Member Spotlight: The Middlebury Natural Foods Co-operative
The Middlebury Natural Foods Co-operative is a democratic, member-owned co-operative committed to providing healthy, competitively priced foods; encouraging ecologically sound and healthful patterns of production and consumption; and responding to members’ needs.
Our Co-op began in the early 1970s as a pre-order buying club. Its purpose was to provide members with wholesome, natural foods that were not available elsewhere. To maximize savings, members bought in bulk and repackaged the food themselves, which they would then distribute at routine gatherings in barns and living rooms across Addison County. The club continued to grow in popularity and eventually, its organizers recognized a need to establish a storefront, incorporate as a co-operative, elect a Board of Directors, and hire staff.
Over the next 45 years, demand for healthy, natural foods increased, as did the Co-op’s membership, and our store has undergone several expansions. Today, the Co-op is 5,500 members strong, employs nearly 100 people, and provides $17.8 million worth of products to consumers—approximately 36% of that from local producers—making the co-op vital to local farmers and producers who sell their crops here, the consumers who want local, healthy food, and the economy of the greater community.
Our Co-op exists to help our member-owners, customers, and the community benefit from:
- Healthy Foods
- Vibrant Local Economy
- Environmentally Sustainable and Energy Efficient Practices
- Co-operative Democratic Ownership
- Learning About these Values
We refer to these as our Co-op Ends and they help to define our values, guide our decision-making, and remind us of our commitment to this community.
As a co-operative, we are owned by our 5,500 member-owners and our mission is to serve them in the communities in which they live, work, and shop, strengthening our communities through jobs, services, and community involvement. Collective ownership is one of the things that make co-operative grocery stores so unique. When friends and neighbors decide to make this investment in community ownership, they are entitled to a voice and a vote in important co-op issues, to share the profits through a patronage dividend system, to elect (or serve on) a Board of Directors, and to enjoy special discounts.
Being a member-owner of a co-op is a great way to get fresh, local, and healthy food while, at the same time, participating in an organization that is working to meet the needs of their community first and foremost. Co-operatives by their very nature are principle and people-oriented. Co-ops have historically been decades ahead on social issues, such as minimum wage, full voting rights for women, sexual harassment policies, environmental sustainability, and safe, healthy working conditions. They also help keep money circulating in their local economy. For every dollar spent at a co-operative, $0.38 is reinvested in the local economy compared to $0.24 at conventional grocers.
Our Co-op has been a proud member of the Vermont Retail Grocers Association since 2014 and we appreciate the opportunity to represent a different way of doing business as a people-first, value-driven organization.