East Aurora Cooperative Market
Call Again Farm's Laura Colligan, an organic farmer.
You couldn’t help but find some symbolism mixed in with the enthusiasm on display on a recent Saturday morning at 640 Main in downtown East Aurora. In rented, temporary quarters, and still more than a year away from realizing their dream of operating a whole foods market, the folks behind the new East Aurora Cooperative Market were hosting an egg sale, part of their “Meet the Producer” series.
As sixteen-year-old wunderkind Laura Colligan sold organic eggs courtesy of the free-range chickens she tends just outside the village, organizers of the co-op chatted with visitors from the community. President Sheila Conboy, vice-president Mary Aiken, volunteer coordinator Karin De La Rosa, and board members Lissa Mann and Deb Radziwon were on hand to outline their goal of attracting 1,000 member-owners (they’re at 365 since incorporating in mid-2010) and then building or buying a 6,000-square-foot store in the village of East Aurora. Once the co-op is fully hatched, its shelves will be stocked with Laura’s eggs, of course, but chicken, too, and beef, dairy products, vegetables, fruit, grains, pasta, prepared foods—everything your conventional grocery store has, with one difference: to the extent possible the co-op will feature foods that are produced in WNY, using sustainable and organic agricultural practices. Healthy, green choices will be featured throughout the store, not just isolated in one section.
The dream of a co-op in East Aurora began to take shape in 2009. As the organization’s website (www.eacoop.com) explains: “The East Aurora Cooperative Market was borne out of a desire for easier access to food and other grocery items that are locally grown, healthier for our bodies, better for our environment and beneficial to our local economy.” In February of 2010 this group invited the public to view the movie Food, Inc. at the Aurora Theatre and held discussions afterward to assess local interest in a co-op. Sufficiently encouraged by the response, they formed a steering committee. With generous help from the long-established Lexington Co-op in Buffalo they got up and running, and by spring the East Aurora Cooperative Market was incorporated and accepting member-owners.
While EACM builds toward the day when it can open its doors as a full-fledged grocery store, its founders continue to be proactive in the community, getting the word out in person and on Facebook, showing East Aurorans and Southtowners who they are. And it’s clear that they want to be much more than a food store. “We hope to be a community hub,” says Conboy, a family nurse practitioner by trade, whose considerable energy is now devoted to the co-op. She adds that whatever location they settle on will be in the village and a part of walkable East Aurora. “We’ll be more than a place to get your groceries or to get a meal. We’ll be a gathering place and education center.”
In addition to the Saturday morning Meet the Producer events like Laura’s egg (and honey from her own hives) sale, the co-op is offering classes promoting healthy choices called “Food for Thought” at the Aurora Senior Center. Past topics have included making plum jam with Deb Dechert of Deb’s Delights, Thanksgiving pies with Karen Mayhew of Daily’s Catering, and composting with Dan Roelofs of Arden Farms—all three of them East Aurora business owners. This winter they kicked off a series of informational seminars called “Chew on This”; the first was a talk about transitioning to organic gardening with Spree’s own Sally Cunningham. Again this summer the co-op will have an informational booth at the East Aurora Farmers’ Market on Saturdays and Wednesdays, as well as booths at the Roycroft Festival and the Quaker Arts Festival. With their “Feature a Farmer” series “We’ll invite farmers to come in on a regular basis,” says Conboy, “to develop a rapport with them, have them meet their customers. We’re coming back around to a time years ago when consumers understood where their food came from, when they understood that a dollar spent on local food not only fed their family well but benefited the local and regional economy.”
Once open to members and the public, the East Aurora Cooperative Market will join some two dozen food co-ops statewide, including the venerable Lexington. Like Lexington and the others, East Aurora will operate in accordance with the seven cooperative principles as laid out by the International Cooperative Alliance: 1) open and voluntary membership; 2) democratic member control; 3) member-owner economic participation; 4) autonomy and independence; 5) education, training, and information; 6) cooperation among cooperatives; and 7) concern for the community. Tim Bartlett, director of Lexington and a former East Auroran, has already shown the newcomers how Principle 6 works by helping with their feasibility study and offering advice and encouragement.
Conboy and her board understand that cooperation will be key for them as well. “It’s not our intention to compete with other local food and whole food suppliers. We hope to dovetail with area CSAs (community supported agriculture) and farmers’ markets, to complement each other, to raise everyone’s awareness of the quality and variety of products available in Western New York.”