Originally Published in Business Monadnock Magazine
“So Jen, how are things going at the Co-op?” That’s a question I’m asked a lot while I’m out and about in our community – and I’m grateful to respond, “It’s going great!” But what exactly does “great” mean? Here’s my chance to elaborate on the success of the Monadnock Food Co-op, one year since opening our community-owned full-service grocery store and cafe in downtown Keene.
In our first year open, we generated about $6.5 million in sales — a figure that puts us right on track to break-even within 2-3 years. Financial health, however, is just one measure of our Co-op’s success. True success for the Monadnock Food Co-op means meeting the needs of our 2,127 Member-Owners, plus their families, friends and neighbors. It means cultivating a healthy, more sustainable community. Here is an update on our progress towards success.
The Monadnock Food Co-op exists to meet our community’s need for:
A healthy, sustainable food system
The Monadnock Food Co-op’s success is tied to our region’s food system. Think of our food system as all the pieces needed to bring local food from the farm to your plate: the soil, farm labor, transportation to distribute these goods to markets, and the list continues. These pieces come together to form our local food system.
How is the Co-op strengthening our food system? For starters, we bring the largest selection of local and sustainably grown products together anywhere in the region, making it easier for shoppers to make a choice that supports our local food system. We currently carry products from 177 farmers and food producers who grow and make their products within 100 miles of the Co-op.
We’re also strengthening our food system by supporting the work of our local food system partners, organizations such as Monadnock Farm & Community Coalition, New England Farmers Union and the Neighboring Food Co-op Association. Working together, we can more effectively and efficiently build our local and regional food systems.
“The best aspect, for me, has been the Co-op’s dedication to offering food from many local farms and food producers,” shared Patti Powers, a Co-op Member-Owner and local vendor, selling her delectable Cheshire Garden products at the Co-op. “When I can’t make it to farmers’ market, I can find milk, eggs, beef, pork, lamb and produce from my friends’ farms right at the Co-op. Cheeses, breads, soaps and lotions, even cookies, candy and granola made by other friends are also available here — and it’s a delight to try new things made right here, by real people. I love being able to bring in my preserves and mustards and fresh blackberries in season, and come home with beautiful, wholesome food — the best of the food producers of the Monadnock region.”
We also work to connect our shoppers with our local producers, helping them get to know the people, farms and kitchens behind the products. Our local producer signs highlight the growing practices of local farmers and include a photo of each producer or their farm. Our bright orange shelf signs call out products grown and processed locally.
To cultivate direct connections between our shoppers and vendors, we invite farmers and food producers into the store to offer samples of their products, giving shoppers a chance to ask producers questions and build relationships with the people who grow and make what’s in their shopping carts.
In addition to meeting local farmers, we feel it’s important for shoppers to see for themselves how products are grown, raised and processed. We help make this happen by hosting a series of farm tours during the growing season. This year’s farm tours include visits to Picadilly Farm in Winchester, Mayfair Farm in Harrisville, Harlow Farm in Westminster, VT, Walpole Valley Farms in Walpole and Manning Hill Farm in Winchester. Our June Farm Tour at Mayfair Farm attracted over 70 people to see, smell and taste all that the farmers, Craig Thompson, Sarah Heffron and their staff have to offer.
Beyond supporting the farmers who currently supply products to the Co-op, we give opportunities for other farmers to benefit from the Co-op as well. This year we held a CSA Fair where ten area farmers set up informational tables and answered questions about their CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) memberships. Additionally, we invite the Farmers’ Market of Keene to post their signs in front of the Co-op during market hours.
An accessible, community-owned downtown food market
While Member-Owners own the Co-op, everyone is welcome to shop and enjoy the Monadnock Food Co-op. Our downtown location and proximity to a bicycle path and bus shelter are some of the first ways we made our Co-op more accessible.
Creating a more accessible food market also means making healthy food affordable to more people. Last fall, we launched our Healthy Food for All Program, assisting people receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits by offering them a 10% discount on their purchases. We also participated in Participant Media’s “Take Your Place” Social Action Campaign, an initiative to seed community conversations about hunger, obesity and food policy to inspire collective action. With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 25 communities across the country hosted screenings of the film “A Place at the Table.”
“Monadnock Food Co-op’s Healthy Food for All program demonstrates their commitment to a healthy, just and sustainable food system by putting good food within everyone’s reach,” said Bonnie Hudspeth, Marketing and Membership Manager for the Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA). “The members of the NFCA, made up of over 30 food co-ops in the Northeast, purchase more than $30 million in local products each year, and this program will help us all increase our support of our region’s farmers and producers, while making healthy, local food more accessible for all community members.”
A strong, sustainable and improving local economy
As a locally owned business, the Co-op helps re-circulate more dollars in our local economy while creating jobs and purchasing from other locally owned businesses. Our Co-op created 57 jobs and paid out over $1.5 million in wages this fiscal year. The ripple effect of these local jobs will strengthen our local economy and community.
According to the National Cooperative Grocers Association, every $1,000 in grocery purchases at a co-op results in $1,604 in local economic activity — $239 more than that same amount spent at a conventional grocer.
We also support the work of Monadnock Buy Local a network of over 150 businesses working to promote the impacts of supporting independent businesses and strengthening our region’s local economy. Like with our local food system partners, we’re stronger together.
One final accomplishment that we’re particularly proud of is receiving this year’s Monadnock Green Business of the Year Award from the City of Keene. My hope was to someday win the award – and I’m incredibly proud that we won in our first year.
Imagine what our success will look like in future years: more distribution methods for farmers to get their products from field to market, more people buying local products creating a stronger local living economy and more of us experiencing a great quality of life in the Monadnock Region. Together we can build a more sustainable, robust local economy rooted in a healthy food system.