of empowering people to meet their own needs and ensure that businesses are accountable to their communities, co-operatives are central to her vision:

We will launch a cooperative business initiative, working with communities, business owners, and workers to address gaps in community services and create economic opportunity. Rural America has long been shaped by co-ops, from agriculture and rural utilities to credit unions and Farm Credit institutions. Today, co-ops can continue this legacy of building local wealth and quality of life. Co-ops can enable rural Americans to address a new set of challenges like inadequate child care, homecare, housing, and high-speed internet service. Rural communities could use co-ops to keep local grocery stores open and helping retiring business owners transfer their companies to workers, consumers, and farmers, keeping Main Street businesses alive, preventing job loss, and sharing wealth across rural America.

As president, I would create a White House Council on a Cooperative Economy to ensure all federal loan, contracting, and technical assistance programs are accessible by cooperatives, unlocking billions of dollars in potential federal investment. And so that rural regions fully capture the potential of using cooperatives, we will significantly increase support to cooperative development by fully funding the Rural Cooperative Development Program at $40 million per year.

“Unique to [Gillibrand’s] plan is how she has woven the element of partnership into every aspect of a comprehensive vision for a powerful rural economy and an improved quality of community life,” said Tom Vilsack, former Iowa Governor and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. “Her plan places a premium on rural communities leading the effort with government assistance and carves out an expanded role for co-operatives to play in rebuilding the rural economy.”

Though Gillibrand has since decided to drop out of the presidential race, her efforts and those of Sanders to shine a light on the historic impact of co-ops and to advocate for specific policies that would enable them to address contemporary challenges offers an opportunity for co-operatives and credit unions to amplify and ensure that they continue to be part of the dialog among Presidential candidates moving forward.

Earlier this summer, with the 2020 Presidential Elections beginning to heat up, the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA) launched its “#CoopsFor2020” Campaign to help raise awareness of co-operatives as powerful, effective tools for building more stable, sustainable businesses and communities, from addressing rural internet connectivity and clean energy to affordable housing, financial security and healthy food access. The campaign invites people to send a “Letter to the Editor” of their local newspaper or other publications and provides a template you can use, along with sample social media posts you can use. It’s a great opportunity to share what your local co-ops and credit unions mean to you and your community, raise awareness about the co-operative difference, and ensure that co-operatives are part of the debate. For more information, visit

With Co-op Month coming up in October, co-operatives and credit unions across the U.S. will be celebrating how they are “for the community, by the community.” What better time to make sure that our candidates know that co-ops have been central to our country’s progress, and are powerful tools for building a better future for everyone?

Erbin Crowell is Executive Director of the Neighboring Food Co-op Association and serves as Chair of the Board of Directors of NCBA CLUSA. He received his Master of Management: Co-operatives & Credit Unions from Saint Mary’s University in Nova Scotia and is an adjunct lecturer with the Department of Economics at UMass Amherst, where he teaches courses on the co-operative movement.

Thanks to CoBank for their support of our Neighboring Food Co-ops

Co-op Month is Around the Corner!

Co-ops: For the Community, By the Community

This October, your Neighboring Food Co-ops are joining over 40,000 co-operatives and credit unions across the United States in celebrating Co-op Month, observed nationally since 1964. This year’s theme, “Co-ops: By the Community, For the Community,” was chosen by the National Cooperative Business Association to promote how co-operative enterprises enable people to work together to meet their needs and build stronger communities.

Across the Northeast, people have used food co-ops to improve access to healthy, local, affordable food, and build stronger communities. While most of these grocery stores got their start more than 30 years ago some began in the 1930s and 40s, and a new wave of startups have opened their doors in the past ten years, representing renewed interest in food security and community ownership. Today, the Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA) includes over 35 food co-ops and start-ups, locally owned by more than 150,000 members and employing over 2,300 people. Together, these co-ops generate shared annual revenue of $340 million, including sales of $93 million in local products.

More information and resources to help your food co-op celebrate Co-op Month:

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Farm to Freezer: Quinoa and Corn Salad

Quinoa & Corn Salad: Hot or Cold!

When you’re in need of an easy to prepare lunch or salad, try a quinoa and corn combination. Your local co-op has the ingredients you can use in creating easy salads. It’s most nutritious to eat vegetables right after harvest, however freezing close to harvest retains the nutrients and studies show little or no loss of vitamins, minerals and antioxidant activity. Using frozen vegetables cuts down on cooking when preparing too.

Salads that combine grains and vegetables make for hearty side dishes or lunches that can be prepared ahead. When you shop from the bulk department packaging is kept to a minimum and when you choose NFCA’s Northeast Grown Frozen Fruits and Vegetables, you are helping to keep local farmers thriving. A good decision for yourself and family, our farmers, and our environment!

By working together, food co-ops across our region are making regionally grown produce available to our shoppers year ‘round. Eat healthy and contribute to community building! Look for our Northeast Grown Frozen Fruits and Vegetables in the freezer section. They’re easy to find because they’re packed in a clear package so you can see what’s inside.

For more Farm to Freezer information and recipes — including warm weather recipes great for summer meals using frozen corn, peas, edamame, or blueberries — visit:

Quinoa Corn Salad

Quinoa and Corn Salad with Maple Dressing, is a hearty and delicious salad made with roasted tomatoes and feta cheese for the perfect make-ahead salad!


  • 3 cups cooked quinoa
  • 4 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • one 10 oz NFCA Frozen Corn defrosted (or more if desired)
  • 1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil (or oil of your choice)
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese


  • Cook Quinoa
  • Stir maple and apple cider vinegar with a whisk. Set aside.
  • While quinoa has a few minutes left in cooking, heat coconut oil in a pan over medium high heat. When oil is hot, add tomato halves and corn with salt and ground pepper. Stir to combine and quickly heat for about 3-4 minutes, just enough for tomatoes to soften.
  • When quinoa has finished cooking, stir in the maple vinegar mixture into the quinoa and using a wooden spoon, turn over a few times to combine. Mix in the corn and cherry tomatoes.
  • Serve warm topped with crumbles feta cheese (and optional chopped herbs).
  • Or cool and refrigerate, serving cold (store feta separately, add after cooling).

Co-op Career Development: Enhancing Co-op Business Performance

Ready for growth? Ready to move up into a new leadership position at your Co-op or Credit Union? Register today!

The Neighboring Food Co-op Association is hosting a second Annual training with Professor Daniel Côté of Saint Mary’s University, October 24 – 25, 2019 in Greenfield, MA.

Enhancing Co-operative Business Performance: How to Strengthen Identity, Loyalty and Participation is an interactive intensive professional development opportunity focused on learning new practices leading thinking in co-operative management coupled with tangible examples of how to translate knowledge into action.

“The Executive Education course gave me a chance to step outside the everyday routine of running a food co-op and learn with other co-operators, including those from other co-op sectors,” said Patty Smith, Operations Manager at the Willimantic Food Co-op (CT). “The focus on renewing our individual co-operative identities to stay relevant in today’s marketplace gave me many ah-ha! moments, and I came back to work with an enhanced view of the big co-op picture, as well as lots of new tactical ideas to improve my co-op’s operations.”

Who should come? Co-op General Managers/CEOs, Senior Managers, Board Members and Staff.

Register today: slots are filing up! Get More info & Register:

Organic Valley logo.jpg

Thanks to Organic Valley for their support of our Neighboring Food Co-ops

September’s Cave to Co-op Cheese Special

Swisserella with Mustard Seeds, Bridport Creamery, Bridport, VT

September’s Cave to Co-op special, Swisserella with mustard seeds, has a snap and kick of mustard with whole mustard seeds mixed in giving it a nice crunch. A semi-hard mild jack cheese with great melting properties, it is perfect for cooking anything from mac and cheese, to melting on a burger, or just snacking.

Cheesemaker Nicole Foster was born and raised on her family farm on the shores of Lake Champlain. Nicole was always extremely involved in the dairy from milking to farm work. Nicole, her brother and sister developed a well-known Brown Swiss herd of cows showing nationally and sold for breeding stock all over the world.

Nicole and her husband and family now have their own Swiss herd in Bridport Vermont and Nicole has been working toward earning her Master Cheesemakers Certificate at the Vermont Institute of Artisanal Cheese at UVM. Nicole has enjoyed creating quality, salable products that are unique to Bridport Creamery with initial offering including cheese curds, their own “Swisserella” available in several delicious flavors and will eventually include aged cheeses.

For recipes using Swisserella:

Cave to Co-op is a partnership between Provisions International and the Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA) to support artisanal cheese producers in our region and make their products more easily available to co-op shoppers. Each month, a delicious local cheese is featured at a great price. For more information on Cave to Co-op, visit:


Thanks to New England Farmers Union for their support of our Neighboring Food Co-ops

Farmers Union: Fall Fly-In

Getting Ready for a National Fly-In

New England is getting ready for National Farmers Union Washington DC Fly-in with it’s biggest delegation ever! Eight farmers and co-op leaders from five New England states and New York will be representing the New England region at the DC Fly-in from September 8-11. During the Fly-in, the delegation will meet with the region’s Congressional representatives, advocate for issues important to New England agriculture, and hear from key members of congress on agriculture issues as well as from senior members of the USDA.

This year’s delegation is made up of: Mary Castonguay, New England Farmers Union Vice President and organic dairy farmer from Livermore, Maine; Bethany Davis from Massachusetts, Director of Advocacy and Government Relations for Megafood and President of the Coalition for Supplement Sustainability; Roger Noonan, President of New England Farmers Union and organic vegetable farmer from New Hampshire; Allan Reetz, Director of Public & Government Affairs for Hanover Co-op Food Stores in New Hampshire; Charlotte Ross, an organic vegetable farmer Lebanon, Connecticut and member of the Board of Directors at Willimantic Food Co-op ; Karl Schatz, a goat farmer, agritourism operator, and communications professional from Gray, Maine; Eric Scheffer, an organic dairy farmer from Hoosick Falls, New York; and Rebecca White from Vermont, who is the Produce Manager at Hanover Co-op Food Stores.

The New England delegation spoke by conference call in August to discuss regional priorities for this year’s fly-in. Here are 5 key issues that the delegation will be focusing on when meeting with legislators and staffers.

  1. Climate Change: New England Farmers Union has endorsed Senator Corey Booker’s Climate Stewardship Act, and will be asking New England Senators to sign on as Co-Sponsors of the bill. The legislation would provide farmers and forest landowners with additional tools and resources to improve the resiliency of working lands to adapt to, and mitigate the impacts of a changing climate.
  2. Dairy: New England has been, and continues to be, a supporter of the Dairy Together movement that seeks immediate solutions to the crisis being faced by America’s family dairy farmers. We will be asking legislators to consider a number of actions to help struggling dairy farms, such as supply management, and other ways of ensuring fair dairy prices.
  3. Local Foods: Farmers Union will be asking legislators to support healthy foods access, including such programs as Double Up Bucks, that connect farms to, and improve health outcomes for, underserved populations.
  4. Cooperatives: Farmers Union has signed on to a letter to the Small Business Committees of the House and Senate requesting a hearing on access for co-ops to Small Business Administration’s (SBA) lending programs. We will be pressing legislators serving on these committees to ensure the SBA fulfills provisions under the Main Street Employee Ownership Act, including improved access to lending programs that could help co-ops grow.
  5. Immigration: New England Farmers Union supports the Agricultural Workers Program Act of 2019 (“Blue Card Bill”: S171-HR641) which includes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented and documented farm workers, including guest workers under the H2A Visa program.

If you are a New England farmer, fisher, or co-op member, or supporter of a just, cooperative robust local and regional food system, and have an issue that you would like to make sure is addressed with New England lawmakers in Washington, we want to hear from you! Send an email to with your issue or concern and we will share it with the delegation!

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The New England Farmers Union Needs You!

If you care about where your food comes from and want to support the people who produce it, consider joining 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

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 the Northeast.

Our Neighborhood Co-op Calendar

October is Co-op Month! 

This October, your Neighboring Food Co-ops are joining over 40,000 co-operatives and credit unions across the United States in celebrating Co-op Month. This year’s theme, “Co-ops: By the Community, For the Community,” was chosen by the National Cooperative Business Association to promote how co-operative enterprises enable people to work together to meet their needs and build stronger communities.

For more information, visit

For More Co-op Events, Visit


Sept 20-22

Common Ground Country Fair, Maine Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association, Unity Maine


Sept 25

Peer Training for NFCA Member Food Co-op Cheese Buyers

Brattleboro, VT





Oct 2-4

NCBA CLUSA Co-op Impact Conference, Washington, DC


Oct 18-20

Eastern Conference for Workplace Democracy, Baltimore, MD


Oct 19

Co-op Cafe in Keene, NH

Co-Hosted by the NFCA


Oct 24-25

Saint Mary’s University Co-op Executive Education Training, Greenfield, MA

Enhancing Business Performance through Co-operative Management Practices

Hosted by the NFCA



Dec 21

Founding of the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers, 1844


The Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA) is a co-operative federation of 35 food co-ops and start-up 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.