Amherst Co-op seeks to raise its profile with event Friday

Staff Writer
Thursday, February 16, 2017

AMHERST — A cooperative grocery store that would provide one-stop shopping, a small cafe and a community room for political organizing and exchanging information could be a counter to events happening at the national level, says the president of the Amherst Food Co-op board.

For Alex Kent, the “now more than ever ” push, which begins with a winter member-building event Friday, aims to bring on board more people in support of the worker and community hybrid co-op, and to get Amherst to join other area communities that already have similar stores.

“Basically a co-op is a political act,” Kent said. “It is, in fact, an act of resistance, because it’s not depending on corporations that are owned by capitalists and that exist for their own benefits, and not the community’s.”

At 5:30 p.m. at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 867 North Pleasant St., people are invited to come together in a song and celebration event that will raise the profile of the co-op, advance its goals and impress people to join.

There will be performances by Peter Blood and Annie Patterson of Rise Up Singing and Moonlight and Morning Star, a multi-cultural, soulful singing duo, along with food provided by Franklin Community Co-op and River Valley Co-op and coffee from Dean’s Beans. People are also encouraged to bring their own dishes to share.

Co-op food markets have proven successful, with River Valley Co-op in Northampton, Green Fields Market in Greenfield, the Village Co-op in Leverett and McCusker’s Market in Shelburne Falls, but in the seventh year of planning organizers in Amherst are still trying to hit milestones.

Kent said it takes a one-time, $175 investment to become a member.

“We’re hoping with this event we’ll be able to reach the internal milestone of 300,” Kent said.

Goal: 300 members

The Amherst Food Co-op needs to hit 300 to commission a market feasibility study by CDS Consulting Co-op that will tell organizers whether Amherst can support a co-op and if so, how big and where it should be located.

Kent said he would like to see it downtown, but that limited parking and high rents may make such an enterprise more feasible in a village center, such as East Amherst, where College and South East streets intersect.

The member-building event will also solicit donations that will pay for the $20,000 market study, which are tax deductible through the Co-operative Fund of New England. Officials will also attempt to find people willing to serve on the board, including committed organizers, people with development skills and community leaders.

“We have to find these people and have them connect to the project,” Kent said.

If the feasibility study happens this summer, Kent said the hope is to have a forum in September to present results. Then the co-op can move forward with looking for sites and figuring out how to build a store to open in 2019.

“By this time next year were hope to have attained a site and be in the process of building a co-op,” Kent said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.