Wright Builders, Inc. Contributes $7,500 to River Valley Co-op Low Income Fund!

November 1st, 2021 –


Thank you, Wright Builders!


Wright Builders, Inc. has donated $7500 to River Valley Co-op’s Low Income Owner Assistance Program to celebrate the opening of the Easthampton River Valley Co-op to support co-op ownership participation of all income levels. This contribution has been matched by gifts from many of the co-op’s current co-op owners for a total of $15,000 in new funds, which will support 200 new low-income co-op ownerships.

River Valley Co-op is a cooperative retail grocery store specializing in fresh local and organically grown foods. River Valley Co-op stores (Northampton and Easthampton) are open to the public. Nearly 13,500 area community members cooperatively own it.

Co-op owners invest in an equity share of $150 each (this can be paid with monthly installments of $25). This is a one-time equity share investment, it is not an annual fee, and it is refundable if you move from the area or otherwise no longer wish to participate as a co-op owner. With funding from the Low-Income Assistance Program, low-income co-op shoppers are eligible to become co-op owners with a total investment of just $75. The other $75 for the total equity share is funded through donations to the fund from other co-op owners. With this program, low-income co-op owners can fulfill their equity share purchase with $5 monthly installments to complete their co-op owner equity share investment. Co-op membership is co-op ownership.

River Valley Co-op Director of Marketing, Natasha Latour, explained “Investing in one equity share makes a co-op shopper, a co-op owner. The low-income assistance fund is key to ensuring low-income community members have access to the benefits of cooperative ownership as well as the access they have to fresh, healthy food options as a shopper. Cooperative ownership is sharing common ownership of a local business, and it brings people together to support the work of the cooperative.” 

Wright Builders President Seth Lawrence-Slavas comments: “This contribution, unlike a one-time physical object presentation, helps build the co-op’s momentum and strengthen its community mission. We are delighted to participate!”

River Valley Co-op General Manager Rochelle Prunty responded, “We are so grateful for Wright Builders’ generosity and support of the co-op’s mission. One of the great benefits of working with Wright Builders on our building projects is that it really is a partnership with shared goals for the community good through the co-op’s development every step of the way!” 

Low-income co-op shoppers interested in co-op ownership are invited to join online http://rivervalley.coop/ownership/become-an-owner, or in-person in either store: 228 Northampton Street in Easthampton and 330 North King Street in Northampton. Those co-op owners wishing to make contributions to support River Valley Co-op’s Low Income Owner Assistance Fund may also make contributions online or in either store. To learn more about the Food For All Programs low-income co-op grocery purchases discounts, see http://rivervalley.coop/community/food-for-all

For more information, contact: 

Wright Builders Inc. President Seth Lawrence-Slavas at 413-586-8287 ext. 107 
River Valley Co-op General Manager Rochelle Prunty (413) 559-7499 
 


Meet our Community Fund 2021 Grant Recipients!

October 6th, 2021 –

Congratulations to this year's Community Fund grant recipients!


The River Valley Co-op Community Fund generated $6,000 in earnings for distribution as grants to local nonprofits for 2021. River Valley Co-op's Board of Directors selected six grant proposals from 12 applications to receive $1,000 each. The successful grant applicants announced October 2nd were the Pascommuck Conservation Trust, LightHouse Holyoke, The People's Medicine Project, The Sojourner Truth School for Social Change Leadership, Hope on Wheels and the Nolumbeka Project!

Board President Dorian Gregory said, "It is a heart-warming task to review the Cooperative Community Fund grant proposals. It is an honor to support such a variety of important community needs with these six $1,000 grants."

This year's grant award winners vary widely in their areas of focus: preservation of forests and farmland, access to restorative collaborative learning education for students in grades 7–12, addressing community health disparities with access to alternative medicine, providing free leadership training for social change, providing portable "alternative homes" as a transitionary step between homelessness and a more traditional living situation, and promoting a deeper, broader and more truthful understanding of Native Americans of the Northeast.

In 2013 River Valley Co-op’s Board of Directors established The River Valley Co-op Community Fund, a nonprofit charitable foundation. The River Valley Co-op Community Fund is managed by the Twin Pines Cooperative Foundation / Co-op Community Fund (TPCF/CCF). The River Valley Co-op Community Fund is one of 40 individual food co-op community funds participating in this Twin Pines Cooperative Foundation program. River Valley Co-op’s fund is aggregated with those of the other food co-ops from our region and invested to support co-op development in the Northeast. The patient capital the fund provides is important for leveraging the additional loan capital needed for regional co-op development. In turn, the annual earnings from the investments are donated to local nonprofits selected by the co-ops participating in the Co-op Community Fund. The forty individual food co-ops participating in this program have now donated over $500,000 to regional nonprofits.

How the River Valley Co-op Community Fund Works

The co-op has built its community fund to over $165,000 since 2013 with donations from its business, its co-op owners and matching funds from some of its vendors. The funds are invested in a variety of regional co-op projects. The annual earnings of River Valley Co-op’s Community Fund are then donated to local nonprofits selected by the Board of Directors. For 2021, there were $6,000 in earnings from the fund’s investments in regional co-ops that supported six $1,000 River Valley Co-op Community Fund grants for local nonprofits.

The Twin Pines Cooperative Foundation Co-op Community Fund has $4 million in total assets with $2.4 million invested in the Northeast. TPCF/CCF is the largest co-op organization funder in the United States of the three main lenders of patient capital to food and other cooperatives. David Thompson, president of the Twin Pines Cooperative Foundation, describes the Co-op Community fund as the financial yeast that makes Co-op bread rise.

Why the Co-op Community Fund is Important to River Valley Co-op

The co-op community fund is a program that enables River Valley Co-op to invest in cooperative development in our region.

This is a way to support the cooperative movement and to pay it forward for the support that River Valley Co-op received in their start-up, including $600,000 in funding from 50 individual food co-ops across the country in 2007. That $600,000 was key to River Valley Co-op’s final financing for the building and opening of the Northampton co-op store.

Rochelle Prunty, General Manager of River Valley Co-op said, “Cooperation among cooperatives is an important co-op principle, and participation in this cooperative development fund is one way we operationalize this principle. The innovative work of the Twin Pines Cooperative Foundation and the cooperative-focused funding organizations they support with patient investment capital has helped launch hundreds of co-ops in our region and hundreds more across the country as well.”

The River Valley Co-op Community Fund is just one program the co-op utilizes to support non-profits and other cooperatives. Since its opening in 2008, River Valley Co-op has made over $1 million in donations, in-kind contributions, and sponsorships to support hundreds of non-profits that support the community and the cooperative movement.

More about the nonprofits that received 2021 Co-op Community Fund grants:

The Pascommuck Conservation Trust

The Pascommuck Conservation Trust (PCT) is a 501(3)(C) non-profit, all-volunteer land trust organization, established in 1982, whose mission is to protect important land and other natural resources in Easthampton for the public benefit. PCT has no paid staff and relies on volunteers, donations and the support of the community and its partners to carry out its mission. Current membership is approximately 200 people. A 14-member Board of Directors guides the organization’s efforts and meets monthly.

Early priorities of the Trust included establishing a greenbelt along Easthampton’s ecologically important Manhan River. The Manhan River corridor continues to be a focus area for the organization, as it is the major tributary from the City flowing into the Connecticut River. At present, the Trust stewards a total of 16 properties in Easthampton, comprising approximately 190 acres. Thirteen properties are conservation areas, eight have marked trails, one is a park, and two are conservation areas with Agricultural Preservation Restrictions (APR). Several of their properties connect to various neighborhoods throughout Easthampton, providing easy access to nature and passive recreation for the surrounding residents. Other elements of their work include community environmental education, advocacy and consultation on local and municipal environmental issues, a yearly scholarship award, public outreach via newsletters and social media and biannual plant sales. 

https://www.pctland.org/

 

LightHouse Holyoke

LightHouse Holyoke is located in downtown Holyoke, MA, an urban center with high poverty and other issues common to urban centers. However, a renaissance is happening here, and LightHouse is at the epicenter. Their personalized program is an excellent example of the forward-thinking breakthroughs happening throughout the city. 

They are a collaborative learning environment for students in grades 7-12, structured around mutual respect and compassion founded in 2015. With a foundation in research-based and restorative practices, LightHouse’s full-day educational program encourages students to reimagine their identities and capabilities, as they each build a path forward based on their unique strengths, interests, and passions.

They serve students in grades 7-12. Most of their students come from Holyoke or nearby urban Springfield, though they do have students coming from 12 surrounding suburban and rural towns in total, including Northampton and Easthampton.

https://www.lighthouseholyoke.org/

 

People’s Medicine Project

People's Medicine Project is a health justice project that is part of a larger Holyoke-based umbrella organization called the Western MA Training Consortium. Their mission is to address community health disparities* by increasing access to alternative health care. They envision an empowered culture of health, based on connection to our bodies, each other, and the natural world. They work toward this vision on multiple levels including direct care; bridge-building with mainstream health providers; coalition building and collaborative programs with agencies, collectives, and nonprofits; community workshops and skill shares; and more! (*Health disparities are differences in health outcomes between groups of people that are caused by systems of oppression.)

They are rooted in, and responsive to our community’s needs. Over the years, through partnering with local organizations and practitioners, their work has expanded to provide innovative responses to specific health crises, such as the opioid epidemic and COVID-19; while keeping the broader vision on wellness for all.

https://www.peoplesmedicineproject.com/

 

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; to assist in the preservation and protection of sites of historical and cultural significance to the tribes; to create and promote related educational and cultural events; and to 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, public advocacy, educational programs, and cultural events. The Native American Legacy of Connection and Sustainability is crucial to the planet at this point in history. 

https://nolumbekaproject.org/

 

Hope on Wheels

For people experiencing homelessness, finding a safe, sheltered place to stay is a constant challenge. In an effort to help address this issue, Northampton resident Melinda Shaw envisions a set of portable, “alternative homes,” comprising a bike and camper pod, as a transitionary step between homelessness and a more traditional living situation.

Shaw started the project, called “Hope on Wheels,” in response to what she sees as inadequate resources available to the homeless community. Part of Shaw’s inspiration for the project came from her work with First Churches of Northampton, where she helped to run a cot shelter and distribute resources to the homeless.

https://humanitypods.org/

 

Sojourner Truth School for Social Change Leadership

The School offers classes to individuals and groups with the goal of promoting and facilitating concrete movement-building. The trainers teach the organizing skills necessary to equip people to be active, effective and empowered. The School’s sole focus is on teaching and training and learning from one another. They do this by bringing together people interested in a variety of issues and interests in learning new skills and information. The School is a place where people new to civic engagement can learn alongside more seasoned activists and have an effective experience for either honing or learning new skills.

The School provides 40+ classes per semester, all now on zoom and there are over 800 participants throughout the semester. All classes are FREE in order to make sure everyone who wants to participate is able to join.

https://truthschool.org/


Previous Recipients:

  • Common Good
  • Julius Ford Harriet Tubman Healthy Living Community
  • Women's Fund of Western Massachusetts
  • Easthampton Neighbors
  • Pioneer Valley Power Pack
  • Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary
  • Gardening the Community
  • Sojourner Truth School for Social Change Leadership
  • Sojouner Truth Memorial Committee
  • Friends of Hampshire County Homeless
  • Cutchins Programs for Children and Families
  • Help Yourself, Inc.
  • Prospect Meadow Farm
  • Sunnyside Child Care


One Co-op: Two Stores!

August 10, 2021 –

Dear Co-op Owners,

I recently showed our co-op to someone new to the area, starting with our Easthampton store. Driving toward the Easthampton store on Northampton Street, it's a pretty big "wowza" as the solar canopy and storefront come into view! And of course, once inside the beautiful fresh food and buzz of good energy from both staff and customers was more wow! Then we drove them over to show them our Northampton store. It is always like a breath of fresh air to turn off the North King Street strip and come up the co-op driveway to be greeted by the beautiful stone cliff topped with trees (a reminder of the city's late 1800's stone quarry). The trees planted in our parking lot just 13 years ago seemed so lush and mature compared to the trees just planted in Easthampton. The terra cotta clay and reclaimed pallet wood artwork (by local artist Emmett Leader) around the store entrance also help set the stage for the care and spirit present inside the Northampton store. Upon entering, it's a vibrant hub of activity with friendly staff and, of course, an abundance of fresh local food. It's pretty fun to think about how the community came together to make both of these co-op stores! What beautiful places we have made! So much creativity and love go into both! 


We are very grateful for the warm community welcome in Easthampton! It is hard to believe that it has already been over a month since we cut the ribbon on our Easthampton store and opened for business on July 1st. It is a special thing to be part of building something new. Our customers, staff, vendors, and Board of Directors all share in the process of developing our community-owned food co-op to meet our mutual needs and aspirations. That co-op community engagement is ongoing, which is exactly how we grew our co-op to Easthampton.

Opening a second store is a major organizational step that my co-op management peers with multiple stores have long told me was the hardest step in their food co-op's development. (They say the third store is a piece of cake by comparison, LOL. Way too soon for that.) We have been fortunate to learn from our co-op network and utilize the support from our National Co-op Grocers cooperative development services. We planned this project over multiple years to build the internal infrastructure needed as well as engaging our community in the process. For me, it has been just as much of a challenge and just as rewarding an experience as starting the co-op store in Northampton. Like the Northampton store, the Easthampton store project would have never gotten off the ground had it not been for the amazing community support behind it. And unlike our Northampton store start-up, this time we had the advantage of our dozen years of operating experience with a strong staff in place. We hired 83 new people before we opened in Easthampton, but this expansion also included over 30 promotions of current staff between both stores.

We've only been open a month in Easthampton, but the sales have already been stronger than we had anticipated. I want to give our Store Manager Liesel and Assistant Store Manager Dom, a big shout-out as well as the whole staff. They are developing into a strong team there already! On the administrative front, we've been busy revising our budgets and working to add more staff positions to support the larger than anticipated sales.


The most labor-intensive department in our stores is our Prepared Foods department. We expected this department to grow a lot in Easthampton, but the immediate demand has exceeded our capacity to fully meet it. We've had to cut back on our offerings in an effort to be able to keep up. As we build capacity, we will be adding to our menu. Our plan is to offer the best of our prepared foods items from the Northampton store and pilot new offerings in Easthampton and transition them to Northampton, eventually with most of the same offerings in both stores. But for now, we are working on building our capacity in Easthampton. Please stay tuned for updates on changes in the offerings over the coming months. Our Prepared Foods team is working hard, even with our limited menu, the volume of food going through Easthampton’s Prepared Foods department is nearly as high as the Northampton store. We expect a lot of changes to come in this department, but it will take some time and we appreciate your patience and support in the meantime.

Big thanks to Edward Cohen for making the 22 beautiful cedar picnic tables and Jim Nutter for staining them for our outdoor seating area. Edward is working on making 22 more picnic tables for us as well. Our goal is to have more events on the patio like the 2021 Millpond Live! lineup reveal event we did with Laudable Productions on July 24th featuring StompBoxTrio.



Easthampton Grand Opening!

We are working on plans for our grand opening celebration from September 15-29, which will include a party on the patio on September 24th with live music, food, and awarding of six $1,000 River Valley Co-op Community Fund Grants to area nonprofits. The grand opening will of course also include some exciting special deals and promotions over that two weeks. (BTW, our July 1st opening ribbon-cutting ceremony was indeed grand, and our store opening was that day, but it wasn't our "grand opening" it was our ribbon-cutting and new store opening.) Like many new businesses, we wanted to take some time to get a few of the kinks ironed out and finish all the construction before we launched our actual grand opening celebration. We are looking forward to celebrating the grand opening with you in September and hope you'll bring friends and neighbors to come visit the store and get some great deals on really good food! We are also working on an outdoor screening of CISA's Field Notes film as part of our grand opening festivities.

Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle and Edward Lee


Our EV chargers in Easthampton are now activated and online with Charge Point. All our EV chargers are in the first row of parking along Northampton Street. These EV chargers were made possible with funding from Eversource’s EV MakeReady program, MassEVIP WPF (one charging station for employee use) and MassEVIP PAC program (six charging stations for public access). Each charging station has two chargers for a total of 14 available. We have room to add several more and hope to secure additional funding to add them next year. The co-op is covering the first hour and it is $2/hour after that.


Big thanks to Monica Nuñez, River Valley Co-op Expansion Project Manager, for securing funding for these EV chargers!


I want to give our Co-op Expansion Project Manager, Monica Nuñez, a shout-out for her diligent work during this project. She has been busy ordering equipment and coordinating with our staff and contractors with the installation and building details. She has kept a sharp eye on the management of expenses and securing grants. Untold hours have been spent on planning and problem-solving, working with the general contractor project manager, other contractors, store management, store designer, architects, equipment suppliers, and city officials through the last four years. Monica has been key in managing the expansion project details for us, and we are on the home stretch now for finishing this project.


We are still in the process of finishing up the solar canopy installation and the solar battery installation. Thank you to RBI, PV-Squared, and Co-op Power! We are also working through the final details remaining on our general contractor's punch list, plus some additional things we saw we needed near the end of the project. There are also some pieces of equipment we are still waiting for, some local art installations that are in process, some final landscaping and tree planting. ArtFx recently installed our roadway entrance sign. We appreciate your patience as we work through finishing all the construction and installations.

We planted much of our site with a wildflower pollinator seed mix and it needs a full season of growth with no mowing before we go in to start pulling out any invasive volunteer weeds. We know it looks wild and unkept at this stage, but we’ve been instructed by professionals to let it do its thing this year undisturbed and it will transform into a wildflower meadow by next summer.


The Northampton store remains our larger volume store. Part of our plan was to take a little pressure off this store with the opening of Easthampton. We are adjusting to our new normal with a transfer of about 20% of our sales to the Easthampton store at the same time we also have a lot of staff in new management positions in this location. I want to give Jason, our Northampton Store Manager, and all the Northampton staff a shout-out for their good work through this transition period. We had projections of what we expected for the transfer of sales to Easthampton, and it looks like we will end up about where we expected on that. Whichever way it goes, we can adjust as long as we meet our overall sales goals. So far, sales have been above our projections and we are very happy to see how well the Northampton store has held onto its customer counts. It is notable that COVID cut our customer counts in half last year while the size of shopping trips increased dramatically. This really opened up our parking lot even pre-Easthampton opening because this shopping pattern change has not bounced entirely back to pre-COVID patterns.

The opening of the Easthampton store came about the same time as the ending of COVID-related business restrictions. We are seeing changes in shopping patterns just starting to return to more pre-COVID patterns with bigger weekend sales days returning. Another change is big declines in our curbside business over the last couple of months as the vaccines have made many more people much more comfortable to joyfully do their co-op shopping in person again. We are working on reclaiming the indoor deli seating area and rearranging for a smaller-sized curbside operation. We continue to monitor the current news related to COVID and if things change and demand for curbside spikes upward, we can always readjust again to meet the needs. Some people have asked about our Northampton salad bar and hot bar. We did take that piece of equipment out for good and are doing ongoing work on reinventing our prepared foods offerings without it for the immediate future.

We will be holding our Truck Load Sale September 3rd-6th in both our stores. This will be good practice for November’s big local turkey sales. We had to place our turkey orders in June this year by the way…how crazy is that as we prepare to open a new store in July?! I hope Easthampton likes our local turkeys like Northampton does because we ordered them for you! It is interesting how doing what we’ve done before in one store takes on added dimensions of communication logistics both internally and externally for two stores. With each holiday and event, we will be learning a lot about how to do what we do in two stores and adapting as new rhythms for the flow of customers develops in each store. COVID resulted in us all getting a lot of practice with change. But unlike COVID, the Easthampton store is a good change—and one we’ve planned for and long looked forward to. One co-op, two stores: we are starting our new fiscal year (July 1st – June 30th) on this new cooperative adventure together.

Thank you for your support in both stores. It is going to be a good year!

Rochelle Prunty
General Manager
 


Hello Easthampton!

July 7, 2021 – 

Last Thursday, we held our ribbon-cutting ceremony and opened our doors in Easthampton to everyone in the community for the first time. The day was filled with fun, inspiration and cooperative spirit, and we were thankful for all the kind words and warm support we received!

See our slideshow below to experience some of the many wonderful moments that were captured that day:



#HelloEasthampton
! ???? We're thrilled to announce that our second store is open!!!!


We couldn't be more excited for this important day and to start this next chapter in our co-op's journey with our community. There is so much to celebrate—especially all the staff, owners, community partners and local businesses whose hard work and cooperation made this important project possible. Thank you one and all!

 


New Mask Policy Begins July 1st!

Starting on July 1st, we will shift our mask requirements for everyone, including staff, to only require masks for all those who are not fully vaccinated.

We are lifting all our COVID-era policies, except the:

  • Requirement for those who are not fully vaccinated to wear face masks,
  • 8am – 9am daily masked hour when all staff and customers will continue to be required to wear face masks. Our morning masked hour is to support all those who require the extra caution of face masks for all while shopping inside of our stores.

These policies apply to both the Northampton and the Easthampton location, which will be opening on July 1st at 10:30am immediately following the 10am ribbon-cutting ceremony.

We encourage everyone who wishes to continue covering their muzzle to keep doing so. The co-op has also asked unmasked staff to have masks on hand. In the event you feel more comfortable when talking to a member of our staff that has opted not to be masked, let us know and we will gladly put one on. We want to make sure that everyone feels welcome to shop at the co-op. 

If these changes do not meet your needs, our Northampton store offers a Curbside Pickup service. We run Curbside Pickup every day. Visit our website here to place an order or read about the service.

We know that our efforts through the pandemic have provided a sense of security for over a year and that we are in a transitional time. As we move forward, we will continue to evaluate the available information and adapt our policies as needed.

Thank you everyone for your kindness and understanding going forward in regards to people's needs related to face masks.


It's Happening and You're Invited!

Dear co-op owners,

You are invited with much gratitude and appreciation to join us for our Easthampton store's Ribbon Cutting Ceremony. It is planned for Thursday, July 1st at 10am. Immediately after the ceremonial ribbon cutting, we'll open the doors for business and welcome you inside to see your Easthampton food co-op! Bring your friends and neighbors, everyone is welcome!

This is a major organizational step, just as momentous as the start-up opening of our store by our two thousand co-op owners in Northampton in 2008. We now have nearly 13,000 co-op owners and are almost ready to open our second store! Our co-op's Board of Directors, co-op owners, and staff have long been preparing for the building and opening of a second store. We are very grateful to our collective co-op community of employees, Board Members, co-op owners and community partners, the City of Easthampton, our lenders, our building project team, and our representatives in Congress and the State for their support, commitment, and creativity in addressing the many challenges of this grassroots business development. We hope to celebrate with many of you for our Ribbon Cutting Ceremony at 10 am on Thursday, July 1st, and look forward to opening our doors for business at 10:30.  

How did we get here?

We began dreaming of another store through a series of discussions at both the Board and staff level over multiple years. Our co-op had expanded every year in customers, sales, employees, local vendors, local purchases and the number of customers that invested as co-op owners. But we have not physically expanded the size of our facility or parking lot, until now.

In 2014 the Board of Directors held a day-long multi-stakeholder strategic planning session with co-op owners that included customers, employees, and local vendors. Together we assessed our progress, challenges, needs, the grocery business environment, community impact and reviewed our values. At the end of the day, a vision emerged for the future for our co-op with multiple stores. Our key goals are growing the local foods movement, expanding Union job growth and advancement opportunities for our employees, serving more community members, and growing the cooperative movement. This vision received enthuasistic support from the membership and communityIn many ways, the second store vision and plans were needed to catch up to how we had already expanded, while also enabling us to support continued growth. 

Our strategic plan included investing in improvements to our current facility and strengthening our operations first. We upgraded equipment and remodeled the store, added supervisor and assistant management positions to prepare for the leadership needed in two stores. We conducted a market study to understand potential store volume, size, and locations for a second store and began a site search. 

It is very challenging to find locations for grocery stores due to the logistics required for parking, deliveries, and customer access. We prioritized a site within 4-8 miles of our current store, where a significant number of our current customers already lived. This location strategy supported our goal to take some pressure off our Northampton store by offering a more convenient location for many of our current co-op owners. The former car dealership in Easthampton was a great match for our needs. The property owners were supportive of our timeline requirements for community fundraising and planning. The Easthampton community is very welcoming of local businesses and we are very grateful for that support.

How did we fund our co-op developments?

We engaged our co-op owners in investing in these developments for a store remodel in Northampton and a second store with co-op owner loans. Our co-op generates the funds required for operating the store, but major real estate developments require additional owner investments and outside funding sources. Our co-op owners embraced the opportunity to invest in their co-op's development. 300+ individual co-op owners made loans totaling over $5 million. 

These co-op owner loans leveraged the additional outside bank and economic development funding we needed for the $20 million Easthampton store project. Thank you to our co-op owners, Bank ESB, Massachusetts Housing and Development, National Community Investment Fund, Vermont Rural Ventures, Capital One Community Renewal Fund, Twin Pines Cooperative Development Foundation, and the Cooperative Fund of New England their financial support. 

In addition: 

  • Co-op Power has provided the support for our amazing 928kw solar array constructed on the roof and a canopy over our parking lot. 
  • The City of Easthampton, with grant funding from MassWorks provided the roadway and sidewalk infrastructure improvements needed. 
  • Grant funding through Eversource's Make-Ready and the state's Smart Program supported the installation of our EV charging stations. 

Who did we work with to design and build the Easthampton store?

Our project planning and building team included our general contractor Wright Builders, a local contractor specializing in green buildings, the Berkshire Design Group for site planning, Thomas Douglas Architects for building design, National Co-op Grocers Development Co-op for store layout and equipment planning, and many local subcontractors. The solar project team includes Co-op Power, Solar Design Associates, and PV-Squared, as well as Wright Builders and multiple subcontractors. 

It has been an intensely busy year. Our staff has been preparing and planning for the opening of the Easthampton store all through this last year while also dealing with operating our store during a pandemic. We've added over 80 new employees, over one thousand new co-op owners, as well as many new local vendors to our cooperative. All these new people engaging with our co-op are energizing for the whole organization and our many partners. 

What will the Easthampton store be like compared to the Northampton store?

The Easthampton store will be very familiar to our Northampton store customers. They are close to the same size. You will see most of the same products, the same overall style in the decor, and even many of the same employees. The parking lot is larger in Easthampton and includes EV charging stations. 

Operating a new store is a big project for our employees. While about a third of our employees have experience working in the Northampton store, the rest are new to our co-op. Working together operating this store will be a new venture for everyone working in the store. 

We celebrate our Ribbon Cutting on July 1st and open for business immediately following, but we are waiting until September for our grand opening celebrations. This will give us the summer to finish up loose ends like the parking lot solar panel installation and a few other things with the facility and equipment. And most importantly, it will give us some time to develop and adapt our programs and give the staff some practice time working together in this building and getting a good flow going. They call this a soft opening, but it's still hard work for our employees to get all the store systems working together well. You can help with both your feedback and patience as we get the Easthampton store up to full speed in September. We really appreciate your shopping support over these early months and hope you'll enjoy seeing the store develop a little each week as we prepare for our grand opening in September.

We are opening our Easthampton store amidst a time of overall transition from COVID to recovery. It feels like we are coming out of a kind of hibernation of sorts as a community, and it feels full of hope. What we look forward to most is seeing what good things we accomplish together over the coming years! 

Please join us to celebrate this milestone point in our history together! Thank you for all you do to support our community food co-op. 

Rochelle Prunty
General Manager
 


Making Juneteenth an official federal and state holiday is a shining light of hope for a better future!

This year, Juneteenth is a federal and state holiday! Last year at this time, all around the country, people were in the streets grieving together and standing up for justice for George Floyd. George Floyd's murder by the Minneapolis police officers elevated the country's consciousness that racism, like COVID, is a crisis that we all need to work together to address with urgency. This holiday is an important step to bring us together. It is an inspiration for continuing the work to end racist BIPOC oppression in its many forms. 


Global Village Foods: A Juneteenth Perspective

We recently visited Mel and Damaris Hall in Windsor, Vermont, where their business, Global Village Foods, is headquartered. Their mission is to bring everyone together to enjoy flavors from around the world to remind us that we're a global community and more similar than different.

Their award-winning meals are allergy-friendly, vegan and gluten-free, combining flavors from across Africa and highlighting the flavors of various regions. They use recipes Damaris learned from her mother in Kenya and has adopted to meet the needs of her own family raising a child with severe food allergies. The goal of Global Village Foods is to provide meals to families so they can eat well and without worry.

In this interview, Mel and Damaris talk about their experiences as black business owners: the support they've received from their community, the importance of accessible resources and mentoring for success, as well as ways to bring about equity building on "diversity and difference as a starting point for better connection."

Click below to watch this powerful, moving interview.

 


The Abolitionist Roots of Cooperation

Looking to our historical roots as a cooperative business, we see the strong role the cooperative movement has always had in social justice issues. For example, the food co-op that opened in 1844 in northern England, the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers, was a co-op that became known for lighting the way for the cooperative movement that grew throughout Europe, to the US, and around the world. This food co-op was started by a group of abolitionists that worked in a weaving factory. They were committed to women's rights as well and held literacy classes for girls and women in an upstairs classroom in the food co-op, they also allowed women to become co-op owners, although women were not allowed ownership by the laws of the time. 

Right here in our valley, we have a strong and direct connection to the abolitionist founding of the cooperative movement with the Northampton Equitable Society of Education and Industry in Florence, which launched in the 1840s. This utopian cooperative community famously included Sojourner Truth and David Ruggles.  A cooperative sugar beet farm and mill to offer an alternative to slave-grown sugar cane and a silk industry to offer an alternative to slave-grown cotton were some of their local business developments. The abolitionist writer, orator, and activist Frederick Douglas collaborated with both the Rochdale Food Co-op founders and the cooperative society in Florence to amplify the abolitionist movement, women's rights movement and other social justice issues through their work. 

LaDonna Sanders-Redmond, our Interim Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Program Manager, worked with puppeteer Gabriel Herrell to develop a theatrical cranky-style presentation about the Abolitionist Roots of Cooperation for our 2020 Annual Meeting. This is a theatrical way to tell the story of food co-ops' history of working for social justice and connect that to our present-day work to address the challenges of racism and social justice. If you missed this presentation in the annual meeting, you'll want to see it below.

 


Northampton Historic Site Update

May 29th Northampton Historic Site News: Updated June 13th. 

The Northampton Historical Commission voted unanimously on Monday, May 24th, to stand with the federally recognized Tribes to preserve the pre-historic site near the intersection of North King Street and Hatfield Street, just south of our Northampton store! They explicitly named the Indigenous Nations engaged in exercising their federal rights in evaluating and calling for the preservation of this site. We are very grateful for their decision to make this commitment at the request of Mark Andrews, the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribal Resources Officer and archeological site monitor assigned to this project. This commitment marks a turning point for Massachusetts's historical preservation. Thank you to the Northampton Historical Commission for your important leadership on this!

The MassDOT announced in a press release that they were canceling this project due to the public support of the historic site. On May 26th, they pulled all the survey stakes and markers from the site.  

This is great news for Native American historical preservation in Massachusetts! This historic site is a very rare 8,000-10,000-year-old undisturbed village site. 8,000-10,000 years ago was a time of cultural transformation from the Paleo to the Archaic period, a time of which little is known. Interestingly, it remained undiscovered until now, when the region's people came together to recognize its importance and work to ensure its preservation. 

The threat of immediate destruction of this site appears to be lifted. The MassDOT announced it would be looking into alternative solutions that would not impact the site in the near future. However, we don't yet know what the next proposal will be. We remain committed to having a voice in the planning for any improvements in our neighborhood to address our community and business concerns.

The Skibiski family who owned the property where the village site and artifacts were discovered are working in partnership with the federally recognized Tribes. They are working together with the Narragansett and the Aquinnah Wampanoag for the return of the artifacts to be replaced in the ground that they came from for preservation. At this time, there have been no official steps taken by the state to list the site on the National Registry of Historic Places or to designate it as an official historic site of any kind.

We look forward to these next steps taking shape with the strong endorsement from the Northampton Historical Commission.

Thank you to the many people who worked very hard to digest and understand the sometimes conflicting information about this amazing ancient cultural discovery in our community. It has been an educational process for us to see more behind the curtain of the state and federal Native American historical preservation processes. This had given us the opportunity to learn more about the importance of the National Historic Preservation Act and the role of the public in it. 

Anyone interested in reading the state archeology study report on the site for themselves can do so here (link) to see the recommendation for preservation and description of the two hearths and artifacts that were excavated. The report noted multiple additional hearths were likely beyond the areas excavated and that the site should be preserved for further study. We know from archeologists that burials are likely at deeper depths than what was excavated and remain undisturbed.

Thank you for your support of Native American historic preservation in our community! Let's move on to officially preserving this site and getting the artifacts returned. 

The following article was published in the June 3rd edition of The Reminder. The multiple voices included together help piece together more of the story of how this issue was viewed by the City, MassDOT, Native American historic and cultural preservation experts, the former property owners, and an archeologist specializing in the paleo and early archaic periods.

Motives, Tactics Questioned as Northampton Roundabout Proposal is Pulled

NORTHAMPTON – After years of research, planning, petitions, and public testimony, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) announced on May 18 the current construction contract for a proposed roundabout at North King Street and Hatfield Street had been terminated while MassDOT reevaluates the project.

In a media release, MassDOT said community feedback at a virtual public information meeting on Feb. 17, 2020 was the motivation for putting the brakes on the project.

“The overwhelming majority of the comments raised opposition to the project due to its impacts to an archaeological site. There has continued to be substantial public opposition towards the project that MassDOT was not able to minimize during the public process,” according to the release. “Therefore, MassDOT has determined that the best next step is to terminate the current construction contract and undertake a re-evaluation of the project design. The re-evaluation option is responsive to the nature of the public comments received, which asked MassDOT to consider alternatives that avoided the location of the archaeological site. This re-evaluation will take public opposition into account as a key evaluation criterion for all design alternatives considered.”

Northampton’s Executive Director of Sustainability and Planning Wayne Feiden said the project was cancelled and the state hired third-party engineers to develop a new design.

“The roundabout is cancelled; the state is going to hire outside engineers who have not been involved to figure out the design solutions. The safety problem that led to this project is still there, so the state is not abandoning it, but the current project is definitely being cancelled,” he said.

Feiden added that the lack of safe biking and walking access to the Big Y on North King Street was the focus of the project.

“This is the only major grocery store in town that does not have safe bicycle and pedestrian access. It is both the city’s policy and the state’s policy that people should feel comfortable walking and biking everywhere. Having a major grocery store on King Street that is not safe to get to from walking and biking is critical and I think that message is lost here,” he said.

Feiden said that he did not know enough about the Native American artifacts on site to comment about the findings.

“We turned the designs over to the state, and they are the ones who did the archaeological work. There are so many different stories of what is out there I just do not know enough about what it is to speak intelligently,” he said.

During a meeting on May 24, the Northampton Historical Commission passed a new resolution under Chapter 106, stating that a project on the site would result in negative impacts to historic properties.

Property owners frustrated with the process

Greg Skibiski, whose family owns land taken by the state for the project, started a petition, and has been fully involved in a civil suit opposing the project since June 2020. He said after a yearlong archaeological survey, one day a construction company showed up to demolish the site for the roundabout.

“It started as a surprise where they did archaeological testing as a part of their standard procedure to look at this roundabout. They were going to take a sliver of land from our property, no big deal. Then without any notice they showed up on the property and started an archaeological dig. One day they were gone and then we got a notice the construction would start July 1,” he said.

Following the notice, Greg’s father, John Skibiski, who owned the land taken by eminent domain, said he sent a letter to the editor of the Daily Hampshire Gazette stating that Native American artifacts from 8,000 to 10,000 years ago were on the site and only the archaeological team knew what was buried there.

Greg said that one of his biggest frustrations was that Northampton’s government did not get involved in the public discussion about the dig and the roundabout.

“From the very beginning we have been frustrated. The city said they had nothing to do with it and told us to contact the state. Our opinion is this is a find on private property in the city of Northampton and it should be a matter of city interest,” he said.

Greg said that one day construction workers showed up on site and destroyed one of the dig sites before his sister called the police and removed them from the property.

“One of the major areas where they found artifacts on the property was completely destroyed on our private property so we were super pissed off about that. We cannot prove anything, but Native Americans said that is typical MassDOT behavior, they always try to destroy the site as quickly as possible before anything can be done,” he said.

Because the state had not taken the property prior to the project, Greg explained his family had the legal recourse to act.

“The only reason we were able to catch them this time was they screwed up and did not do the taking of the land before they did the archaeology. If they had done that on the state land, we would have no legal recourse. Since this was done on private property, we had the legal recourse to blow this whole thing wide open,” he said.

One of the flaws in the project John brought up was that the state did not consult the Narragansett or the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribes, or conduct the proper environmental surveys.

“They made several major mistakes in that they did not contact the Native American Tribes, by law they are supposed to do that.  They did not even do an environmental impact report and there was never a wildlife or a tree assessment on the site and they were going to plow it over Aug. 6, without any consideration of non-compliance,” he said.

Greg added the tribes did not know about the project until the petition was posted two weeks before construction was set to begin.

While MassDOT sent a press release saying it was reevaluating the project, Greg said they have not received notice that the project’s status had changed.

“They put this press release out, yet us who have legal consulting status, along with River Valley Co-Op and the two Native American tribes, none of us have received a single letter from the state about a change in the legal status of the project,” he said.

With the project going back to the drawing board, John said he was happy the site may be used for future research.

“We’re happy, what happened is a plus. It is an indication that the site can be saved for the benefit of the Native Americans and future research on early life in Northampton. Our position is that the artifacts be returned for the benefit of the Native Americans,” he said.

Perceived lack of accountability

In his experience dealing with MassDOT and Native American sites, Narragansett Tribe Monitor Joe Graveline said MassDOT’s process for this project seemed to be full of shortcuts. [Note: his title is incorrect here. Joe is Co-chair Northfield Historical Commission and Co-founder, researcher and past president of the Nolumbeka Project]

“It seemed very unusual to me that the DOT’s accountability for the process was skipped. It seemed like there were a lot of shortcuts taken by the DOT. I have not seen as troubling a sequence of shortcuts as I have seen on this project with DOT,” he said.

Despite the public speaking against the project and learning about what happened, Graveline said it seemed like both the city and the state wanted to push the project through.

“It still appears that the DOT and town of Northampton wanted to fight it. They wanted to pretend that there was nothing wrong. It feels to me like it was more important to ram the project through than be respectful to the citizens of Northampton and also to follow the federal and state requirements,” he said.

Graveline said he hopes MassDOT avoids the site with the project on hold while it is reevaluated.

“I am hopeful they got the message and will avoid that site; it is incredibly rare to find a 10,000-year-old site; that’s three times the age of the pyramids,” he said.

Graveline added that he thought the resolution of this project could set a precedent for similar cases of sites being discovered on private property.

“The way that the state words it is that if there is something of interest on a piece of property it becomes the property of the state, but when it is private property and taking something from that property without making arrangements with the landowners, I think there is a possibility of setting a precedent with this project and bringing to light some of the challenges that have existed in the state for the last four decades,” he said.

'They tried to hoodwink people’

Dr. Michael Gramly, a Harvard paleontologist, said he was happy the site was found for educational purposes but wishes it was found under better circumstances.

“I think it was positive that it was found because it educates us. Every time we find a place like that we did not know about before provides a model for future searches. It was very sad that instead of preserving the site, the idea was that they should do a perfunctory excavation,” he said.

Despite the archaeology team finding about 2,000 objects on site, Gramly said he expects there is even more to be uncovered.

“Based on other sites in the region in eastern North America, we know there is more to be unearthed there. There is a lot more still there I do not doubt, and some of it may be even deeper in the ground. We know there were 2,000 objects found, people thought there were about a third of that number,” he said.

Gramly said the site was especially interesting because many sites with Native American artifacts have seen some sort of damage.

“Remarkably, that site was minimally disturbed by plowing and agricultural activities, so that makes it especially interesting. Many sites are plowed to pieces or they have been affected in one matter or another through erosion, but that site somehow escaped that attention,” he said. “Because it was slightly disturbed, the Skibiski site certainly qualified as a place worthy of preservation and instead they want to destroy it.”

Gramly said one of his concerns is that the excavation was done quickly and said he was frustrated other archaeologists cannot look at the artifacts.

“It was a quick job, they tried to hoodwink people into thinking they got all of the information of importance when they have not. The objects have been taken off to Connecticut and scientists like me do not have access to them, it is ridiculous,” he said.

Dennis Hackett, The Reminder
dhackett@thereminder.com
 


Face Masks! Easthampton Store! Historical Site!

May 28, 2021 –

Northampton is Rescinding its COVID Mask Mandate for Fully Vaccinated People beginning Saturday, May 29th.

A few weeks ago, the CDC announced that fully vaccinated people could safely resume normal activities without social distancing or face masks. This was followed by the Governor of Massachusetts announcing the end of all retail COVID restrictions for fully vaccinated people in the state of Massachusetts starting on May 29th. This week, Northampton joined the state in lifting their retail COVID restrictions for all fully vaccinated people as well, beginning Saturday, May 29th.  

In light of Northampton's decision to lift COVID restrictions, we congratulate all who have made this possible by getting vaccinated. We, too, will adapt many of our COVID restrictions to adjust to this new phase, although a bit more cautiously than the city regulations.

We will continue requiring face masks for all our employees while working in the co-op for a while longer. We will re-evaluate this over the course of the coming month and let you know if we make a change to this policy.  

Beginning Saturday, May 29th, the Co-op will lift our limitations on the number of customers in accordance with the change in City and State policies that eliminated all retail, social distancing and reduced store capacity limits.

 


We strongly encourage everyone that can to continue to cover your muzzle in the store.

  • Face masks are not required for those who are fully vaccinated, but we do strongly encourage our shoppers to continue wearing them in the store with us awhile longer, through the end of June. We will re-evaluate this in mid-June and and keep you updated if we make any changes to this policy.

  • If you are not fully vaccinated, a face mask is required for admission to the store (or face shield for those who require a face mask accommodation).  

  • We will have complimentary face masks and face shields available in the front entryway for you to use if needed. 

  • 6-foot social distancing and one-way aisles will be discontinued.

  • We will continue to reserve our first hour, 8 am-9 am, for the immune-compromised, seniors (60+) or anyone who prefers shopping in an all masked store. From 8 am-9 am, face masks are required for everyone, regardless of vaccination status, to support this reserved shopping hour. In addition, the number of shoppers will be limited to 60 at a time to help support social distancing.  

  • We will not be asking for proof of vaccination to enter the store. We are counting on your support for everyone's safety. 

We know this change might be difficult to get used to for many people, and for some, it will feel like we are overly cautious. We are stepping forward with caution and care. We urge everyone to be kind to one another as we begin the process of adapting to this vaccination phase of COVID in our community.

It is a very good feeling knowing the vaccine is showing strong effectiveness and experiencing the overall relief that knowledge brings. As we move forward, we will continue to evaluate the available information and adapt our policies as needed.

If these policies make it uncomfortable coming into our store to shop, we encourage you to use our Curbside Pickup service! We run Curbside Pickup every day. Visit our website here to place an order or read about the service.

We welcome your feedback as we invite you to ease into the new vaccine phase with us in a few steps, instead of a single leap.

Thank you for your support for taking things a little slower at the co-op before returning to fully "normal"! 

Easthampton Store Progress


Hiring 75 new employees is underway! Our next job fair is coming up Thursday, June 3rd, at 4 pm on the Easthampton Store patio. You can also apply online. We have a good variety of Union jobs available, mostly full-time, but also some part-time. The wage scale starts at a minimum of $15/hr, and we have great benefits and a progressive retail work environment. 

It has been a lot of fun to meet new people joining our co-op team as employees, and many current employees have been promoted to higher levels of responsibility. The employees, the shoppers and co-op owners, and vendors are all important parts of what makes our co-op a fun place to work, shop, and do business with. Thank you to all considering joining our team. 

Every day the Easthampton store is getting closer to completion. For those that have driven by recently, you may have seen the steel solar canopy going up over our parking lot. Inside, grocery shelves have been put together, equipment is being installed, and more equipment is arriving over the coming weeks. Inside and out, many finishing touches are underway. 

Big thanks to Wright Builders, Tom Douglas Architects, Berkshire Design, Co-op Power, PV-squared, National Co-op Grocers Development Co-op, many other contractors and community partners involved in building the Easthampton store.  

We are now aiming to open on Thursday, July 1st. Just in time for the 4th of July weekend! Stay tuned for details to come.

Northampton Historic Site Update

The Northampton Historical Commission voted unanimously on Monday, May 24th, to stand with the federally recognized Tribes to preserve the site! They explicitly named the Indigenous Nations that are engaged in exercising their federal rights in evaluating and calling for the preservation of this site. We are very grateful for their decision to make this commitment at the request of Mark Andrews, the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribal Resources Officer and historic site monitor assigned to this project. This commitment marks a turning point for Massachusetts's historical preservation. Thank you to the Northampton Historical Commission for your important leadership on this!

The MassDOT announced in a press release that they were canceling this project due to the public support of the historic site. On Wednesday this week, they pulled all the survey stakes and markers from the site.   

This is great news for Native American historical preservation in Massachusetts! This historic site is a very rare 8,000-10,000-year-old undisturbed village site. 8,000-10,000 years ago was a time of cultural transformation from the Paleo to the Archaic period, of which little is known. Interestingly, it remained undiscovered until now, when the region's people came together to recognize its importance and work to ensure its preservation. 

The threat of immediate destruction of this site appears to be lifted. The MassDOT announced it would be looking into alternative solutions that would not impact the site in the near future. However, we don't yet know what the next proposal will be. We remain committed to having a voice in the planning for any improvements in our neighborhood to address our community and business concerns.

The Skibiski family who owned the property where the village site and artifacts were discovered are working in partnership with the federally recognized Tribes. They are working together with the Narragansett and the Aquinnah Wampanoag for the return of the artifacts to be replaced in the ground that they came from for preservation. At this time, there have been no official steps taken by the state to list the site on the National Registry of Historic Places or to designate it as an official historic site of any kind.

We look forward to these next steps taking shape with the strong endorsement from the Northampton Historical Commission.

Thank you to the many people who worked very hard to digest and understand the information about this amazing ancient cultural discovery in our community. It has been an educational process for us to see more behind the curtain of the state and federal Native American historical preservation processes. This had given us the opportunity to learn more about the importance of the National Historic Preservation Act and the role of the public in it. Thank you for your support of Native American historic preservation in our community.

Thank You!

This has been quite a year! We have come together to support our employees, local vendors, customers and community through a pandemic crisis. We have built a new store in Easthampton to expand our cooperative services and capacity for positive impacts on our local economy and community. The Easthampton store enables us to increase purchases by millions from local food producers, add 75 new co-op jobs, and build an innovative green energy production system to offset nearly all our annual energy use. We stepped up our commitment and focus on anti-racism and developing our capacity and skills in diversity, equity, and inclusion. We helped raise awareness of weaknesses in Massachusetts policies and processes on Native American historical preservation. And, we also stopped the bulldozers that threatened a rare ancient cultural site.

A challenging year and we know much more good work remains to be done. But, wow, we've accomplished a lot together! We are very grateful to all our employees, customers, vendors, construction contractors and community partners who have worked together so well to rise to the challenges of the past year with such good outcomes! 

Have a great Memorial Day Weekend!

With gratitude,

Rochelle Prunty
General Manager

 

Articles:

MassDOT cancels Northampton roundabout project where 10,000-year-old artifacts found
https://www.masslive.com/news/2021/05/massdot-cancels-northampton-roundabout-project-where-10000-year-old-artifacts-found.html


Northampton Historical Commission votes to protect location where state planned rotary; says project would have harmed ancient American Indian site
https://www.masslive.com/business/2021/05/northampton-historical-commission-votes-to-protect-location-where-state-planned-rotary-says-project-would-have-harmed-ancient-american-indian-site.html
 


COVID Update: April 28

April 28, 2021 –

We are happy to announce that the report this week of an employee testing positive for COVID was a false alarm. Upon final test results all employees in quarantine were released to return to work by the Department of Health. That was great news to get for all of us! 

Thank you for your support! 

 - Rochelle
 


COVID Update: April 27

April 27, 2021 – 

We are happy to report that all the staff members that had to quarantine after a co-worker was diagnosed with COVID-19 have tested negative for COVID and are back to work! The employee that tested positive is recovering from home. We appreciate the outpouring of support from the community for our employees in response to our first workplace case announcement.

Unfortunately, we've been notified of another employee that was diagnosed with COVID-19. This case is entirely unrelated to the first one. Please note that the health department does not consider this to reflect any more of a safety issue than any other public location, and we were not required to report this. We are letting you know about this because we know as owners of the co-op, this is an issue you care about.

This once again underscores the importance of continued diligence with mask-wearing and social distancing. Both our customers and staff members are required to follow these COVID safety policies at the co-op to help keep everyone safer. Thank you for your support with this!

We also want to reassure everyone that all our employees have paid time off for vaccinations, sick leave, testing, and required quarantine time.

We are looking forward to getting everyone back to work once they've passed the testing and quarantine requirements.
Thanks again for your support!

 - Rochelle
 


COVID Update: April 17

April 17, 2021 –

Dear River Valley Co-op Community,

In the interest of transparency and to underscore the ongoing importance of remaining vigilant about the importance of COVID-19 safety precautions, we want to inform you that on Friday, April 16, 2021, we learned that an employee from our co-op store has tested positive for COVID-19. Please note that we are not required to provide this information by the health department or any other agency. The CDC and public health departments emphasize that a positive test result does not make River Valley Co-op a higher risk environment than other public spaces. We are providing this information because, as co-op owners, we know you care about our staff and how we are making our co-op operations as safe as possible for everyone in our community. We hope the following information helps you understand the key details of importance to you on these issues. 

Out of respect for the employee's confidentiality, we will not share any employee information that will allow them to be identified. However, we can tell you that they last worked at the co-op on Wednesday, April 14, and are self-quarantining at home as recommended by their healthcare professional and will remain out of the workplace until recovered and meeting all required timelines and testing for eligibility to return to work. 

Upon learning of the result, we notified our local health department. We are following all recommended guidelines from public health authorities, including the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and city, county, and state public health departments. 

We have identified and notified all staff members who may have been in close contact with the affected person. They will be self-quarantining at home to self-monitor for symptoms until meeting the health requirements, timelines and/or testing for eligibility to return to work. 

We've done extra cleaning and sanitation in the area of the store that the employee worked in. This is in addition to our ongoing regular daily sanitation routines and overnight cleaning procedures. We require face-coverings for all employees, as well as customers. Our ventilation system settings and equipment are designed to provide fresh air and filtration to help minimize the risks to both employees and customers inside the store. 

As part of our daily COVID-19 safety practices, we ask that any employee with known contact with a person that tested positive within the last 14 days or who exhibits symptoms to stay home, contact our HR department, and notify their physician as appropriate. We also require a quarantine period and/or testing for employees that travel before they can return to work. Our co-op has a generous sick leave and vacation policy. We are working with staff members on a case-by-case basis to ensure they have the support they need for required self-quarantine monitoring periods or any illness.

Our co-op prides itself on its cleanliness, social distancing, and safety standards, and we are taking multiple steps to serve your needs, care for our staff, and be a responsible member of our community. Here is an overview:

  • All staff members verify they meet all the COVID-19 safety work eligibility requirements daily.
  • All staff self-monitor themselves throughout the day and stay/go home if sick
  • All employees and customers are required to wear face coverings as well as washing or sanitizing hands.
  • All employees and customers are asked to maintain 6-foot social distancing from others, and Plexi-barriers are installed where 6-foot social distance is not possible and interactions between people may extend to several minutes at a time. 
  • Our HVAC system equipment and settings are designed to provide ample fresh air and specialized filtration to help minimize risks to both employees and customers inside the store.
  • All common areas such as offices, bathrooms, and shared electronic equipment are disinfected and cleaned routinely every day.
  • All high touch surfaces such as grocery carts and hand baskets and door handles are disinfected routinely throughout the day.

We are very grateful that more and more community members (now also including grocery workers) are gaining access to vaccines to help limit the risks and spread of COVID. Everyone's ongoing support meeting our safety requirements while shopping and working at the co-op, as well as mindfulness of safety in other activities is highly appreciated! This widespread community attention to safety helps us all to support each other through this ongoing challenging time. We also want to appreciate our local health department for their dedication to prioritizing high safety standards, often exceeding the state requirements on key issues.

We are also grateful to our employees for keeping the store going every day and remaining focused on our mission of supporting local farmers and food producers, and providing fresh, healthy food for our community. In addition to regular shopping services, our co-op staff has developed an online ordering program for either curbside pick-up or delivery. We offer curbside pick-up service at no extra charge to help support our community's needs. We've been improving our system for this program and are now providing next-day pick-up for online orders. Click here for more information about our online services: http://rivervalley.coop/curbside-pickup.

This is the first time we've had to send you a notice of a positive COVID case in River Valley Co-op, which is a testament to the work of our employees and the support of customers to follow our safety guidelines. Thank you!

If you have any further questions, please contact us at info@rivervalley.coop

Thank you, everyone, for your ongoing support! 

With gratitude,

Rochelle Prunty
General Manager
 


A Message from our Board of Directors about the Ancient Archaeological Site

February 22, 2021 –

Issues related to the proposed roundabout at the Y-intersection of North King Street/Rte 5&10 with Hatfield Street near our Northampton store have recently been getting some news coverage. This has helped to bring new and renewed attention to the issue as it relates to the work to preserve a rare 8,000-10,000-year-old site of cultural significance in the path of the construction and our co-op's interests both in the roundabout and historical site.

As the leadership of the co-op, we want to be sure our co-op owners understand the full context of our responsibility for engagement in opposition to this roundabout project as proposed. We hope that the following overview helps clarify our shared interests in stopping this project, as well as our shared interests in moving forward together to develop alternative solutions for addressing pedestrian, bike, and vehicle traffic flow for this intersection. Our goal is to develop an alternative solution that ensures the preservation of the ancient cultural site and mitigates the serious economic threats to our cooperative business. This could be an exciting new plan that will better address all needs now that we know about the historical site.

We have been following this issue closely and working to keep our co-op owners updated since the alarming news in late June 2020 that bulldozers were about to start construction on July 1st. In late 2019, we learned of the archeological significance of the site and expected MassDOT to take time to develop alternative plans; we had been told funding was no longer available for construction. The Mass DOT website showed no funding, the start date deleted, with no status noted, affirming our beliefs. We were not informed of the new funding in April 2020, and the planned July start date was a surprise. 

We have met with both city and state officials over many years in the effort to ensure this three-year road construction project does not seriously damage our cooperative business. Our requests for overnight construction, long before the project went to bid, have been met with a refusal to seriously assess this option with City, State, and MassDOT officials instead insisting it is too costly. However, because they can proceed more quickly to completion, we know that many projects actually cost less with overnight construction. In measuring the construction project costs, these officials never once balanced the construction costs with business disruption in terms of lost jobs and reduced purchases from local farmers. As a union employer with 170 employees and as a food retailer that makes $7 million in wholesale purchases from over 200 other local food producers annually, the community impact of business disruption over multiple years is not insignificant. In spite of this, our local officials, over the course of many years, have not viewed damage to local businesses due to infrastructure development as an area for community leadership concern. We disagree. 

While disappointing, we hope for the best and plan for the worst. So as the co-op leaders, we have continued developing strategies for our co-op to survive whatever disruptions ensue and build toward a thriving future. When the archeological report verified the site to be rare and significant and containing Native American artifacts dating 8,000-10,000 years old, it made sense to us that the funding was pulled and construction delayed while officials considered alternatives. The knowledge of the significance of the site certainly changed our thinking. It has not yet changed our State and local officials' thinking. We hoped for a series of community meetings to discuss ideas for how to address preservation and new ideas for the intersection. Sadly, our City officials refused to address this ancient discovery in our community in any way at all. With our City deferring to the State, we continue to expect more interesting results from the State and Federal consultation process with the federally recognized Tribes involved in this process. 

Now that the historical site is known to us, and we know it is of significant historical and cultural importance, we cannot continue to advocate to address our economic issues with overnight construction. Clearly, by day or by night, construction will forever destroy this important site. The historical sites' preservation is an important social justice issue for our co-op to support. Once the historic preservation of the site is secured, we can return to engagement as needed to address our interests in the new plan design and its impact on our cooperative and community.  

As a community of co-op owners, we are committed to fulfilling our mission of creating a just marketplace that nourishes the community. Nourishing the community involves recognizing harms done and taking actions to repair these harms. It also means ensuring that the least powerful, most marginalized members of our community have a say. In this case, we recognize that the land on which our store operates, and where we live and work, is the same land that settler-colonialists stole from the Indigenous Tribes. Today, federally-recognized Tribes, members of the Narragansett, the Aquinnah Wampanoag, and others ask that this site be preserved. We cannot ignore their requests and be satisfied with overnight construction that mitigates damage to our economic interest while they are calling for the preservation of the site. We need to stand in solidarity and request that alternatives be developed. We need to insist that preservation and safety work together. Safer pedestrian and bicycle access to N. King Street, measures to calm and adequately direct vehicle traffic do not have to be in conflict with efforts to preserve the site. It will just require a new plan.

Thank you to all who have been following and supporting our work on these issues. Your clear call for intervention has made a difference. Over 55,000 people signed a petition quickly launched last June, which was a big reason for the Attorney General's subsequent intervention to delay the construction until the required Tribal consultation was completed. 

That consultation is still underway. In spite of that ongoing process, the MassDOT stated at the recent public meeting they have the right to proceed because the Native American Groups did not comment about their objections before the start of the archaeology work. It would make more sense that once the site's significance becomes clear through the study, additional considerations should be made based on new information. We disagree that it is too late for Native American Groups' opposition to be considered by our state.

Continued public support is needed to ensure a positive outcome on this issue. For co-op owners, this is an important issue impacting our cooperative business and our community. The next steps we are recommending and asking for your support are requesting a full stop of the current roundabout project and the preservation of this historic site via the comment section on the MassDOT website and Governor Baker's website. Many hundreds of you have already helped with this. Thank you!

A suggested message and contact information are listed below.

Submit comments to:

Sample Letter

Dear Governor Baker and Lt. Governor Polito,

I am writing to request you cancel the MassDOT project to build a North King Street/Hatfield Street roundabout in Northampton immediately and ensure the ancient historic site currently in its path is fully preserved by listing it on the National Registry of Historic Places! 

I was dismayed by the content on the website launched by the MassDOT for its public engagement campaign. It omitted and reinterpreted important key facts and findings from the state archaeology report to justify destroying the site. Here is a link to the highlighted copy of the report (State Report). You can read for yourself that this is an important rare site with two separate hearths already found. You will also see the report recommended preservation for further study of likely additional hearths and artifacts. You will see the report calls for inclusion on the National Registry of Historic Places. 

I expect you have access to all the objections and comments from the Tribal Historic Preservation Officers consulting on this project. I respectfully suggest you review those objections and honor this site's cultural importance and their federal rights to protect Native American cultural history. 

Please cancel this MassDOT roundabout project immediately and preserve this important 8,000-10,000-year-old archaeological site now. Your actions to add this site to our National Registry of Historic Places will demonstrate respect for our First Nations People in Massachusetts, an important executive action that will benefit our community today and our future generations.

Thank you for your review of this important historical and cultural issue. 

Sincerely, 

[Your Name]

CC: Bryan Cordeiro, MassDOT bryan.cordeiro@state.ma.us

Additional Resources

 


We need your help to stop MassDOT's plans to destroy an important historical site in Northampton!

February 15, 2021 – 

Wednesday, February 17th at 6 PM is the first public meeting with MassDOT since the 2018 discovery of an 8,000-10,000-year-old site. This site is in the path of a proposed roundabout at the Y intersection of Hatfield Street and North King Street. 

The State and Federal authorities were forced to delay construction in July of 2020 to consult with the federally recognized Tribes. In November 2020, the Federal Highway Administration notified us that they agreed with the state that construction should proceed as planned. However, both the Aquinnah Wampanoag and the Narragansett disagree. They are calling for full preservation of the site, and it is not clear how this will be resolved. 

The MassDOT and the Federal Highway Administration are looking for community support to move forward with the destruction of this ancient site in Wednesday night's meeting. The state’s archaeological report concluded this is an important rare habitation site likely to include additional hearths and artifacts that should be preserved. You can read the real report here for yourself. 

River Valley Co-op is opposed to this MassDOT construction project. We were opposed prior to the discovery of the historical site due to state and city officials refusing to address the serious financial threat to the co-op. We have estimated lost revenues to exceed the total construction cost of the project itself by four or more times. We asked for overnight construction, but that won't help preserve the historical site, which is the most important issue now. 

We are opposed to the destruction of this rare cultural site. It is from a transitional period of ancient history that little is known about. You can help us support the preservation of this site by attending the upcoming meeting and speaking for historic preservation and against the project moving forward as planned. 

The MassDOT will present the benefits of the roundabout project and dismiss the site's historical and cultural significance in the upcoming meeting. No matter how much you appreciate roundabouts, you just can't bulldoze over ancient sites of cultural importance to Native American groups to build them. When you discover a rare archaeological site of cultural and historical significance in a development project's path, you need to change your development plans. It doesn't matter how good your plans seemed before you knew about the cultural resources there. 

We are hopeful that once the decision to change the intersection plan to preserve the site is made, we will be able to move forward with new ways to address bicycle, pedestrian, and vehicle traffic improvements.

MassDOT Project Webpage and access to the Public Comment Tool: 
 
Written comments can be submitted here link 

MassDOT Link for February 17th Meeting




FAQ: Northampton Archaeological Site / Roundabout Issue

January 17, 2020 –

Frequently Asked Questions: Northampton Archeological Site/Roundabout Issue
 


Your Continued Support is Needed to Secure Historical Site Preservation

February 1, 2021 –

Next Steps to Save the Native American Historical Site

Thank you to all who wrote letters to support the preservation of the ancient First Nations People's site near our Northampton store! Our work together continues to keep the bulldozers off the site, but as expected MassDOT has not given up on moving forward with the construction that will destroy the site. We need your continued support with more letters and engagement with the Governor's office to shut down this MassDOT project and preserve the historic site now.

On Thursday evening, January 28th, MassDOT launched an informational website for outreach to the public about this project. They are now planning a virtual public meeting on Wednesday, February 17th. The website includes a segment with your letters to MEPA. Thank you very much!

The MassDOT website also includes a pre-recorded presentation from a MassDOT archaeologist. He presented a reinterpretation that took great liberties with the omission of key facts and conclusions from the state archaeological study. He claimed that the site is not a habitation site containing multiple hearths. Furthermore, he suggests it is simply a spot where someone likely stopped to gather stones from the exposed roots of a tree fall 8,000 - 10,000 years ago, made a few stone tools, and went on their way. The message is there is nothing important to save here. 

We read the full state archeological report. Of course, it would be hard to present a case to proceed with construction presenting the key findings and conclusions from the state archeological report itself. The report itself shows an important rare habitation site dating from the transition of the late paleo to the early archaic period. Little is known about this period. The facts and conclusions of the state report call for the site to be preserved for further study of other likely hearths and artifacts remaining. Additionally, it recommends the site be included on the National Registry of Historic Places.

The MassDOT archeology presentation omitted facts from the state archeological report study supporting its conclusion that it should be preserved. With these omissions, they created an alternative conclusion supporting the site's destruction. 

The MassDOT website also includes a section on their public engagement sessions on the project. A close look shows there was no public engagement since the archeological findings were known. This important community topic has been given no public engagement sessions. Furthermore, it omits any mention of the strong ongoing objections from all the local businesses (including River Valley Co-op's objections) in the public engagement sessions it did hold, with issues of serious economic hardships raised. Those serious concerns were pre-COVID and represent even more of a threat to us and the other local businesses today.

We are continuing to engage with the Governor's office on this matter, and we need your help to let them know this historical site is rare and its preservation is important to many.

Please join us in sending the Governor's office letters with the State Archeology Report highlighted to show key points included. Urge them to read the report and reject the MassDOT reinterpretation. Let Governor Baker and Lt. Governor Polito know you want them to shut down the construction project and preserve the site.


Send Email Letters to the Office of Governor Baker and Lt. Governor Polito

Email your letters to Jose Delgado at Governor Baker's Western Massachusetts office: Jose.delgado@mass.gov

CC MassDOT: Bryan Cordeiro bryan.cordeiro@state.ma.us

Submit comments through the Governor Baker's office website: https://www.mass.gov/forms/email-the-governors-office


Sample Letter

Dear Governor Baker and Lt. Governor Polito,

I am writing to request you cancel the MassDOT project to build a North King Street/Hatfield Street roundabout in Northampton immediately and ensure the ancient historic site currently in its path is fully preserved by listing it on the National Registry of Historic Places! 

I was dismayed by the content on the website launched by the MassDOT for its public engagement campaign which omitted and re-interpreted the facts and finding from the state archeology report. Here is a link to the highlighted copy of the report here so you can read it for yourself. I’m also sure you have access to all the objections and comments from the Tribal Historic Preservation Officers of the federally recognized Tribes that the State of Massachusetts is required to consult with on this project. 

Please cancel this MassDOT roundabout project immediately and preserve this important 8,000-10,000-year-old archeological site now. Your actions to add this site to our National Registry of Historic Places will demonstrate respect for our First Nations People in Massachusetts, an important executive action that will benefit our community today and our future generations.

Thank you for your review of this important historical and cultural issue. 

Sincerely, 

[Your Name]

CC: Bryan Cordeiro, MassDOT
 

Additional Resources:

Click here to view River Valley Co-op's Letter to Governor Baker and Lt. Governor Polito February 1, 2021

Click here to view River Valley Co-op's letter to MEPA on January 4th, 2021.

MassDOT Project Webpage and access to the Public Comment Toolhttps://www.mass.gov/roundabout-construction-at-north-king-street-and-hatfield-street-in-northampton




Stop MassDOT's Destruction of Ancient Paleo/Plano Cultural Site in Northampton

1/17/2020

You may have heard about the proposed roundabout construction just south of River Valley Co-op at the Y-intersection of North King Street/Rte 5&10 with Hatfield Street. If we allow this construction project to proceed, it will destroy a very rare site of ancient Paleo/Plano cultural history. Sites of this time period are so rare that very little is known about this transitional period of time here in the Connecticut River Valley. 

The MassDOT is pushing to move forward with the construction that will destroy this important 8,000-10,000-year-old site eligible for inclusion on the National Registry of Historic Places on two criteria. The recent Massachusetts Environmental Protection Agency's (MEPA) public comment period on this roundabout project was shut down early due to the high level of opposition. The MassDOT temporarily withdrew their MEPA filing, but they have not given up on pushing this project through. 

Now is not the time to remain silent. We need your help!

MassDOT closed down MEPA's public comments, but our calls for the historic preservation of this important site can be addressed directly to the Office of Governor Baker and Lt. Governor Polito now!

This issue is not about whether or not you like roundabouts. This issue is that a roundabout was planned before the ancient site was discovered. Now that we know an important rare ancient site would be destroyed by proceeding with the plan, we need a new plan that will ensure this site's preservation. 

River Valley Co-op is joining thousands of area residents and multiple Native American Groups, including the Aquinnah Wampanoag and the Narragansett, calling to preserve this site for future generations. The state's archeological report also recommended this site's preservation. It is important to our community, our state, and future generations of all cultures.

Governor Baker and Lt. Governor Polito Need to Hear from Us Now!

Please request our Governor and Lt. Governor use their authority and influence to:

  1. Declare the ancient historic site in Northampton in the path of the MassDOT's plans for construction of a roundabout on a protected historic site.
  2. Stop the MassDOT from moving forward with any construction that would threaten or disturb the historic site.
  3. Request that the state move forward to secure the listing of this site on the National Registry of Historic Places.
  4. Hold the MassDOT accountable for compliance with all Federal requirements related to the discovery of Native American historic sites in this development project.
  5. Take further action going forward to rectify our appalling state record in its treatment of Native American historical sites with its over 300:1 ratio of colonial sites to Native American sites on the National Registry of Historic Places. 

Thank you! Your support now can help preserve this 8,000 - 10,000-year-old site for future generations!

Additional Resources:

 Click here for Q&A 

Click here to view River Valley Co-op's letter to MEPA on January 4th, 2021.

Read the State Archaeological Report on the historic site with key issues highlighted.

State backs off Northampton roundabout project at 10,000-year-old native site on North King Street by Jim Kinney |jkinney@repub.com




Your Continued Support is Needed to Secure Historic Site Preservation

January 7, 2020 – 

A huge thank you to the hundreds of you that have already sent letters to the Massachusetts Environmental Protection Agency (MEPA). Our letters showed that the community cares about Native American historic preservation!

Many of us that had contacted MEPA had been invited to a Zoom meeting Tuesday at 1:00 to discuss our comments and ask questions. However, we received an email shortly before the scheduled meeting that it was canceled because Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Kathleen Theoharides withdrew the Environmental Notification Form from MEPA review. MassDOT indicated that they need additional time to address the extensive public comments received to date through the MEPA process. They intend to develop and implement a public involvement plan and re-file the ENF upon completing that process.

In other words, the MassDOT wants the public comment period shut down while they regroup to launch a campaign for public support before re-filing with MEPA.

Now is not the time to remain silent! Our state must stop approaching Native American historical sites as obstacles to overcome instead of opportunities to honor the history of our First Nations Peoples through historical preservation.

We need your continued support now!

Let's keep the public comments coming until we succeed in securing the preservation of this important historical site. It is time to stop cultural erasure of our First Nations Peoples through the destruction of ancient historic sites in Massachusetts.

  • If you have not sent a letter to MEPA, please do so now and as well as sending it to our Governor Baker and Lt. Governor Polito.

  • If you already sent a letter to MEPA, thank you. Please also send your letters to the office of Governor Baker and Lt. Governor Polito.

Join us in asking Governor Baker, Lt. Governor Polito and MEPA, to support the preservation of this rare late paleo/ early archaic archeological site.

The proposed roundabout construction that will destroy this site, is not rated as a high priority project. However, this is a high priority Native American historical and cultural resource that qualifies on two different criteria for inclusion on the National Registry of Historic Places. The preservation of this site is important to the Aquinnah Wampanoag, the Narragansett, and other Native American groups. The state's archeological report also recommended its preservation. It is important to our community, our state, and future generations of all cultures. Together we can save this very special site in Northampton from destruction.

 
Send Email Letters to the Office of Governor Baker, Lt. Governor Polito, and MEPA!

Please request our Governor, Lt. Governor, and MEPA use their authority and influence to:

  1. Declare the ancient historic site in Northampton in the path of the MassDOT's plans for construction of a roundabout on a protected historic site.
  2. Stop the MassDOT from moving forward with any construction that would threaten or disturb the historic site.
  3. Request that the state move forward to secure the listing of this site on the National Registry of Historic Places.
  4. Hold the MassDOT accountable for compliance with all Federal requirements related to the discovery of Native American historic sites in development projects.
  5. Take action to rectify our appalling state record in its treatment of Native American historical sites with its 300:1 ratio of colonial sites to Native American sites on the NRHP.

Thank you! Your support now can help preserve this 8,000 - 10,000-year-old site for future generations!

Additional Resources:

Click here to view River Valley Co-op's letter to MEPA on January 4th, 2021.

Read the State Archaeological Report on the historic site with key issues highlighted.

State backs off Northampton roundabout project at 10,000-year-old native site on North King Street
by Jim Kinney | jkinney@repub.com
 




Time Sensitive: Northampton Historic Site Action Alert

January 4th, 2020 –

Thank you to all of you who have encouraged our efforts in this matter. In our 2020 Annual Report, we gave an update on the status of the Historical Site discovered near our Northampton store several years ago. Estimated to be 8,000-10,000 years old, the site was discovered in the process of soil testing related to the construction plans for a roundabout at the Y-intersection of Hatfield Street and North King Street/Rte 5 &10. In that article, we reported that River Valley Co-op, with your support, has added its voice to the call for the preservation of this historic site and is participating with consulting party status as an abutter to the property in the review process with the Federal Highway Administration (FHA). 

Our consulting party status enabled us to participate in the federal review process by asking questions and reviewing documents. We have worked hard with you to speak up for the protection of this site. 

At the end of October, the FHA informed us that the Massachusetts Historic Commission (MHC) had signed off on its approval of the archaeological completion report, a bureaucratic step towards allowing construction. The FHA informed us they agreed and were pursuing the start of construction with their federally recognized Tribal partners.

Their Tribal partners, including the Aquinnah Wampanoag and the Narragansett, disagree with the state and federal conclusions to proceed with construction. The Aquinnah Wampanoag and the Narragansett are calling for the preservation of the site to protect their cultural resources.

River Valley Co-op also disagrees with the state and federal conclusions to proceed with construction as planned. We object to their narrow interpretation that completion of the archeological services contract, as outlined, is the key factor in proceeding with construction.

We’ve talked to archeological experts that take issue with the scope and processes in the contract itself, but more importantly, neither the Aquinnah Wampanoag nor the Narragansett signed or agreed with the terms of the contract. The archeological study itself provides evidence of additional hearths and other cultural resources in the path of the proposed construction and recommends this site remain undisturbed. The study also cites two criteria qualifying this site for inclusion on the National Registry of Historic Places. 

In spite of these objections, the state seems determined to destroy this Native American historical site by proceeding with construction as planned. 

Your support can help right now!

The MassDOT posted an announcement of a public comment period on this project for review under the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA). MEPA is the State’s environmental watchdog agency. MEPA can step-in and ensure justice and a fair review of this process before it is too late. Their purview includes archeological resources and ensuring proper processes by state agencies. 

We only have a short time left to make our voices heard. The public comment period ends on January 12th!

We ask for your support to request that MEPA require the MassDOT to do a full Environmental Impact Study to address the archeological and cultural resources issues on this site. Please consider helping to hold them accountable by requesting MEPA requires a thorough Environmental Impact Report to address these issues now. The State needs to know our community supports Native American historic preservation. We call for a full MEPA review of the archeological resources and ensure MassDOT compliance with all applicable requirements in this matter. The public deserves to know that if construction proceeds as planned, it will destroy this important Native American historic cultural site. 

We've been given a very short time for this public comment period launched during the distractions of the December holidays combined with the COVID crisis.

Without significant public opinion, without your, our, voices being heard now, this project will be rubber-stamped to move forward without addressing any of the essential questions that need to be answered. Once this site is gone, it is gone for all time. 

MEPA needs to hear from a lot of us, and your participation can make a big difference. 

Thank you for considering joining us in the call for preservation of this historic site with a request to MEPA for an Environmental Impact Report that will include a thorough review of the cultural resources of this site, their historical and cultural importance to the public and the Native American Tribes involved, as well as a review of all steps taken and their compliance with applicable laws.

One of two things will happen within ten days after the MEPA public comment period ends on Tuesday, January 12th:

1. MEPA will evaluate MassDOT’s filing, and if there is no significant public objection or unanswered public questions, MEPA could approve the project without further review of the historic issues. Or,

2. MEPA will receive enough objections and unanswered questions from the public and will require MassDOT to do an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the archeological resources in question. 

We recommend emailed comments and letters are addressed to:  MEPA@mass.gov and Purvi Patel, the MEPA analyst assigned to this project: purvi.patel@state.ma.us. Sample letter is below

If you prefer to contact MEPA by phone: The MEPA analyst assigned to the project is Purvi Patel and can be reached at (617) 874-0668. 

You can write to her at purvi.patel@state.ma.us
Reference project 16301

Purvi Patel, Environmental Analyst
MEPA Office
Project EEA# 16301
100 Cambridge St., Suite 900
Boston, MA 02114

Thank you again for your support! 

Sample Letter

Dear Purvi Patel and MEPA,
 
I am writing in regards to the Northampton roundabout project's public comment period through MEPA (EEA# 16301). The MEPA  public comment period notice in the Daily Hampshire Gazette on December 18th, 2020 stated that anyone may comment on the project, its alternatives, its potential environmental impacts, mitigation measures, and whether to require an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), and, if so, what to require in the scope of the EIR. Thank you for the opportunity to comment. 
 
In the course of preparing for construction of a roundabout at a Y-intersection of Hatfield Street and North King Street/Rte 5&10, the state discovered a late paleo/early archaic habitation site estimated to be 8,000-10,000 years old. A state archeological study was done, and the report concluded that the site was very rare, eligible on two separate criteria for inclusion on the National Registry of Historic Places, and should remain undisturbed.  
 
Many community members have called for historic preservation through a petition calling for historic preservation signed by over 55,000 people. I also understand that the federally recognized Tribes involved (the Aquinnah Wampanoag and the Narragansett) in the federal review process object to the construction proceeding as planned because of its historical and cultural importance to them.
 
I understand that calls by the public for alternatives to be explored to address the intersection have been rejected because current funding is only available for the construction of a roundabout. I do not agree that the current availability of funding specifically for a roundabout is more important than the preservation of this significant archeological and cultural site, which predates the construction of the pyramids in Egypt. Given the importance of this Native American historic site, adapting the timeline and plan for addressing this intersection is a priority.  This does not appear to be the view of the state, as evidenced by the MassDOT MEPA filing asking to proceed without an Environmental Impact Report addressing these archeological resources. 
 
I'm asking MEPA to require a full Environmental Impact Report related to the site's archeological significance and value of the historical and cultural resource to the public and the Native American Tribes involved. 

Some specific issues I’d like MEPA to address are outlined below: 

  1. The MassDOT MEPA filing omitted all the Aquinnah Wampanoag and Narragansett objections to the destruction of their important cultural resources in the construction as planned. A review of these objections and questions is important to include in the EIR.  
  2. Investigate the MassDOT failure to file an Environmental Notification Form for the historical and archeological resources that were discovered at the site before taking Agency Action on the historical site. The MassDOT MEPA filing claimed it had an exemption from filing the ENF with MEPA at that time. However, they did not report that the Aquinnah Wampanoag and Narragansett did not sign off on the MOA for the state’s archeological services contract or agree to its scope. Due to the absence of this required consultation with the federally recognized tribes, the MassDOT ENF exemption claim may not be valid.  
  3. The MassDOT MEPA filing did not include that it authorized and engaged in the destruction of the archeological site and a historic stone wall with heavy equipment in November of 2019. The destruction was interrupted by the current landowner at that time with support from police, but damage was done to the historic site and historic stone wall. This raises questions of a 110 K violation investigation. 
  4. A MEPA review of the MassDOT construction timeline for July of 2020 may demonstrate additional violations by its plans for taking steps to proceed with site work prior to full compliance with the required consultation and review process with the Aquinnah Wampanoag Cultural Resources official contracted to monitor the project as well as with other federally recognized Tribes including the Narragansett.
  5. There is no transparency to date of who made the decision to override the recommendation in the state’s archeological report to leave this rare historical site undisturbed or to seek inclusion on the National Registry of Historic Places. There has been no transparency about why alternatives are not being considered for the protection of the historic site. Why have there been no previous public meetings to consider this issue?
  6. The MassDOT MEPA filing has omitted any mention of the petition signed by 55,000 people objecting to the destruction of the historic site in this planned construction project and calling for historic preservation of the site.
  7. There are concerns about the chain of custody and location of the artifacts removed from the site and the future plans for their preservation/custody. There may have been a violation with the removal of the artifacts beyond state lines as well as removal prior to state ownership of the site.

Thank you for reviewing my comments and request to require an Environmental Impact Report on this projects archeological and cultural resources of importance to multiple Native American groups as well as the general public. 

I’m asking for MEPA to do a thorough review to hold the MassDOT accountable for full compliance with all applicable regulations and laws as required to maintain eligibility for federal funding of this project. 

I’m requesting MEPA prohibit MassDOT from proceeding with the current roundabout plans, that it require that the state ensure the site's preservation and pursue its inclusion on the National Registry of Historic Places. 

I’m looking to MEPA to require the preservation of the historic site in any future intersection improvement plans at this location. 

I’m requesting that MEPA ensure that the federally recognized Tribes involved have their cultural concerns addressed and rights protected. 

I’m asking MEPA to reflect on the state's record compared to surrounding states related to the number of Native American sites listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. I'm asking you to reflect on the over 300:1 ratio of Massachusetts colonial sites to Native American sites. These statistics suggest a systemic bias and injustice in how the Massachusetts historical preservation processes operate. I am asking MEPA to help put an end to this pattern of Native American cultural erasure.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this important historic preservation issue in Northampton, MA. 

Sincerely,

Fill in your name and address here 

To view the letter that the co-op sent in please click here:

Links: State’s MEPA filing

State Archeological Report on the historic site with key issues highlighted link 

River Valley Co-op 2021 Annual Report Historic Site Article below.




2021... Isn't it Time to Support Native American Preservation?

January 1st, 2021 – 

River Valley Co-op has expressed opposition to the roundabout project planned for the Y-intersection of Hatfield Street and Route 5/North King Street in Northampton for multiple reasons. An archaeological discovery dating back 8,000 or more years lies in the path of the proposed construction. We strongly object to its destruction and have added our voice to those calling for preservation. In addition, several years before the historical site was known, we began serious discussions with City and State officials about our concerns with this construction project. We formally opposed the project in 2017. The disruptive 18-24 month timeline creates a significant economic threat to our co-op and we’ve proposed alternative solutions to support traffic safety. Our last proposed compromise was to request overnight construction to mitigate the disruption. But, as we learned more about the historic site, we concluded that the construction (day or night) simply had to be stopped to prioritize historic preservation.

We had expected that upon learning the site was eligible on several criteria for the National Registry of Historic Places (NRHP), it would require the City and State to change their plans and preserve the site. It is hard to imagine that this intersection project is so important that it is worth destroying a historical site of this significance. Our expectations were not met. In June 2020 we alerted our owners that the MA DOT planned to begin bulldozing in early July. We’re grateful for the support that has kept that from happening so far.

The Attorney General delayed construction while the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) moved forward with the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) chapter 106 public review process, which is required prior to the start of federally funded construction involving the discovery of historical features. This includes consulting with and securing agreement from the Federally Recognized Native American Nations including the Aquinnah Wampanoag and the Narragansett as well as other stakeholders to ensure that the project addresses their concerns for protecting culturally sensitive areas. River Valley Co-op was also granted consulting party status as an abutter in August of 2020. We have been reviewing documents, asking questions, following the complex process and learning the roles of the multiple agencies.

We were recently informed by the FHA that the Massachusetts Historic Commission (MHC) has signed off on its approval of the archaeological completion report. The MHC is recommending engaging a cultural monitor to oversee some early stages of the construction process. Our objections are that the FHA and MHC are very narrowly basing their decision on the completion of the work as outlined in their agreement with the archaeological agency. They are not considering the significance of what the archaeological report showed. They are also not taking into consideration that the scope of work in the agreement was inadequate for identifying all the cultural interests at risk.

While the State, through the MHC, has signaled it is ready to move forward with construction, we understand that the Aquinnah Wampanoag and the Narragansett have not agreed. It is not yet clear how this will be resolved. 

When you look at the National Registry of Historic Places (NRHP) which shows all the sites granted national historic preservation status, you can see evidence that the Commonwealth has long standing practices that have resulted in minimal preservation of Native American sites. With over 10,000 years of Native American history in Massachusetts and hundreds of Tribes with historical and cultural ties to this land, we have preserved less than 20 Native American sites. Yet, with 400 years of colonial history, we’ve preserved over 4,000 other historic sites. Our historic preservation practices erase Native American culture and history. These practices nearly led to the destruction of this site in Northampton in July 2020, and they remain a threat.

Preserving this site, at the very least, is an opportunity to stop another act of injustice. And perhaps it is an opportunity for a first step toward building a more inclusive and equitable historic preservation policy.

This roundabout project will destroy an ancient Native American site, it will also cause serious financial hardships to our co-op and other local businesses in the neighborhood. We are opposed to this project for all these reasons and call on our City and State to reconsider this project. We call for a stop to the planned construction. We call for historic preservation of the site. We call for addressing historic preservation through a more transparent, inclusive, anti-colonial lens, fully honoring the authority and cultural interests of the Native American Nations.

We are watching to see what the outcome of the NHPA chapter 106 review process with the Federal Highway Administration will be. It seems poignant that we are approaching the 400th anniversary of the landing at Plymouth Rock, the historic start of colonization and genocide. Is 2021 a turning point?

We are asking you to join us in envisioning our community coming together to support the preservation of this site with gratitude that it was discovered at a time when its importance would be honored. As the next steps in the process unfold we will keep you updated.

Yes, 2021 is the time for supporting Native American historic preservation!




Update on the Historic Site

July 3rd, 2020 – 

Last week we published a call to action to sign a petition to stop the destruction of a 10,000-year-old Native American village near our store. We had just learned that this archaeological site was threatened by state construction planned to start July 1st.  At least for the short term, this 10,000-year-old village remains safe.

After the petition quickly climbed to over 10,000 signatures, a federal agency stepped in to veto the July 1st plan to start digging. The Attorney General provided a notification there would be no work on the site through July 20th. For now at least, the bulldozers are not moving. 

We were also able to help make the state archaeological report, which had been kept secret by the state, available to our community. That report outlines the significance of this rare site eligible for the National Register of Historic Places and calls for its preservation. This report tells us much about what was discovered. With just 20-25% of the ancient site excavated, it leaves 75-80% in harm's way if construction starts. We have been in contact with archaeologists and local activists experienced in fighting to save Native American historical sites. They have helped us interpret the state report's significance and explained the process that should be followed. 

The community now knows there is an ancient archaeological site here. Petition signatures have climbed to over 50,000. Together we will all learn more about it and perhaps have some input on its fate. Numerous front-page stories, including The Republican/Mass Live and The Daily Hampshire Gazette, as well as coverage by WGBY TV57, have brought attention to the issue. 

The Nipmuc Nation, as well as members of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and the Mashpee Wampanoag, a sister tribe to the Aquinnah Wampanoag, have recently addressed this matter in the press. 

Daily Hampshire Gazette 6/26/20

Mark Andrews — a tribal cultural resources monitor for the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head who was at the archaeological dig in Northampton last fall — goes out on digs to make sure they are in compliance with the law and reports the findings to his tribe's historic preservation officer.

The Wampanoags are located mostly on the Cape and Islands, but because there are few federally recognized tribes in the state, they speak for many other native groups, Andrews told the Gazette in the fall. Groups, including the Nonotuck, are indigenous to Northampton.

Speaking of the roundabout project, Andrews said, "We don't feel entirely comfortable that all has been done to establish exactly what and where the impacts may or may not be going forward with the construction," he said Wednesday.

In general, "our role, from the tribal historical preservation standpoint, we are for preservation and protection of whatever resources we discover during the archaeological phase," Andrews said. "Whatever is going to provide the most preservation, the most protection for what is still lying underground, we would prefer."

Andrews underscored the importance of what was uncovered at the dig site: "When you're coming across the belongings of people who lived that long ago, it's extremely special. It's something that has to be given the proper respect."

He also takes issue with what he says is an inaccurate statement made by Leslie in a November Gazette article about how, "The site is no longer there, we excavated it. It's not going to be paved over — it's gone."

That's not the case, Andrews told the Gazette late last year. "It's really out of character for an archaeologist to say something like that … There's no foolproof way of lifting each and every artifact out of the ground."

Commonwealth Magazine 7/1/2020

Hartman Deetz, a cultural resource monitor with the Mashpee Wampanoag, a sister tribe to the Aquinnah Wampanoag, said Northampton is Nipmuc territory, so his tribe has no direct involvement. Deetz said he wants to see the site investigated, given the rarity of a 10,000-year-old site that has not been continuously inhabited. "There's the potential for a whole lot people can learn from excavation at the site if it's given proper time and attention," Deetz said.

But Deetz said he is not opposed to building a roundabout there eventually, as long as the artifacts are properly excavated and studied, and the project is done in consultation with the Nipmuc. "It should be treated first and foremost as an opportunity to learn about a history of a people who faced erasure again and again in our own history," Deetz said.

The Nipmuc Nation also came forward with a statement this week objecting to the way the petition called to preserve the site in support of the Native American community. Upon reading their statement, we see that they saw our appeal to join the petition as appearing to speak for their involvement. Our intention was not to imply the Nipmuc Nation was specifically involved in the petition. We apologized directly to them. River Valley Co-op is not seeking to take action for or in the name of any Native group. 

There are some disagreements about the significance of this site due to an earlier state narrative minimizing it, while the final state site report calls for the preservation of this rare archeological discovery. This is at least cause for confusion. As consumers of local media and social media, we are keenly aware that this is an unfolding and complicated situation with a range of stakeholders and agendas. Like most of us, we are not archaeological experts. We saw the bulldozers were coming and we jumped in help stop them. 

The archaeological state site report (link) evokes a sense of awe and inspiration. Since ancient times, many have shared histories in this place. This site has survived some 10,000 years, and we believe we should carefully consider how to best honor that and carry forward the wisdom from the distant past into the distant future. We are sincere in this commitment.

Nothing about our other concerns with the roundabout project as planned negates our commitment to stopping the destruction of this site. We have been in serious conversations with the city and the state from the beginning of this roundabout project. The only way we know to help mitigate what will otherwise be the long term financial hardship of a two year construction project for ourselves and our neighboring local businesses is overnight construction. However, overnight construction will destroy a 10,000-year-old village site as much as daytime construction. The urgency of saving this archaeological site from imminent destruction is the highest priority of this moment. 

The 50,000+ signatures on the petition have helped to ensure Legislators and officials at the city, state, and federal levels are now aware that our community cares about this issue. We've also helped to shine a light on the fact that the federal process (Section 106) had not been completed. This process requires an archaeological Order of Completion report, which includes a period for Tribal review and comments before the report is finalized. That is the next step. We look forward to full public disclosure of the archaeological site status relative to the planned construction.

When all is said and done, when the archaeologists and Tribal authorities have settled on their conclusions, and all the stakeholders have had their needs considered, and the decision-makers have decided what is best, we - the co-op - can rest knowing that the decisions have been made with transparency and thorough consideration. What we don’t want is this to be a decision rushed through bureaucracy, paved over and destroyed, before the community can know what was discovered and how best to honor this 10,000 year old archeological site in our community.

Thank you for your attention to this amazing historic community issue. We are grateful for your help. We expect we will all learn much more as the process moves forward. 

 


 

ACTION ALERT UPDATE:

Newly Released State's Report on the Ancient Village Site Threatened by Construction

June 29th, 2020 – 

Dear River Valley Co-op Owners,

Thank you for your many supportive responses to the urgent message we sent out Wednesday to help save the 10,000-year-old Native American village site near our Northampton store. We also appreciate some owners’ questions and concerns about the project and are happy to provide additional information. The community’s amazing response to the petition demonstrates the depth of support our community has for the preservation of this 10,000 year old Native American village site.

As we said in our message Wednesday night, the state’s archaeological site report was made available to the Skibiski family’s attorney and archaeologist on Friday, June 19th. The Attorney General stipulated at the time that it was not approved for public distribution. We just heard about what was in the report on Saturday, June 20th. Although the Skibiski family was able to obtain approval from the Attorney General to share the report publicly, the state still has not distributed the report to the public as mandated in the Section 106 process.

We also learned last weekend that Ludlow Construction was awarded the construction contract for this project (click here for more on that). Joe Hogan of MassDOT informed Laura Skibiski on Thursday, June 18th that they would start working on the property July 1st, 2020. Since then, the Attorney General has notified the Skibiski family that this date was pushed back to July 20th. Given the significance and importance of this historical site, the fact only 20% to 25% had been archaeologically excavated and removed with 75% to 80% remaining in harm’s way, we saw urgent community action was needed to save the site from destruction. City and state officials are in positions to help our community call for an immediate stop to the construction before it is too late. Our petition has had over 10,000 signatures so far, which is a good start.

We were inspired to join in this preservation effort after a discussion of the report last Saturday with two leading authorities on paleo period archaeology in the Northeast. Today, we received a copy of the state’s archaeological site report that verifies its historical importance and have been given permission to share it with you. It shows that this is a rare site, recommended for preservation and further study, with two characteristics qualifying it for the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).

Dr. Gramly, the Skibiskis' archaeologist, said the report confirmed his thoughts about the importance of the site. He said:

"I became interested in the site during Fall 2019 when it was reported in the local newspaper. I have investigated somewhat older sites in its neighborhood and to the north in the Town of Deerfield. After visiting the site at the invitation of the Skibiski family, and before it was seized by government agencies for planned highway improvements, I realized that likely much more remained to be explored. Access to written information about what was found, and the artifact evidence itself, proved to be impossible. We had to content ourselves with newspaper accounts and rumors until at long last, and through the offices of the Skibiskis’ lawyer—John Connor of Stobierski and Connor, Greenfield, MA—I was furnished a 164-page report dated February 18, 2020. This report confirmed an early site had been discovered and that artifacts recovered from it linked the ancient Connecticut River Valley populations to others in Maine, Maritime Canada, and even the American Northwest! Undoubtedly, other important remains will be discovered there should additional explorations be allowed. The possibility of finding “ritual features” is very real, and I base this prediction upon years of my own excavations across the American Midwest. Accounts of what we discovered there were published in several book-length publications, and I hope that something similar is done for the Skibiski village site. As a scientist, I will demand nothing less.”

Many thanks for your support. Ten thousand petition signatures, as well as a number of people who have reached out by email and phone are all showing that our community stands together to save this site from destruction. Our elected city and state officials are in positions to call for a stop to the construction/destruction planned to start in July:


Mayor David Narkewicz
210 Main Street
Northampton, MA 01060
Phone: (413) 587-1249
Email: mayor@northamptonma.gov
Twitter: @MayorNarkewicz

Gina-Louise Sciarra
President
Northampton City Council
210 Main Street #18
Northampton, MA 01060
Phone: (413) 570-3133
Email: glsciarra@northamptonma.gov
Twitter: @GLSciarra

Representative Lindsay Sabadosa
76 Gothic Street
Northampton, MA 01060
Phone: (413) 270-1166
Email: lindsay.sabadosa@mahouse.gov
Facebook: @LSabadosaMA

Senator Jo Comerford
24 Beacon Street
Boston, MA 02133
Phone: (617) 722-1532
Email: jo.comerford@masenate.gov
Facebook: @SenatorJoComerford

Brona Simon
Executive Director & SHPO
Massachusetts Historical Commission
220 Morrissey Boulevard
Boston, MA 02125
Phone: (617) 727-8470
Email: brona.simon@state.ma.us

IMPORTANT: The Skibiski family received permission from the Attorney General to share the state’s archeological site report with the public. The State Archeologist still has not released it, but you can download it here. Note the summaries on pages 38 & 42.

For more information and updates, visit the Skibiskis' website here.

Click here to sign the petition.




MassLive Historic Archaeological Site Coverage

10,000-year-old ‘once in a lifetime’ archaeological site in Northampton sparks fight over artifacts, access in roundabout project

by Jim Kinney | MassLive | 26 Jun 2020

NORTHAMPTON — An archaeological dig last summer that discovered remains of an 8,000- to 10,000-year-old settlement only scratched the surface of what is likely an artifact-rich site off Routes 5 and 10.

That’s according to Richard M. Gramly, an archaeologist hired by property owner John F. Skibiski Jr.

Work had been set to begin July 1 on a $3.4 million roundabout near the dig site, at what is now the sharply angled intersection of King and Hatfield streets. Work has been delayed by a lawsuit Skibiski filed in an effort to get more time for a larger excavation.

 


 




CO-OP ACTION ALERT:

Help Stop the Destruction of a 10,000-Year-Old Ancient Native American Village Site NOW!

June 29th, 2020 – 

A major roundabout road construction project at the intersection of Hatfield and North King Streets in Northampton is scheduled to begin July 1st, 2020, which will destroy a culturally and historically important Native American village site discovered directly in the path of the construction. There has only been one other village site from the Paleo period discovered in New England which was not previously disturbed by farming activities. Urgent community action is required to save this ancient site from imminent destruction by state road construction.

Two years of archaeological research revealed that ancestors of our Native American community members were living in this village near our Northampton store 10,000 years ago. For historical perspective, that is 5,000 years before the building of the pyramids in Egypt. According to Harvard Archaeologist Richard Michael Gramly, Ph. D., of North Andover, Massachusetts, "Lands along New England’s Connecticut River harbor important vestiges of early settlements dating from the Glacial epoch. This earliest cultural phase is characterized by people who hunted caribou as well as gathered plants, fish, and small game. Their lifestyle came to an end 10,000-11,000 calendar years ago when essentially modern environmental conditions prevailed. Archaeological sites documenting a transition to modern flora and fauna are rare in northeastern North America. Intact village sites of this early era that escaped later re-occupation are extraordinarily rare."

Before its taking by eminent domain, this site was on the property of John and Ann Skibiski, which abuts the south side of River Valley Co-op's North King Street store property in Northampton. A 2019 presentation at Historic Northampton outlined details of the findings, including two hearth sites and hundreds of artifacts from the excavation of just a small portion of the total archaeological site. Dr. Gramly reviewed the state’s archaeological site report (which has not been released to the public) and responded, "Stone artifacts, hearths, dietary remains, and ritual features, which by good fortune survived 10,000 years of burial, are precious to scholars and all students of the human past. This evidence links New England inhabitants with distant North American peoples of the same period. Therefore, it is shocking to learn that a partially-explored village site of this ancient era in Northampton, Hampshire County, Massachusetts, known as the Skibiski Site, is threatened with total destruction by non-essential highway construction. Expanded study of such a remarkable site, as well as its continuing preservation for future generations of New Englanders, command our attention and must be allowed to proceed without any interference."

The site was discovered two years ago as state workers began digging test pits in the soil in preparation for the construction planning of a roundabout. Last year, the state hired an archaeologist to evaluate the site, and preliminary findings were presented last fall at Historic Northampton. In November 2019, the state hired landscapers to bulldoze over the archaeological site and our neighbor, Laura Skibiski, had to call the police to get them to stop.

 

Over the winter, the construction project was defunded. We breathed a sigh of relief as we thought this happened because the archaeological site was too important to bulldoze and pave over. Unfortunately, we've recently learned this decision was reversed.

Lately, we’ve witnessed surveying activity taking place on the site. We discovered that, while we were all distracted by the pandemic, the project had been funded with federal stimulus funds and was going forward! We called our neighbor, John Skibiski, and learned the state had taken possession of the archaeological site by eminent domain. The Skibiski family no longer has the legal right to prevent the state from bulldozing over this 10,000 year old Native American village site. We also learned that the state has not made the archaeological report on the site public, despite being required by law to do so. Withholding this document from the public is probably why many people don’t know much about the site’s existence. The Skibiskis also had other concerns about the state's process, so they hired their own archaeologist to advise them.

On Saturday, we attended a presentation by Dr. Gramly, the archaeologist engaged by the Skibiski family. He discussed his professional observations and conclusions about the importance of this archaeological site including that, as an intact 10,000-year-old village, it is likely eligible for registration as a National Historic Site. Dr. Gramly believes this is one of the most significant archaeological sites in the Americas from this time period. At this time, less than 25% of the site has been excavated and much more remains to be discovered.

On Sunday night, we had a follow-up talk with the Skibiski family and learned that the construction of the roundabout is scheduled to start on July 1, 2020. The construction includes cutting down over an acre of trees, some of which are 150-years-old, and paving over it. The construction will destroy the 10,000 year old village site with heavy equipment grading and excavating of the site before paving over the top.

Archaeologists, activists, and the Skibiski family are horrified that our community would allow our state and city to do this. We are too. We think it is because people do not know about it.

Joe Graveline, a past president and founding member of The Nolumbeka Project Inc., said "the plans to destroy this village site are an act of cultural erasure of Native American existence. This form of Native American cultural erasure has been going on here in the Valley for close to 50 years and it all starts at the top of the political food chain."

The co-op has long opposed this roundabout construction project due to far reaching economic concerns. Now, with the knowledge that an ancient Native American village site sits directly in the path of the construction, our opposition is even stronger and much more urgent. We cannot let this happen in our very own neighborhood without taking a stand and fighting for preservation.


We are supporting the Skibiski family’s efforts to preserve the site by sharing this information with our co-op owners. Here are links to visit their website and petition.

We need a lot of people to sign the petition and/or call Mayor David Narkewicz, President of the Northampton Chamber of Commerce Gina-Louise Sciarra, Senator Jo Comerford, Representative Lindsay Sabadosa and Executive Director of the MA Historical Commission Brona Simon to demand they take action to:

1. Stop construction immediately

2. Release the archaeological report to the public

3. Preserve the archaeological site

4. Seek a less destructive and disruptive solution to the traffic at that intersection (such as a stoplight)

This site needs to be preserved for future generations, just as Dr. Gramly says. To go forward with this project now, given the significant historical discovery of cultural importance, as well as scientific and historical record, would be a tragic loss for our community.

There isn't much time between now and July 1st when the construction (and destruction) is scheduled to begin, so this is very urgent. Contact information for city and state representatives is in the petition link below.

 

Next time the state sends bulldozers to destroy the 10,000-year-old Native American village site, the Skibiski family won't have the legal right to stop them. Our community must step up, join their efforts and call upon our city and state officials to stop the construction project and preserve this important ancient archaeological site now. Our mayor and state officials can stop the construction and save this 10,000-year-old village site. They need to hear from our community now.

Mayor David Narkewicz
210 Main Street
Northampton, MA 01060
Phone: (413) 587-1249
Email: mayor@northamptonma.gov
Twitter: @MayorNarkewicz

Gina-Louise Sciarra
President
Northampton City Council
210 Main Street #18
Northampton, MA 01060
Phone: (413) 570-3133
Email: glsciarra@northamptonma.gov
Twitter: @GLSciarra

Representative Lindsay Sabadosa
76 Gothic Street
Northampton, MA 01060
Phone: (413) 270-1166
Email: lindsay.sabadosa@mahouse.gov
Facebook: @LSabadosaMA

Senator Jo Comerford
24 Beacon Street
Boston, MA 02133
Phone: (617) 722-1532
Email: jo.comerford@masenate.gov
Facebook: @SenatorJoComerford

Brona Simon
Executive Director & SHPO
Massachusetts Historical Commission
220 Morrissey Boulevard
Boston, MA 02125
Phone: (617) 727-8470
Email: brona.simon@state.ma.us

For more information: http://skibiski.com

To sign the petition: https://sign.moveon.org/petitions/preserve-the-10-000-year-old-undisturbed-ancient-village-in-northampton-ma





Expedition Easthampton Update!

We closed on financing and purchased the property at 228 Northampton Street in Easthampton and construction is now underway! The new store, which was approved by the Easthampton Planning Board in March of 2019, is projected to open in the spring of 2021. 


The Easthampton property includes the former Oldsmobile Pontiac car dealership, adjacent meadow and wetlands, as well as Captain Jack’s Seafood Shack, which recently signed a lease with the co-op. We plan to utilize approximately four acres of the property for the 23,000 square foot store, 200 parking spaces, outdoor seating, and Captain Jack’s Seafood Shack. The adjacent six-acre meadow and wetlands will be preserved as open green space.  

We've been working with many local businesses on the site, building and construction plans, including Wright Builders, a local contractor specializing in green buildings, Thomas Douglas Architects, and the Berkshire Design Group. 

We are also collaborating with Co-op Power and working with Solar Design Associates on the plans for the extensive solar electricity generation system, which will serve a dual purpose of generating as much electricity as we expect the Easthampton store to use on an annual basis and shading most of the parking lot. The HVAC system for the new store will use an air-based heat pump technology that operates on electricity, resulting in the use of renewable green energy, instead of fracked natural gas to fuel the heating needs for the 23,000 square foot building. The Hilltown Land Trust is donating some of the local sustainably forested trees, which will be milled into timbers by Lashway Lumber to build the front entrance of the new store. 

The Center for EcoTechnology is providing recycling support, including the reuse and recycling of the materials from the existing car dealership building, which will be removed before building the new store. There is a relatively minor amount of asbestos abatement required before we can start.  We plan to start that work next week and will expect to begin the demolition of the building the last week in February.  Once the building has been removed, stay tuned for the announcement of the ground-breaking celebration on the site. 

A big thank you to everyone for your support throughout the process! 300 co-op owners stepped up with individual loans, a local bank, bankESB, along with National Community Investment Fund, a Community Development Financial Institution, provided the mortgage loan. Officials from the City of Easthampton, as well as the Commonwealth of Massachusetts stepped forward to support our project resulting in the City of Easthampton securing a MASSWorks grant. This grant will be used to fund and complete important roadway, intersection, turning lane, crosswalk, and sidewalk improvements related to our new store site.  We also had support from Congressman Neal to assemble federal economic development funding through four community development organizations including, Massachusetts Housing Investment Corporation, National Community Investment Fund, Vermont Rural Ventures, and the Capital One Community Renewal Fund. These funds were all essential for our project to move forward.  

With a total project cost of over $18 million, we couldn't have done this on our own. But by working together with our community, we succeeded! 

Press Release Below!

February 12, 2020

A Collaboration of Co-op Owners, Community and Government Over Six Years

Over 300 Co-op Owners Individually Invest With $5 Million in Personal Loans

(Easthampton Northampton, MA) River Valley Co-op has announced that they have purchased nearly ten acres of property at 228 Northampton Street in Easthampton and that they will be proceeding with plans to build a cooperatively owned grocery store. The new store, which was approved by the Easthampton Planning Board in March of 2019, is projected to open in the spring of 2021.

The Northampton Street property includes the former Oldsmobile Pontiac car dealership, adjacent meadow and wetlands, as well as Captain Jack’s Seafood Shack, which recently signed a lease with the co-op. River Valley Co-op plans to utilize approximately four acres of the property for their 23,000 square foot store, 200 parking spaces, outdoor seating, and Captain Jack’s Seafood Shack. The adjacent six-acre meadow and wetlands will be preserved as open green space. 

River Valley Co-op is a consumer-owned cooperative grocery launched in 2008 at 330 North King Street in Northampton.  Over 11,000 community members cooperatively own this highly successful grocery business, which is open to the public daily and specializes in fresh, local and organically grown foods. The co-op already has 1,700 Easthampton area residents as owners and organizers are looking to increase the co-op ownership, employee base, and wholesale purchases from local food producers with this project.

The Easthampton store is planned to be about the same size as the co-op’s Northampton store, but with twice as much parking in a solar panel shaded parking lot. The Easthampton store will feature the same fresh local food selections they are well known for, including fresh local produce, meat and seafood, locally produced bread and cheese, bulk, and an extensive prepared foods department with a larger seating area inside and out. 

The co-op is working with many local businesses on the site, building and construction plans, including Wright Builders, a local contractor specializing in green buildings, Thomas Douglas Architects, and the Berkshire Design Group. They are also collaborating with Co-op Power and working with Solar Design Associates on the plans for the extensive solar electricity generation system, which will serve a dual purpose of generating as much electricity as the co-op expects to use on an annual basis and shading most of the parking lot. The HVAC system for the new store will use an air-based heat pump technology that operates on electricity, resulting in the use of renewable green energy, instead of fracked natural gas to fuel the heating needs for the 23,000 square foot building. The Hilltown Land Trust is donating some of the local sustainably forested trees, which will be milled into timbers by Lashway Lumber to build the front entrance of the new store. The Center for EcoTechnology is providing recycling support, including the reuse and recycling of the materials from the existing car dealership building, which will be removed before building the new store.  

Wright Builders Operations Manager, Linda Gaudreau said, "It has been a pleasure working with the City departments and people at the DPW on the permits for this project. As I submitted the building permit, I found myself at once proud to be part of bringing the River Valley Co-op project forward, and as an Easthampton resident, I felt pride in my hometown!”

Board President Dorian Gregory said, “The seeds of this project to grow the co-op were sown in 2014 in a retreat on a Saturday, at the Florence Civic Center, with fifty co-op owners, local vendors, employees, and Board members that met to draft a vision for the future.  Small groups discussed the current business challenges, beneficial community impacts, and ideas for the future of the cooperative. They reported back to the large group with a unified vision for opening additional locations. Cooperatives exist to serve the vision and needs of their owners. We view a vibrant, locally based food system essential to building sustainable communities. River Valley Co-op has demonstrated how a food business rooted in the community effectively works to fuel a local economic engine that serves that community, instead of exporting profits out of it.”

Gregory described the many steps in the process of making a business decision in a community-owned cooperative:  

  • The vision was reported to the co-op’s ownership in newsletter articles and in annual meetings.
  • Surveys of the co-op’s owners showed a very high level of support for growing the co-op and the good things the co-op brings to the community through its business operations.
  • Management prepared and implemented a strategic plan to support the co-op vision including, a two stage remodel (2014-2015) of the current store in Northampton.
  • A site search was launched, and multiple sites were reviewed for potential feasibility.
  • Market studies were completed, Wright Builders, Berkshire Design, the National Co-op Grocers Development Co-op and others were engaged for technical support throughout feasibility studies to identify the preferred site.
  • An option to purchase the Easthampton property was successfully negotiated in January 2018.
  • The last two years included an extensive due diligence process, detailed design, budgeting, permitting, fundraising and financing.

 

Easthampton Mayor Nicolle LaChapelle said, “In a time where community vision best serves its residents, River Valley Co-op brings that vision to life with their closing on the former Oldsmobile Pontiac car dealership property. It also speaks to Easthampton as a city that continues to open its arms to innovative business concepts.”

River Valley Co-op General Manager Rochelle Prunty is enthusiastic about the new store location, “The location is ideally sized for our store operations and customer access. The new store positons the co-op well for taking the next step in better serving our community. Easthampton's River Valley Co-op store will add to the already vibrant locally owned business culture in Easthampton by supporting more local food producers with more wholesale purchases. It will create 100 new jobs within the next five years to support the store’s daily operations. The Easthampton store will provide thousands more community members access to the co-op’s products, services, and cooperative ownership.” 

River Valley Co-op’s vision for growing a sustainable local food system and strengthening the locally-based economy inspired community teamwork with hundreds of individuals and organizations that made this project possible.  Alex Risley Schroeder, Board Clerk member said, "It was just heartwarming to see so many people working together to help us meet the funding needs for this project! Our Directors got on the phones and more than 300 co-op owners stepped up with individual loans totaling over $5 million. At a total cost of over $18 million, this is not the kind of project we could do on our own, but by working together with our community, we succeeded!”

A local bank, bankESB, along with National Community Investment Fund, a Community Development Financial Institution, provided the mortgage loan. “bankESB is pleased to be the lead lending partner for the planned River Valley Co-op in Easthampton—we are also excited to welcome River Valley and its customers as our neighbors on Northampton Street,” said Dena M. Hall, EVP and Chief Marketing Officer at bankESB.

Rochelle Prunty, General Manager said, “Officials from the City of Easthampton as well as the Commonwealth of Massachusetts stepped forward to support our project resulting in the City of Easthampton securing a MASSWorks grant. This grant will be used to fund and complete important roadway, intersection, turning lane, crosswalk, and sidewalk improvements related to our new store site.  We also had support from Congressman Neal to assemble federal economic development funding through four community development organizations including, Massachusetts Housing Investment Corporation, National Community Investment Fund, Vermont Rural Ventures, and the Capital One Community Renewal Fund. The Twin Pines Cooperative Foundation and the Co-op Fund of New England also participated in the financing for the project. These funds were all essential for our project to move forward.”

Congressman Richard Neal said, “Today’s announcement of the purchase of the property in Easthampton for the new River Valley Co-op is a welcome one and another positive step toward the opening of this local business. The River Valley team was able to take advantage of New Markets Tax Credits to advance this project and I am glad to have been able to assist them in obtaining those funds. Simply put, this project depended on them. I look forward to the cooperative grocery store’s next steps and continue to be a proud supporter of their growth.”

Emily Laine, Board Member and Easthampton resident, “I’m inspired and filled with gratitude for the amazing level of community support for launching the co-op in Easthampton.  I am very excited about all the good things that will grow with the co-op: more support for local farmers and food producers, more full-time union jobs, solar energy generated on-site, and more accessible local and organically grown foods. Together we are growing something really good!” 

Since opening eleven years ago in Northampton, the co-op has purchased $46 million of products from 400 local farmers and producers, contributed over $1 million to area nonprofit organizations, offered hundreds of free workshops, and provides a minimum starting hourly wage of $15 with 165 employees, 90 percent of them full time. The co-op’s workforce is represented by the UFCW Local 1459. 

For more information contact:

Rochelle Prunty, General Manager rochelle@rivervalley.coop cell phone: 413.559.7499
Dorian Gregory, Board President dgregory@rivervalley.coop  cell phone: 413.348.6801 or see: http://rivervalley.coop

To view our Easthampton Expedition Videos which highlights Why Expand, Wright Builders, Board Perspective on Expansion and more please visit: https://vimeo.com/showcase/6218624 and https://vimeo.com/showcase/6680330

Click here to download our 2019 Annual Report

 


 

River Valley Co-op Announces Easthampton Store Financing Team Assembled

October 3rd, 2019

(Easthampton Northampton, MA) Today, the co-op is pleased to announce they are working with Easthampton Savings Bank and three community development organizations to secure the funding for the new food cooperative in Easthampton. The community development organizations include the Massachusetts Housing Investment Corporation, Vermont Rural Ventures, and National Community Investment Fund. Over 300 co-op owners from the community have already made individual loans totaling $5,164,000 to support opening the food co-op in Easthampton. The co–op will combine its co-op owner loans with traditional bank financing and economic development funding for a total of $18 million to open the new food co-op.  River Valley Co-op Board President Steve Bruner said, “River Valley Co-op’s Easthampton store is being developed by the community, for the community!”

The economic development funding comes through a federal program called New Markets Tax Credits (NMTC) to incentivize investment focused on creating jobs as well as providing essential community goods and services in qualifying census tracts. River Valley Co-op launched its Northampton store construction project in 2007 with support from this program in conjunction with a high level of community support. General Manager Rochelle Prunty expressed gratitude for the support of this economic development program (NMTC) for the Easthampton store project as well. “This program makes possible what would otherwise be impossible for a community owned business to accomplish on its own. We would have never been able to open our Northampton store without this funding in 2007, and we wouldn’t be launching the Easthampton store project in 2020 without this support either.” 

“I have long been a champion of the New Markets Tax Credit program because I see how they are used to transform communities and the lives of people who live there,” said Congressman Richard E. Neal. “When NMTCs were on the chopping block during the Republican Tax Bill debate, I made sure that they were saved because they support real, positive impact on our communities and their economies. I am confident that the expansion of the River Valley Co-op here in Easthampton will be no different. Congratulations to Mayor LaChapelle and her team, as well as the entire River Valley Co-op delegation who are ensuring that this project will come to fruition with smart reinvestment and revitalization. I am happy to be a partner.”

This economic development financing requires the cooperative to secure the support of multiple mission-driven community development organizations to aggregate enough tax credits to draw an investor to the project at the needed funding level. The funds will supplement bank financing and other significant funding already raised through community organizing to support the community focused local food and triple bottom line mission of River Valley Co-op’s Easthampton store project.

Prunty explained, “Our project was well received by many community development organizations, but the tax credit allocations were more competitive than in past years. In partnership with our consultants, internal team, Congressman Neal and Mayor LaChapelle, we successfully brought together the support to complete the NMTC economic development funding that the project qualifies for this year. We are so grateful for the breadth and depth of the local support, that is what really makes the difference in securing funding our project. We are very appreciative of the teamwork involved on many levels that is bringing this all together in our community.” 

Easthampton Mayor LaChapelle said, “This announcement shows the tremendous collective efforts by the River Valley team and Congressman Neal’s leadership on the Ways and Means Committee. It is an honor to work with them in bringing good-paying jobs and new revenue to Easthampton.”  

Emily Laine, River Valley Co-op Board Member said “As a resident of Easthampton I’m inspired and filled with gratitude for the amazing level of community support for launching the co-op in Easthampton.  I am very excited about all the good things that will grow with the co-op: more support for local farmers and food producers, more full-time union jobs, solar energy generated on-site, and more accessible local and organically grown foods. Together we are growing something really good!”

Since opening eleven years ago in Northampton, the co-op has purchased $46 million of products from 420 local farmers and producers, contributed over $1 million to area nonprofit organizations, offered hundreds of free workshops, and has a minimum starting hourly wage of $15 with 165 employees, 90% of them fulltime. The co-op’s workforce is represented by the UFCW Local 1459. The co-op looks forward to serving the community even better by supporting more local farmers and producers along with adding 100 new jobs within five years of opening the store in Easthampton. For more information see: http://rivervalley.coop

 


 

Easthampton approves plan to build River Valley Co-op

By Luis Fieldman

EASTHAMPTON — River Valley Co-op expects to open its second store during summer 2020 at the location of the former automobile dealership Fedor Oldsmobile Pontiac on Route 10.

The cooperatively owned market will construct a 22,000-square-foot store, and it will help finance infrastructure improvements to address city officials’ concerns of traffic at the corner of Lyman and Northampton streets.

“We want to take a little pressure off of our Northampton store, and this opening will allow us to add more co-op owners in both locations,” said Rochelle Prunty, general manager of River Valley, on Tuesday. “It will also really help expand the market for all our local farmers and food producers.”

The new co-op will better serve its nearly 1,700 co-op owners in the Easthampton and Southampton area, Prunty said. The co-op in Northampton has a total of 10,500 co-op owners.

Captain Jack’s Roadside Shack, which is on the market’s property, will lease from River Valley and remain open for business.

For the full article, click here.

 


 

River Valley Co-op Expansion my Third Outlook Focus

By

I’ve shared two of the stories I wrote this year for the Springfield Republican’s annual Outlook section on the region’s business and economy. One on Lili Dwight and the fire alarm app she is developing and one on Crooked Stick Pops of Easthampton.

Today’s blog features the third Outlook piece I wrote for editor Cynthia Simison; it’s on River Valley Co-op in Northampton. This market is a hot spot in the Valley, and its growth over the years has been tremendous. My housemate Craig Fear is a steadfast member and shopper, as are many of my friends.

It was a privilege to interview these leaders in the local food industry.

River Valley Co-op

Our Family Farms sold milk at the River Valley Co-op when the store first opened in April 2008, a time when small businesses in the country were struggling as a result of the Great Recession. “One of the owners of the local dairy cooperative came to our 2009 annual meeting,” said Rochelle Prunty, River Valley’s general manager since 2001. “They talked about how the economy hit them so hard.” She teared up with emotion, struggling to add, “But because the co-op opened, that’s what helped them get through it. They were able to keep their farm.”

Prunty is incredibly grateful about this kind of success story and the fact that the natural foods co-op has helped launch—and sustain—many other local farms. The business, which sells local and organic products, celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2018 with various events, including a birthday party in April 2018 and partial sponsorship of Easthampton’s Millpond.Live music series in the summer. 

Since it first incorporated in 1999 and began selling co-op ownership shares at $150 per—the same one-time fee for the privilege today—the co-op has grown to 10,200 owners and 160 employees, over 90 percent of whom are full time. It sees $28 million in annual sales—more than twice what was predicted by its founders. This is no small feat in a competitive market that has suffered from online sales and fierce industry competition.

“In 10 years, we’ve purchased $40 million in local products that have gone into the community,” Prunty said. “We’ve made contributions to local nonprofits every year, totaling over $800,000 in 10 years. It feels like a really symbiotic relationship with the community. Because we’re independent and community owned, we’re able to adapt and evolve as needed with the changing times.”

Prunty, board president Andrea Stanley—also a farmer in Hadley and the owner of Valley Malt—, and Natasha Latour, the co-op’s marketing manager, agree that the co-op’s overwhelming popularity and growth came because it meets the needs of Valley residents. “It’s never about making the sale or making the money,” Prunty said. “The food meets peoples’ needs. Supporting local farmers meets peoples’ values. And in the process, we build community.” 

“We’re set up to sell what people want to buy,” she added. “Corporate supermarkets are set up to sell what big manufacturers want people to buy.”

High volume at the co-op means the parking lot and the aisles are over-crowded. This has Prunty and the board looking to expand in Easthampton on property formerly owned by Fedor Pontiac Oldsmobile on Route 10. The co-op already has 1,700 owners in Easthampton, and the dealership property, sitting on over four acres of buildable land, seems ideal.

Prunty said co-op leaders are looking at the feasibility of building a roughly 20,000-square-foot grocery store, considering financing and building costs. “We’re looking to break ground in July 2019 and open in July 2020,” she said, adding, “This is not yet a done deal. We expect to finalize our plans, fundraising, and secure financing for a final decision by June of 2019.”

She said the projection is that the second location could bring in about $14 million in annual sales. “Easthampton is a community that supports local entrepreneurs. It’s incubating lots of different kinds of local businesses,” Prunty said. “That kind of thinking, and that kind of spirit has good synergy with what we do, and it feels like a good match.”

Click here for the full article.

 


 




River Valley Co-op Implements $15 Minimum Wage Starting January 7th

Union and Co-op Collaboration Achieves New Minimum Wage Four Years Ahead of State Mandate

(Northampton, MA) Leadership of the UFCW, Local 1459, representing the staff of River Valley Co-op, and the leadership of River Valley Co-op announce today that the co-op launched a $15/hr minimum wage effective immediately, four years ahead of the state mandate. Co-op workers ratified a 3-year contract Friday January 4th marking the successful conclusion of the collective bargaining process on their third successive labor contract since 2011.

Jeff Jones, representing UFCW, Local 1459 said of the new agreement; "This is a big stride forward in strengthening economic well-being and security for the workers.  This agreement was ratified with 96% approval by workers as well as enthusiasm from management. Together we’ve developed a 3-year contract to carry us through the potential of the co-op opening a second location and expanding their union workforce in Easthampton. The new contract positions River Valley Co-op for continued growth as a leading union employer in our community. This is good for the workers, the co-op, and the communities the co-op serves. Everyone can feel good about where we are headed!”

Rochelle Prunty, River Valley Co-op’s General Manager concurred with Jones, “This $15 minimum wage is a great thing for our employees! Our goal is to have the best retail jobs in the area and we are very happy about launching the $15 minimum wage now because they really deserve it!  Over 90% of our staff are full time with excellent benefits and a voice in their workplace. This keeps our turnover far below the status quo for retail grocery and contributes to our overall success.”

Union Steward Olivia Vicioso described her experience on the collective bargaining team for the new contract as a positive one, “Crafting a new contract was like being part of a think tank. Our only constraints were our imagination and of course feasibility, acceptability, and benefit to the purpose at hand: a safe, functional, and progressive work place that meets both staff and management needs. I’m so proud of our team for approaching this new contract with compassion, empathy, and open-mindedness and for ensuring that each team member had an equal voice at the table.”

Prunty added, “Our approach to collective bargaining is a cooperative approach. We really value the collective aspect of collective bargaining by focusing on shared interests and values for collaborative problem-solving as one team working together to develop solutions. With this approach, naturally we get better solutions and stronger commitment to them. For us, collective bargaining work helps builds a foundation of trust and teamwork.  We don’t focus on positions like typical negotiations are done, we focus on developing solutions. It works because we all really do have shared values and interests in the co-op’s success.”

"On behalf of the ownership of the co-op, we are proud to hear that our staff, union, and management came to this agreement together. Our staff are dedicated and passionate about the mission of the co-op and they deserve to make a decent living that reflects the value of the work they perform every day. Grocery is a $650 billion industry and there are about 38,000 grocery stores in America. We all know that grocery stores are more than just a place to buy food. They are a reflection of our culture. They illuminate what we care about. In the face of increasing corporate consolidation and control of the food system, it is more important than ever to support workers’ rights, local businesses, and cooperative and environmentally sustainable businesses of all kinds," said Andrea Stanley, River Valley Co-op Board President.

 

Over the past 10 years River Valley Co-op:

  • Made wholesale purchases of nearly $40 million worth of local foods from the 400 local food producers they partner with.
  • Increased its cooperative ownership to over 10,000 area families.
  • Supported community non-profits with over $800,000 in donations, sponsorships, and in-kind donations.
  • Hosted hundreds of free workshops related to health, sustainability, and more.

River Valley Co-op is in the process of developing plans for opening a second location in Easthampton. No final decisions have been made, however the co-op has a purchase option on property at 228 Northampton Street and is actively exploring feasibility of its plans.  The co-op leadership says that a final decision will be contingent on financing and financial feasibility, a decision to purchase and start construction is hoped for by the summer of 2019 with a goal of opening in the summer of 2020. 

“We have built something very special in our community by coming together to build a consumer owned cooperative grocery to serve the community. Growing this local cooperative business grows good things in our community,” said Rochelle Prunty, River Valley Co-op General Manager.  “I deeply appreciate all the hard work our 150+ employees put into making it happen every day!”

 

For more information contact:

Rochelle Prunty, General Manager River Valley Co-op: (413) 341-5686, x-106 (office)
River Valley Co-op is a consumer-owned cooperative grocery store specializing in fresh local foods located at 330 North King Street, Northampton. Open to Everyone 8AM-10PM Everyday.

 

Jeff Jones, UFCW Local 1459: jjones@ufcw1459.com 413 732-9699, x-118
Jeff Jones is a Vice President and Union Staff Representative for UFCW Local 1459 serving approximately 5,000 members in the four western counties of Massachusetts and southern Vermont.




Pronouns

Why is the co-op including pro-nouns on staff nametags?

Pronouns are a way in which people are referred to in place of their name (e.g. "he" or "she" or "they" or "ze" etc.).

You may have noticed pronouns on some of our co-op staff nametags and linen items. Our goal is to make it easier for everyone to use the correct pronouns when addressing someone. Someone's gender is not always a visible thing, and clear markers like pronouns on nametags can help us all to use the right ones when addressing employees.

We came to agreement on pronouns on nametags after several weekly staff meeting conversations, (including those who may be most affected by gendered assumptions).

We determined that displaying pronouns in this way supports making us more inclusive, supportive and welcoming allies. We decided against requiring everyone to include their pronouns. Those who don't select specific pronouns display “everyone is welcome” on their nametags as an alternative way to participate in showing support for the value of inclusivity.

It can be harmful or distressing to be addressed by the wrong pronouns, even accidentally. Adding pronouns to nametags is a way that we can help to avoid incorrect gender assumptions in addressing co-op staff members, and in helping to make everyone feel safe and welcome. We hope that this will add to the inclusiveness and solidarity we enjoy here at the co-op amongst our employees, our customers, and our vendors.




PATRONAGE DIVIDEND

Check your Mailbox!

Vouchers will be mailed in March of 2018 and owners may redeem them as cash, use them to make purchases at the co-op, or donate them to the nonprofit selected by the Board of Directors.`

COOPERATIVE DIVIDENDS

Corporations distribute their earnings or profits based on how much each shareholder has invested in the business. In a corporation, investors earn profits on other people’s purchases. In a consumer owned cooperative, the structure for the distribution of earnings is radically different. Co-ops distribute the profits made on your own purchases to you. In a    co-op the shareholders are also the people making purchases from the co-op business they own, and everyone owns just one equal share of the business.

Your purchases (patronage) are the primary funding for operating the co-op. Earnings on your purchases are called Patronage Dividends. Like any business, a co-op needs earnings for reinvestment in the business to maintain the facility and equipment, etc. Consumer co-ops rely heavily on earnings from purchases to ]capitalize their business. Typically up to 80% of the earnings from your purchases are held in your name as retained patronage dividends by the cooperative to fund its capital needs, and 20% is rebated in cash[ to you. This rebate is called a Patronage Dividend Rebate, or sometimes simply a Patronage Rebate. 

This system for reinvesting earnings in the cooperative and rebating a portion to the co-op owners was developed at the start of the cooperative movement that dates back to the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers food co-op in Northern England in 1844. This has been a standard practice for most cooperatives ever since. 

For every one dollar spent at the co-op during the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2017, 64.5 cents was paid to our suppliers for the products you purchased, 23.5 cents went to personnel costs, 4.6 cents covered the cost of the facility, 1.6 cents to advertising, and 4.6 cents covered other operating expenses. The remaining 1.2 cents is the net income earned before taxes.

The total patronage dividend for the year was $219,000. To support the financial stability of the co-op, 80% ($175,200) is retained as an allocated patronage dividend, which the co-op holds in your name for reinvestment in the co-op. The intrinsic value of our retained patronage lies in the fact that we are in this together for the long haul, and we will all share in the expected future benefits to be derived from managing our resources responsibly.

What is the deadline for redeeming my voucher?

You must take action to redeem your patronage dividend rebate voucher by June 30, 2018 so that the funds will qualify as allocated patronage dividends. If you take no action on your voucher by then, your rebate will automatically be donated to the Co-op Community Fund and the Food Co-op Initiative.

What is the total amount of the patronage dividend rebate?

River Valley Co-op is sharing $43,800 of its earnings for the year ended June 30, 2017 with its owners. $175,200 in additional patronage dividends will be retained for the capital needs of the cooperative.

*How do I qualify?

You must be an owner of River Valley Co-op who made a minimum of $420 in purchases, excluding beer and wine (MA state law requires beer and wine purchases be excluded) between July 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017.

What method for redeeming the voucher is best for the co-op?

All options keep the $43,800 in circulation in our extended cooperative community–all methods are beneficial.




River Valley Co-op and UFCW Local 1459 Complete Successful Mediation Process

July 3, 2017

(Northampton, MA) Leadership of the UFCW, Local 1459, representing the staff of River Valley Co-op, and the management of River Valley Co-op announce today that they met on Monday, June 26th and Tuesday, June 27th for a successful mediation over issues of interest to both parties. With the use of Interest Based Problem Solving, the two parties reached mutual agreement concerning compensation for shuttle time to and from an offsite staff parking lot, as well as increased wages for the lowest-paid employees at River Valley Co-op. The concerted activity grievance was also successfully resolved. Both the Union and the Co-op have renewed their commitment to moving forward with a mutually supportive working relationship.

Jeff Jones, representing UFCW, Local 1459 said of the mediation; "Under the facilitation of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service,(FMCS), River Valley Co-op and the Union Bargaining Committee completed a successful two-day mediation. The long-standing issue of parking has been resolved as well as the role of concerted activity in the workplace. I feel this paves the way for the Co-op to grow and extend further into the community."

"We all felt our community rooting for us to resolve these issues, including our nearly 10,000 co-op owners and their families, our many customers, and the nearly 400 local farmers and food producers we partner with as suppliers. Our Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with the UFCW Local 1459 includes excellent systems that proved their effectiveness this week for resolving a conflict and improving teamwork between the Union and Coop at the same time. Renewing our commitment to use these systems was central to our success in reaching this resolution for the key people we are both here for; River Valley Co-op's staff. With strengthened teamwork, the collective capacity of our 150+ employees to better serve our co-op owners, customers, vendors and the broader community is also strengthened," said Rochelle Prunty, River Valley Co-op General Manager.

"A successful community cooperative grocery business is key to maintaining and building a vibrant, resilient local food system and locally based economy. The Co-op is proud to stand with the labor movement as a union employer. In the face of increasing corporate consolidation and control of the food system supporting cooperative businesses, other local businesses, and the labor movement are all more important than ever!" said Dorian Gregory, River Valley Co-op Board President.

For more information contact: Jeff Jones Union Representative UFCW Local 1459: (413) 387-9194 (cell); Rochelle Prunty, General Manager River Valley Co-op: (413) 559-7499 (cell)

River Valley Co-op is a consumer-owned cooperative grocery store specializing in fresh local foods located at 330 North King Street, Northampton. Open to Everyone 8AM-10PM.




Co-op 2nd Store Site Search Update

June 12, 2017

We want to let you know that we are continuing to explore locations for a second store. We are prioritizing locations that are close enough to take some pressure off our current store by serving some of our current co-op customer owners but also, far enough away to serve new potential co-op customer owners.

Many of you may remember our current location did not meet all our store site criteria and we passed over it in favor of the pursuit of better retail options repeatedly before we accepted that it was the best realistically feasible option for us. I've often said we found ourselves between a rock and hard place in the site search for our original store and the hard place made the rock look good. 

What made our current location feasible was that 1) absolutely no one else wanted it, 2) it was in the right proximity to a large number of our current and potential co-op owners, 3) there was support for unconventional financing which defrayed the added costs of developing the unconventional site.

As it turned out, even though our current location was not plan A, B, C, or even D...it has been a very good location for launching our cooperative. So good in fact, that we quickly grew to over double what we had anticipated for total sales volume by our 10th year in our 9th year of business. The result is that our current facility does not have the capacity we need to fully serve our community's growing needs as comfortably or as well as we'd like for both customers and staff going forward.

Which brings us back to the second store site search. Working with our real estate broker and second store development team we have found that our two most preferred options are not feasible due to higher than anticipated costs. The commercial real estate market in our area remains on the high end, while competitive conditions for retailers have resulted in pressure to lower development and overhead costs as much as possible.

The result of this real estate/retail business dynamic is that we have turned our focus to seeking out and evaluating some lower rated locations in the commercial real estate market in search of something potentially more affordable in the right general area.   We are also exploring potential co-op friendly development partners that could help support some of the financial load for the co-op to be part of a larger development.

Real estate is a very competitive business so we need to keep the specific location details confidential until we are able to secure an agreement with contingencies.  That agreement will provide security for us to proceed with our due diligence and community fundraising to finalize our arrangements without fear of losing the site to someone who comes along offering a higher price. A site tends to look more enticing to others when they see someone else wants it so we want
ensure we have an agreement with contingencies for final decision-making on a site before discussing it with our co-op owners and publicly.

So far, we've not succeeded in reaching such an agreement on our two preferred sites and we are now actively exploring alternatives. We expect about a 1.5 to 2-year timeline from securing a site to opening.

If you have a great idea for a location please do pass it on to me so that we can confidentially explore the feasibility. We are seeking commercially zoned real estate that is reasonably accessible to a portion of our current customer base as well as strong potential for serving additional customers for whom we are not currently as accessible. You can call email me: rochelle@rivervalley.coop or call:
(413) 341.5686.

We have many value-driven goals in our mission that will be positively impacted by successfully expanding our operations to multiple stores. In the meantime, thank you for your ongoing support!

 




Shire City Herbals and the Free Fire Cider Campaign

January 14, 2017 

Second open letter to our Membership, Shire City Herbals and the Free Fire Cider campaign: 

As of this time, we will be discontinuing the sale of the Fire Cider® made by Shire City Herbals because of the legal action they have taken against community herbalists for using a traditional remedy and term. This decision is not made lightly. 

In our last public statement regarding this issue, back in June of 2015, we did our best to remain neutral, urging Shire City Herbals and all parties involved to find a peaceful and equitable resolution to the conflicts over the trademark issue. A year and a half later, we do not consider Shire City Herbals’ actions to be working in that direction. 

We had hoped that by stocking multiple fire cider options and encouraging public discourse we could support everyone. We no longer wish to remain neutral on this issue, and in good conscience now choose to remove Shire City Herbals’ product from our store. 

We appreciate the work Shire City Herbals has done to bring popular attention to this traditional remedy. It is unusual for us to have a local supplier with such a successful and effective product in our Wellness Department, and we were excited and proud to promote them in the past. (see the article in our Winter 2014 member newsletter http://rivervalleymarket.coop/newsletter/newsletter-archives ) 

The fact remains that the term “fire cider” was not created by Shire City Herbals and had been in use by herbalists all over the country long before they started making their product. Shire City Herbals did not invent this formula. Decades ago, the basic recipe was published with that name, in a book by Rosemary Gladstar. 

Shire City Herbals initially stated that they trademarked the term solely to protect themselves from a larger entity stealing their success and trademarking it for themselves. They do not support the campaign to officially and legally make “fire cider” a generic term, available to all, stating that this is not possible. Instead, Shire City Herbals has brought legal action against three herbalists: Katheryn Langelier, Mary Blue and Nicole Telkes, and has sent intimidating letters to many other small herbal producers using the name “fire cider” to sell their own versions of the folk remedy. This legal action was in part a response to a petition filed with the USPTO by Mary Blue, made as an attempt to revoke the Fire Cider® trademark. 

We know that many others share our dismay over this issue, thanks to feedback we have received over the last few years from co-op owners, customers and the herbal community at large. Thank you for your concern and engagement regarding this issue. We will continue to stock other brands of this remedy and will do our best to help you find one that you like. 

Respectfully, 

Rochelle Prunty       Marah MacRostie
General Manager      Wellness Department Manager 

 




Why the Co-op Posted Welcome to Immigrants and Black Lives Matter Yard Signs

The display of these yard signs at the co-op, is an expression of support for people of color, immigrants, and refugees who face an increasing barrage of demeaning, hateful, and threatening messages and actions as a result of racism in our society. It is a way of bringing all kinds of people together to reflect on these issues. Both yard signs are initiatives to stimulate dialogue, inspire reflection, raise awareness, and support the development of a community narrative that brings people together to stand against racism, discrimination, and oppression. These yard signs help build community awareness. With over ten thousand weekly co-op shoppers we can help reach a lot of people while also showing as a community owned business, we stand with people of color, immigrants, and refugees against racism. These signs are an expression of our co-op's values and the role we have in community stewardship as a community owned business.

Co-ops have a long history of combining cooperatively owned business operations with social justice values.  In the 19th century cooperatives were active in the abolitionist movement, and in the 20th-century co-ops were part of the civil rights and sustainable agriculture movements.

Like co-op communities of the 19th and 20th centuries, we have continuing social justice challenges in the 21st century including racism and a rise in discrimination against immigrants and refugees. These are issues that impact our community.  As a community driven business, we care about that. Displaying these yard signs to express our values is one way we are supporting our community in the face of these larger societal issues. 

Black Lives Matter started as a Black dignity campaign, and that is a message we believe all can come together to support. It is also a campaign to raise community awareness of how racism and racial bias impacts many aspects of our society and institutions including law enforcement. It is a campaign against race based violence.  It is a campaign against institutional racism. It is a campaign for communities to come together to reflect on the impacts of racism on our communities all across the country. It is a campaign to bring us together in understanding so that we can all affirm the message that black lives do matter. And it is a campaign to inspire us all to work to undo racism.

We know not everyone has the same perspective on this just like any number of other things. Some have interpreted Black Lives Matter as excluding other people. It was never intended to mean no one else matters or specify that any particular others don't matter and that is not the message we intend. This campaign has also been misconstrued as an anti- police campaign, we reject that interpretation as well. We consider these interpretations not at all in line with the message of the campaign and not the message the co-op is communicating.

The Black Lives Matter sign is intended to be welcoming, affirmative and supportive as is the sign welcoming immigrants and refugees. It is an expression of the co-op's social justice values. Posting these yard signs at the co-op is just one small step to support a healthy community dialogue on these important issues. We know it takes more than a couple yard signs to address racism. We don't intend to imply we have all the answers but we feel a responsibility to be part of the discussion. Our larger goal is to support a narrative leading to a wider common understanding of how racism impacts all of us which we believe will bring people together to address it on all levels: from personal to community to the institutional and public policy level.

Race and Food Co-ops 

River Valley Co-op helped to fund a project with other food co-ops to explore the topic of race in food co-ops.  The purpose is to develop greater understanding of this issue within food co-ops and to create some tools for change. Our own Board Member Jade Barker was one of the leaders on this project. We were excited to see the recently completed result of the first phase of this project.

 

The first part of the project is starting the conversation with a variety of co-op and social justice leaders as a springboard for engaging food co-op leaders and stakeholders in these important discussions.

 

You can read more about the project addressing the issue of race in food co-ops here: http://library.cdsconsulting.coop/everyone-welcome-personal-narratives/

 

Thank you for your support.