The co-op movement grows
Manchester group hopes for 2,000 signups
By Linda A. Thompson-Odum email@example.com
Access to better food — that is the mission behind the new movement to create a Manchester Food Co-op. A group of community members has come together to launch a cooperative that will provide organic and local produce and products to the area at a reasonable price. So far the idea has caught on.
“Over the summer we got about a dozen people to sign up,” coordinator Veronica Kamerman said. She works for the School of Community Economic Development (CED) at Southern New Hampshire University. “After our first meeting [in November] we had 50. Now it’s more than 400. We hope to have 2,000 people willing to sign up by next year, and at this rate I really believe we could reach that goal by summer.”
A food co-op works by getting a group of people to buy memberships. That seed money will allow organizers to obtain loans for the rest of the money needed to open the store, an amount Kamerman estimates will be between $400,000 and $500,000. Since the store will buy straight from local producers, there is no middle man and costs are lower. Members also volunteer to help run the store, which also helps keep costs down.
The idea for the co-op came about through conversations within CED that began a little more than a year ago. Kamerman said she and professor Christian Clamp would wonder “how Manchester, the biggest city in New Hampshire, doesn’t have one. There are ones in Concord, Hanover, and New London, but not in Manchester. We wanted access to better food. There’s the farmers market, but only for a couple of months in the summer. We want access to fresh food. Healthy foods. In Manchester, 64 percent of the population is overweight or obese.”
Kamerman has two food pet peeves: iceberg lettuce and white bread. Neither has any substantive nutritional value.
“Supermarkets have some organic products, but they are in small quantities and are pricy,” she noted. “And you get distracted by things you don’t really need. Foods with hidden amounts of sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, or other sugar substitute, or high in fat. Ingredients you can’t pronounce. And who has time to read all the labels? What we’re going to have is real food, with no additives or preservatives.”
The organizers’ first steps are to hold informational meetings so the community can understand their mission. One such meeting, called “Co-op 101,” is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 14, at 6 p.m. in Academic Hall room 106 at SNHU. Customer Service Manager Josh Bourassa of the Concord Cooperative Market will lead the meeting to explain all that the co-op plans to offer. The next informational meeting will be held sometime in March. A steering committee meeting to organize work on the Co-op is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 21, at 6 p.m. in Webster Hall at SNHU.
The steering committee will create subcommittees to oversee different aspects of the start-up, such as setting membership fees, creating the Web site, and membership awareness. The plan is to find a store location in the downtown area that offers ample parking. An existing building is preferable to starting from scratch.
The organizers have created a Facebook page to help keep interested people informed. It currently has 370 members, some of which are Manchester area restaurant owners and chefs. Kamerman said the goal is to get as many people involved as possible from all walks of life.
“Once we have that critical 2,000 members, the process really can move along,” Kamerman said. “Most co-ops take two or three years to get going, but many of them didn’t have the Internet. Today it’s so easy to spread the word. In my heart of hearts, I believe we can have it going in a year. Worst-case scenario would be two years. But it has to be a grassroots effort. Nobody else will do it.”