This October, New England’s food co-ops are joining more than 30,000 co-ops and credit unions across the United States in celebrating the many ways that co-operatives help to build strong communities as part of National Co-op Month. Food co-ops share a commitment to offering quality, healthy food, and many throughout the region are taking new steps to ensure that their products are affordable and accessible to everyone. Over 15 food co-ops in New England are partnering with the Neighboring Food Co-op Association, the Cooperative Fund of New England, and Hunger Free Vermont to launch and expand “Healthy Food Access” initiatives in their communities. These programs, coupled with efforts to make sure all feel welcome at their local co-op, are helping thousands of people put healthy food on their tables.
Many food co-ops are offering needs-based discounts and lowering their prices on staple foods and household products like milk, bread, and toilet paper. “Food for All (FFA)” programs, based on efforts first launched at City Market in Burlington, VT and Hunger Mountain Co-op in Montpelier, VT, are available at more than 10 co-ops, offering a discount of at least 10% off groceries and household items to members in need. Thanks to the efforts of the Neighboring Food Co-op Association, Cooperative Fund of New England, and Hunger Free Vermont, initiatives like this are now being replicated throughout the country. John Tashiro, City Market’s General Manger, highlights, “Our co-op is in its 9th year of offer our Food for All program. Since its inception in 2009, we’ve offered over $1.2 million in discounts to FFA members, which has helped these members afford healthy food and put more of their budget toward other necessities such as housing and heat.”
“Food co-ops have a long history of working to address issues of food security,” said Bonnie Hudspeth, Member Programs Manager for the Neighboring Food Co-op Association. “And we’re excited to see this commitment continue as we work to make healthy food and co-op membership more accessible and affordable.” As early as the 1840’s, communities began forming co-ops as a way to gain more control over the price, quality, and availability of healthy food, and this commitment remains today.
In a time when 13.6% of Americans are struggling to put food on the table, food co-ops play a crucial role in helping more Americans afford nutritious food for their families. “While many new jobs have been gained in the years since the Great Recession, most of them are lower-wage jobs and families aren’t making enough to make ends meet,” said Faye Conte, Advocacy and Education Director at Hunger Free Vermont. “Most people, at some point in their lives, will experience economic hardship and it’s inspiring to see these businesses support all members of their community.”
Healthy Food Access programs also help food co-ops attract new shoppers. Robyn O’Brien, General Manager at the Putney Food Co-op in Putney, VT, remarked that since launching their Food for All program two years ago, “some of our existing members were thrilled to receive a discount, allowing them to buy the foods they prefer to serve their families but were out of their price range before. Some participants are seniors who really appreciate being able to stretch their food dollars, and some are new shoppers who said they couldn’t afford to shop here before the program.” Many food co-ops have also strengthened their relationships with community support organizations like food shelves and homeless shelters to make sure that those in need know about their programs. “This fall we collaborated with community organizations to host monthly “local food clinics” where we shared information about opportunities to access discounted or free food alongside cooking demonstrations of recipes on a budget,” said Suzette Snow-Cobb, Marketing and Membership Manager at the Franklin Community Co-op.
Food co-ops are hosting events related to Co-op Month throughout October and November, including Healthy Food Access programs at the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op, Franklin Community Co-op, Putney Food Co-op, Brattleboro Food Co-op, and Hunger Mountain Co-op, and more.
For a calendar of events, please visit www.nfca.coop/calendar.
For a list of food co-ops currently offering Healthy Food Access programs, visit www.nfca.coop/healthyfoodaccess.
About Hunger Free Vermont: Hunger Free Vermont is a statewide nonprofit organization that works with state agencies and community groups to end the injustice of hunger and malnutrition for all Vermonters. Since 1993 Hunger Free Vermont’s outreach programs have substantially enhanced Vermont’s nutrition safety net and increased access to nutritious foods. www.hungerfreevt.org
About the Neighboring Food Co-op Association: The Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA) is a co-operative federation bringing together over 30 food co-ops and start-up initiatives that are working together toward a shared vision of a thriving co-operative economy, rooted in a healthy, just and sustainable regional food system and a vibrant community of co-operative enterprise: www.nfca.coop
About the Cooperative Fund of New England: Founded in 1975, the Cooperative Fund of New England works for economic, social, and racial justice by advancing community based, cooperative, and democratically owned or managed enterprises with a preference to assisting cooperatives in low-income communities. It provides financial products at reasonable rates, develops business skills, and offers an investment opportunity that promotes socially conscious enterprise. www.coopfund.coop