Monadnock Food Co-op Named Best Start-up

Jul 22, 2013

The recently opened Monadnock Food Co-op in Keene has just won a national startup of the year award from the Food Co-op Initiative. The Co-op opened for business April 3 with a Grand opening weekend in June.

For the last three months shoppers like Allison Aldrich have been picking up farmer produced foods at the Monadnock Food Co-op.

“There’s a local dairy I like to support that is available here.  I like that they have an area in the produce section of local farmers. I’d say those are the areas I look for the most.  They have some local bakeries whose bread I was about to go get.”

The deli and bakery where Aldrich was headed provide not just the food but a place to eat it.  That makes the store different from other groceries.  Also, dairy cases include duck eggs as well as chicken eggs.  The fish and meat sections have free range options and a butcher on site. 

Co-op General Manager Michael Faber says the community came forward with money over the last couple of years to build the store on the old railroad land off Main Street in downtown Keene.

“We raised over a million dollars from members of the community in the form of member loans as well as close to 1500 members by the time we opened our doors.”

The co-op’s Marketing and Membership Manager Jen Risley says they shot past their thousand member goal quickly. 

“We ended up having 1500 by our opening on April 3. We currently have 1700 member owners, and so we continue to reach past our goals so it’s just been fantastic the amount of support people have shown by taking $200 and investing that in the co-op as member equity.” 

Co-op members elect and give input to the store’s board and when the store makes a profit, the members get a share of it. 

Three Waves of Food Co-operatives

The Keene-based store follows in the footsteps of other co-ops in New Hampshire.  The oldest is the Hanover Co-op Food Store that began during the Great Depression in 1936 and is among the oldest in the United States.  The second wave of co-ops came in the 70s with the growing desire for organic and natural foods. 

Monadnock Food Co-op Board Chair Joe Marks says today’s startups are the third wave.

“The current wave of co-ops, which has been going on for last five years and consists of 300-400 startups across the country is really around community.” 

According to the Cooperative Business Association, there are 350 retail food cooperatives in the United States.  Two area communities working to open food co-ops are Walpole and Manchester. 

Local Food and Accessibility 

Across Main Street from the co-op on Tuesdays and Saturdays is the Keene Farmers Market.  On a recent day, retired Keene resident Eleanor Vander Haegen was picking out produce.  She says she also shops at the co-op. 

“They complement each other.  You can get certain things that you can't get anywhere else, like fresh fish for example, or some of the cheese products.  And at the farmers market you just get the fresh produce right from the farmers and it’s just so terrific to be able to eat it and buy it and have it in the summertime.”

Food at the farmers market and co-op can be more expensive than other stores.  Larger commercial grocers can reduce price based on scale.   But Marks says the co-op aims to be economically accessible by having good prices for the quality of the food.

“So if you are not thinking where the tomato came from.  You're thinking the tomato in your store is 89 cents and a tomato at the other store is 69 cents.  Well, 69 is less than 89.  But if you want a tomato grown regionally and without pesticides, it might be worth 20 cents to you.”

The idea for a food coop came out of a visioning process that became part of the master plan for Keene as early as 2008. 

“We hit something the community wanted.  We live in a special community where people are used to collaborating to get things done. So when you reached out to people and said we're starting a food co-op, would you like to help? The answer was always yes.” 

And now the co-op hopes to keep it up and draw in more community members.  The co-op’s upcoming ice cream social to support the Monadnock Farm and Community Coalition is set for Saturday, July 27, from noon till 3 p.m.