KEENE, N.H. - The Monadnock Food Co-op will provide the region's farmers and food producers with one more local outlet to sell their goods once it opens its doors and the general manager encourages more agriculturists to seize the opportunity.
Michael Faber recently connected with local farmers at the Monadnock Matchmaker Event, organized by Monadnock Farm & Community Connections, in Keene. His goal is to wrangle as many local food producers as possible before the end of the year.
Faber told the Reformer the co-op plans to open in the spring and serve an important role in the support of the local food system. He said the business will strive to provide highquality, locally produced meat, produce and dairy to area shoppers.
Joe Sawyer, owner Sawyer's Artisanal Cheese in Walpole, said he made the decision to sell at the Monadnock Food Co-Op following a meeting at Stonewall Farm in Keene a few weeks ago. He said the meeting was held to introduce local food producers to buyers.
Sawyer said he sells his company's raw organic cow milk Swiss cheese at the Brattleboro Co-Op and occasionally at the one in Putney. He said he is dedicated to selling his product within 50 miles of where it is made and said another food coop would be a great way to further that goal.
"I'm looking forward to it. I think the area kind of encourages local food producers," he said.
Sawyer, who started the company a year and a half ago, refers to his cheese as a "Ver-Hampshire" product because it is made in Vermont and aged in New Hampshire.
Sam Canonica, who co-owns Manning Hill Farm in Winchester with Sarah Costa, said someone from the Monadnock Food Co-Op came and spoke with him in the early portion of the summer. He said he and Costa have been members of the co-op since its first membership drive two years ago.
Canonica said the milk business has been going pretty well, growing continuously since it started two and a half years ago. He said they don't have enough milk to bottle to meet the demand, which he admits is a good problem to have. He said selling at Monadnock would certainly be beneficial but supermarkets such as Hannaford are the bulk of his business because of their size. He said he can sell about six times as much milk at a supermarket than at a small co-op.
"It would definitely help business. I think it's a great thing for the community," Canonica said about Monadnock. "I just hope it doesn't pull sales away from other areas."
Scott Farm, in Dummerston, Vt., is one of the Vermont food producers that has agreed to sell its products at Monadnock.
Office Manager Kelly Carlin said the farm sells to nearly every co-op in Vermont and many in New Hampshire.
Faber said the co-op's foundation and walls have been put into place and all the underground utilities are running. The building's frame was delivered and installed a little over two weeks ago.
Joe Marks, president of the Monadnock Food Co-Op Board of Directors, joked that it is difficult to stop once it gets that far along. He said the business will be a full-service grocery store that will include organic and natural foods.
"We have a need and a desire for it in this area," Marks said. "That's why we're doing it."
The co-op's objective is for locally-sourced products to make up one-third of their sales - whereas conventional grocery stores source an average of 6 percent of their products sold from local producers, according to a statement from the co-op.
Marks said the idea spawned from the master's thesis of Bonnie Hudspeth, who was earning her degree at Antioch University New England in Keene.
Hudspeth told the Reformer she conducted her thesis on sustainable community development in the spring of 2008. She began looking into how to start a co-op and spoke with members of others in the area. She said she wasn't really sure where the project would go but she noticed an enormous desire and soon a steering committee made up of herself, Marks and others became the Monadnock Food Co-op's founding board of directors.
It took just four months for the co-op to reach its $800,000 goal to complete its member loan campaign. According to the website, 130 member-owners made interest- bearing loans, which made it possible to hire Faber as general manager.
"It's been an incredible process. We've had more than 100 active volunteers," Hudspeth said, who now works for the Neighboring Food Co-op Association.
Faber said the Monadnock Food Co-Op will fulfill a need in the community.
"We're able to work with local producers like no one else can. If it's available locally, we're going to sell it," he said. "There was a surprise that Keene didn't already have one. There's quite a bit of excitement over here."
Organizers hope to have the Coop, located just off Main Street on Eagle Court, open by next spring.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-2542311, ext. 277.