The History of Local at the Co-op

Little-known fact: the Co-op’s commitment to local goes all the way back to the origins of the Co-op itself.

On January 6, 1936, about 30 members of the Upper Valley community gathered together to discuss forming a buying club to supply members with much-needed staple goods difficult to come by during the depths of the Great Depression. The group voted to organize as a cooperative buying club, and 17 families signed on as charter members. The membership fee was one dollar.

The fledgling cooperative ordered bushel baskets of oranges and grapefruit directly from Florida farms. But it wasn’t long before they added local products to the mix.

Butter and milk, canned fruits and vegetables, dried fruit, potatoes, and maple syrup all quickly established themselves as popular products in the buying group’s lineup. The group also arranged with local suppliers for discounts on gasoline, fuel oil, and coal.

In the process, these plucky local cooperative retailers, producers, and distributors were establishing and developing a model we still use today. Good things stand the test of time.

Getting Organized

About 60 years later, in 1997, Co-op General Manager Terry Appleby saw the need to organize the Co-op’s local farmers and suppliers into a more unified, coordinated group. He assigned the job to the Co-op’s Produce Merchandiser at the time, Tony White.

In the winter of 1998, Tony pulled together the first meeting of local growers, and the Co-op’s annual Growers Meeting was born. Each February, the Co-op meets with a group of area growers to coordinate crop production, planning who will grow specific crops. The Co-op makes a commitment to buy only from a designated grower 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, local producers are paid a fair price for their products. Our cooperative template with local growers has proven so successful, it’s been adopted by other co-ops and like-minded organizations nationwide. Cooperation at its finest!

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Ken Davis

Ken Davis

Ken is a writer in the Co-op Outreach Department. Email him at kdavis@coopfoodstore.com.