NORWICH — With the completion of renovations on their 105 East Main Street location, the Chenango Family Food Cooperative (CFFC) celebrated how far they've come with a ribbon cutting and social hours at the co-op.
The co-op began in April 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, when Co-founder MiBy Kim saw that food wasn't coming into stores the way it used to as she shopped for her two businesses, the Bohemian Moon and La Maison Blanche Bakery.
She explained, ”I was thinking about how we have farms all around here, and we have to wait for things from the middle of the country to be trucked in for us to be able to consume them. So I said, okay, how do we solve this problem?"
Her idea for a food cooperative was also sparked by two of her friends, who decided to make the Norwich area their primary residence, one of which runs the Oxford Farmers' Market, and the other was a division manager for a food co-op in Brooklyn that has 17,000 working members.
From there the Chenango Family Food Cooperative was created by a group of about seven people, who all shared a mission to support their community with access to fresh, healthy food at an affordable rate, while also supporting local farmers and producers.
The co-op started out behind the La Maison Blanche parking lot with non-perishable food items, due to lack of refrigeration and adequate heat. The CFFC eventually got incorporated, and in January 2022 they launched the membership facet of the organization, and in the summer of 2022 moved to their location at 105 East Main Street in Norwich.
Since that time, co-founders and members of the CFFC have been renovating the location. On Sunday they celebrated its completion, as well as the journey the co-op has taken over the years.
"They’ve been working on it and then we finally got it all done and now we have refrigeration, we have a walk-in that's in there, and we’ve got a couple of units, refrigerator and a freezer, so now we can do cheeses and meats and stuff that we weren’t able to do before," said Kim. "So we’re having a little celebration to kind of say, wow, we got here."
The CFFC stocks various food items from many local vendors. often at a lower cost than grocery stores, including locally produced meats, cheeses, ancient grains and flours, coffee, maple syrup, honey, and more.
"Our markups are not like the regular grocery store. Also we buy in bulk and then we package it. So we have lots of different spices like in little bags and stuff," said Kim. "We have great snack items. We’re starting to get some local cheeses in, and we have ground beef from someone in Greene right now. We’re looking for more meat vendors."
A list of co-op vendors can be found at ChenangoFamilyFoodCoop.org/local-growers-producers.
Membership is required to shop at the Chenango Family Food Cooperative, and offers both working and non-working membership options. Working members pay a one-time $25 joining fee, and are asked to donate three and a half hours of their time each month to work at the co-op. A full list of working members roles can be found at ChenangoFamilyFoodCoop.org/membership.
Non-working members pay a one-time $75 fee. Additionally, all new members are asked to pay a $50 investment fee, which is refundable should individuals decide to end their membership with the co-op. Sponsorship is also available for those who need financial assistance.
Membership is open to all individuals 18 years old or older. The co-op asks that if one member of a household becomes a CFFC member, all members of the household aged 18 and over become CFFC members.
"The owner is every member. There’s no one owner at all. Everyone has equal say, equal vote with the board of directors, or whatever comments or opinions they have. We’re really working on a circle kind of way rather than a top-down pyramid," said Kim.
Membership applications can be found at ChenangoFamilyFoodCoop.org/membership or at the CFFC during their hours of operation.
In addition to selling high-quality food produced by local farmers, the Chenango Family Food Cooperative also has a mission to educate the community on various aspects of eating healthy, farming, and food production through regular programs and events.
"We have people who are knowledgeable about whatever subject come and give us whatever they want to share. So we had something called ‘Fermentation February’ where we had demonstrations of people telling us how to make kombucha, or a fire cider, or something like that, and then the science of fermentation. This coming month we’re going to have a coffee roaster," said Kim, adding that in the future they also want to incorporate seed and book exchanges.
"When we do events to educate people or introduce things, it’s open to anybody who wants to come," she added. "We really want to work to connect people."
Upcoming events and programs at the CFFC can be found at ChenangoFamilyFoodCoop.org/events.
The Chenango County Food Cooperative is open on Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., Thursdays from 12 to 6 p.m., and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Kim said events are often held from 12 to 1 p.m. on Tuesdays, and the co-op is working to add more events on Thursdays after 6 p.m., as well as cooking classes. Kim also gives orientations on how the co-op works once a month, or by appointment.
Kim said starting the food co-op has helped her grow as a person in ways she didn't expect.
"I also am somebody who’s never really had to rely on other people’s approval or wait for their decisions to do things, because I’ve just been doing things my way my whole life," she explained. "So to become a part of this co-op, it was much more of a learning experience than I expected for my personal growth, and it's been really nice just to discover all these different things and the people that have been with me for the three year period."
Moving forward, the CFFC is working to build membership, keep costs down, and continue supporting the community and area farmers.
"I guess there are many things we’re trying to do. First of all keep the cost down, because we have worker labor that we don’t have to pay for," said Kim. "We’re working for the members, so there’s a dialogue with people who are actually purchasing and selling, all that goes on. It’s kind of like a real community-building project."
More information on the Chenango Family Food Cooperative can be found at ChenangoFamilyFoodCoop.org, and by signing up for the CFFC's newsletter on their website.