Updates from the General Manager

Happy 16th River Valley Co-op Birthday to All of Us!

April 30th, 2024

It is with much gratitude to every one of you for the important part you play in the nurturing, growth, and support of our community food co-op that we are celebrating the 16th birthday of the opening of our cooperative’s business! You are an important part of who we’ve grown into over the last 16 years (whether you are one of our 2,000 community members who joined as co-op owners before we opened our first store in 2008, one of the newest co-op owners who just joined over the last month, one of our over 240 current employees, one of our former employees, one of our volunteer Board Members, one of our former volunteer Board Members, one of our supplier partners that keeps the co-op stocked with great food, or one of our other business/organizational partners that support the many other needs of our business operations). Together, we are the community food co-op that operates a local grocery business with a mission to create a just marketplace that nourishes the community. 

Thanks to all of you, we’ve done a lot of good work in our community over the last 16 years to support our local farmers and food producers, provide good retail jobs, support a wide variety of nonprofits and other organizational partners that serve our community needs in alignment with our mission, and serve thousands of people’s grocery needs seven days a week for 16 years!

In case you missed it, our last annual report included a lot of detail on our accomplishments, current challenges and aspirations for the future. The annual report page of our website also includes recordings from our annual meeting presentations (Jade BarkerAlissa Klein, and my panel presentations), which outline some key perspectives on our history to date that you’ll want to tune into if you missed them. 

Thanks to our local farmers, we’ll soon be seeing and eating an abundance of asparagus, one of the very first local crops of the season! While every season of the year brings its special qualities to our lives, I especially love that our co-op’s birthday is in the spring because it marks a time of growing sunshine and warmth, emerging growth, planting seeds, birth, and hope for all the good things that will grow. Speaking of asparagus, did you know it takes multiple years to get an asparagus plant to mature enough to produce those delicious spears we refer to around here as Hadley grass? Asparagus is a perennial plant that our region has been widely known for producing for decades. To start an asparagus plant, you must dig a trench to plant the roots. For the first year, you just cover them with a couple of inches of dirt covering the roots in the trench. Over several years, you add more soil to the trench until the plant becomes large and strong enough to harvest its shoots in the spring. 

By the way, we included asparagus in the logo because we felt it represented local agriculture and the hope of spring in our region. We also felt it made a good metaphor for the planning and nurturing care required over multiple years to open and sustain a food co-op. Food co-ops, like asparagus, are so special that it is worth this effort.

I thought I’d share one way I like to enjoy asparagus with you: Asparagus Mushroom Tacos!

Ingredients:
 • Mi Tierra tortillas
 • Smoked Salt
 • Black Pepper
 • Asparagus
 • Oyster or Maitake Mushrooms
 • Butter
 • Poblano Peppers
 • Goat Cheese or Sidehill Farm Sour Cream
 • The Kitchen Garden Salsa Verde

I simply sauté asparagus spears and a few strips of poblano peppers with butter, a little black pepper, and a pinch of smoked salt in a cast iron skillet (or grill these veggies basted with butter, freshly grated black pepper, and a pinch of salt), sauté maitake or oyster mushrooms in butter as well, heat Mi Tierra corn tortillas on one side until they bubble up a bit (either in a skillet on the stove or on the grill), then flip over to heat on the other side and take off heat when it bubbles a bit more.

When the vegetables are cooked, assemble them by placing a few spears of asparagus on each taco, layering them with a generous amount of the sautéed mushrooms and a few strips of poblano pepper. Top with a little crumbled fresh goat cheese and a little The Kitchen Garden Salsa Verde, and they are ready to fold over and eat.

If you don’t have fresh goat cheese, a little Side Hill Farm or other sour cream can be substituted. The earthy mushrooms, verdant asparagus, and a little mild sweet heat from the grilled poblano peppers with the creamy goat cheese are a nice combination. The salsa verde makes it taco-y, and the creamy, tangy goat cheese cools the salsa's heat a bit too. You can, of course, use a milder salsa if you prefer. Like any taco, there can be endless variations in ingredients. I like these with thin seared strips of fresh tuna steaks added on occasion, but they are perfectly good without the added meatiness of the tuna steak because the heartiness of the mushrooms is “meaty” enough and complements the asparagus very nicely. 

Happy Spring and Happy 16th River Valley Co-op Birthday! 

 


Happy February School Break Week!

February 19th, 2024

This month has already been packed with festivities and celebrations. I hope you have been able to participate in some of the great community events. With a little more daylight, this late winter month begins to remind us that Spring is coming soon. There is something reassuring about the return of the sun after months of long winter nights with short days. 

The start of this month marks the birthdays of the black bears, who are all born at the end of January or the first week of February. February 1st is the day of the ancient Celtic Imbolc celebration, marking the midpoint between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox (and the more contemporary Irish celebration of St. Brigid’s Day). Here in the Northeast, this is followed on February 2nd by Groundhog Day, which has its roots in Indigenous culture along with a variety of European cultures. Following the lunar calendar, we have the Lunar New Year, which fell on the 10th, and we have now begun 2024 in the Year of the Dragon. Then, there was Super Bowl Sunday on the 11th. Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12th. Carnival/Fat Tuesday/Mardi Gras celebrations also follow the lunar calendar and fell on the 13th this year. On the 14th, we celebrated love with Valentine’s Day.

Today, February 19th is George Washington’s Birthday and the national Presidents Day holiday, which kicks off school vacation week in our community. On Saturday, February 24th, The Nolumbeka Project is hosting the Full Snow Moon Gathering and Social Dance in Greenfield, a celebration of Indigenous Eastern Woodlands culture open to everyone. And we are welcoming everyone back from school vacation with our February Co-op Owner Appreciation Week starting February 26th. Plus, this year, we have a bonus for February with an extra day for Leap Year on February 29th.
 

New Store Managers

We have some changes in the leadership of both our stores to announce. Liesel deBoor, our Director of Store Operations, has also been serving as the store manager for our Easthampton location since we opened. We planned that she would get the Easthampton store opened and well-established over the first couple of years and then pass the store manager hat onto a new store manager. Then Liesel would turn her focus more to the overall development of the co-op’s store operation systems in both locations.

We have implemented this change, and I’m very happy to introduce our new store managers. Don’t worry; you are likely to see Liesel in the stores still, as she will be splitting her time between both stores and our administrative office.

Yvette Laurent has been promoted to the Northampton store manager position. If you shop in our Northampton store, you may have already met Yvette. She joined our Northampton store management team in 2023 as the store operations manager. Our previous store manager in Northampton, Jason Caron, has moved into our data systems management position.

In Easthampton, Dominic Jaramillo Orsulak has been promoted to the Easthampton store manager position. If you shop in our Easthampton store, you likely already know Dominic. He has been serving in the Assistant Store Manager position there since the opening of the store.
 

How is our Co-op Doing?

We are more than two and a half years into our expansion in Easthampton. We knew it would be a challenge to transition from operating one store to operating two long before we knew we’d be opening after dealing with a pandemic for a year. While the acute COVID crisis period ended once vaccines were widely available by the early summer of 2021 when we opened, the aftershocks of the pandemic (supply chain shortages, labor shortages, housing shortages, child care shortages, and inflation) have been challenging for all of us as well. The impact on the co-op has resulted in higher operating expenses, resulting in higher losses over a longer period than we had originally planned. We thought we had turned the corner at the end of our last fiscal year (June 2023). Our summer quarter, July - September, has always been our most challenging financially due to the annual cycle of lower summer sales. This year, we were encouraged by stronger sales growth and lower losses than we budgeted for that period, and we felt like we could see the light at the end of the tunnel. We increased our wage scale again, making the lowest starting wage $18/hr, and we were feeling cautiously optimistic. It looked like we were right on track for December 2023 to be our first profitable month of operations in about 2.5 years. But when October came, instead of the usual trend of gaining momentum in sales growth October - December, our growth faltered in both stores and that hurt.

In Easthampton, where we had the highest sales growth over the summer due to the newness of the store, there was some road construction through much of October, and we think that was a significant factor. We know it often takes multiple months to recover from one month of road construction. But Northampton sales growth flattened out as well. We know that nationally people are frustrated with inflation on food prices and people are buying less groceries as a result which has impacted us too. 

It took until late December before we began to feel the tide start to turn back to some sales growth momentum again. We did have some sales growth for the October to December quarter, but it was about half of what we had been counting on, resulting in higher losses than planned. That was a tough setback.

I’m happy to report that since late December, we have been coming much closer to meeting our goals. We launched a Co+op Deals app in January; many people have downloaded it and are finding it useful. That may be part of what is helping us move the dial closer to our sales growth goals since January. If we can keep building on this through the end of the year, we can get back on track on our timeline to achieve more sustainable financial results by 2026.

We have been working hard to make improvements in our prepared foods department and have been making a lot of good progress. This department was significantly impacted by the pandemic shutdowns of food services. The subsequent mass exodus of food service workers from the labor market has been a huge challenge for all the restaurants and food service businesses in our community and our co-op ever since.

We know we have farther to go and there is much more we want to do in our prepared foods department. It is taking much longer than I expected to build our programs back up, largely due to staffing capacity slowing the systems development work. I want to give a shout-out to our wonderful prepared foods teams for their great work through these challenges. Sometimes, we take two steps forward and one back, but we are steadfast in our focus on preparing food from scratch and building our menus to highlight fresh local seasonal foods.

We are working toward building the capacity to pilot a hot bistro program in Easthampton that we can also adapt for Northampton. The timeline has been pushed back a few times, but it is still a goal for the coming year. Thank you for your patience on this project.

We are so very grateful for your ongoing support. It isn’t as fun to talk about financial challenges, but we are co-op owners and that is part of owning a business together. We are all feeling the economic pinch, so it makes sense our co-op is feeling the same pressures. At the same time, I think we are all relieved that we’ve avoided a major recession so far. So, we do have much to be grateful for.

While our financial results have been more challenging than we had expected, I also want you to know that, on the other hand, our expansion has had a stronger positive community impact than we projected. Our wholesale purchases from local farmers and food producers reached nearly $13 million last year, up from nearly $7 million pre-expansion. We increased our workforce by 54% compared to our pre-pandemic levels and we’ve made substantial increases in our wage scale. Our Food For All program of 10% grocery discounts to customers with low incomes is still growing by double digits. Collectively, this program saved those customers over $300,000 last year. We are also happy to report that the Local Food Purchase Assistance (LFPA) grant, which funds $120,000 worth of free local food options for Food For All participants, was renewed for another year at $100,000 for the coming year. We received these grants through a grant application partnership with Grow Food Northampton to support both of our fresh local food access programs as well as BIPOC and women-owned local farms and food producers (click here to learn more about the grants). We add new co-op owners and customers every week and expect to reach 16,000 co-op owners this year.

Another benefit of the expansion is that the parking in Northampton has greatly improved. Northampton remains our largest store by sales volume, but Easthampton is quickly catching up.

In case you missed it, here is a link to our Annual Report with more interesting information about what and how we did in 2023.

Thank you for all you do!
 


A Holiday Update from Rochelle

November 22, 2023


Dear co-op owners,

The upcoming seasonal holidays are a big peak in our annual journey through the co-op’s year. We begin planning in June by reviewing last year's turkey sales, talking to our local turkey farmers and other suppliers, and wishing we had a reliable crystal ball to help us guess what will be needed this year. And it isn’t just turkeys… there are also the vegan Thanksgiving entrees, canned organic pumpkin, spices, gluten-free pie crusts, scratch-made pies, and even the frozen pizza sales spike that all need to be mapped out and planned for. We’ve been doing this for 15 years now and we’ve developed a lot of systems to support this November - December peak of our annual cycle. It is an exciting time that challenges us to do our best work. When you are a co-op grocer, this challenge of juggling a thousand-plus turkeys into our work along with all the holiday foods is a lot of heavy lifting by our awesome co-op staff and local vendors. But, it’s more than the sum of the tasks. It is a very gratifying experience that builds appreciation of community. We get to see our community in action preparing for their gatherings and festivities with friends and family. We get to see our local vendors proudly delivering the fruits of their harvests. And if all goes well, not only do our customers get what they want, our local vendors and our co-op benefit from a job well done to reach this annual peak in sales. Thank you for your important support through these holidays! What we did not plan on for this year is the war in Israel and Gaza. This is weighing so heavily on our hearts and minds on top of the war in Ukraine right now. I know I’m not alone in feeling conflicted about engaging in festivities amidst the daily stream of tragic news. Thanksgiving is also an American holiday that many Indigenous people and others observe as a day of mourning. These are a lot of important perspectives to emotionally balance right now. 

I’m finding hope and comfort in the daily work that supports our local food system and feel a deepened sense of appreciation for community in its many forms. I’m finding myself cooking foods that make me feel a sense of solidarity with those suffering from war as a form of sending prayers. I also appreciate seeing the good work of so many others, from activism to art, to service and simple acts of kindness as we all make our way forward in these challenging times. Our community is a constant source of inspiration. Thank you. Together, we can do so much that is good!

I found this quote by Robin Wall Kimmerer affirming over the recent weeks and thought it might resonate for others right now too.

"Even a wounded world is feeding us. Even a wounded world holds us, giving us moments of wonder and joy. I choose joy over despair. Not because I have my head in the sand, but because joy is what the earth gives me daily, and I must return the gift."


Thank you for all choosing to be part of the cooperative movement through your River Valley Co-op ownership. I’m grateful to be doing this work on this path with you. I look forward to the celebration at the peak of the upcoming holidays and look ahead to meeting the next challenge together with you. 

Speaking of celebrations, please consider joining us on December 2nd for the Annual Membership Meeting to help us celebrate our 15th birthday. There will be cake! We invite you to make it a hat party by wearing your favorite hat. It is 1-3pm CFE Farmstand (previously 180 Mill Park) in Easthampton. Look for more information about our co-ops accomplishments and challenges coming next week in our annual report! 

Thank you for your support! 

 

Rochelle Prunty
General Manager
 


Solar Interconnection Update: How you can help get our Easthampton Solar Generating Power

July 23, 2023

Last week, I gave an important update on our solar installation in Easthampton getting closer to interconnection. I heard from Lynn at Co-op Power that we had a wonderful response to my message, with lots of new solar subscriptions for our Easthampton solar canopy! Wow!! Thank you for your support! 

We still have a few more solar credit subscriptions to fully use all the solar power credits required to get our solar array connected and generating power. We are asking for your help again to consider subscribing and /or forwarding this information to others you think would be interested. 

Here is the whole story of our solar again in case you missed it last week, or to make it handy if you want to forward it to others who may qualify and would like to be a part of this program. This program is designed to provide solar credits at 15% discount from our co-op's solar canopy to low-income community members and community members living in designated social justice neighborhoods that are Eversource electric customers.

With all the climate change issues manifesting with damaging floods throughout our region and long-burning forest fires in Canada impacting our summertime air quality, sustainability is becoming more evident as a high priority for all of us. 

Our solar project in Easthampton has been over five years in the making at this point. It is obviously built and has now been commissioned, but it is not yet generating power because it has not yet been interconnected to the utility. This project was a huge stretch as the first net zero grocery store powered by onsite-generated solar energy. Grocery store refrigeration requires a high level of energy. This makes the amount of solar required for net zero very substantial for grocery stores. In fact, we'd always heard it was too substantial to even be feasible. You can see that the solar required for our store is indeed "substantial" from the size of the canopy over the Easthampton store parking lot, but what you can't see very well from the ground is that the rooftop is covered with solar panels too. Both the canopy and rooftop are required to reach our net zero solar energy goal. We challenged our design team to show us a plan to get net zero, even if it was a stretch to be feasible. They accepted the challenge and provided a plan showing how it could be done!

Designing a system is just one step of many challenges to pull off such a groundbreaking project! Many layers have been involved in pulling this together that were years in the making. We worked in partnership with Co-op Power, PV-Squared, Solar Design Associates, Eos Energy Enterprises, and Wright Builders to design and build a solar power production system on-site for our Easthampton store to be the first net zero grocery store in the U.S. using on-site solar power generation. This is a dedicated visionary team to work with!

Co-op Power partnered with EOS Energy Enterprises on the interim financing, and Sunwealth stepped up for the tax credit financing. Now we are in the final stretch to get our system connected and producing power. I'm very grateful to everyone on our team for taking the risk with us to make this project a reality, and I'm thrilled that we're going to be producing solar power from all we've envisioned and built very soon.

We were all anticipating that the Build Back Better solar incentives would bring in additional financial resources to enable us to fully own the system within eight years or less. Until we own it, our financial benefits are a 10% savings on the power we use. Once we own it, we expect it to cover our annual electric bill, which is currently over $100,000 annually. Since those Build Back Better incentives are still caught up in the development of regulations for implementing them, those financial benefits we were counting on remain unavailable. It is unknown at this time if that eight-year timeline for full ownership will be feasible. However, once we connect the system, we will start offsetting our annual electric power use to reach the green energy net zero goals it was designed to achieve. That is a much-needed win for our planet and our key priority for this project! 

The recent extremes in weather causing disruption and varied crises locally and across the country underscore the wisdom of making net zero from on-site solar our key priority. Not just to mitigate the environmental impact of our Easthampton store, but as the first grocery store to achieve this in the U.S., we can show others that this can be done even with the highly challenging energy loads of grocery store operations! 

The other key goal is to provide savings for 100 low-income families' getting their electric power through Eversource. Co-op Power and Sunwealth have organized a community solar program with a 15% discount on solar credits by dedicating the power from 50% of our canopy solar array over the parking lot to solar subscriptions. Over 80% of the slots have been subscribed. When we reach 100%, the system will be ready to interconnect with Eversource. 

We all feel the burden of increased electricity costs over the last couple of years. As an organization using close to a megawatt of electricity to operate our Easthampton store, we can greatly empathize with the added financial burden of these cost increases. We are really happy to be able to give 100 community members some support for saving 15% on local green power through our co-op's solar power system. Since we need all the power available to be subscribed for before we can connect the system, we need a few more subscribers to reach the goal of powering up our solar array from the sunshine for our co-op's operations and for our participating community solar subscribers.

These solar subscriptions are now available to any Eversource customer living in an environmental justice community (as defined by Mass DOER) highlighted on this map: tinyurl.com/3e2v9k2r. Type in your address to see if you qualify. If you do, send a picture of each page of your electric bill to Lynn Benander at Co-op Power (solar@cooppower.coop or 413-552-6446 [cell]), and she can tell you how the program will work for you based on your energy use!

Thank you for considering participating in this solar power program and helping us get our solar installation connected and actually producing some good clean green power for the sun. Flipping that interconnection switch to start generating solar power will be an event to celebrate together! We'll keep you posted on the timing so stay tuned. 

I feel like a sunny playlist is order here: You Are My Sunshine, Let the Sun Shine In, Blue Sky, Ain’t No Sunshine, Walk on the Sunny Side, Here Comes the Sun, Sunny, Sunny Afternoon, Walking on Sunshine, I Can See Clearly Now, You are the Sunshine of My Life, …feel free to send me the titles I missed! 

Thanks again for your support!

 

Rochelle Prunty
General Manager
 


Flooding, Frost, and Solar Power

July 15, 2023

As I'm writing this message on this rainy Friday morning, I can't help but reflect on how this weather would have been so welcome earlier in the season. But today, it just amplifies the sense of loss from this week's flooding. Our hearts go out to everyone who has been impacted, including many local farmers.

We have been reaching out to all our local produce partners to check how they were impacted and ask what we can do to help. At least two have suffered devastating losses from the flooding: Grow Food Northampton and Mountain View Farm. We are donating $1,000 to each of these farms now and will be staying in touch with them as the situation evolves. 

Both Grow Food Northampton and Mountain View Farm have GoFundMe sites posted and are seeking financial support and volunteers to help with the cleanup (links below). We encourage those who can to join us in supporting these important community farms. Both farms have strong social justice missions and provide significant contributions of fresh, healthy foods to food-insecure members of our community through partnerships with the Northampton Survival Center, the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, and the Easthampton Community Center. These flood losses will impact the fresh, healthy local produce supply of the key service organizations fighting hunger in our community. 

Grow Food Northampton operates a food distribution program in partnership with the Northampton Survival Center and a mobile market program to support low-income food needs. They also provide community garden spaces and a giving garden. Grow Food Northampton supports new farmers with land leases of 121 acres, and nearly all of the 10 farms on the land were impacted with at least two experiencing total crop losses and others partial losses. 

The hardships from the flood damage are multi-layered with wide impact. The flooding destroyed or damaged equipment and structures resulting in losses of assets that were built over years of investment in developing the programs and production systems on these farms. The produce losses will directly impact the many community members with CSA shares as well as those with community gardens associated with both these farms. 

The flooding wasn’t the only extreme challenge this year for our local farmers. Earlier this spring, severe frost was an issue for peaches and blueberries. Sobieski's River Valley Farm, our primary local organic blueberry supplier, lost 80% of its blueberry crop to frost, which was a devastating loss. When we reached out to Robert Sobieski, we learned that he had launched a GoFundMe site to sustain the farm through this loss and raise funds to purchase frost prevention equipment. We offered to put together a fundraising event to help.

We just finalized our menu and launched the advertising of our Blues & BBQ dinner event to raise funds supporting Sobieski's River Valley Farm last week. This turned out to be just a few days before the flooding arrived. Please put the Blues & BBQ event on your calendar for July 29th, 4 p.m. - 7 p.m., for some good food and family-friendly fun to support our local blueberry supplier.

Next, we'll be working on planning a flood relief fundraiser. Stay tuned for another fundraising event to support flood recovery for our local growing partners to be announced soon.

It isn't just our community seeing more extreme weather-related disasters. We have experienced smoke from raging Canadian forest fires and are watching a variety of dangerous climate change conditions across the country in recent months. This underscores the importance of every sustainability measure we can implement to bring down rising global temperatures and build resilience in our infrastructure.

 

Solar in Easthampton

We do have some really good news related to sustainability: we expect to be celebrating the interconnection of our Easthampton store's solar array within a month!  As the first net zero grocery store powered by onsite-generated solar energy, this project was a huge stretch. Grocery store refrigeration requires a high level of energy. This makes the amount of solar required for net zero very substantial. In fact, we'd always heard it was too substantial to even be feasible. You can see that the solar required for our store is indeed "substantial" from the size of the canopy over the Easthampton store parking lot, but what you can't see very well from the ground is that the rooftop is covered with solar panels too. Both the canopy and rooftop are required to reach our net zero solar energy goal. We challenged our design team to show us a plan to reach net zero and they came up with a plan showing how it could be done!

Designing a system is just one step of many challenges to pull off such a ground breaking project! There have been many layers involved in pulling this together that were years in the making. We worked in partnership with Co-op Power, PV-Squared, Solar Design Associates, Eos Energy Enterprises, and Wright Builders to design and build a solar power production system on-site for our Easthampton store to be the first net zero grocery store in the U.S. using onsite solar power generation. This is a dedicated visionary team to work with!

Co-op Power partnered with EOS Energy Enterprises on the interim financing, Sunwealth stepped up for the tax credit financing, and now we are in the final stretch to get our system connected and producing power. I'm very grateful to everyone on our team for taking the risk with us to make this project a reality, and I'm thrilled that we going to be producing solar power from all we've envisioned and built very soon.

We were all anticipating that the Build Back Better solar incentives would bring in additional financial resources to enable us to fully own the system within eight years or less. Until we own it, the financial benefits to us are a 10% savings on the power we use. Once we own it we expect it to cover our annual electric bill, which is currently over $100,000 per year. Since those Build Back Better incentives are still caught up in the development of regulations for implementing them and remain unavailable, it is unknown if that eight-year timeline will be feasible. However, once we get the system connected, we will then start offsetting our annual electric power use to reach the green energy net zero goals it was designed to achieve. THAT is a much-needed win for our planet, and our key priority for this project! 

The recent extremes in weather causing disruption and varied crises locally and across the country underscore the wisdom of making net zero from onsite solar our key priority; not just to mitigate the environmental impact of our Easthampton store, but as the first grocery store to achieve this in the U.S. We can show others that this can be done even with the highly challenging energy loads of grocery store operations! 

The other key goal is to provide savings for 100 low-income families' Eversource electric bills. Co-op Power and Sunwealth have organized a community solar program with a 15% discount by dedicating the power from 50% of our canopy solar array over the parking lot to solar subscriptions. 70% of the slots have been subscribed. When we reach 100%, the system will be ready to interconnect with Eversource. 

We all feel the burden of increased electricity costs over the last couple of years. As an organization using close to a megawatt of electricity to operate our Easthampton store, we can greatly empathize with the added financial burden of these cost increases. We are really happy to be able to give 100 community members some support for saving on their electric bills through our solar power system. Since we need all the power available to be subscribed for before we can connect the system, we need some more subscribers to reach the goal of powering up our solar array from the sunshine for our co-op's operations and for our participating community solar subscribers.

These solar subscriptions are now available to any Eversource customer living in an environmental justice community (as defined by Mass DOER) highlighted on this map: tinyurl.com/3e2v9k2r. Type in your address to see if you qualify. If you do, send a picture of each page of your electric bill to Lynn Benander at Co-op Power (solar@cooppower.coop or 413-552-6446 [cell]), and she can tell you how the program will work for you based on your energy use!


Thank you for your support of our local farmers, all you do for the environment, and your support every time you choose the co-op for your groceries. 

Grow Food Northampton Donations:
https://givebutter.com/gfnfloodrelief

Mountain View Farm Donations:
https://www.gofundme.com/f/mountain-view-farm-flood-damage-fund

Sobieski's River Valley Farm Donations:
https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-fund-sobieskis-river-valley-farm


A Big Community Welcome to the Arrival of Summertime!

June 24, 2023
 

 
 

Three big things signal the arrival of summertime to me. The lengthening of the daylight hours, the summer solstice, which reaches its peak on June 21st, is one. The ripening of the year's local strawberries in June is another. Another signal that has been a tradition since June of 2009 (with a long pause for the pandemic) is our annual Strawberry Ice Cream Social event, when we throw a big community party for a good local cause at the co-op on the patio. This event has been attended by hundreds of community members every year and is fun for kids of all ages. We also broke a record with over 600 attendees and raised a record $6,710 to be split between the two nonprofits we selected this year!

The Strawberry Ice Cream Social was held on our Easthampton store patio from 5 - 8 p.m. on June 15th. The local strawberries have been terrific this year! We featured Bart's Homemade Ice Cream (and Herrell's for a non-dairy option, of course) and made nearly 500 local strawberry ice cream sundaes! We also grilled sweet corn (not local yet) and local grass-fed burgers from Bridgmont Farm in Westhampton, MA, as well as our own house-made vegan black bean burgers and a selection of salads and house-made fresh local strawberry lemonade. Staff from both stores were on hand to prepare and serve it all up!


 

Big Wheel Press participated in the festivities with a beautiful commemorative card they designed for the event that you could print on a 1940s letterpress. Kids of all ages had fun printing their strawberry cards. Big thanks to Bill Muller of Big Wheel Press!


 

There was also live music by Sasha K.A to add local music to what turned out to be a perfectly beautiful evening after a few days of much-needed rain. Thank you to Sasha, lead guitar and vocalist, who was still just a kid in school while his mother Andrea worked very hard helping to open our first store in Northampton in 2000. Andrea worked as an advisory Board Member and then multiple years on our Board of Directors before our store opened in 2008, and after we opened as well. Now with a family of his own in Easthampton, his daughter joined in the co-op festivities continuing the family River Valley Co-op tradition.


 

Another co-op tradition with the Strawberry Ice Cream Social gathering is to honor some of our local co-op heroes with our Austin Miller Co-op Hero Awards. We honor a nonprofit, an individual, a local farm, and a local business that has been a hero to our co-op and community. I will tell you a little about each of them, but first, I need to tell you about Austin Miller. The awards were not always named Austin Miller Co-op Hero Awards. They used to be called simply Co-op Hero Awards. Austin Miller was the first to receive the award in 2009. A lot of people did amazing things to help get our first store open: outreach committee members, Board Members, founding co-op members, other food co-ops, many people from near and far that specialize in food co-op development, city and state officials, our lenders, landlord, lawyers, builders, consultants, and suppliers. Austin Miller was also an important part of our start-up team. He was a founding co-op owner, and he did specialized work in his community development profession through MBL Housing and Development in Springfield. His work was helping community organizations navigate and secure development funding for projects like building shelters for battered women, food banks, housing for people experiencing homelessness, animal shelters, schools, and more. Projects that were considered "too risky or unbankable by the prevailing banking standards" were his specialty. Austin took a lead role in supporting our co-op in securing millions in economic development funding which was key in leveraging the financing required to open our Northampton store. Bank after bank said “no” to our start-up, even after our community raised over $1 million for the project. Austin stepped up to the challenge and worked quietly behind the scenes to bring a group of lenders together to say yes in March of 2007 finally, and then, at long last, construction began. We opened a year later in 2008!

Austin sadly passed away two years after our store opened. To memorialize his quiet but heroic persuasion that helped us clear the final hurdle for opening River Valley Co-op in Northampton, we named our Co-op Hero Awards after Austin Miller. So much good has come to our community due to Austin's work, which enabled us to build and open our co-op. We'll always be grateful to Austin Miller for believing in our dream of a community-owned co-op that supported local farmers and the community. Our Austin Miller Co-op Hero Awards are one way we express gratitude to our community members for their amazing heroic work quietly behind the scenes. Each award winner receives $500 along with a certificate.


Nonprofit Austin Miller Co-op Hero Award

This year, we have begun thinking deeply about the crisis in our system for childcare and its impact on our employees and the wider community. Childcare in Massachusetts is the country's most expensive, yet childcare workers' pay is low, and there is a shortage of people to fill the needs. The pandemic added challenges to an already stressed and inadequate system resulting in the loss of many childcare organizations nationally, throughout our state, and locally. The waiting lists average 18 months for placement, and there are also waiting lists for financial aid vouchers. This combination of challenges has resulted in many parents, especially women with children, leaving the workforce due to a lack of accessible and affordable childcare. This crisis has set back the slow gains the women's movement has made toward closing the economic gap in equity between men's and women's earnings by decades. The current childcare crisis is projected to have a lasting negative impact on the economic status of women, and the overall health and well-being of children. There is a need for childcare for over 200,000 infants in Massachusetts alone, yet Massachusetts has a licensed capacity for only about 53,000. In our workplace, we have seen fewer women applicants, and we know that the lack of childcare is a key cause of the overall shortage of workers nationwide since the pandemic. What impacts our community also impacts our co-op.

We've been talking to many local childcare providers to learn more about the challenges in our community and are in conversations to discuss ideas for collaboration to help address these challenges locally. All childcare organizations are doing heroic work and have been for years, but we had to narrow down our award to just one nonprofit. This was so hard that we decided to award two childcare nonprofits to split this year's award instead. So without further ado, the 2023 nonprofit Austin Miller Co-op Hero Awards go to the parent cooperative Nonotuck Community School in Florence and the abolitionist New Village Preschool in Northampton! Both schools focus on social justice and work to pay their employees well. They provide a supportive and collaborative environment between the parents, staff, and children. We are talking with both organizations as well as others about potentially working together in ways that will support our employees' childcare needs as well as the wider community. New Village has expansion plans already in the works to add infant care.

Each school was awarded $500 and will split the $6,710 in proceeds from the Strawberry Ice Cream Social. In addition, Nonotuck Community School and New Village Preschool will split the June Change for Change contributions at the co-op's check-outs. We hope this reaches close to $10,000 with your continued generous rounding up on your co-op purchases through the end of the month.

New Village Preschool accepting the Nonprofit Austin Miller Co-op Hero Award
 

Shawna, executive director of Nonotuck Community Schools, accepts the award

 
Individual Austin Miller Co-op Hero Award

This year's Individual Austin Miller Co-op Award goes to our long-time volunteer Board Member, Alex Risley Schroeder! Alex has served on our Board over the last nine years, a time of significant organizational change. In 2014, Alex's Board candidate statement included the following comments:

  • I believe River Valley Co-op plays a significant role in spurring economic development and job creation, and I want to support this activity and future opportunities;
  • My professional and community work focuses on building a sustainable economy, of which the co-op is a vital piece;
  • In my experience, fostering productive relationships and addressing complex issues requires listening, respect, participation, and kindness. I will bring this approach and my skills to serve River Valley Co-op's Board.

Over the last nine years, Alex has stepped up to the role of Director and served in several officer roles for the Board over the years, including clerk and vice president. She took on our co-op owner loan campaign work with passion and enthusiasm. She asks good questions, offers thoughtful insights and ideas, embraced our expansion project with her excellent leadership skills, and always serves the co-op's needs with kindness. Looking back on the changes we've made over the last nine years, you can see the fingerprints of Alex's leadership skills and passion for building a sustainable community throughout our co-op. Alex was a key leader on the Board of Directors team that brought the Easthampton store to fruition while also nurturing the Northampton store's growth and development. Thank you, Alex, for being a rock star of a Board member over these past nine years!

 
Local Farm
/Food Producer Austin Miller Co-op Hero Award

This year's annual Austin Miller Co-op Hero Award goes to Our Family Farms. Our Family Farms began as a local milk marketing cooperative with local dairy farm members in 1997. They formed the co-op with the hope that by working together to market their milk locally, they could keep the dairy farms that had been in their family for generations and secure them for future generations.

Farm policy and market pressures from huge corporate-owned industrial dairy farms have caused multi-generational family-owned dairy farms to disappear at an alarming rate throughout the country. In Massachusetts, nearly 900 family dairy farms were in operation 25 years ago. Ten years ago, less than 200 remained in operation, and today there are fewer than 100. Our Family Farms has been working toward opening its own milk processing and packaging plant, and that dream became a reality this year. Our Family Farms members have 2,100 acres of land under multi-generational land stewardship, provide 15 full-time jobs, and have 500 well-cared-for dairy cows. They have been our co-op's leading milk brand since we opened for business in 2008, and we consider them strong partners with us and in the local food movement. We couldn't be happier that they have succeeded in opening their own milk processing and packaging plant! Got milk? Go Our Family Farms!

Angie Fauci and multiple generations of family members accepting the award

 
Local Business Austin Miller Co-op Hero Award


This year’s Austin Miller Co-op Hero Award for a local business goes to Pangaea Sushi! We first met Poe of Pangaea in 2010, when he arrived to manage the sushi stand in our Northampton store for the large company that provides this service to grocery stores. He immigrated from Myanmar in 2004. In 2013, his wife, Su Su, a school teacher, also immigrated to the U.S. and joined him in the business. She became a U.S. citizen working through the Center for New Americans. In 2017, she presented a proposal to the co-op for a contract with her new family-owned sushi company, Pangaea.

We had grown to know Su Su and Poe well as a vital part of our co-op's supplier network, and we deeply respected their work and expertise. We were happy to sign a new contract to give them autonomy over their business. They very successfully expanded to our Easthampton store with us and also expanded to the Brattleboro Food Co-op. They are deeply involved with the community, including the Center for New Americans and the International Language Institute, and they also teach a sushi class each year for Northampton High School. They are active in the Burmese community and participate in the Connecticut Myanmar Community and the New England chapter of Citizens of Burma. Since the Myanmar Military Coup in 2021 that killed and imprisoned opponents and attacked innocent civilians to consolidate power, Poe has been an activist supporting the Myanmar resistance and refugees with fundraisers through working with these organizations. A big thanks to Pangaea for the wonderful fresh sushi you make every day, and to Su Su and Poe for all you do for our community and beyond!


 

The Strawberry Ice Cream Social is a celebration of gratitude for the summer sun, the ripening of the strawberries, and the abundance of local growers and all the local food growing all around us. It is also a celebration of gratitude for our local community's support in building a better future by working together. Many thanks to those who participated, including those who grew the food and the many co-op staff that prepared the food, organized the event, and cleaned up afterward. It was a wonderful celebration. I wish you all sweet, juicy, good things this summer!

 

 


Happy 15th Birthday!

April 28, 2023

As our wild black bears emerge from their dens with their cubs and the famous "Hadley Grass" emerges from our valley's rich soil, you know spring has arrived and it's time to celebrate River Valley Co-op's birthday. On April 30th, we are celebrating our 15th year! 

Congratulations and much gratitude to all that dreamed of, organized, planned, developed, launched, nurtured, and grew the vision of a community-owned retail food co-op that supports local farmers and food producers into a vibrant reality. This includes the 15,000+ co-op owners, 350+ local farmers and food producers that supply the co-op with fresh local foods, and our 240 wonderful and dedicated co-op employees that keep the store going seven days a week to provide a great variety of fresh, flavorful, and healthy food to our community. Thank you and happy 15th birthday!

How We Got Started
River Valley Co-op started as an idea that began with conversations among friends in living rooms and around kitchen tables in 1998. This idea slowly took root and sprouted into community organizing to launch our retail food co-op in Northampton. Ten years of dedicated volunteer efforts built momentum, built community, overcame various obstacles and setbacks, and resulted in the launch of our retail co-op opening in 2008. At that time, our start-up food co-op was one of only a handful of new food co-ops to open since the 70s. 

Challenges, Barriers, and Hurdles
Like any independent start-up business with more ideals and vision than money, River Valley Co-op faced many barriers. Northampton had a challenging real estate market where commercial property owners preferred national chain tenants with deep pockets to guarantee 20-year lease payments, even if the business closed. Grocery is a very low-margin and highly competitive industry dominated by huge corporations, which are capital-intensive to build, equip, and stock. This doesn't make a start-up co-op grocery business, equally owned by hundreds of community members who each invested $150, appear to be a good candidate for a loan from a bank. And, in Northampton, much of the suitable potential grocery store real estate had deed restrictions that a corporate grocery competitor placed on them in the '60s. This prohibited any business "that sold products that were or could be sold in a grocery or department store" from locating on those properties for 50 years (ending in 2010). 

Between A Rock and A Hard Place...the Rock Was Good! 
Despite these challenges, nearly two thousand community members joined as co-op owners to support the work to open River Valley Co-op. Ten years of persistent enthusiasm for the vision fueled the community's efforts to overcome these hurdles. 

The unusual real estate choice, a stone quarry formerly owned and operated by the city for a source of gravel to build roads from the 1870s to about 1921, was largely driven by the local real estate challenges. After years of work, we found ourselves between a rock and a hard place with no other viable location within our reach. 

The old quarry appeared to be the only location large enough to meet our needs, that no national chain was likely to want, or that had one of those corporate grocery deed restrictions. And most importantly, the owner was willing to work with our start-up co-op business with a reasonable long-term lease. They also gave us the time we needed to raise all the funds needed to build and open the store.

A feasibility study showed that although unconventional, the old quarry would be a good place to start our food co-op. In order to leverage the loans and economic development funds required to build it, we needed to raise $1 million in unsecured loans from our co-op owners.

The community came together to support this location with $1.1 million in individual loans from about 250 co-op owners within six months. It would take another 1.5 years to finalize the bank financing while we sat on pins and needles through a series of rejections. The Bank of Western Massachusetts came through for us on our senior debt in partnership with an additional group of various micro-lenders and cooperative-focused lenders, including Common Capital, The Cooperative Fund of the Northeast, LEAF, the National Cooperative Bank Capital Impact, and CEI Capital economic development funds. The final funding came from 50 individual food co-ops from across the country, which guaranteed the National Co-op Bank Capital Impact loan for us with $400,000 in cash. This complicated financing endeavor was nothing short of a miracle to reach the $7.4 million in financing to build and open our co-op store. That miracle had many hands joined together over a sustained period to pull it off.

Opening the Store
As much work as it takes to open a food co-op, it is a drop in the bucket compared to all  the work it takes to make it actually work. We opened on April 30th, 2008, as the largest start-up food co-op that anyone knew of, as well as one of the only new co-op start-ups since about 1980. Thankfully, we started with about 70 employees joining our staff to get store operations off the ground. It was hard work with all the new employees in an all-new building and all-new business. But we rose to the occasion and made great progress, even though our cash was very tight and the overall economy began the worst recession in decades. The work of those first employees put together the store, ironed out the systems to make the operations flow, and made it a place where people wanted to work, shop, and belong as co-op owners.  

After working for years to open the new co-op, I remember thinking what a tough blow it was to have it coincide with the worst recession in decades. But reflecting a few years later, I realized it was actually the perfect time. We managed to squeak through getting our financing before the recession hit. The additional sales local food producers had due to our opening supported them through these challenging times. The recession also strengthened our community's sense of prioritizing the value of supporting local food producers, cooperatives, and locally-owned businesses. Between the good work of the staff and community engagement and support, we made it through those challenges and grew the business beyond our ten-year projections within three years.

A One Co-op, Two Stores
As we continued to grow, we saw we would soon be outgrowing our Northampton facility. So, we began planning for a second store in 2014. We began with a multi-year plan which included engaging our community with a $2 million co-op owner loan campaign for a remodel to upgrade our facility and equipment. The plan also included strategically building our staff capacity and refining our systems towards a goal of being prepared to staff two stores with a significant number of experienced employees.

The community enthusiastically supported the concept, and when we secured a potential site in 2019, over 350 co-op owners made individual loans totaling $5.4 million for opening the store in Easthampton. More miracles were involved in launching that co-op store, too, including another property owner willing to be patient while our co-op (with over 12,000 owners and more ideas and vision than money) raised the funds needed to build and open the store. 

We secured the other financing needed for the $20 million project at the end of January 2020 and began construction in early February. This financing included senior debt from bankESB, with additional support from the Cooperative Fund of the Northeast, and economic development support from a group of community development nonprofits, including MHIC, VRV, NCIF, and the Capital One Reinvestment Fund. 

The pandemic arrived here shortly after we began construction. Our timing once again enabled us to squeak our financing in before credit tightened up due to national economic conditions. Fortunately, we had
pre-ordered steel for the building before the steep price increases and long delays in the supply chain hit. 

Our store and management staff did a great job of rising to the challenges of operating the store as safely as possible through COVID. Our dedicated and skilled staff team was able to take on the dual challenges of COVID and the preparations to open the Easthampton store. We opened the Easthampton store on July 1st, 2021, adding 80 new staff positions and promoting over 50 people to higher-level positions. Once again, our wonderful staff rose to the challenge of opening a new store and ironing out all the operations to make it a place where people wanted to work, shop, and to belong as co-op owners! We now have over 240 employees, 90% of them full-time, with over 100 working in each store and another 20 administrative staff working in the Florence office.

Groundbreaking, Solar Power, and More Positive Impacts
We included a solar array over our parking lot and roof in the Easthampton store designed to produce the amount of electric power the store uses over the course of a year to reach net zero with our own on-site solar power. We partnered with Co-op Power and PV-squared on this project. This is a groundbreaking project as the first grocery store to reach net zero. We are also able to provide solar-powered electricity to over 100 low-income households at a 15% discount with this solar power generating system! We aren't there yet, as we are still working on the interconnection, but we are very close to finalizing it by this summer. 

We've done so many big and small projects together over the last 15 years. It is such a cool thing that our community came together to do this and continue doing so. So, whether you are a co-op employee past or present, a new co-op owner that just joined to support our work or an early founding co-op owner that worked for years to help open the store, or one of our 350 local food producers that supply our store, happy co-op birthday to one and all!

Our co-op doesn't generate a lot of profits. In fact, we have not been profitable over the last few years. This is due to the large investment we made in the expansion, which will take another couple of years before we are operating at a financially sustainable level. Reaching a  sustainable financial level is important, but making a profit for shareholders isn't why we are in business. We use our co-op business to generate a positive economic impact for our community with full-time Union jobs, over $10 million in annual wholesale purchases from local food producers, and support for a wide variety of nonprofits. This is what we have been increasingly successful with over the last 15 years through our consumer-owned cooperative business of providing flavorful, fresh, local, and organic food to our community.

Over the past 15 years, we have opened our start-up food co-op and grown it to two stores, plus an administrative office location halfway between them. We have over 15,000 co-op owners, over 350 local farmers and food producers that supply us, and more than 240 employees, 90% of whom are full-time. Sales have grown from our first year's $8.4 million to this year's projected $48 million. This didn’t just happen. Our community has worked together to grow good things with our co-op every step of the way.

Co-op, Asparagus, and Black Bears
It takes a long time and a lot of people to grow a food co-op. It is similar to growing asparagus, which takes years of nurturing its roots before it is established and strong enough to sustain being harvested. But once its roots are well-established, like asparagus, a food co-op is special. And like asparagus, a food co-op continues to thrive and grow stronger every year with ongoing nurturing and care! Co-ops, like asparagus, also symbolize the growing resilience of perennials and renewed hope of spring. This is why we have asparagus in our logo. Not only is asparagus part of our local food history, but it also provides a good metaphor for our co-op story. Our logo also includes our black bear, which our co-op owners named Ursula Marjoram. Ursula symbolizes our connection to the earth and the environment and just how “wild” we are about local! Bears also represent healing and provide guidance on our journey. And interestingly, even though they biologically have the power to be an apex predator, they are omnivores that enjoy a varied but largely vegetarian diet of greens, berries, and nuts, which also seems to offer wisdom for making a choice of living more gently on the earth.

Happy Spring, Happy Earth Month, and Happy 15th River Valley Co-op birthday! 




Good News for Making Healthy Local Food Accessible!

April 1, 2023

We all know that the recent reduction in SNAP benefits is adding additional stress and food insecurity for low-income families and individuals, including many of our co-op customers and owners. Currently, we have over 1,600 co-op customers participating in our Food For All program. This program gives our low-income customers a 10% discount on grocery purchases from the co-op. Participation in the Food For All program has grown dramatically over the past couple of years, reflecting our community's increased economic stress. This year, Food For All purchases are expected to reach $3 million. That means the co-op is providing a $300,000 reduction in our low-income families' grocery bills through the Food For All Program.

Starting April 5th, we are launching a new feature for a weekly selected local product offered at no charge to help support our Food For All participants. We are starting with one selected product. As the local growing season gets into full swing, we expect to include multiple offerings in our weekly free product rotations.

Adding this weekly free local food offering to our low-income grocery discount program has been made possible by a Local Food Purchasing Assistance (LFPA) grant from the U.S. Department of Agricultural Resources. The $120,000 grant is intended to fund this program through May 2024. To date, the co-op has funded the total cost of the Food For All program. Adding $120,000 in increased local healthy food benefits for our low-income community members is both substantive and timely support that we are very grateful for.   

More about the LFPA grant

Last fall, we partnered with the local nonprofit food justice organization Grow Food Northampton to apply for this LFPA grant. Together, we were awarded a total of $222,000 to reimburse the grant-funded local purchases distributed to low-income, food-insecure families in our community. The key objective of the grant is to support local food producers that face discrimination including BIPOC, LGBTQ, and women-owned food producers. The combined purchasing power and support offered to the local producers participating in the program will increase their revenues and economic opportunity in the short and long term. This is a great partnership because both our organizations' missions prioritize strengthening the local food system and social justice. We are both engaged in work that is in alignment with multiple goals of this LFPA grant.

This joint project of Grow Food Northampton and River Valley Co-op includes research and outreach to identify local producers meeting the grant criteria to bring together a diverse group of producer partners in the project. In addition to potentially expanding support to some of our current local producers that would be eligible, we expect to develop new vendor relationships through this program. Grow Food Northampton will offer technical support for those new to wholesale, and River Valley Co-op will support marketing new vendors to our 15,000+ weekly shoppers and the wider community. We'll both offer consistent wholesale purchases giving our producer partners the opportunity to participate in Grow Food Northampton's markets and wholesale sales to both River Valley Co-op stores during the grant period and beyond.  

We will utilize the co-op's Food For All program to ensure that $120,000 of our product purchases from our LFPA grant local producers will be distributed to our low-income Food For All program participants at no cost over the course of the grant period ending May 2024. Grow Food Northampton will distribute its $102,000 grant-funded purchases through its Community Food Distribution program and markets at no cost. And, to support our local producer partners in this grant, we will be purchasing far more than the grant-funded volume of products in order to market them to our full customer base as well. This will further increase revenues for the producer grant participants, multiplying the $222,000 total grant funding allocated for local purchases in this project many times over.

Spring inspires our hopes for a new year of growing good things together.  As we look forward to the start of a new local growing season, we are also looking forward to welcoming new local producers and adding a meaningful free, local food feature to our Food For All program as a result of this grant funding. This is the first grant of this type we've received, and we hope for additional funding in the future to support our food justice initiatives.

Happy Spring and thank you for your support!

For more information about participating in the Food For All Program see our website or the customer service desk in either the Northampton or Easthampton store.


December 30th, 2022

2022: A Year with So Much to be Grateful For




Happy New Year!

As we reflect on the past year and look forward to the beginning of a new year, I am filled with a sense of deep gratitude for our cooperative community. It seems no matter what challenges we face there is always an employee, co-op owner, local vendor, or non-profit co-op partner that comes forward to bring some extra support and expertise to help us through. 

The everyday support of using the co-op for your groceries is also of the utmost importance and not taken for granted. This has been a year of high inflation for everyone, so we have worked with our purchasing co-op, National Co-op Grocers, to secure deeper discounts for you on sale items. We also worked to expand the Co-op Basics everyday low-price selections program with even better pricing to start the new year. 

Your grocery purchasing support through this last year has dramatically increased our sales with the addition of the Easthampton store. Our increased purchasing power supports better pricing for customers in both stores.  

While we all struggle with inflation, it is important to continue supporting our local food producers who also face inflation in their costs. And, I’m grateful to report that you have done that too! We increased our wholesale local purchases in FY2022 by over $3 million, skyrocketing to a new milestone of $10 million in local purchases for the year. Thank you one and all! 

Overall, our 14th year of business has been a major milestone year for our cooperative. As co-op owners, I invite you to take a little moment to appreciate the importance of your decision to participate in the cooperative movement! Here is a story to help illustrate how cooperative ownership matters. It is my version of the winter solstice origin of co-ops story inspired by my longtime friend, co-op historian, and author David Thompson’s book, Weavers of Dreams. This is a true story.



31 Toad Lane, Rochdale, England: Site of the original Rochdale food co-op


Since our earliest beginnings, people have worked together cooperatively in a wide variety of ways, but this story is about how the “modern cooperative movement” began on the winter solstice of 1844 in the northern England town of Rochdale. It is the story of people working together to develop a social justice-driven economic alternative in response to the injustices and disempowerment of the Industrial Revolution. In that time and place, the only food sources available were controlled by factory owners who offered groceries for sale to their workers. Instead of a service, these grocery offerings were another form of exploitation. To increase their profits, they notoriously offered rancid butter at fresh butter prices, added plaster to the flour, added sawdust to the oatmeal, and set the scales to weigh the workers’ bulk purchases heavier than they actually were. 

In Rochdale, a group of 28 weaving factory workers came together to create an alternative supply for groceries. After many months of organizing meetings, planning, saving their funds for their co-op member equity investments, and even running a co-op owner loan campaign, these early cooperative movement leaders secured a location for opening a food co-op owned by its customers. The weaving factory workers planned their food co-op's grand opening for Dec. 21st, 1844, after work at 6pm. 

The weaving factory owner did not want his workers to own their grocery market (as a side note to this story, I can’t help but think of the weaving factory owner as the character Ebenezer Scrooge in the Charles Dickens novel, A Christmas Carol, which was written about that time and region the year before). He schemed with the owner of the gas company to turn off the gas to the co-op’s grocery market so they wouldn’t have any lights (lights were gas-powered at that time). The weaving factory's owner's intention was to prevent the workers from opening their store in the pitch black dark of 6pm on the winter solstice.

Upon finding they had no lights for their opening, the workers quickly purchased a whole case of tallow candles from a community member and proceeded to open their food co-op by candlelight as planned on the winter solstice of 1844. They started with five products: fresh butter, flour without plaster, oatmeal without sawdust, sugar, and tallow candles. They also used a scale that weighed the bulk foods accurately.

In spite of the factory owner’s attempts to stop them, the food co-op grew quickly. Within two years, they had supported the opening of a farmer-owned co-op creamery for a source of fresh co-op-produced butter for their store and a farmer-owned cooperative flour mill that produced whole wheat flour. Whole wheat flour was not the cultural norm for flour at that time, so they launched an educational campaign about the health benefits of whole wheat compared to white flour. This effort successfully encouraged co-op customers to adopt this new local co-op product. 

These weaving factory workers developed more than a store. They developed a structure of cooperative business ownership with a system for the mutual benefit of its owners based on the principles and values of cooperation. These new cooperative principles and values were developed in consultation with some of the key social justice leaders of the times, including Frederick Douglas. They were abolitionists. They supported women’s rights to education, property ownership, and voting. They facilitated securing Frederick Douglas’s emancipation, and although it was illegal at that time, women were allowed to be co-op owners. They taught women’s literacy classes in an upstairs classroom at their co-op store. This co-op is credited with developing and inspiring a social justice-driven economic model of cooperation that launched the modern, worldwide cooperative movement of co-op business enterprises of all kinds. 

The cooperative movement soon spread across the globe, including the U.S. In our country, the cooperative movement has suffered from political, economic, and even violent repression over the years, yet it persists. 

After the worldwide economic crisis of 2009 struck, the United Nations undertook a study of places that had shown economic resilience around the world. In a 2011 report, they outlined a blueprint for a decade of cooperation based on their research. Their study revealed that places with cooperatives around the world had shown economic resilience, higher levels of women’s rights, and lower levels of child mortality rates. The report called for strategies to make cooperatives the fastest-growing type of business in the world to better address the many social, environmental, and economic issues we face. They found that co-op businesses were a more people and community-empowerment-centered form of business enterprise that improved people's lives. We are not fast at expanding, but we are working hard to do our part to grow the cooperative movement and better serve our community. 

This reminds me of something Henry Kissinger said: “Who controls the food supply, controls the people.” Who controls the food supply has always mattered. Now, five of the wealthiest people in the world control over 80% of the grocery business in North America. We are living with the extractive, unjust, disempowering, and destructive impacts of that corporate control of the food supply with its direct links to corporate control of energy. Kissinger also said that who controls the energy supply control the continent. We all see how this results in the unsustainable industrialization of food production, but there is an alternative within our reach. 

Cooperative ownership of the food supply is one way of taking back control for the people. Former Board Member Jade Barker often says it like this: “Co-ops empower communities of people to work together to determine our own future.”

Your River Valley Co-op ownership is an investment in our mission of working together to build a just marketplace that nourishes the community. Together, we grew our cooperative by nearly 46% last year. We also grew our positive community impacts. Our workforce increased by 52% compared to before the pandemic, our wholesale local purchases grew 48%, our community non-profit contributions were stronger than ever, EBT sales and our Food For All low-income grocery discounts doubled, and we are getting closer to the interconnection of our solar array in Easthampton, which will make us the first-ever grocery store to reach net zero from onsite solar power generation. It was a milestone year following years of preparation and planning. 

Thanks for taking the time to read my version of the solstice origin story of co-ops, plus a little food system editorializing! I also invite you to take a little time as co-op owners to watch the video taken of our thought-provoking, inspiring, and informative annual meeting presentations. Our keynote speaker, David Brule, a member of the Nehantic Nation Tribal Council and president of the non-profit Nolembeka Project, presented Occupied Massachusetts: Finding a Way Forward.

David also kicked off our meeting by sharing the Indigenous story of the origin of constellations. Later, local astronomer Llama shared her views on the Great Bear constellation, Ursa Major. The meeting also had a presentation by Board President Abby Getman Skillicorn, and I did a presentation as well. The meeting concluded with former Board Member Jade Barker presenting Dorian Gregory with a special thank you for over 10 years of volunteer Board service. 

We had some very enthusiastic responses to the annual meeting program this year! If you missed attending in person, the video gives you a great opportunity to be included at your convenience. You can watch it all the way through or select specific presentations, one at a time. Also, if you haven’t done so already, I invite you to read through the annual report, which has a lot of great information about our milestone year in 2022 and its many challenges. 

Happy New Year! 2023 will bring another milestone year: it will be the 15th anniversary of our Northampton opening. I’m looking forward to working with you all as we move forward together on this cooperative path. 

With much gratitude for your support and all the good things you do! 

Rochelle
 

Click play above to watch the full 2022 Annual Meeting

To watch the individual presentations, click here.
 

Mask Update

Transitioning to another phase of the pandemic

On Thursday night the Northampton Board of Public Health lifted the City's requirement for face masks to be worn in indoor public places. On February 23rd, the Easthampton Board of Health made the same decision for the City of Easthampton. Both Boards of Health also stated that businesses may maintain face mask requirements for customers and employees at their discretion.  

When Easthampton changed its policy a few weeks ago, we decided to proceed with a degree of caution to transition into this next phase of the pandemic. We recommended our customers continue to wear face masks for a while longer, but are not requiring it. We will continue with this transition phase now in our Northampton store as well, recommending but not requiring face masks for our customers. 

Recommendations for Both Easthampton and Northampton Stores

We are recommending, but not requiring, that customers in both our Northampton and Easthampton store consider wearing face masks until March 25th. This will enable our customers and staff a little more time to adjust to this change in public health policy. 

Our employees will be supporting this transition phase by continuing to wear face masks until March 25th. As always, health exemptions are accommodated in both stores.

It is important to note that the CDC still states that people with symptoms, a positive test, or exposure to someone with COVID-19 should wear a mask. Also, those at high risk for severe illness are advised to wear a mask in high-risk locations and consult with their physician about wearing masks in moderate-risk areas. See the CDC's new tool with face mask recommendations for any location by state and county for more detailed information.
It is called the "Know the COVID-19 Community Level where you live" tool and can be found here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/about-face-coverings.html 

This is an easy-to-use tool showing a scale of Low, Medium, and High. You just enter your state and county to find out what the COVID-19 Levels are where you live and work. 

Going Forward with our Daily All Masked Hour: 8am-9am

We established an All Masked Hour from 8am-9am daily in April of 2020 to support our customers needing and/or wanting that extra level of protection while shopping in the co-op. We will continue with this daily All Masked Hour requiring all staff and all customers to keep their muzzles covered (as our bear Ursula would say,) with a face mask. This has become a valued service to help support our community members with compromised immunity or other risk-related concerns. We plan to maintain this service going forward.   

In spite of our abundance of caution, we do have a great deal of confidence in the air circulation filter technology used in both stores and our office. It works by disabling viruses, as well as killing bacteria and mold in the air. We credit this system's effectiveness in helping prevent  the spread of COVID in our workplace, even during Omicron. This is only anecdotal evidence, but we have a workforce of over 200 people, most working 8 hours a day in our store with 1,000 +/- customers every day in each store. While we had some employees that contracted COVID (including many more in January than the entire rest of the pandemic), all but one had explicitly known sources of exposure outside of the co-op. One was unknown. Given the high number of employees and customers in both stores with highly variable face mask quality, our experience with Omicron certainly indicates that our co-op stores are a relatively safe environment for all our customers and employees. 

We hope this helps provide some assurance for those concerned about the lifting of the mask requirements. Back in May of 2021, we also eased into a transition in Department of Public Health requirements by strongly recommending our customers keep their muzzles covered for another month if they could, most everyone did, and it worked out great. 

Thank you!

We know our co-op owners have a wide range of opinions about wearing masks in different situations, and we all have different risk factors and situations to consider. We appreciate the high level of concern and care our community has shown to each other and our hard-working front-line co-op employees through this whole pandemic. Our staff has done great work in all the phases of this pandemic, and we have prioritized everyone’s safety from the start.  We have worked through our COVID policy decisions in collaboration with our staff through the Labor Management Committee. The sincerity of the considerations this group has for everyone involved is heart-warming.  Thank you all for your support in this next transition!

As always, we want to give both the Northampton and Easthampton Boards of Health a lot of gratitude for the care, considerations, and transparency in their public health policy. They and all our other healthcare workers have been working at public health emergency levels for two years. The Omicron surge in cases stretched our healthcare system and especially the hospitals to their capacity. Thank you to everyone involved for your service to our community! 

We are so happy for everyone to see the number of COVID cases still going down.

Thank you all for all you do!



January 5th, 2022

COVID Update: New Store Hours Begin Thursday, Jan. 6th

Dear Co-op Owners,

There is a forecast for COVID cases to keep rising in our community this week and next. This is due to holiday travel, gatherings, and events exposing more people to the virus. We have a number of COVID-related absences on our staff, stretching us thin now. We’ve decided to close our stores two hours earlier over the next few weeks. This will alleviate the strain on our staff to cover the stores while co-workers recover and complete quarantine requirements before returning to work. 
 
We plan to start the temporary reduced store hours on Thursday, January 6th this week. Our hours in both stores will be 8am – 8pm. We will evaluate staff availability and hope to return to regular 8am – 10pm hours on Monday, January 24th, or as soon as possible.
 
Nearly all the positive COVID cases on our staff resulted from a known source of contact outside the stores, but a couple are unknown. While we all know the Omicron variant is highly contagious, we feel really good about the overall safety of our stores and office due to the combined effectiveness of wearing face masks, high vaccination rates, and the filtration system we installed in all our facilities. This filtration system helps clean the recirculated air of viruses, bacteria, and molds. All these things together help to make our co-op facilities safer for everyone. 

Thank you for your patience as we go through another phase of the pandemic together. Thank you to our staff for their ongoing flexibility and teamwork in rising to current challenges, and thank you for all your ongoing support! 
 
With gratitude,
Rochelle Prunty
General Manager
 



November 24, 2021

An Abundance of Gratitude!

I am very grateful to have such a wonderful team of employees in both stores that have been working for months to prepare for this big week. We've had a few record-breaking sales days this week and we are having another great day today! This is usually the biggest sales week of the year for our cooperative and this year with two stores it is even bigger. It means a lot of people are buying a lot of local foods supporting our local farmers and food producers. And it means a lot of support for our cooperatively owned grocery store. On behalf of all of us, we are very grateful for your support of the co-op and our work to support our local food producers and the community. Thank you!

The Thanksgiving holiday itself brings up some hard issues for many community members. Not everyone has a roof over their heads or enough food to eat in stark contrast to the image of huge meals. The false story of peaceful Pilgrims celebrating together with Native Americans is a painful story for our many Indigenous community members. Thanksgiving Day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of Native people, the theft of Native lands and the erasure of Native cultures. Many Indigenous people gather at Cole's Hill in Plymouth to commemorate a National Day of Mourning on the US Thanksgiving holiday. Participants in National Day of Mourning honor Indigenous ancestors and Native resilience. It is a day of remembrance and spiritual connection, as well as a protest against the racism and oppression that Indigenous people continue to experience worldwide. We can all make a point to stop telling a colonized version of the story of the first Thanksgiving and honor the resilience of our Native American community.

Gratitude is a good thing for every day. Gratitude has the power to spread more good energy and gratitude which in turn fuels more kindness, healing, harmony, and good work in the world. 

River Valley Co-op has made it a tradition to donate to the United American Indians of New England and to Monte's March for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. We are so grateful for all the many people working for social justice and support for those in need in our community.  Thank you for all you do!

We just finished our FY21 annual report which quantifies some of the impact of all your support through this last year. It was a milestone year with operating the Northampton store through a pandemic year while also building and opening a food co-op in Easthampton. We are full of gratitude to so many, our over 200 employees, over 14,000 co-op owners, over 400 local food producers and so many more organizations and individuals: Thank YOU! 

Read the FY 2021 Annual Report here.

With gratitude,
Rochelle Prunty
General Manager
 



August 10, 2021

One Co-op: Two Stores!

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
 



11 July 2021

Hello Easthampton!

Dear co-op owners,

It has been a little over a week since we ceremoniously cut the ribbon for the opening of our Easthampton store. First of all, a big heartfelt thank you for the warm welcome we had from the community in attendance for the ribbon cutting! One of the many highlights for me was when the Easthampton fire department paraded into our parking lot with their fire trucks to join the celebration! That was quite an honor! It was also an honor to have Easthampton’s Mayor Nicole LaChapelle participate in our ribbon-cutting ceremony along with the other special guest speakers that arrived to help give the Easthampton food co-op a meaningful opening day, including:  

  • David Brule, Chairman of the Nehantic Native Nation and Chairman of the Nolembeka Project, Inc. 
  • Dorian Gregory, President of River Valley Co-op's Board of Directors
  • Rev. Dr. Andrea Ayvazian, Founder and Director of the Sojourner Truth School for Social Change Leadership 
  • Jonathan Wright, Founder and Senior Advisor of the co-op’s general contractor, Wright Builders, Inc. 
  • Massachusetts State Senator John Velis 
  • Massachusetts State Representative Dan Carey
  • Moe Belliveau, Executive Director of the Easthampton Chamber of Commerce
  • River Valley Co-op Board Member Emily Laine with Ursula Marjoram, our bear

We counted about 250 people in attendance for the ribbon-cutting. The crowd included our heroic bankESB friends Maureen Mahar, Nathaniel Munson, and William Judd. The bankESB is our lead funder in the complex economic development financing for building Easthampton's food co-op. This local bank, located right across the street from us, also supported us through the pandemic with PPP funding. Members of the Fedor family were there too. The Fedors' are the former property owners who so patiently worked with us over several years while we raised the funding needed to purchase the property and build the store. In addition to our project team from Wright Builders, we were joined by many of the other tradespeople and contractors involved with building the store and the solar canopy, as well as the architects and designers, and the co-op development team from National Co-op Grocers. There were longtime co-op owners, new co-op owners, and community members from our new co-op neighborhood, along with a variety of city officials, local vendors, the UFCW Local 1459, many of our local non-profit friends, members of the school committee, and co-op employees that joined the gathering for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. We shared the ceremony live on Facebook so those who couldn't be there in person could also share the moment, including our employees working in our Northampton store where we showed it on the big screen in the produce department.

Chairman Richard Neal of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee had to be in Washington on the 30th, but he came to honor us with an in-person visit a few days before the opening to wish us well. The Chairman's support of our NMTC economic development funding was pivotal in the financing for the Easthampton store as well as our startup funding in Northampton in 2007.

Thank you to all who participated in making the day so very special. We feel blessed by the opportunity to have worked with such a welcoming community with so many different people that brought a wide diversity of skills, helpful support, dedication and inspiration to this project. We were overwhelmed with gratitude and some of us, including myself, shed a few joyful tears along with some big smiles. We did something nearly impossible to do, and we did it together as a community.


The video recording of the event is available below:


General Manager Rochelle Prunty and Easthampton Project Manager Monica Nuñez

Once the ribbon was cut, the fun of inviting everyone inside to see and shop in their Easthampton food co-op began! Inside, the co-op staff that had been working so hard to prepare the store for opening went into action, opening the store for the first time together. We had more customers than we've seen in our Northampton store since pre-pandemic days. Thank you for that exciting support to kick off our opening day. This was more than we anticipated to start, and it really added to the festive vibe in the store. We were grateful for the opening support from the National Co-op Grocer's development team specialists who arrived before opening to help us set up and work with us through the 4th of July weekend.


We appreciate your feedback and support through these opening days and weeks as our staff works together to get adjusted to the workflow in this store and get to know more about meeting our customer needs in Easthampton. We plan to do our grand opening festivities in September.

Operations in a new store, while also concurrently completing all the construction and getting acquainted with a new building, means we have a lot of systems adjustments and development to do. We expect to keep getting better and better over time and appreciate your understanding in these early weeks. We are fortunate to have a really strong Director of Operations and Easthampton Store Manager in Liesel deBoor, as well as a strong management team, and many experienced co-op staff.  


Director of Operations and Easthampton Store Manager Liesel and Assistant Store Manager Dom


The department with the biggest lift in getting its operations going is the Prepared Foods department. We cook a wide variety of prepared foods from scratch, and that food production requires many more steps for getting the product to our customers than the other store categories. Executive Chef Lauren Kendierski and her team have some great plans for our Prepared Foods department, but we will be implementing them in steps.

The Prepared Foods department is really important to our store operations. The ready-to-eat foods highlight the fresh flavors of the season. Chef Lauren plans to do this with a variety of cuisine styles from around the world that feature our local vendors and the many natural and organic foods from our store shelves. It is also an important department for the community building that comes from bringing people together for meals, conversations, and events in our seating area, both inside and out. Developing the diversity of our offerings will be a work in progress over the coming months and we really appreciate your support as we go. 
 

One Co-op: Two Stores!

Opening the Easthampton store was just as momentous as the start-up opening of our Northampton store in 2008. In 2008 it was all new. At the time, start-up food co-ops were rare. We were one of about five co-op start-ups since the 1980s. No one had opened a start-up at the size that River Valley Co-op planned, and success was not a given.

Interestingly, since then, over 120 new food co-ops have opened, and there are 90 more in development right now. In comparison to our Northampton opening, our expansion project in Easthampton had all the benefits of our 13 years of operating experience and the resources we and our co-op support system had built up over time. The $15 million in first-year sales we project in Easthampton is among the highest for new stores in our food co-op system, nearly double the groundbreaking first year we had in Northampton, and double the development investment of 13 years ago. It is a major organizational step to open a second location, and we've had deep support in our community and staff for this, as well a lot of technical support from the National Co-op Grocers' development team (our co-op of food co-ops), every step of the way. 

We have heard from other co-ops that have opened multiple stores that the biggest surprise in a change from one location to two was the impact on the original location. It was helpful to have this information before it surprised us. Internally, one of the hardest aspects of this change is that we had become accustomed to constantly adapting to increasing store sales in Northampton over 13 years. To prepare for a second store opening, we added mid-level leadership positions a few years ago in hopes that we could launch our second store with many internal promotions. In the finalization of our staffing plans, the fact that we would be growing our sales by over 30% this year with two stores, both at lower sales volumes than we were accustomed to, really hit home. We planned for the Easthampton store to do $15 million in first-year sales based on our market study (this is about half what our Northampton store sales have been the last two years). We also planned for a 17% reduction in Northampton sales. This required adding a 83 staff to the overall organization to support the second store, but less total staffing in both stores than what we had been used to Northampton. Having fewer customers and staff in both stores will feel different. Many staff promotions (over 30 staff were recently promoted to higher-level positions) put us in a really strong position. Still, it also has the challenge of many people in new positions with different situations to manage. These are big changes, and change is always a bit challenging. So, as much work as it was to get the Easthampton store open (a feat made more Herculean by operating our store and doing construction through a pandemic for more than a year), the heavy lifting of working through the change from one store to two has only just begun.

I am happy to report we've had overall better sales for our initial opening period than we had anticipated. The impact on Northampton was a little less than we expected at this time, and sales were higher in Easthampton than we projected as well. We still think that sales will settle with more people doing more shopping in Northampton than Easthampton, but they may be closer in sales volume than originally projected by the end of the year. We are also in a time of transition from pandemic shopping patterns to post-pandemic shopping patterns, so many things are in flux as we watch the sales for clear patterns to emerge. July, August, and September are somewhat slower months of the year for sales compared to the rest of the year, so this gives us a chance to get on our feet at a relatively good time of year. We can adjust staffing in either store, and it will work out fine as long as we continue to reach the overall sales we projected. Starting with higher sales than we expected in our first week is a good sign, but we know we need to work hard to meet your needs well to keep people coming back in both stores. I'm also happy to report that the number of new co-op owners continues to climb. We had over 250 new owners the day we opened and every day, more people are joining. That is also a very encouraging sign!
 

What's Next in Easthampton?

We are anticipating getting our Easthampton store's EV chargers online in the coming week or so. Eversource installed the transformer on June 28th and we are awaiting the connection to their server so customers can use them. These chargers were made possible through Eversoure's EV Make-Ready grant funding. We will take the bags off them and announce it on social media when they are ready.

We are expecting our roadway entrance sign to be installed this week. That will help us feel even more officially open for business!

The solar canopy project is currently taking up about 60 parking spaces for solar panel storage and workspace. They will be installing the rails to hold the panels. Next, the panels that are parked along the wetlands end of the parking lot will be mounted on the canopy. They plan to finish by week at the end of July or early August, depending on the weather. The plan is to do a section every week so we open more parking spaces every week until it is completed. 

There is also work to be done to pour the pad for the two 50 ton solar batteries and transformer near the driveway entrance. Eversource changed the code requirements several months ago for all solar installation projects. We are still awaiting a feasible interconnection agreement. We need approval on the final engineering requirements before we can finish this step and get the interconnection for the canopy completed. It is especially challenging because we had our interconnection agreement last summer and proceeded to get financing and start building based on that plan. A number of solar installation projects are in this same situation and we are all asking for support to be able to proceed with our projects. In the meantime, we need to keep the fence up along the entrance where the driveway is adjacent to the meadow and wetlands buffer zone. Big thanks to Co-op Power, PV-squared, RBI, and Wright Builders for their long work on this project. 

The solar project has been a nail-biter at every step of the way. There is a lot to say about this, but the short story is that the current system makes it very challenging for private and community-owned solar installation projects to proceed. The reason not everyone puts a solar canopy over their parking lots is that the system requires a lot of upfront investment at high risk without clarity on utility timelines or utility charges that will be required to complete the project. We are keeping the faith, along with our partners at Co-op Power, that this will all come back together soon without added adverse impacts to our solar project plan. 

In case you missed my last article, here is some helpful background information: 

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 of 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 enthusiastic 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, remodeled the store, and 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 difficult 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, bankESB, 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 for 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. 

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! 

Thank you for all you do to support our community food co-op. 

Rochelle Prunty
General Manager
 


17 April 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
 


10 June 2020

Dear Co-op Owners,

Over the past couple of months, I’ve felt the unprecedented collective response required to fight the COVID-19 pandemic has in many ways elevated the national consciousness of our shared well-being and the importance of care and protection of each other. Making our store and staff safer through this crisis has been a collaborative process internally and we’ve had great community support as well. We’ve also engaged with a lot of local organizations to help support their work meeting new pandemic-related community needs. I’m very grateful for this supportive collaboration and community partnership through this difficult time. It is inspiring. 

The murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, followed closely on the heels of the recent murders of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, has overwhelmed us with tremendous waves of fear, grief, and anger. White supremacy, the other deadly national pandemic, is terrifying. To echo the statement of our Board of Directors, racism has been a deadly disease raging through our country for over 400 years, killing countless people. Everyday racism is causing fear, pain, suffering and death for Black people and people of color in this country. Clearly, we are long overdue for an unprecedented collective response to fight this disease.

As the days have unfolded since George Floyd was murdered, unprecedented numbers of people have already come together to call for justice and an end to racism in widespread demonstrations across every state and the District of Columbia. Despite efforts by some to silence protesters and further divide us, there appears to be momentum building for solidarity that black lives do indeed matter and that we must join together to fight racism now.

I’m hopeful we can nurture this sense of shared responsibility on a national level to effectively unite in the work to dismantle racism. I recommit to this work in solidarity with people of color. I recommit, as a white woman with much to learn, to this work on a personal level, and I also recommit to this work on an organizational level as the manager of the co-op. I’m grateful for the support and guidance of LaDonna Sanders-Redmond, our Diversity Equity and Inclusion Program Manager, as well as the many local organizations and community members providing leadership, support, and education about undoing racism.

In a recent demonstration, co-op owner Rev. Dr. Andrea Ayvazian said some things worth repeating and reflecting on, including the following: “White silence is violence. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, ‘In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.’ White people, he was talking to us. There is no such thing as passive anti-racism. There is only active anti-racism. White people, we are either part of the problem or part of the solution. So let’s get serious about creating profound systemic change. White people, I’m talking to you: let’s get busy.

Our hearts go out to all who have suffered and lost loved ones. We need to keep working together to fight the COVID-19  pandemic. We need to unite now to fight racism and dismantle the white supremacy that has long plagued our country. To again echo the statement of our Board of Directors last week, we don’t have all the answers―but at the co-op our shared cooperative values of equality, democracy, and solidarity help guide us forward in our ongoing work for a just marketplace that nourishes the community. 

Our community’s response of working together to care for each other is a good start on the work that lies ahead for building a better future. We are stronger together. Thank you for all you do!

An Update on Store Operations

Pandemic time in the co-op has been an intensely busy time for our employees. About a third of our staff have been out on leave due to a family member or themselves being in a high-risk category or having childcare issues. It has only been a few months, but the number of changes that have taken place makes it seem like years. The following summary highlights key issues, changes and what is coming next. 

Expanding Hours in Our Store

In March, we cut back our hours in response to limited staff availability to ease the stress on those working. We have now increased our staff and also expanded our store hours to 8 a.m. - 8 p.m. as of Monday, June 1st. The first hour, 8 a.m. - 9 a.m., is reserved for those 60+ or people with high-risk health concerns. By increasing our hours, we can spread people out more evenly over more hours throughout the day. Over the last few months, shopping patterns have changed―our weekdays have become our busiest days, while weekends, which prior to COVID were our busiest, have been our slowest. Also, our formally busy weekday lunch hours (12 - 2p.m.) are now our quietest. This shows how much our collective routines have changed.

We are maintaining the maximum customer count of 40 people―a current health department requirement for social distancing.   At this time, we do not have a specific date for going back to our regular 8 a.m. - 10 p.m. hours. We will make that decision based on recommendations related to COVID-19 safety for our staff and community, as well as our internal capacity.

Safety is Essential

Our priority has been to help keep everyone safer at the co-op. We've appreciated your flexibility as safety guidelines evolved and new practices were implemented at a rapid pace. You've supported our hand washing and sanitizing process, clean gloves, face masks, social distancing, limits on the number of shoppers, one-way aisles, the prohibited use of reusable packaging and bags and limited store hours with the first hour reserved for 60+ and others with high-risk health conditions. There have been a lot of changes for everyone to keep up with.

We will continue with safety measures for the duration of the pandemic and adapt them as needed. With more people out and about, it is as important as ever to remain mindful of all the key COVID fighting measures―especially in public locations. Of course, state and local officials call for self-quarantine of all persons with COVID-19, however any of us could have and spread the disease without knowing. To help protect us all from unknown exposure while shopping at the co-op, we require that you either wash your hands with soap and water or use the hand sanitizer we provide in the front entryway. We also offer, but do not require, gloves as an added layer of protection. We do require that all store customers and staff wear a face covering. We have some face masks you can purchase if you don’t have your own. A bandana or scarf that consistently covers your nose and mouth is also fine. Note that you must keep whatever covering you use over your nose and mouth at all times while inside the store. The concept of all of us wearing face masks is that we protect each other by keeping our droplets to ourselves. We are now requiring customers unable to wear face masks due to health conditions to wear a complimentary face shield in combination with attention to social distancing for shopping in our store. This is a measure we’ve developed in consultation with the Department of Health for employees unable to wear face masks due to health reasons as well. The face shields are not as effective as the face masks, however they do help mitigate the risks in combination with social distancing. Special thanks to UMass for the donated face shields. For those with allergies or health conditions preventing them from meeting our COVID-19 shopping safety requirements, we are also offering a curbside pickup service.

We know not everyone likes or agrees with everything we've implemented, but we are making these decisions based on the information we have to minimize health risks for us all. We appreciate your overall acceptance and support, as well as your feedback. It does seem that the measures we've been taking have been effective for minimizing our risk. We are very grateful for that―thank you! 

Handmade Face Mask Donations

We've had lots of people sewing and donating cloth face masks for us, as well as taking the time to thank us for our work. The beauty and care of the handmade masks and the words of appreciation have helped buoy our spirits through this unprecedented period. Thank you for your heartwarming care and support! 

National and Local Supply Chains

Through all of this, you've had patience and endured the disruptions in the national grocery supply chain resulting in erratic product availability. In my 35 years of co-op grocery business experience, I've never seen anything like this. It has been a hard couple of months for those of us working and we know it hasn't been easy for you either. We are continuing to work to bring in new vendors while seeking alternative supplies of key items that are in short supply. While the "in-stock" situation overall is much better than it was in late March and early April, we expect it to continue being erratic for the coming months. We appreciate your flexibility in brands and product options. An emerging supply shortage issue we are watching with concern is the anticipated shortage of paper grocery bags due to the combination of widespread plastic bag bans and COVID-19 restrictions on reusable grocery bags. 

The “just in time” supply chain systems for everything―from food to other essential supplies―quickly collapsed in March when the whole country was advised to stock up their pantries. The national supply systems were incapable of responding to the immediate changes needed in this crisis. Overly stocking up exacerbates the problem. At the co-op, daily deliveries of grocery staples are still falling about 30% short of what we order. This is anticipated to continue for some time. In short, our large scale consolidated national food production and distribution system is built for efficiency and profit. It has not been built to allow us to stock up and meet our needs to get through a national and international crisis like this―at least not with the level of product availability we have become accustomed to when grocery shopping. 

While we are seeing the weaknesses in the national food system, on the flip side we are seeing the strengths of local food supplies and the importance of essential workers, including immigrant workers in our food system. Local food producers are also facing challenges with the loss of customers due to the closure of schools and restaurants, the shortage of workers due in part to federal policy related to seasonal immigrant farmworkers, and the challenges of implementing COVID-19 safety measures in their operations. The good news is that local and regional independent food producers have enough diversity and flexibility to respond more quickly to changing community needs. They have come through to help fill our shelves at the co-op, as well as to fill a wide variety of community needs―from local breweries and distilleries making hand sanitizer to home deliveries and food donations. And importantly, because they are part of the community, they are more motivated to collaborate in problem-solving to address our mutual challenges.

Continuing to strengthen our local food systems and support essential workers, including our skilled immigrant farm workers, is clearly key to rebuilding our economy and communities. Cooperative businesses, cooperative values and working in partnership with local businesses and community organizations with attention to social and environmental justice are important parts of the path forward. Thank you for your participation and support!

What is next?

We are coming to terms with the reality that serving our community through the COVID-19 pandemic is not a short term project. It looks like we are going to be dealing with the disease until we have widespread effective vaccinations. This means we will need to continue with safety precautions moving forward over the coming year or more. This is longer than we originally expected when the pandemic arrived in March. That reality takes some emotional adjustment. It also requires some practical planning. 

Curbside Pickup

We have been serving up to 60 - 70 people daily with high-risk conditions by providing a curbside pick up service. We quickly put together a low-tech program for online orders and have been working to improve it over the last couple of months. Our goal has been to develop a system to support our most vulnerable community members immediately while working towards developing the capacity to roll it out to our full community. 

We are in the process of a technological upgrade which includes an online ordering program in late summer. Our goal is an improved online ordering system for the curbside pickup program and opening it to everyone by fall. We have a vision to not only provide a much-needed community service, but also to make it a fun, interesting and engaging aspect of how we do community building, support local vendors and highlight our cooperative values. 

In the meantime, we are continuing to develop our curbside program for those most at risk. For the foreseeable future, our former inside deli seating area has been repurposed for our curbside program staging area. 
  
Prepared Foods

The stay-at-home guidance included no on-site dining, so we shut down our indoor and outdoor seating areas. Even prior to that, we closed our popular self-serve fresh salad and hot foods bar, and we doubt that feature will be back. We still have great made-to-order sandwiches and pizzas for takeout, freshly made sushi, and we've expanded our Grab n' Go meal offerings and composed salads.  

We are now working on a redesign of our programs for takeout orders and meal kits to utilize a more convenient ordering, payment, and pickup system. We hope to finalize our plans and start phasing in the implementation over the coming months, so stay tuned.

Bulk Foods

We eliminated our bulk scoop bins because of potential issues with hand scoops being a heavy touch point for the potential spread of COVID-19. We also eliminated all reusable containers for the same reason. We have continued to offer bulk via gravity bins, which offer all the benefits of bulk purchasing with minimal touch and risk of contamination. We have been pre-packaging as much as we can to replace the scoop bin products. We have replaced our jars of herbs and spices with pourable containers. We are also in the process of bringing in new liquid bulk dispensers to meet our customers' needs for cost-effective quality solutions with less packaging. We don’t know when reusable packaging will be allowed again or what steps will be required for us, but the use of gloves in this department is likely for the long-term.

Thank You to our Employees

It has been nearly three months since our employees found themselves as essential workers on the front lines of a world pandemic. While grocery shopping in a world pandemic has many challenges, working in a grocery store during a world pandemic has at least many challenges―and most of us are full-time. We’ve worked through a lot of issues to improve our procedures and adapt our facility to meet the new needs for sanitizing and social distancing. We’ve all learned it isn’t easy working in a cloth face mask all day long, and a few of us are wearing face shields as the next best option because we are unable to wear the face masks. We’ve developed many new systems and keep adapting them to work better. We are so lucky to have such a talented and dedicated team. They take safety seriously, and they take their role in providing essential community service seriously. Through all of this, our employees have maintained their commitment and pride in supporting local food producers, providing delicious, fresh and healthy food, and providing authentic welcoming service. A big thank you to our co-op staff! 

Thanks again for your support! Shopping for groceries has been a whole different experience in many ways since the pandemic stay-at-home guidance began. Your ongoing support with your shopping dollars has kept us buying from our local vendors and farmers. It has also kept our staff employed at well deserved higher compensation levels as essential workers on the front lines of the pandemic. We know you have non-local options for groceries and your commitment to our co-op and the local economy makes a difference. None of us expected to be on the front lines of a pandemic crisis, yet here we are―stronger together, doing our best to serve and support our community safely and to continue working for the greater good. Thank you for your support!