Prospective Amherst food co-op changes name, launches member drive
By Scott Merzbach
AMHERST — A new name is being unveiled as organizers of a planned cooperative grocery store renew their push to bring the worker- and community-owned enterprise to Amherst.
As Common Share Food Co-op prepares to hold its “500 and Counting” member drive kickoff event April 7 from 3 to 5 p.m. at AmherstWorks, 11 Amity St., Emily Chiara, the co-op’s new community engagement coordinator, says the co-op is ready for this next phase.
“We want to inspire the community mostly to learn what we’re all about,” said Chiara, who was brought on in January to lead the membership drive and recruitment of volunteers.
A Northampton native, Chiara brings experience in sustainable agriculture and food justice from her work on farms and with food and community development organizations in North Carolina, Arkansas, India, and Guatemala, as well as a master’s degree in sustainable science from the University of Massachusetts.
With the recruitment effort halfway to the 1,000-member mark, Alex Kent, co-president of the co-op board, said the focus for the remainder of 2019 will be on doubling the current 515 members so a capital campaign can be launched. “The sooner people become owner members the sooner the store can become a reality,” Chiara said. The recent name change, from Amherst Food Co-op, comes as a way of getting closer to reflecting what its mission is, Chiara said.
“A major part of our mission is to celebrate the diverse culture and food culture in the Amherst area,” Chiara said.
“It reflects that we will be accessible to everyone and that the store is not just for the Amherst community,” Chiara added. “The mission is to promote food justice and cultural diversity, and we couldn’t do that with the Amherst name.”
Kent said when the co-op board decided to rebrand, it solicited names from the membership base, choosing a name that reflects its role in a sharing society. With the new name, a honeybee has become a prominent part of the logo.
Though River Valley Co-op in Northampton is looking at having a second location in Easthampton, there is sufficient interest in purchasing local food and supporting the local economy to have a co-op on the east side of the Connecticut River, too.
“We feel strongly that the area can sustain another co-op,” Chiara said. In fact, a fall 2017 professional market study by CDS Consulting Co-op revealed that a part of Amherst can sustain a full-service natural food store and that such a store would be profitable after four years.
Kent said the co-op is eyeing a space in the East Amherst village center, which is an underserved part of town, and could also meet needs for people living in Belchertown and Ware. In addition to what is sold at the store, there will also be room for classes and meet-ups. “It’s more than just a store, it’s community space owned by the whole community,” Chiara said.
During the free event, John Michaels and Friends Jazz Trio, also known as the Interplay Jazz Band, and Diana Alvarez will perform. There will also be children’s activities, local vendors to showcase food and local products and a raffle for a free membership.
Kent said another effort to promote the co-op will be to start having advertising slides shown at the Amherst Cinema.
Scott Merzbach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.