The Rise of the Co-Op Continues in Amherst

DAVID: Hello again. This is David Baird, and I’m back at Food For Thought Books, the subject of one of my stories last semester, to talk with Katherine, one of the employees I spoke with last fall. She’s here to tell us about a new project that she’s involved with to bring a new cooperative business to Amherst.

KATHERINE: Well, for the past- it’s getting close to three years now- I’ve been working on a project called the Amherst Community Co-Op. And what we are is a worker and consumer owned grocery store that will be run by both workers and consumers. We don’t have a physical location yet; we’re still in the organizing process. But a lot of what we’ve done throughout this past close-to-three years is community outreach, is try to get a sense of who lives in the community, what their needs are: the community being Amherst here. And also, just trying to figure out what it takes to open a co-op. It’s a pretty involved process.

So this project started off with several students who graduated from UMass Amherst, and we all worked in worker collectives at UMass. And we were coming from a number of places, but were inspired to start a grocery store. So it really started with Laura Mason and Nora Murphy, who are some of the fellow organizers. There are a lot of organizations in the Valley, for example, that are plugged into the cooperative moment, like VAWC for instance; the Valley Alliance for Worker Cooperatives. There are a lot of co-ops that lend specifically to co-ops in terms of banking and financial needs. We’re also part of the NFCA, which is the Neighboring Food Co-Op Association. So a lot of our work has just been figuring out what is available, what resources can people share with us, and just trying to figure out how we build this thing.

My vision right now- and there’ll be a lot of changes in this, because we’re still a ways away from opening- but ideally we’re looking at a full-scale grocery store. So one-stop shopping, a place where you can get your dry goods, your dairy, and we’ll be focusing on sourcing as much locally grown produce and goods as possible. But also sourcing from other places in order to make sure that we can be a full-scale grocery store.

Both the owners and the consumers will have direct ownership and membership of the business and will have decision-making power. Also our goal is to have the workers be collectively managed, and personally that’s what’s the most exciting thing about this project to me; the idea of creating a directly democratic workplace where workers have direct ownership over their everyday lives.

I think overall what we’re seeing is a lot of people are very excited about the idea of having participation in their workplaces, and more of a decide in where those profits go. That’s what makes a cooperative different from your typical enterprise or business. But there are lots of different kinds of co-ops that serve different needs and have different goals. So specifically; Food For Thought is a worker co-op, so the ownership and decision-making lies in the hands of the workers themselves, and in our model the worker and consumer get to come together and decide what their needs are.

I feel like the Valley is a great place for these sorts of ideas. I feel like there’s a lot of energy around creating projects around accessibility and a lot of energy around creating projects where folks really get to change the way that power’s distributed.

Right now our goal is to open our doors at some point in 2015. And that may not be the case. I mean, co-ops can take anywhere from three to ten years to open. We’re hoping it’s closer to the three-year mark than to the ten! But that said, we’re still gearing up for a membership drive which is on April 12th; it’s coming up really soon. It’s on April 12th at the Immanuel Lutheran Church in North Amherst at 4 PM, and it’s free and its open to the public. There’ll be music, and free childcare, and food and Gary Hirshberg from Stonyfield Yogurt is speaking. There’s more information on our website, which is amherstcommunitycoop.com.

Note

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