Saturday, May 2, 2009

An Interview with Jennifer Foley of Berkshire Co-op Market

Looking to find lots of local produce and products in a one-stop shop? Then check out the Berkshire Co-op Market on 42 Bridge Street in Great Barrington. This Member/Owner-owned operation offers organic produce and groceries, and is open to all Owners and shoppers. The Co-op also has a large hot bar and salad bar selection, a cafe, and Grab-and-Go choices. You can find the updated hot bar menu here. To learn more about cooperatives, check out the National Cooperative Grocer's Association.

Thanks to Jennifer Foley, Marketing & Owner Services Manager, for conducting this interview.

How does Berkshire Co-op Market link with local producers?

The Berkshire Co-op Market connects with our local producers in many ways. At the beginning of the growing season, the Co-op hosts a Local Grower/Producer meeting to let our local vendors know what the Co-op’s guidelines to selling product and what our needs will be in the upcoming season. At the same time, the Co-op explains what ways we will be promoting local products, and asks local producers what they need from the Co-op.

The Co-op also offers farmers and producers the opportunity to participate in our Farm Tour program, which the Co-op invites and promotes the showcased farms and production sites to our Owners and shoppers. This gives the community an opportunity to see and learn first-hand about the food they buy and the people that produce it.

In each issue of our quarterly newsletter, the Co-op features a local grower/producer, which again allows readers to learn more about the local people who are producing their food. We also invite and encourage our local vendors to come in to the store and demo their products and meet our Owners and shoppers face-to-face. The Co-op is also a member of Berkshire Grown and attends meetings and events with local farmers and producers which allow us the opportunity to mingle and brainstorm throughout the year.

Tell us about your education programs. How do you educate the community, and what subjects do you focus on?

We currently have a thriving “Healthy Snacks” program that we bring to local schools to teach children about healthier choices in snacking. We bring natural and organic versions of “conventional” snack items as well as different seasonal, local fruits and vegetables with which the children may not be familiar. In addition to the tasting, the children learn to read nutritional labels, and in some instances help to create simple recipes. We have been collaborating with the Community Health Program (CHP) Nutrition Center to present some of these classes, as well as partnering with schools as a part of their grant initiatives.

Again, our Farm Tours are very popular and educational. Just this year we have brought groups to Mead’s Maple Syrup Farm in Canaan, CT where participants learned the process of maple syrup production and enjoyed a pancake breakfast featuring Mead’s Maple Syrup, and to Berkshire Mountain Bakery where we learned what goes into creating the delicious breads we sell at the Co-op. More Farm Tours are being scheduled for the rest of the season.

Also, each year we send “Free Local Apple” Coupons to the 2 school districts with an educational piece about why local is better for the environment and for the local economy. As a regular practice, we also participate in tabling at various events in the community, always promoting healthier choices, local choices and sustainability.

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