Holyoke Food Coop
There is a discussion happening in Holyoke about building membership to form a food coop. The first meeting was on March 1st and was hosted by BYOR and Gateway City Arts. The meeting was facilitated by Cynthia Marie Espinosa Marrero (social justice advocate and Holyoke resident), David Gowler (of River Valley Coop and Holyoke resident) and David Russell (of Franklin County Community Coop). To join in on the discussion and to keep updated please see the Holyoke Food Coop Facebook Group. If you are not a Facebook user and would like to join the email list instead, please contact me via the “contact us” link below and I will connect you. The next meeting will be April 6th 1pm to 3pm, location TBD, most likely at El Mercado on Main St.
The initial meeting was somewhat intimate and after the fact there was much dialog (in email and on Facebook) from folks not present at the meeting talking about coops in general, their impact on a community in terms of gentrification, questioning if a coop in Holyoke would serve the Latino community and if it does would it compete with bodegas, would it be affordable, etc, etc. Well, for myself, knowing the key organizers here, all I can say is that I have an expectation that this will be done with social equity as the first priority and we hope that with outreach we can energize the Latino community and build a representative membership. Primarily the conversation at the meeting was about a food desert and the needs of low income consumers. Yes, certainly, we witnessed some commentary that came from “urban pioneer” hipster-gentrifier types with a defeating tone suggesting that it is impossible to be inexpensive AND good – or – that they would not want to be involved in a coop that was food equitable with the majority population of downtown Holyoke because it would likely not serve their upscale needs. Well, I do hope that we can dispel those notions because a coop is its membership and anything can be made real if people want it. Nothing is impossible. Also, Holyoke is 48% Latino and 31% below poverty. We have a priority to serve the community that is in need first and foremost and whatever we build it should be representative of the community at large. A coop for rich and middle class white folks will not succeed in Holyoke, nor is it desired.
All that said, a few years ago ADP (Alliance to Develop Power) came here and began a similar conversation. ADP’s mission as I understand it was to build economic opportunity and business ownership as a catalyst for improving impoverished areas. Their plan was to use the coop model as a way to build a business except that they’d initially finance it rather than via a membership drive. Then once it was self sustaining they would release management and give it to the membership and the community. It is an interesting idea. They had done similar in other communities with housing and daycare but targeted Holyoke with a bodega-coop plan. For those that are not aware ADP seems to no longer exist. I understand that some sort of malfeasance by management had the non-profit collapse like a house of cards; which is really too bad as they had won national grants from Huffington Post and had a long track record of success. Thankfully some of their work here is not lost. Linked below are a number of documents and research for the Holyoke plan: