I recently had an inspiring conversation with Amanda Charland, our Co-op’s Director of Outreach and Member Services. Amanda was discussing the ambiguous marketing campaigns at a large area chain store, a store covered with signage promoting local. If you look around the store, Amanda noted, there are few or no local products to be found—now or anytime of year. “Here it is, December in New England, and we still have local products,” Amanda said. “We have local you can taste and bring home to your family. Other stores just have local posters.”
One of my favorite things about working at the Co-op this time of year is seeing our stores filled with local and regional products, far beyond a time of year many consumers think of as the growing season. It’s a very special thing, and it doesn’t happen by luck or accident. It takes hard work, dedication, and cooperation. To have local in December, we start working on it in January.
Every winter, not long after the first of the year, a hardy group of Upper Valley farmers meets at the Richard W. Black Recreation Center, a busy community hub just across the street from our Hanover store. The purpose is the growers meeting, a yearly gathering of Co-op staff and farmers that’s been a model for other co-ops nationwide.
The purpose of the meeting is to coordinate crop production for the year ahead. Our Co-op makes a commitment to support these growers and their businesses while the crop is in season. The grower, in turn, counts on this commitment to plan farm production throughout the year. Through this collaborative system, farmers are paid a fair price for their products and keep our stores stocked with local foods, even into December.
Compare this process with how a chain store does local. Most chain stores put more work into marketing their local image than actually carrying local products. At our Co-op, we ask our growers what they need to produce the product, then negotiate a fair price that benefits the grower, the Co-op, our members, and the consumers who shop our stores. Many chain stores, if they carry a local product at all, will tell the grower the price they will pay, with a message of take it or leave it.
Having access to good, nutritious, locally produced food is a gift. This holiday season, I want to thank all our staff and our local and regional food producers and partners for their hard work to bring us this gift throughout the year to share with all. Want to learn more? Reach out to me anytime. My door is always open to you.