Communicating the Co-op Difference

Neighboring Food Co-ops Celebrate 4th Annual Meeting

The NeigNFCAbanner2010_5hboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA) held its Fourth Annual Meeting on March 21st, hosted by the Putney Food Co-op in Putney, VT.  The meeting brought together nearly 100 co-operators from across New England for networking, strategic dialog, and workshops. Attendees included representatives from 45 food co-ops, start-up initiatives, and partner organizations, including Michael Faber, the General Manager of the Monadnock Food Co-op.

Executive Director Erbin Crowell and Bonnie Hudspeth, Membership and Outreach Manager, reported on the activities of the past year, and NFCA’s priorities moving forward. “There is renewed interest in food co-ops and the impact we have on the food system and local economies,” said Crowell. “At the same time, new competition in the marketplace means that our members need to be excellent grocery stores and excellent co-operatives.”

Jerry McGeorge, Vice President for Co-operative Affairs at Organic Valley, a co-op of organic farmers with over 300 members here in New England, was keynote speaker for the gathering. “Co-operators are idealists and tend to be humble, which is good,” said McGeorge, who also serves as chair of the board of directors of the National Co-operative Business Association. “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.”

A consistent theme of NFCA gatherings over the past few years has been alignment with the goals of the International Co-operative Alliance’s “Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade,” which envisions co-operative enterprise as the fastest growing business model by 2020.  Attendees at this year’s Annual Meeting discussed the Blueprint’s priority of elevating member participation and considered what food co-ops can do to communicate their unique identity as community owned, democratically governed businesses.

The presence of representatives from 11 start-up efforts demonstrated the growing excitement about food co-ops in communities across New England.  “NFCA is one of the only groups that not only welcomes co-ops before they are open, they provide significant support through networking and training,” said Stuart Reid, Executive Director of Food Co-op Initiative, which provided technical support to start-ups. “Participating in this year’s meeting showed how important this is to the new co-op organizers and made me proud of our co-operative community.”

The Annual Meeting concluded with the results elections for the NFCA Board of Directors. Kari Bradley, NFCA Board Member and General Manager of Hunger Mountain Co-op in Montpelier, VT, then announced the establishment of the Neighboring Co-operator award. The annual award, which acknowledges “special contributions to the advancement of our vision and of the wider Co-operative Movement in our region” was presented to Alex Gyori, General Manager of Brattleboro Food Co-op and a founding Board Member of the NFCA, for his vision and dedication to making the Neighboring Food Co-op Association a reality. Check out the group photo with a fun surprise, as attendees gathered to honor Alex and share their appreciation:

The Neighboring Food Co-op Association includes more than 35 food co-ops and start-up initiatives, locally owned by over 90,000 people across New England.  For more information, please visit