Food Co-ops in New England are Growing a More Inclusive Economy


Cooperators from across New England and New York gathered at Greenfield Community College in Greenfield, Mass., for the 7th Annual Meeting of the Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA) under the theme, “Building an Inclusive Economy: The Cooperative Difference.” The gathering brought together 140 representatives from more than 50 food co-ops, startup initiatives and partner organizations for a day of presentations, workshops and peer dialogues.

Doug O’Brien, president and CEO of NCBA CLUSA, was the meeting’s keynote speaker. He presented NCBA CLUSA’s vision for creating a more inclusive economy and invited input from attendees on how co-ops can mobilize their shared strength to empower people in their own communities and around the world.

“People are looking for ways to empower themselves in their businesses and in their communities,” O’Brien said. “And we know that one of the best alternatives is the co-op business model.” O’Brien identified several contemporary social and economic problems—such as socio-economic fragmentation, inequality, persistent inequities and the changing nature of work—as challenges co-ops are poised to help solve.

O’Brien also noted that food co-ops already have a reputation for meeting unmet societal needs. In the 1960s and 70s, the food co-op sector provided access to healthy, natural foods and created reliable jobs as working conditions at many chain grocery stores worsened. Today, food co-ops continue to foster inclusion and provide an alternative to other grocery providers. NFCA members still proudly supply quality, sustainable food, support their local economies and employ community members in more stable and better-paying jobs when compared to traditional grocers.

“As a regional cooperative of food co-ops, NFCA is focused on helping its members collaborate, innovate and succeed,” said Erbin Crowell, executive director and NCBA CLUSA board member. “A key priority is ensuring that everyone is welcome at our co-ops—that people not only have access to healthy food, but also to membership and economic participation. NCBA CLUSA’s vision of a more inclusive economy is an opportunity for us to communicate the cooperative difference in a powerful way.”

O’Brien emphasized that today’s challenges are also opportunities for cooperatives to demonstrate the key strengths of the business model. He identified cooperators already working to impact their communities by meeting unmet needs, incorporating sustainability into their business practices, providing 21st century infrastructure and anchoring communities. Whether as credit unions, home care professionals, rural electric cooperatives or food co-ops, cooperatives continue the tradition of making communities stronger and more inclusive because of their uniquely member-focused business model.

NFCA Annual Meeting attendees said they came away enthusiastic about the direction of the cooperative movement and the future for food co-ops. “I left NFCA’s Annual Meeting with exactly what I wanted: a reinvigorated passion for co-ops,” said Ruth Garbus, Shareholder Services Coordinator at Brattleboro Food Co-op in Vermont. “What a fabulous event—one of the best and most inspiring co-op events I’ve ever attended,” said Don Kreis, Board Member of Co-op Food Stores in New Hampshire and Vermont.

A member of NCBA CLUSA, the Neighboring Food Co-op Association brings together more than 35 food co-ops and startup initiatives that are working toward a thriving cooperative economy rooted in a healthy, just and sustainable regional food system and a vibrant community of cooperative enterprise.

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