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July 25. 2013 10:51PM

Monadnock Food Co-op recognized for building community


Monadnock Food Co-op member owner Nancy McNeal of Stoddard shops in the market after enjoying lunch in the co-op cafe. (MEGHAN PIERCE/Union Leader Correspondent)

KEENE — The Monadnock Food Cooperative has been singled out by a national group for its successful spring opening.

The young food co-op was given the National Start-up of the Year award from the Food Co-op Initiative.

It's the first such award by the fairly new national group that works to help food co-ops get off the ground.

With it, the Food Co-op Initiative hopes to recognize, among other things, excellence in leadership and strength of community support.

"Monadnock Food Co-op is a role model for how an organized community can work together to meet their own needs and create a cooperative business. Their cooperative is a community asset and inspiration to others!" the national group said on its website.

There are about 325 food co-ops across the country and about 200 co-op projects underway, according to the Food Co-op Initiative.The independent nonprofit works with groups around the country to help open food co-ops as efficiently and effectively as possible.

The 13,000-square-foot food co-op opened in the city's recently developed Railroad Lane last April with more than 1,300 member owners, exceeding the co-op goal of having 1,000 member owners by opening, said Jen Risley, co-op marketing and membership manager.

Today member ownership is up to 1,700, Risley said.

Risley and Co-op General Manager Michael Faber said they are excited and proud to receive the award.

"It will be fun to look back in 25, 30 years and say, 'Wow, we were the first one,'" Risley said.

Food co-ops originated in the depths of the Great Depression, then experienced a resurgence in the 1970s and '80s when consumers wanted access to more organic foods.

Food co-ops are on the rise again, Faber said, and it's because people want to build community as well as centralize where they can buy and support locally grown and made foods and goods.

The Keene-based market not only sells locally grown organic fruits and vegetables, but cheese, milk, yogurt, eggs and meat.

A lot of people want to shop local, but can't always make it to the farmers market or a local farmstand, Faber said, and a lot of times shopping locally means shopping in a lot of different places.

"People were really wishing to see a place where they could buy all those products in one place and support this food movement of more food items being produced in our backyards and neighborhoods and community, and having it done in a way that is sustainable," he said.

The Food Co-op Initiative is already using the Monadnock co-op's opening as a model for bringing a community together and building a co-op, Faber said.

The project started in 2008 and drew support from individuals, city officials as well as local and national groups, he said.

You can become a member owner for the one-time fee of $200. But during fundraising, member owners also made more than $1 million in loans to the project, Faber said.

In general, food co-ops start in church basements and might take decades to grow to the size the Monadnock Food Co-op, which opened this spring, Faber said.

It's all thanks to the community support, he said.

This Saturday from noon to 3 p.m. the food co-op is taking the opportunity to give back by holding an ice cream social fundraiser for the Monadnock Farm and Community Coalition, a group that supported the food co-op project.


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