Austin Miller Co-op Hero Awards

Here in the Pioneer Valley, it's easy to take our vibrant co-op community for granted. But it takes committed individuals and organizations to support people in need, champion a sustainable environment, and develop a strong food system that contributes to the local economy.

The Austin Miller Co-op Hero Awards strive to recognize those people and organizations that nurture and sustain our co-op and our community. Created in 2009 by River Valley Co-op, the Austin Miller Co-op Hero Awards recognize: 1) an individual, 2) a nonprofit organization,  3) a business and 4) a farm or food business in the Pioneer Valley that support and strengthen River Valley Co-op cooperative values and that embody the cooperative principle Support for Community.

Austin Miller was awarded the first annual Co-op Hero Award during our cooperative’s celebration of the first birthday of our store on April 30th, 2009, for extraordinary support from a co-op member-owner. Austin tirelessly and passionately championed the dreams of our membership for a locally grown food co-op in Northampton.

Austin was a founding co-op owner whose career was devoted to serving people in Western Massachusetts by supporting community development projects that provided low income housing, shelter for victims of domestic violence, and food for the hungry. Austin specialized in securing financing for projects that directly benefited people in need and strengthened our communities. Austin was the financial consultant who secured the financing agreements between River Valley Co-op and the banks that provided the mortgage for our co-op start-up project in Northampton.

Our community lost a good friend when Austin passed away on October 30th, 2009.

Individual and Business Award winners will receive $500. The non-profit award winner will receive $500 and the proceeds from food sales at our annual Strawberry Ice Cream Social.


2022 Austin Miller Award Winners


Individual Award 

Jonathan Wright

Jonathan Wright, Founder and Senior Advisor of Wright Builders, Inc., was a member of the first graduating class at Hampshire College in 1970. He enjoyed the quality of life in the Pioneer Valley so much that he decided to stay and raise his family here. Indeed, soon after graduating from Hampshire with a liberal arts degree, he started Wright Builders.Jonathan established the company as an innovator not only in building techniques but in operating philosophy and policies for its 28 employees. For example, he was one of the first builders to offer health insurance in 1976 and later added maternity leave for both men and women. When Jon started out in the 70s, he was already working on passive solar homes and was recognized by then-Gov. Michael Dukakis in the area of energy efficiency and high-performance building. Today, Wright Builders has since achieved more than forty LEED certifications in addition to two certified Living Buildings: the R.W. Kern Center and the Hitchcock Center for the Environment. 

Celebrating the champions addressing climate change, Jonathan published a book, Living Building Makers: Creating Sustainable Buildings That Renew Our World. This is a collection of stories about the remarkable people who brought the built environments to life in the Kern Center and Hitchcock Center for the Environment, both Certified Living Buildings right here in the Valley. Each chapter captures the insights, creativity, humor, and discoveries of the often-unsung individuals— builders, tradespeople, designers, engineers, educators, tradespeople, operators, and owners—who rolled up their sleeves to play a pivotal role in creating two of the greenest buildings in the world on the campus of Massachusetts’ renowned Hampshire College. An avid supporter of the co-op since day one, Jonathan shares our cooperative values. He was a volunteer partner in the site search for a second store and a great general contractor partner in our Northampton store remodels and the Easthampton store construction project.

Alisa Klein

Alisa Klein began her tenure as Executive Director of Grow Food Northampton in January 2020 just months before the pandemic upended much of our lives, from how we feed ourselves to how we work and collaborate. In 2020, Alisa initiated the Community Food Distribution Project in collaboration with the Northampton Survival Center to ensure that community members experiencing food insecurity due to the pandemic had regular access to fresh, locally farmed foods and other foods from the Center. She also coordinated a meeting of dozens of organizations and people working to support our local food system, including the co-op, and called it the Emergency Food Systems Working Group. With so much uncertainty and fear, especially for the most vulnerable in our community, these meetings became a critical opportunity to share information and ideas, create collaborative systems for food distribution and availability, and advocate for necessary resources with a common message. Two years later, she still meets with the group on a quarterly basis as a facilitator. Alisa deserves recognition for these efforts among the many other things she has done to create a just and resilient local food system. 

Jade Barker

Jade served on our co-op’s Board of Directors for 15 years including three years as Board President, as well as in other officer roles including Treasurer and Vice President. She began her Board service in 2004 during our start-up development stage, participating in the fundraising and financing efforts to build and open our Northampton store and remaining through its construction, opening, and the next 11 years! Each of these stages had many challenges, and Jade’s commitment and leadership helped us navigate each of them successfully. Even now, Jade is supporting our co-op in a consulting role as the facilitator for our Board Meetings.

Upon moving to the area in 2001, Jade sought out the local food co-op to do her grocery shopping. When she found that the local food co-op was still a start-up in the process of opening, her co-op service began as a founding co-op owner and volunteer on our Outreach Committee. Shortly after she joined, our initial site fell through and we had to move on to plan B. Jade was undaunted by this setback and stepped up to more of a leadership role on the Outreach Committee. When Plan B also fell through, Jade remained one of our most dedicated outreach volunteers, continuing in the role through plans C, D, E, F, and finally—finding ourselves between a rock and hard place—through plan G, the rock (an abandoned rock quarry). Jade was part of completing our first co-op owner loan campaign to raise $1 million in member loans that would leverage over $7 million in bank financing to build our start-up food co-op. The financing process was as rocky as our granite building site and the Board provided steadfast leadership through this process to maintain community confidence and support. We had existed as a start-up without a store for nine years, so opening the store was a big change for our co-op. As with most big organizational changes, there were challenges and strains on the co-op’s leadership. At a time when many Board Members were feeling burned out, discouraged, and divided, Jade stepped up to the role of Board President to lead us forward.

Jade managed to listen to passionately expressed concerns and endured sometimes fierce criticisms while keeping her focus on the success of the co-op. Her professional experience in mediation and conflict resolution served us well. She built systems to create a culture of teamwork, inclusion, respect, and inspirational proactive leadership on the Board. She was able to create alignment with the effective use of our governance process. This transformed Board meetings from a power struggle to productive, forward-thinking meetings where we were able to openly discuss different viewpoints and elevate our discussions. 

Jade established an effective relationship of teamwork, accountability, and trust on the Board. She has also been attentive to Board development, training, and leadership succession planning. Her communications with the membership built confidence and trust in the co-op. She led the Board to take on a $2 million co-op owner loan campaign in 2013 as part of our 2014 refinancing plan, and the membership responded with over $2.3 million in member loans. In 2018 and 2019, Jade championed another co-op owner loan campaign, this one for $5 million to support the opening of our Easthampton store. Once again, the community responded with over $5 million in funding to expand our co-op. Jade ended her 15-year term of service on our Board of Directors at the annual meeting in MillPark 180, where we told the story of our expansion to two stores with a puppet show in which every Board Member played a part. Jade was also in the crowd cheering when we cut the ribbon at our Easthampton store opening in 2021!

Jade’s important, long and varied service to our co-op deserves to be honored with an Austin Miller Co-op Hero Award. When the going got tough, she stepped up her level of responsibility. We're very grateful for her tremendous service, rising to the challenges of our start-up and leading us through the difficult times to enjoy many successes. We’ve learned a lot from working with Jade, and will always be grateful for getting to work with her!

Local Business Award 

Co-op Power

Co-op Power has a uniquely cooperative approach to community solar development. It is a multi-race and multi-class network of community energy cooperatives committed to solar development that is both locally led and owned. This network of energy cooperatives throughout New England and New York is working at the intersection of environmental and social justice by financing, building, and managing solar arrays that provide discounts on electricity to low-income households throughout the region. These community solar arrays seek to include communities that are often excluded from the solar revolution while also creating sources of renewable energy that move us away from burning fossil fuels for our energy needs.

Co-op Power co-creates sources of renewable energy to reverse climate change and build new economic structures that put people and the planet first while also building energy security and resilience through locally owned and managed power. The local community energy co-ops in the Co-op Power network have developed solar projects for community nonprofits, affordable housing, cooperative businesses, and houses of worship—wherever community partners have the commitment and an appropriate site for solar development. Co-op Power President, Lynn Benander has been a major innovative force in financing community solar arrays in a way that allows communities the opportunity to own the array over time. In 2017, we reached out to Lynn to ask if Co-op Power could help us include solar power in our Easthampton food co-op project. Co-op Power has a program that provides financing of the solar project with repayment structured into a power purchase agreement and equity flip for ownership by the co-op at the end of the term. 

Collective Copies

Collective Copies is a worker-owned and controlled collective, meeting the requirements of the International Co-operative Alliance and International Organization of Industrial, Artisanal and Service Producers’ Cooperatives (CICOPA). Collective is committed to its founding values and to providing an example of those values at work. They apply their skill, creativity, and experience to offer quality work at a fair price. They work to communicate effectively with customers, foster an atmosphere of mutual trust, kindness, and respect, and continually educate ourselves and our customers.

Collective works to reduce its footprint through recycling, waste reduction, and the use and promotion of recycled and alternative fiber papers, and they are further committed to exploring and adopting greener alternatives as they become viable. They return 10% of profits to the community that sustains them, and they actively seek out additional ways to help our community, its members, and its workers. Collective promotes, frequents, and assists area businesses that share in this commitment while helping to further economic justice by serving as a model and resource for positive, profitable worker-ownership. An avid supporter of the co-op, Collective has been the co-op's go-to local printer for any and all printing jobs.

PV Squared

Founded in 2002, PV Squared are local solar experts and dedicated community members.They are also the only North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners® (NABCEP) accredited company in Massachusetts as a Certified B Corporation. PV2 is a group of creators, idealists, and problem-solvers who believe in the power of cooperation. Their values of workplace democracy guide us in demonstrating that a business based on inclusion, respect, and mutual benefit can thrive.

Since 2002, PV Squared has provided renewable energy solutions to homeowners and businesses in the Pioneer Valley and surrounding regions, including both stores of the co-op. It has grown from a four-person company to more than 10 times that size today. As a worker-owned cooperative, they are invested in the happiness of our clients, the livelihoods of their workers, and the health of our community. This is an important milestone for them, as two of our core goals are to create sustainable, living-wage jobs and to strengthen our local economy. PV2 works hard to deliver projects that go above and beyond; not just in terms of power production and finances, but also in terms of thoughtfulness and attention to detail.

Local Vendor / Farm Award 

Ground Up Grain

When Andrea’s hands are not in grain, she is working to make the dream of a sustainable, transparent, and regionalized food system a reality. What began as a curiosity about grains growing on local farms has turned into a career of creating world-class malt for craft brewers and distillers, and fresh stone-milled flour for bakers. At Ground Up, they are passionate about developing and supporting a local grain economy. One of the company's major goals is to be able to look back in another 10 years and see more acres of grain, more thriving farms, and more fresh and nutritious flour—all of which are important signs of a more sustainable and resilient food system. Ground Up is a community-driven business that addresses food access from many vantage points and supports the work of organizations making fresh local food available for everyone.

Park Hill Orchard 

A much-loved vendor for the co-op, Park Hill enhances and enriches the lives of those who frequent its orchards as well as the greater community. Its orchardists strive to improve the balance and health of the farm and its soils while staying committed to growing healthy, nutritious food and being financially self-sustaining. Their vision is one of a commercially producing fruit farm within a park-like setting, and they believe that each day should be lived as a whole life experience; that each crop, product, and activity will be fun and interesting. At Park Hill Orchard, there is a fundamental understanding that balance can be achieved each day between computer work, household chores, farming, hobbies, sport, community work, love, and plain enjoyment.

Wellspring Harvest

Located at 121 Pinevale Street in the Indian Orchard neighborhood, Wellspring Harvest is the first commercial hydroponic greenhouse in the City of Springfield. They grow and provide healthy, locally grown produce to area hospitals, schools, businesses, and residents. The greenhouse employs seven local residents and is organized as a for-profit, worker-owned cooperative business. Wellspring Harvest also has a community engagement component that includes education about urban agriculture, hydroponic growing, and sustainability. They arrange tours and educational programs with both the Springfield Public Schools and the larger community. Additionally, they are a partner in the Springfield Changemakers grant with the Springfield schools and Boston College Lynch School of Education.

Wellspring Harvest addresses a number of social and environmental concerns in the region while contributing to the economic and ecological well-being of its residents. It responds to the need for environmentally sustainable, season-extending food production that can be produced at scale so that New England can achieve greater food independence despite a short growing season. The Wellspring urban greenhouse also responds to the urgent need to create entry-level jobs in Springfield and enables workers to accumulate assets that allow them to invest in housing, education, better health, and a higher quality of life. Wellspring’s worker cooperative provides job training and stable employment as well as profit sharing for low-income Springfield residents with few opportunities to advance economically. Financial stability and employment are closely co-related to better eating and better health, therefore Wellspring’s job creation work is an important complement to increased access to nutritious food in the city.

Nonprofit Award 

Riquezas del Campo 

Riquezas del Campo is an immigrant-led worker-owned cooperative farm. On May Day in 2019, they secured access to nine-and-a-half acres of fertile land from Kestrel Land Trust and the City of Northampton where they established La Colmena Community Farm. The Workers Center holds a license and long-term lease to the land, which they make available to their members as well as other immigrant farmers they collaborate with through All Farmers.

At the La Colmena Community Farm, they grow much more than food. They build new skills and learn from one another, cultivating the community need to sustain a multi-racial and cross-class food justice movement. Farmworkers often produce an abundance of organic fruits and vegetables they cannot afford to buy for themselves because they are sold at high prices. That irony is bitter. Having access to this land means that together, they have the power to meet more of the basic needs of our community.

La Colmena is located on the border between Hatfield and Northampton and consists of the following main parts:

  1. Riquezas Del Campo Farm Co-op, an independent, majority immigrant-led LLC. Over the years, we have been delighted to support Riquezas in becoming a fully independent coop business, still closely tied to the PVWC as a sister organization, but now fully running its own show. Both organizations share a vision of creating a community space where immigrants and low-wage workers can build power together through cultivating the land and sharing its abundance;
  2. La Colmena Community Garden, a space where Worker Committee members can access small plots of land to grow food for their families, as well as gather to cultivate community and build knowledge through a wide variety of political and agricultural workshops. Upon laying the initial groundwork to form Riquezas Del Campo back in 2019, some members expressed a deep yearning for access to land but weren’t interested in taking on the risk and work of starting a cooperative business. So, they set aside half an acre of land to meet this need, and it has slowly grown into a thriving community garden.

The International Language Institute

The International Language Institute of Massachusetts (ILI) is a private, not-for-profit language school founded in 1984 and located in Northampton, Massachusetts. ILI’s mission is to promote intercultural understanding and diverse communities by providing high-quality language instruction and teacher training. ILI believes that language can bring people together or sometimes create barriers that are difficult to overcome. In this country and many others, poor skills in common or "official" languages contribute to the marginalization of many people, making it hard for them to realize their full potential. At ILI, they provide English language training in the hopes of bringing a truly multicultural and linguistically equitable society to life. They believe that fundamental misunderstandings, mistrust, and even aggression among nations can be overcome when people interact with respect for different cultures and different languages. This is true at the individual, business, and government levels.

ILI encourages second and world language learning and cross-cultural awareness for both native and non-native speakers of English. Traditional approaches to language training teach in an intellectualized way and often fail to provide students with the means to communicate and perform even basic, daily tasks in the language they wanted to learn. The International Language Institute seeks to reverse this trend by teaching in a meaningful context, consistently encouraging active student participation in, and the evaluation of the learning experience. This intense level of student participation in the program context and structure ensures the relevance of ILI's offerings and helps to ensure its effectiveness. We are especially grateful for the International Language Institute's support with translation services for our employees, teaching English as a second (or up to a fifth) language. Their partnership with our HR department has been very important to our employees.

The Nolumbeka Project

The mission of the Nolumbeka Project is to promote a deeper, broader, and more truthful understanding of the Native Americans of the Northeast before and during colonization to the present day. Their members work to assist in the preservation and protection of sites with historical and cultural significance to the tribes. They create and promote related educational and cultural events, and they work in partnership, whenever possible, with the tribes. The Nolumbeka Project is dedicated to honoring the Native American Legacy through historical research, sacred site documentation and protection, land stewardship, traditional Native gardening, and heritage seed preservation. They encourage public advocacy, educational programs, and cultural events. We believe the Native American Legacy of Connection and Sustainability is crucial to the planet at this point in history and are thankful for The Nolumbeka Project's contributions to this just and righteous cause.


INDIVIDUAL: Emily Kawano

NON-PROFIT: Welcome Home Refugee Resettlement Program

BUSINESS: Artisan Beverage Cooperative

FARM: Crimson and Clover


INDIVIDUAL: Margaret Christie

NON-PROFIT: Hitchcock Center for the Environment

BUSINESS: Alternative Recycling 

FARM:Astarte Farm


INDIVIDUAL:Jane Nevinsmith

NON-PROFIT: Grow Food Northampton


FARM:Next Barn Over


INDIVIDUAL: Trevor the Games Man

NON-PROFIT: Franklin County CDC

BUSINESS: Wright Builders

FARM:  Winter Moon Roots




BUSINESS: The Northampton Radio Group: The River, WHMP and Hits 


Individual: Andrea Ayvazian

Non-Profit: Gardening the Community

Business: Apex Orchards


Individual: Mary Shanley Koeber

Non-Profit: Common Capital

Business: Our Family Farms


Individual: Lynn Benander, Co-op Power

Non-profit: Seeds of Solidarity

Business: UMassFive College Federal CU


Individual: Elizabeth (Apple) Ahearn

Non-profit: Community Involved in
Sustaining Agriculture (CISA)

Business: Pedal People


Individual: David Gowler

Non-profit: Western MA Food Bank

Business: Valley Alliance of Worker Cooperatives


Individual: Austin Miller

Non-profit: Greenfields Market 

Business: Bart’s Homemade Ice Cream