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Food Co-Op Gives Customers Ownership In Market

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(credit: shoppersfood.com)

(credit: shoppersfood.com)

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BOONSBORO, Md. (AP) — Most people don’t own part of their local supermarket.

But that isn’t the case with members of Valley Co-Op near Boonsboro.

Co-op coordinator Chris Madeo said not only are co-op customers the owners, but much of the food is grown or raised locally. The concept not only allows co-op members to know where there food is coming from, but it gives them a chance to support area farmers.

“This is our first year. We’re trying to work out the kinks,” Madeo said. “Right now it’s a break-even kind of thing. It will be a business investment in the future.”

The co-op offers all kinds of foods, including beef and dairy products, and several varieties of rice and maple syrup.

“This is my very first pickup,” co-op member and Waynesboro, Pa., resident Ralph Opitz said. “They have a lot of different varieties.”

Opitz said he belonged to several food co-ops before he moved to the Tri-State area from Minnesota.

“It gives you a sense of community to be able to purchase locally produced products,” he said. “It’s reassuring to know where the food is grown.”

Madeo said the co-op is trying to boost its 72-person membership and will have a public meeting on the first Sunday in May at the co-op on Stottlemyer Road near Boonsboro. The current membership fee is $20 per year, she said, but that might increase in the future.

A lot of the vegetables are grown on the co-op’s 10-acre property by resident farmer Mary Cottone. Madeo said co-op members are encouraged — but not required — to plant vegetables and do other work around the property.

Funkstown resident Glen Sargent said he helps with the bookkeeping duties.

“We like the idea of having locally grown organic food,” Sargent said. “We try to make it as natural as we can. I think there’s a lot to be said about growing locally. It encourages local farmers to produce for organizations like this.”

Sargent said that in addition to supporting local farmers, co-ops cut fuel costs because the food doesn’t have to be delivered over long distances.

“It’s not only about obtaining food,” he said. “It helps the environment.”

Mary Creek, co-owner of Palmyra Farm Cheese LLC south of Hagerstown, said her yearlong relationship with Valley Co-Op has helped increase her company’s sales and profile in the community.

“Most importantly, Valley Co-Op is helping to connect consumers directly to the source of their food,” she said. “Financially, it is helping area farmers to sell their products … it is also allowing us to have more direct contact with consumers, and to develop a relationship that informs, educates and nourishes our buyers.”

John Gonano, co-owner of Back Creek Bend Farm in Hedgesville, W.Va., said that although Valley Co-Op isn’t the only purchaser of Back Creek’s beef products, it is an important part of the business’ sales.

“It is a growing idea, with others popping up around the area,” Gonano said. “It is good for the farmer because he is connected to new customers he might not have otherwise met and the product delivery is simplified by bringing it to a single drop-off point. It is good for the customer for the same reasons.”

Madeo said members can use the co-op’s website at http://www.valleycoop.org/about/store.htm to view the available food items and place their orders. Members who don’t have Internet access can order over the phone.

She said most of the food that the co-op provides is just as expensive or more expensive than groceries purchased in supermarkets, but they’re trying to drive costs down by recruiting more members to buy in bulk.

The co-op site on Stottlemyer Road is temporary, Madeo said. Members are working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to do a feasibility study that will determine, among other things, the best location for a co-op and the type of food items potential members want to buy.

“If people just spent 10 percent of their food budget on local meats and produce, it could pump millions into the local economy,” she said.

The Herald-Mail of Hagerstown

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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