Amherst Food Co-op nears opening, to hold ‘Here We Grow’ event

  • JuPong Lin, Amherst Food Co-op board member Submitted Photo

  • Andy Grant, Amherst Food Co-op outreach coordinator. Submitted Photo

Staff Writer
Thursday, March 08, 2018

AMHERST — In the planning stages for several years, the Amherst Food Co-op is entering the home stretch in getting a sufficient number of members to make the grocery store, which will be owned by customers and workers, a reality.

Andy Grant, recently hired as its outreach coordinator, said the aim is to grow from the current 363 shares, where people pay $175 for lifetime membership, to 800 members by the end of 2018.

“People should understand the co-op is being built today,” said Grant, who previously assisted in getting Just Roots community garden off the ground in Greenfield. “We want to remove barriers to food access and ensure access to healthy food for a healthy community.”

As part of this, the co-op organizers will hold a “Here We Grow!” event that will serve as an update on the co-op’s progress on March 11 from 3-5 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Society, 121 North Pleasant St.

Those who attend will get information about last fall’s professional market study by CDS Consulting Co-op, which has located a part of Amherst that can sustain a full-service natural food store, identified a preferred site, and observed that the store would be profitable after four years.

The event, where light refreshments will be served, will also introduce Grant and JuPong Lin, a new board member, showcase the co-op’s new website and feature a “story circle” where people can talk about food and its connection to their lives.

Grant can often be seen riding a bicycle around town with an attached sign about the co-op that encourages passers-by to stop him and ask him about the co-op.

While shares are $175, the co-op is also selling sponsored shares that are $75 and there are other options for discounted shares.

This reflects that the board is working hard to get the owners to reflect the larger population, including people who might not be able to afford joining.

“We’re very interested in noting there is a section of community marginalized with the food system,” Grant said.

Once the membership goal is achieved, a $1 million capital campaign will take place over six months. This “member loan campaign” will seek loans with interest rates from zero to a modest amount, Grant said.

The continued efforts to get the store up and running comes as River Valley Market in Northampton recently announced plans to locate a second store in Easthampton. This doesn’t faze Amherst’s organizers, said board president Alex Kent.

“There’s plenty of room, even with competition from Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and all the rest,” Kent said.

Grant said organizers view “cooperation among cooperatives” as a philosophy. “Cross docking,” where a supplier will make deliveries to multiple co-op sites, means more purchasing opportunities, at lower prices, and makes all the regional food cooperatives better and stronger, he said.

The co-op will focus on positive relationships with local farmers and growers, including school visits to meet farmers.

The preferred site is near downtown and on a bus route, but also has ample parking and will serve part of Amherst without a food market, Kent said. A community room is a non-negotiable part of the co-op, Kent said.

Kent said he hopes a selling point on signing up is a way for people in the area to promote their progressive beliefs. “This gives an opportunity for people to live their values,” Kent said.

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