How It All Began: A Brief History of Mass Local Food

Preparing the Soil for a Great Idea

One could say that Massachusetts Local Food Cooperative evolved in response to the concept of peak oil and global warming. In 2005, co-op founder Kelley O’Connor learned about peak oil, the point at which global oil production will peak and then begin a terminal decline. She became concerned about oil depletion and the ensuing global economic crisis that would impact the ability of corporate grocery giants to stock their shelves.

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Kelley was aware that grocery stores stock only 3 days’ worth of food. If truckers went on strike because of skyrocketing gas prices, the food supply would quickly run out. The number of food miles most items in the industrial food system rack up also troubled Kelley. Food miles are the distance food travels from producer to consumer. The amount of oil that goes into transporting food and the resulting emissions are also measures of food miles.

Suffusing Kelley’s unease was her painful awareness of the number of small local farms, particularly dairies, that were going out of business because of the unfair competition imposed by industrial agriculture.

In light of all these complex issues, local food security became the focus of Kelley’s concern. She felt a strong need to help save the remaining small farms in Massachusetts and to encourage others to become farmers. Doing so would help ensure the availability of food in the event of a corporate truckers’ strike or other oil-related catastrophe. It was this reasoning that spurred Kelley to action.

The Seed Is Planted

Kelley began by driving to farms and local food markets around Worcester County, where she lives, in search of local produce and milk. A year later, after realizing how hard it is to find local food in Massachusetts and how much travel is involved in shopping for it, Kelley learned about the Oklahoma Food Cooperative.

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Oklahoma Food Co-op had developed shopping cart software that connects local food producers and consumers through an online marketplace. In December 2006, the co-op announced that it would give away its software to people interested in using its model to start their own co-op. They scheduled a three-day training workshop for the following May on how to organize and operate an online local food co-op and delivery system.

On New Years Day 2007, Kelley attended a relocalization visioning session, where—for the first time—she voiced her intention to start a Massachusetts local food co-op modeled after Oklahoma’s. Her target for having the co-op up and running was three years from that time.

In May Kelley headed to the workshop in Oklahoma City, where she learned all about the Oklahoma Food Co-op’s operation and how it started. Oklahoma’s model addressed all the concerns Kelley had, and she was inspired by the co-op’s success. An online farmers market would indeed be a great thing to have in Massachusetts, she thought.

Labors of Love Are Not Without Challenge

Upon returning to Massachusetts, Kelley created a presentation and began traveling around the state to promote the idea. For a year and a half, Kelley hosted presentations and set up information tables at fairs. People expressed interest, and her e-mail signup lists grew. She began connecting with like-minded people who wanted to support the creation and development of Massachusetts Local Food Cooperative.

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The planning and development stage was not without its challenges, however. Kelley’s first steering committee lost members and ultimately disintegrated. It was hard for her to find people who were able to commit the time and energy needed to get the co-op off the ground. In January 2009, Kelley was ready to lay the idea to rest when she met Kerrie Hertel and Sheryl Vaillette.

Kerrie and Sheryl convinced Kelley to start small, with a pilot program in the Westminster area. Together, the three women planned the pilot’s launch. They found ten producers to list their goods on the Mass Local Food website. Forty-three members had joined the co-op, and more volunteers rallied around to help.

Early Fruits Are a Joy to Behold

In June 2009, Mass Local Food launched its first Distribution Day from the Westminster Farmers Market with thirty orders. Since then, the numbers of members and member orders have grown from month to month.

During Summer and Fall 2009, Kelley assembled and met with the co-op’s interim Board of Directors, who worked through the initial challenges of the startup and the co-op’s Articles of Incorporation. The Articles were officially filed with the State of Massachusetts on January 5, 2010—within days of the three-year target Kelley had established at the 2007 visioning event.

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Massachusetts Local Food Cooperative held its first annual meeting and potluck dinner in February 2010. By then, the co-op had grown to 152 members. Twenty-seven voting members and their families attended the meeting and elected the co-op’s first official Board of Directors. They reviewed the co-op’s Bylaws and voted unanimously to approve them.

Business and membership continue to grow as the co-op approaches the first anniversary of its launch. At the time of this writing, the co-op has four established pickup sites and seven more in the planning stage. It’s quickly outgrowing its current sorting site in Westminster and actively seeking a larger space.

Were It Not for Your Support …

Kelley and the other members of the Board greatly appreciate the ongoing support of those who have surrounded this effort from the beginning, as well as the generous support and enthusiasm expressed by the co-op’s members. We look forward to the continued growth and success of Massachusetts Local Food Cooperative.

May 2010

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