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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Middlebury Natural Foods Co-Op embraces the fall season

Photo of the Middlebury Natural Food Co-Op.
Photo of the Middlebury Natural Food Co-Op.

The locally- adored Middlebury Natural Foods Co-Op is busy preparing for its fall season — meeting with the nonprofit’s member-owners, facilitating the annual September Eat Local Challenge, bringing in the new fall produce and holding a variety of cooking and herbalism classes are all on the agenda.

The Co-Op hosted its annual meeting and celebration at the back patio of American Flatbread with complementary flatbread pizza, salad and desserts on Wednesday, Sep. 13. This event was open to the public, but its attendees are typically some of its member-owners, a group composed of over 6,300 households in Addison County as well as from Bretland, Vt., Rochester, Vt., and parts of New York State.

At the meeting each September, Co-Op General Manager Greg Prescott discusses the progress and community impact of the Co-Op from the past year and announces plans for the upcoming year. The Co-Op Board of Directors also gives a financial update, informing its member-owners about the allocation of funds and donations and where they will be directed in the coming months.

The Co-Op is one of many co-ops in Vermont that holds annual meetings with its member-owners. According to an episode of All Things Considered aired on Vermont Public Radio in Jan. 2022, Vermont has a history of successful co-ops dating back to the 19th century, when they were popularized by the dairy industry. Michael Wells, an experienced Putney Food Co-Op board member, spoke in the episode about the generational practice of Vermonters helping each other out in small communities, fueling a cultural passion for co-ops.

Emily Landenberger, Middlebury Co-Op marketing, education & membership assistant manager, said that after approximately 10 years of attending the annual meeting, her favorite part is the open question and discussion session after the initial information has been presented.

“It’s always so valuable, having the community be able to ask questions and engage with their Co-Op in that way,” Landenberger said.

September is also Eat Local Month at the Middlebury Co-Op, accompanied by the Eat Local Challenge. This month, member-owners will be able to see at the bottom of their receipts how much money they have spent on local products. When that total is more than 25 dollars, the receipt becomes a raffle ticket which can be entered into a drawing to win one of six 25-dollar Middlebury Co-Op gift cards. Receipts totaling 50 dollars or more can be entered to win one of more than six 50-dollar Co-Op gift cards.

As another form of celebration for Eat Local Month, the Middlebury Co-Op has placed a model of a large ear of corn in front of the store endearingly called “Big Corn,” and throughout September they will track their payments to local producers by adding on rows of kernels with a goal of $600,000 spent locally.

During last year’s Eat Local Month, the Co-Op set the same goal of $600,000 and successfully beat it by $3,118, but made the decision this year not to increase the goal in response to this summer’s flooding, heavy rainfall and an unusually late spring frost. Farmers and producers have reported that these circumstances have decreased harvests and will prevent them from bringing in as much produce as they have typically in previous years.

“It’s a great way for us to help [farmers] sell as much as what they’ve grown and produced as possible during this challenging growing season,” Landenberger said. “I think they’re particularly excited about having those extra incentives or ways for us to be able to support them.”

According to Landenberger, apple enthusiasts have a strong crop to look forward to at the Middlebury Co-Op this year. The local apple orchards from which the Co-Op purchases their apples, Sunrise Orchards in Cornwall, Vt. and Champlain Orchards in Shoreham, Vt. have fared quite well through the damage from the late spring frost compared with orchards in other parts of Vermont. Winter squash and root crops will also trickle into the Co-Op’s selections at this time of year, largely bought from Golden Russet Farm in Shoreham, Vt. but also New Leaf Organic in Lincoln, Vt. and a couple of other farms.

Annika Milliman ’25.5 said she is a regular at the Middlebury Co-Op. “The Co-Op is a go-to shopping place for me all year round because they offer foods that cater to my dietary restrictions — foods that I can’t get in the dining hall,” Milliman told The Campus. “I get tons of snacks there for my room and will continue to do so this whole fall.”

In partnership with the Co-Op, the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center, a vocational school geared towards high school students and also evening adult education, will host a series of classes this fall, including cooking classes in their commercial kitchen. The offerings also include a Mushroom Walk with local mushroom expert Meg Madden, a Flavors of South India class with Delna Khambatta, owner of Delna’s Kitchen, and a Chicory Charm class with Janis Reinke from Frog Hollow Farm to celebrate Vermont’s 3rd Annual Chicory Week. The full selection of classes can be found on the Middlebury Co-Op website.

According to Landenberger, the Co-Op is planning a symposium on farming and food growth in partnership with Middlebury College and co-founder of the Land Care Cooperative Abe Collins on Thursday, Nov. 9 from 6– 8 p.m. in BiHall. Collins will speak along with other guest Vermont farmers.

“This will be an opportunity for our community to come together and educate and organize ourselves as we begin this new chapter of cooperation with our farming neighbors, engaging in the work of growing pot soil, increasing biodiversity, increasing water holding capacity for our soils and increasing ground-water recharge,” Lendenberger said.

The Co-Op, an embodiment of Middlebury and Vermont community engagement, is open daily from 8 a.m. –to 7 p.m., located at 9 Washington Street in downtown Middlebury.

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Madeleine Kaptein

Madeleine Kaptein '25.5 (she/her) is a local editor and previously served as a copy editor. 

A Comparative Literature major and German minor, Madeleine enjoys reading, biking and hanging out with her cats. She is also an editor for Clover Magazine.