BERLIN — The Androscoggin Food Co-op recently announced its summer membership drive, as the co-op seeks to reach a membership goal of 600 members that will trigger the next step in the organization’s development phase.
Androscoggin Food Co-op Board President Peter Higbee said during an interview Monday the co-op currently has over 230 members signed up and that reaching 600 will allow the organization to do an in-depth market study to determine the location of the proposed store and the optimal size for the store.
Higbee said the member drive for the summer is themed “All together.”
“It’s about celebrating the fact that we’re able to get back out to talk with people about the co-op in public and hold fun events like movie nights,” Higbee said. “It also recognizes that the most basic need for any co-op is for people who want to make it happen to come together as members/owners of the co-op.
Higbee said that a co-op is a member-owned and controlled business that operates for the benefit of its members.
“It starts with a group of people with a common interest who organize together and pool some of their resources to address their needs,” Higbee said.
The co-op held its first movie night event Friday evening at The Commons in Gorham with a screen of “The Princess Bride.” Higbee said the group is also planning to host another movie night event in August in Berlin.
Higbee said that the idea for the co-op grew out of people in the Androscoggin Valley who wanted more food buying options.
“A typical food co-op has numerous suppliers, and the fresh food comes to the co-op just days or even hours after leaving the farm,” Higbee said. “There are no long transportation times, so instead of choosing crop varieties for their ability to be stored and moved around for weeks, farmers can choose crops for their taste and nutritional value.”
Higbee said in determining whether a food co-op could be successful, the organization has two market studies supporting the idea of a food co-op in the area.
Higbee said the store’s concept would be similar to the Littleton Food Co-op, in that the store would be a “hybrid” grocery store that would carry a mix of common brands of food along with locally-sourced fresh produce and meats. He said the co-op would have plenty of organic options but that the co-op would not be exclusively organic.
Higbee also said that the co-op would be an additional employer in the community, providing what he described as good jobs, wages and benefits for employees.
One of the other advantages Higbee mentioned was that the co-op could work directly with local and regional producers to help them plan their plantings and harvests.
Higbee gave an example of a farmer who grows carrots, being able to expand their plantings if the co-op could guarantee the farmer a ready market for their goods. He said that this type of arrangement is common with co-ops throughout the country. In this way the co-op can expand the distribution possibilities for area producers while guaranteeing more food options for owners/customers.
Higbee added that this local approach is one of the positives of the proposed co-op, owners will be local, which keeps food dollars local and benefits area growers and producers. Profits in turn are invested back into the store, which he noted can support projects like senior and member discount days.
Higbee said the main question he receives from people in the community about the co-op is when will the store be open.
“Many people think, ‘I hope this
happens, but I’m going to wait a bit to join, to see if the co-op gets enough people for a store,’” he said noting that the wait and see approach actually extends the period of time before a store can be viable.
Higbee then quoted the line from the movie “Field of Dreams” — “If you build it he will come” — and said that a food co-op does not work in the same way.
“Our version of the ‘Field of Dreams’ quote is ‘We can’t build it until they come,’” he said, adding that the opening of the new co-op is in the hands of the community now and will require having enough participants to move to the next phase.
With that in mind, Higbee said interested individuals can become a member-owner by making a one-time investment in the co-op, which would give members a say in the co-op by voting on issues and electing the board to govern the policy of the entity.
He said professional grocers and staff would run the day-to-day operations of the co-op with guidance from the board.
Those interested can go to the co-op’s website at androfood.coop or email email@example.com. Those interested in contacting the group can also send letters to AFC at P.O. Box 430, Berlin, NH 03570.