Dear Co-op Members,
I love to drive by the Norwich Farmers Market, the welcoming collection of farmstands on a pristine stretch of Co-op property off Rt. 5 in Norwich, Vermont. If you’ve never been there, it’s a beautiful sight to see, even in the dead of winter. But it really comes alive during the growing season, buzzing with farmers, shoppers, and the best local produce anywhere.
Nothing differentiates us from the competition like our commitment to local. Long before “local” was a marketing term used by every monolithic chain store, our Co-op was touting the benefits of local foods and forming partnerships with family farms.
Our “Co-op way” is the genuine way to do local. We don’t just encourage people to shop our stores; we encourage them to shop farmstands and farmers markets and to join CSAs and to have choices of access to our partner’s products. It’s a commitment to building robust local economies and to doing what’s right for the people and the planet.
In my 2017 business plan, I wrote about our commitment to the local market. Local accounts for a significant portion of our revenue and differentiates us from the competition. We negotiate fair prices with our farmers that benefit the grower, our Co-op, and the consumers who shop our stores. Our local template is so successful, it’s been adopted by other co-ops and like-minded organizations nationwide.
Compare this process with how a chain store does local. Chain stores, if they carry a local product at all, will tell the grower the price, period. They want shoppers to only buy from their store, not to buy from a farmstand, farmers market, or CSA. And their version of a “local” product may be something that comes from hundreds of miles away.
Allan Reetz, our co-op’s director of public relations, likes to say that we don’t support local agriculture; local agriculture supports all of us. He’s right. Our area’s rich tradition of small family farms keeps our communities physically and economically healthy. Our local growers take care of us, so we do our best to help them succeed. Cooperation at its finest.
As we kick off another growing season, my thanks to all of you who help make our local producers successful. And as always, if you have questions or ideas, reach out to me anytime. My door is open to you.
(Photo above: Janet and Tim Taylor, Crossroad Farm, Post Mills, Vt.)