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issue 2 july-august 2014 rootstock the official newsletter of the belfastCO-OP Supporting Co-ops Makes a Better Food System by Sarah Andrysiak, Communications Consultant, New England Farmers Union Co-operative enterprise plays an important role in the food system. While you might be thinking about the food co-op you belong to, did you know that the farmers that supply food co-ops are also working co-operatively? Producer co-operatives are enabling family farmers and fisherman work collectively to aggregate and market their goods, to buy goods and services, to access equipment and land, and to add value to their crops. By working together, small producers can take advantage of the benefits of scale without giving up local ownership and control, empowering them to compete more effectively in the marketplace. As member-owned enterprises, co-operatives are rooted in the communities they serve and create an economic infrastructure that spans generations. Take North Country Farmers Co-operative (NCFC), a producer co-op that supplies local fruit and vegetables, meats, breads as well as other locally produced items to customers the North Country of New Hampshire and the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. Formed in 2013, its goals are to enable its small-farm members to sell to markets otherwise out of reach, to reduce competition among farmers, and to meet an increasing demand for local food. Throughout New England, producer co-ops are helping the region’s farmers and fishermen. These producers, often resource-limited family operators, are served by successful marketing co-ops, as well as purchasing, distribution, and equipment co-ops, and collaborations between producer co-ops and co-ops in other sectors (such as retail food co-ops, energy co-ops, financial and worker-owned co-ops). But forming a co-op is often challenging, as the North Country farmers discovered. NCFC used both local and regional technical assistance providers with mixed results. It took several years for the co-operative to officially form, and the learning curve was steep. Supporting co-operatives has been central to the mission of the National Farmers Union (NFU) since its founding over a century ago, and remains a core activity today. Earlier this year, New England Farmers Union (NEFU), the newest chapter of NFU, surveyed producers and consumers to assess co-op awareness and identify what farmers need to form a co-op or nurture an existing co-operative business. Based on experience and survey results, NEFU found that one of the challenges for co-ops is accessing experts (lawyers, accountants, etc.) that understand the co-op structure. NEFU recently completed a manual ( to help producers in our region form co-operatives. NEFU has added co-operative expertise to its staff, and has compiled resources that can provide assistance to newly formed and growing producer co-ops. Co-op challenges don’t stop once the co-op is formed. Many, like NCFC, face growing pains. NCFC’s members are small farms and new businesses; forecasting and meeting demand will be difficult. continued on P4 IN THIS ISSUE . . . ROOTSTOCK newsletter by Kate Harris & Doug Johnson Supporting Co-ops Makes a Better Food System - P1 Why So Much Concern With Gluten? - P5 How Do I Use My Patronage Dividend? - P2 Meet a Worker-Owner - P6 GM Corner - P3 Maine’s New Wave of Food Co-ops - P7 Finance Corner - P4 Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes @ your Co-op - P8 Just Picked - P4 CO-OP Calendar - P8 123 high street belfast, me 207.338.2532 7:30am-8:00pm

Rootstock July-August 2014

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