Over the past 18 months, New England Farmers Union Education Foundation, in partnership with affiliate member the Neighboring Food Co-op Association, worked with the Co-operative Fund of New England and Hunger Free Vermont on a project called Food Co-ops & Healthy Food Access.   The project supports neighboring food co-ops to make healthy food and co-op ownership more accessible to all community members.

One of the core Healthy Food Access initiatives used by food co-ops to make food and co-op membership more accessible is the “Food For All” Program. The goal of this program is to make fresh, healthy, and local food affordable for everyone, regardless of income, by offering a 10% discount on grocery purchases to members on limited incomes. In the last year alone, project partner works to support six food co-ops to implement new Food For All needs based discount programs, offering community members with limited income access to co-op member-ownership and discounts on their groceries every time they shop.

As hunger and food insecurity continue to rise in the region, the project is especially relevant.

New England Farmers Union’s business membership, through the Neighboring Food Co-op Association, includes more than 35 food co-ops in all six New England states. NEFU member food co-ops have over 90,000 members and buy regionally produced food and fish from more than 3,000 farmers and fishermen; in 2013, they had over $33 million in local purchases. These food co-ops are economic engines in their communities, employing more than 1,700 people, providing $36.7 million in wages, and selling more than $255 million annually.

The project used direct technical assistance, resource development, and coordination with our member co-ops and organizational partners to share the work co-ops accomplished and raise the profile of food co-ops as a solution to food insecurity.

This project was able to offer trainings to 427 individuals from up to 35 co-ops on how to implement successful Healthy Food Access programs. It allowed staff to provide direct technical assistance to three of our member co-ops to implement new Healthy Food Access programs, which resulted in their serving 307 low-income customers. By ensuring that co-ops remain stable financially by increasing memberships and sales, Farmers Union develops and strengthens markets for our farmer members.

Thanks to the Sandy River Charitable Foundation and Jane’s Trust for supporting this work.

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