By Rebecca J. H. White, Produce Manager, Hanover Co-Op Food Store
For the first time this September, I found myself pursuing real organizational change in Washington. Knocking on the doors of my Senators and Representatives during National Farmers Union’s Fall Legislative Fly-In, I felt the intoxicating buzz of conversations centered on things that I care about, that affect my daily life. In retrospect, it surprises me that it took me three decades to take a seat at this democratic table.
I have no doubt I would not have raised my voice without the support of the Hanover Co-op Food Stores in New Hampshire. The Hanover Co-op has been a presence in my life since I was a child. It was where I stopped for snacks before soccer games in high school, where I went with my mom to do the real shopping, and where I sought out employment when I returned home after spending the better part of my twenties in school and living in the Chicago area. Home has everything I could want— my family, quiet woods, and mountains, but not the jobs and aesthetic economy that pervade the more populated areas in this vast country. I sent my application in on a hunch that I would be working with people who inspire me; I have not been disappointed.
My work at the co-op is consuming, joyful, hard work. Overnight, I went from being a concerned consumer to purchasing about $10,000 of produce a day. As a part of this efficient cooperative machine, I can clearly see the platform that we, the Hanover Co-op, stand on.
A successful co-operative models democratic culture and is guided by the 7 cooperative principles— one of which is concern for community. This plays out in our beloved Upper Valley as we act as stewards for our neighborhood food shed. As a co-operative of 24,000 members and 365 employees, we represent a sizable slice of this area. In the era of give-back corporate culture, it might be easier for the co-op to spin a catchy phrase to put our customers at ease on what we do well, or how we pay it forward. As an 83-year-old cooperative, I can report with confidence we were built on this ethos. We work for our members, not for a corporate bank account.
We are lucky to have a long history as a part of this community, becoming more interdependent each year. As we make our way into fall and the first snow draws near in Hanover, our farmers are still coming through our receiving door with hard squash, potatoes and onions. Our relationships with these farms go back several decades, and we value their work, their input, and take great pride and care bringing their produce to our community. We work to make them visible within our walls with our signs, our conversations with customers, and our transparency. You can feel the effects of these longstanding relationships when customers ask a few weeks out when the Killdeer carrots are coming in, if we have any more Edgewater strawberries, or how does 4 Corners Farm keep their cauliflower so beautiful and white? From my perspective, this is ideal. I want to shop somewhere where my purchases put power behind my beliefs, and where the decisions are being made on the ground level. I want my concerns about sourcing, sustainability and change to inform the problem solving that is piecing together a food system.
In the grocery world, food cooperatives like ours are at the forefront of sustainable business practices. The Hanover Co-op’s four stores and a collective $75 million in sales — $15 million of which is our definition of local (within 100 miles) — we continue to build a constructive and compelling path forward that reflects the ambitions and needs of our community.
Want to know more about cooperatives? Visit the Cooperative Network.