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Antrim/Francestown

A growing opportunity

Monadnock Food Co-op: Keene store a place for local producers to sell goods

  • At Bakery 42 in Antrim, owner Cynthia Crockett gets set to send off a delivery of bread to the Monadnock Food Co-op in Keene, which opened April 3.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Brandon Lawrence)

    At Bakery 42 in Antrim, owner Cynthia Crockett gets set to send off a delivery of bread to the Monadnock Food Co-op in Keene, which opened April 3.

    (Staff photo by Brandon Lawrence)

  • At Bakery 42 in Antrim, owner Cynthia Crockett gets set to send off a delivery of bread to the Monadnock Food Co-op in Keene, which opened April 3.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Brandon Lawrence)

    At Bakery 42 in Antrim, owner Cynthia Crockett gets set to send off a delivery of bread to the Monadnock Food Co-op in Keene, which opened April 3.

    (Staff photo by Brandon Lawrence)

  • At Bakery 42 in Antrim, owner Cynthia Crockett gets set to send off a delivery of bread to the Monadnock Food Co-op in Keene, which opened April 3.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Brandon Lawrence)
  • At Bakery 42 in Antrim, owner Cynthia Crockett gets set to send off a delivery of bread to the Monadnock Food Co-op in Keene, which opened April 3.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Brandon Lawrence)

Food cooperatives, more commonly referred to as food co-ops, continue to spring up across the country as the economic idea to help support local vendors becomes a national phenomenon.

A food co-op is a grocery store that typically offers minimally processed foods from local providers, and is collectively owned by members of the public. With the April opening of the Monadnock Food Co-op store at 34 Cypress St. in Keene, local business owners now have the opportunity to stock its shelves with their products.

The Monadnock Food Co-op had a soft opening April 3, and participating business owners and shoppers could test the co-op’s operations. The grand opening celebration was held June 20 through the 22 and included a formal community ceremony on June 21, plus demos with local vendors so that shoppers could sample products.

A board of directors was elected prior to the co-op’s opening, and they have set a one-time $200 membership fee to join the organization; there are no dues to shop there, though. Each member is also a part-owner, and has a say in store operations. The co-op hit 1,000 member-owners in the summer of 2012 — slightly less than a year before its opening. Now, they’re at 1,670.

The store’s products come from 125 vendors, all within 100 miles of Keene, and about 30 of them are farmers.

Several business owners in the area say being involved with the co-op is a way to get, not only their products on the shelves, but also some exposure.

“They contacted me a couple of months prior to opening,” said Jason Martel, owner of Village Foods in Francestown, in a June 25 phone interview. “Shortly before the opening we got into the building and started stocking our products.”

Martel said that Village Foods provides the co-op in Keene with frozen products, including meats and baked goods.

Village Foods has product in a few other food co-ops around the state, and some in Vermont as well, but none are as close to home as Keene. Martel said his company is in the process of stocking a few more Market Baskets in the New England region as well.

“What they’re doing [with the new co-op] is fantastic,” Martel said. “They have a lot of support, and without question it’s a great opportunity for us.”

Cynthia Crockett, the owner of Bakery 42 in Antrim, sends deliveries of four different types of artisan bread to the Monadnock Food Co-op three times a week. Bakery 42 is one of three local bread vendors that sends its handmade products to the Keene store. Crockett signed up with the co-op about a year ago, she said in an interview at her bakery Tuesday.

“You have to work out the bugs initially, but things are now going very well,” Crockett said. “We get good feedback from the customers.”

She added that Bakery 42 sends its products to other small grocery stores, including the Dublin General Store and Harvester Market in Greenfield, but this is the first time Crockett’s bakery is in a co-op.

Bakery 42 does not use any additives or preservatives of any kind, and tries to use as much local product in baking as possible, she said.

For Craig Thompson, owner of Mayfair Farm in Harrisville, the co-op and its networking opportunities have already helped his business’ production double, and the size of his staff has gone from three to six paid employees since a year ago.

“There are customers we’ve reached through the co-op that we wouldn’t otherwise reach,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday. “The biggest obstacle for farmers is reaching customers. [The co-op] has helped increase our general visibility in the area.”

Thompson spoke as a featured guest at the grand opening in June, while his father-in-law offered beef and egg samples from the farm to customers all three days of the grand opening weekend.

Crockett said that people in the Monadnock region want local food vendors to thrive to help boost the New Hampshire economy.

“The co-op is a way for the community to be supporting itself and to basically provide for itself,” she said.

Martel’s Village Foods is in the process of relocating to a new facility in Milford, which is currently undergoing a USDA-approved kitchen installment. Hopefully, Martel said, Village Foods will be operating from the new location by the end of August or early September. The move is expected to give the company an opportunity to produce more of its products at a faster rate.

The co-op is a great way to get a feel for the different types of food produced in the area, he added.

“If you’re in Keene, you have to check it out,” Martel said. “Co-ops afford people the opportunity to shop for local foods and have lots of local vendors with their products all in one place.”

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