PENELO-PEA has a message for you: The Manchester Food Co-op is coming soon.
While two major grocery chains have shuttered a dozen stores in New Hampshire, a group of like-minded volunteers hopes to open a new one in downtown Manchester next year, and some are willing to dress up like a giant pea pod to spread the word.
"We have no shame when it comes to the food co-op," said Kate Morneau, president of the co-op's board, in a recent interview along with board vice president Heather Avella outside a Dunkin' Donuts in Manchester.
Morneau and Avella are among the co-op organizers who have worn one of the group's five pea pod suits at local events as they try to gain momentum for their 3-year-old nonprofit. The co-op has secured more than 760 members who have invested $100 each toward creating a full-service grocery store.
Armed with a $5,000 donation from Stonyfield Farm and a $10,000 seed grant for food cooperative startups, organizers are working with a consultant and have a letter of intent with a property owner for the proposed 10,000-square-foot store.
"It's about connecting with our community," said Morneau, a family law attorney who practices in Nashua. "A place for a cooking class on 'What can I do with Kale?'"
The idea for the Manchester Food Co-op originated among faculty and staff of the School of Community Economic Development at Southern New Hampshire University and was launched at a public community meeting in December 2009. A board organized four months later.
The 100-percent member-owned store will offer produce, meat, seafood, dairy products, bulk goods and other grocery staples, sourcing local goods as much as possible. As a cooperative, all profits will be re-invested in the store, but members will also will receive dividends.
Avella said she wants her two young children to understand the connection between farms and the food on her family's kitchen table. "I've talked to a lot of kids who don't know what a tomato is or how it is grown," said Avella, a stay-at-home mom who is taking nutrition courses online.
While farmers markets provide local produce, they are generally organized as seasonal weekly events. The Manchester Food Co-op would fill an unmet need in the city, Avella and Morneau say. The co-op recently issued a news release reacting to the recent closings of 12 New Hampshire Stop & Shop and Shaw's stores. Co-op organizers hope they can take advantage of the retail grocery expertise from some of the 1,100 workers who lost their jobs, though the group has no specific target date beyond 2014 for a store opening.
The Manchester Co-op would join the more than 400 food cooperatives in the United States, including several in New Hampshire in such locales as Concord, Littleton, Keene, Lebanon and Hanover. Unlike for-profit grocers, the co-ops don't consider themselves competitors and share tips at conferences.
"Co-ops all help each other out even if they are only 20 minutes away," Avella said.
Six businesses have signed on to subsidize employee memberships to the Manchester Co-op. The group found an early champion in Dyn founder Jeremy Hitchcock, who provides meeting space for the co-op at the tech company's Millyard headquarters.
While the co-op has many senior members, most fall into the 25-to-40 age group, say Avella and Morneau, who are both in their mid-30s. Organizers have used social media like Facebook and Twitter(@ManchFoodCoop) as well as appearances at community events to recruit new members. They say they need to reach 1,000 before they can attract the interest of financiers.
"We really like to get members one by one because we know they will become active," Avella said.
And who could say no to someone dressed like a giant pea pod? Even some of the co-op's male members have donned the big green suit.
"Oh, we have coerced a few men into wearing it, believe me!" Avella said via email. "They are Penelo-petes."
For more information visit, manchesterfoodcoop.coop.
Mike Cote is business editor at the Union Leader. Contact him at 668-4321, ext. 324 or email@example.com.