We know you’re a member of at least one Vermont co-op, but do you belong to others? Vermont has a long history with cooperatives: the first milk co-op in the state was established in 1895 and our oldest consumer co-op began in Adamant in 1935 (and it’s still going!). Coops offer memberships in a variety of industries. There are consumer coops that purchase goods like food and books, utility coops that purchase power, credit unions that provide banking services, housing coops for purchasing residences, agricultural coops for items including dairy and crops, and worker coops where the employees own and control the businesses.
We’ve highlighted a few of our state’s coops to give you a small taste of what’s out there.
Energy Co-op of Vermont
In the late 1990’s, the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation received a federal grant to develop a five-year business plan for the Vermont Consumers’ Energy Co-operative. The cooperative was designed to take advantage of opportunities created by high energy prices, diminished competition among fossil fuel dealers, threats from probable deregulation of Vermont’s electric utilities and reduced state support for energy efficiency programs.
The cooperative acquired a local oil dealer in July 2000 and began delivering heating oil and kerosene three months later. Now known as the Energy Co-op of Vermont, they deliver heating oil kerosene and wood pellets and maintain, replace and repair heating equipment for 2,500 members and customers in northwestern and central Vermont.
To help members reduce their reliance on fossil fuels, the Energy Co-op began installing efficient heating systems in 2003, delivering made-in-Vermont wood pellets in 2008 and marketing solar hot water systems in 2012. As a result, Co-op members have cut their heating oil use by about 130,000 gallons a year. In the future, the Co-op hopes to offer home energy improvements to help members lower their home energy bills and reduce oil use even more.
Mad River Glen
Mad River Glen became one of Vermont’s first major ski areas when the Single Chair began carrying skiers to the top of General Stark Mountain in 1948. From the very beginning, Mad River Glen has been unique, a place where skiing is a sport not an industry, working with nature not against it. Mad River Glen began a new era in 1995 when its skiers came together to form the Mad River Glen Cooperative. The Cooperative works to fulfill a simple mission:
“… to forever protect the classic Mad River Glen skiing experience by preserving low skier density, natural terrain and forests, varied trail character, and friendly community atmosphere for the benefit of shareholders, area personnel and patrons.”
In an age when the ski industry is becoming increasingly consolidated and homogenized, America’s only skier-owned major mountain bucks the trend by remaining independent and preserving a brand of skiing that exists nowhere else.
In 1919, farmers from the Cabot area figured that if they joined forces, they could turn their excess milk into butter and market it throughout New England. Ninety-four farmers jumped on board – at the cost of $5 per cow, plus a cord of wood to fuel the boiler. These farmers purchased the village creamery (built in 1893) and began producing butter under the Rosedale brand name.
Over the next two decades, as the nation’s population flocked to urban areas, Cabot’s farmer-owners thrived by shipping their milk and butter south. While the national economy shifted away from agriculture, the Vermont economy was still largely based on dairy farming.
1992 was a pivotal year in the company’s history as Cabot’s farmer-owners merged with the 1,800 farm families of Agri-mark, a southern New England co-op dating back to 1918. Together, the combined companies boasted more than 1,500 farms, four processing plants and a large product line. Meanwhile, Cabot cheddars began an impressive run in awards competitions, winning every major award for taste over the next few years.
Today, Cabot is owned by over 1200 farm families from every state in New England and New York. And as a cooperative, 100% of the profits are returned to the farmers.
King Arthur Flour
King Arthur Flour is a worker cooperative, which means that every employee owns a stake in the company. Founded in Boston in 1790, it’s America’s oldest flour company. Henry Wood began importing European flour to Long Wharf in Boston, Massachusetts with the goal of providing high-quality flour for bakers in the fledgling United States. In 1896, the company Wood founded gave its product a new brand name: King Arthur Flour. Their new, U.S.-grown flour was introduced at the Boston Food Fair.
Fortunately for Vermont, in 1984, the then-owners Frank and Brinna Sands moved the company from Massachusetts to Norwich, Vermont, where the company is headquartered today. When the Sands decided to retire, they sold the company to the employees and started an Employee Stock Ownership Plan.
The employee-owners have embraced their coop culture, stating on their website: “As an employee-owned company, we’re not beholden to outside shareholders who care only about the bottom line; we have the freedom to emphasize other values, too, like social and environmental responsibility, and the wellness and satisfaction of our employees as whole people. The ability to live these values, through the hard work and dedication of our employee-owners, is an important part of our culture and our ongoing success.”
Hunger Mountain Coop
Hunger Mountain Coop is a natural foods cooperative that offers natural products to its over 6,500 members and the Central Vermont community as a whole. In addition to providing healthy food choices, the Coop is a community resource that promotes nutritional awareness, local sustainability and environmental responsibility throughout Central Vermont.
The Coop began as a pre-order service in the late 60’s, when a group of neighbors joined together to buy bulk groceries. When the orders became large enough, the members voted to open a storefront in Plainfield. The Plainfield Coop is still operating today. After a few years, the store was too small for the needs of all its members, so a new storefront was opened as a separate operation in Montpelier. This was the birth of Hunger Mountain Coop as we know it today.
Today, Hunger Mountain Coop is supported by its Member-Owners and employs over 160 Vermonters. The Coop has enjoyed steady growth since 1972, experiencing over $20 million in sales annually. The Coop remains dedicated to its Mission of providing healthy and nutritious food to its Member-Owners and the surrounding community, and gives back thousands of dollars each year to local organizations, non-profits, schools and other groups.
There are obviously too many coops in our state to highlight here. Are you proud of a coop that wasn’t featured? Share the love on our Facebook page.