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Food co-op discussed for Bristol

BRISTOL — More than a dozen five-town residents braved the snowstorm Tuesday evening to discuss creating a food co-op in Bristol after a local market closed its doors.
Several residents pitched the idea on Front Porch Forum after Timmi Moffi, the owner of Mountain Greens, announced that the market was closing after 11 year in business.
Moffi attributed much of the store’s failure to competition from Bristol’s lone supermarket.
“Sales over the past couple years have been declining, due in large part to Shaw’s carrying many of my products, but selling them at lower prices,” Moffi wrote on the site.
But a cadre of Bristol-area residents hope to create a partnership to bring affordable, high-quality food to northeast Addison County while cutting an out-of-state corporation out of the picture.
The diverse group — from 20-somethings to retirees — crowded into Phoenix Rising Yoga on Tuesday to share ideas about what a co-op in Bristol could look like. Some had experience with agriculture and cooperative partnerships, while others were simply eager to help out.
Many at the meeting said they were sad to see Mountain Greens close, and wished to see a co-op emerge in town. About half said they are members of the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op or a similar partnership, but want a more local option.
The purpose of the meeting, which was organized by Bristol residents Hillary Warren and Tyler Westbrook, was to gauge local interest in creating a co-op. The residents who came agreed to take several steps to move the project forward, including: evaluating the needs of five-town residents, looking at potential sources of capital, studying business models of other co-op stores and crafting a model that would enable a co-op to compete with supermarkets like Shaw’s.
Warren, who moved to Bristol a year ago, told the Independent she has wondered why the town does not have a co-op. She said a co-op would be an asset to Bristol because it would keep money in town.
“The money that goes to large chain grocery stores leaves really quickly, but money that goes into the local food system stays in six times longer,” Warren said. “We can make it easier for that to happen, to keep the money local.”
Warren said that co-ops can not only connect residents with local food producers, but also be financially successful. She pointed to the success of the Onion River Co-op, which runs City Market in Burlington. The co-op started with 11 members in the 1970s and now boasts 10,000 members and annual sales close to $40 million.
Warren said it may be worthwhile for Bristol residents to reach out to City Market or the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op for advice or a potential partnership.
“I think there’s a lot of opportunity for collaboration, she said.
Warren hopes to be a food producer as well. She recently completed a farmer training program at the University of Vermont, and is currently researching what type of agriculture to start a business in.
The group pledged to keep posting on Front Porch Forum and has started a Facebook page called “Bristol Vermont Co-op” to discuss different ways to keep the public informed. Anyone interested in being added to the group’s email list can reach the group at [email protected]. Tentatively, the group agreed to meet again Feb. 7 at a time and place to be announced.

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