Shopping at a cooperative market can give buyers warm fuzzy feelings about supporting their local producers, but what’s the economic effect of having a centralized place for growers, crafters and bakers to sell their wares?
At the Mohawk Harvest Cooperative Market in Gloversville, wholesale direct purchasing soared from 2011 to 2012, and that extra money in the business’s pockets can have a multiplying effect.
In 2011, the co-op purchased about $90,000 worth of wholesale dairy, grains, meats, produce and more. That figure shot up nearly 60 percent to $142,753 in 2012.
Those figures don’t include the purchasing for bakery items in the Happy Jack’s cafe or money spent hiring local contractors like electricians.
“I feel like we’re stimulating local production,” Market Manager Chris Curro said. “Many of these producers existed before us, but we hope we’re stimulating them to do more, and possibly take new risks and expand their operations to improve their economic viability.”
The 478-member co-op created eight jobs in downtown Gloversville, and it’s a work site for the Department of Social Services. Curro said so far three people have been hired off the DSS rolls.
The co-op also adds to the government’s sales tax coffers. In 2012 the co-op brought in $11,000 in sales tax.
“There’s a huge pride factor” to buying local, Curro said.
It also houses the Micropolis Cooperative Gallery, which posted about $20,000 in artwork sales in 2012.
The co-op continues to expand its product offerings, featuring a new product list on its website, and the regional sourcing is expansive. Curro’s column in Mohawk Harvest’s March newsletter highlights the vastness of local products available, from food to books and furniture.
“Dairy has been going up fast since we moved [from the former location in 2011],” Curro said.
The nursery business also shot up with Christmas trees, bedding plants and hanging baskets, Curro said.
“We have much more display space now,” Curro said. “We’re able to present the produce beautifully. We’re becoming known for our quality produce and grass-fed meats.”
Elk meat, pork and lamb comes from Fort Plain. Buffalo meat comes form Richmondville while beef is supplied from a farm in Sharon Springs.
Locally-made beauty products, honey products, granola, snacks, dairy, eggs, coffee roasted on site – it’s a long list of suppliers that provide these products.
Goderie’s Tree Farm in Johnstown provided wholesale orders to the co-op for its second year.
In 2011 the co-op purchased wreaths and kissing balls from Goderie’s. In 2012 it expanded its orders to include Christmas trees.
“We did four times the volume at the co-op [in 2012],” Peter Goderie said. In fact, wholesale business increased across the board for Goderie’s.
Goderie said the co-op requested deliveries nearly every day, and it accounted for 2 to 3 percent of the farm’s business.
“I think people are really trying to buy local products,” Goderie said. “They like to buy it locally-grown, know where it comes from and make sure it’s fresh.”
Goderie said the state’s Pride of New York and Taste of New York marketing programs have benefited producers in the state and helped push people toward a preference for local over imported goods.
Goderie’s is a wholesale supplier for many other tree farms, fundraisers, and some of the bigger florists in the Albany area.
Goderie said the co-op’s reach has expanded beyond the local area mostly through word-of-mouth. A friend of his from Saratoga County frequents the co-op, Goderie said, complimenting the display and variety of products available.
“Everything they’ve done is top shelf with the way they’ve been promoting local products and producers,” Goderie said.
Tom Takacs’s Greenhouse in Palatine Bridge is a supplier for the co-op, and he is hoping to provide his vegetables to more co-ops throughout the Mohawk Valley.
He said the co-op purchasing accounts for one-third of his business. There was a slight increase from 2011 to 2012, but supply was short due to drought conditions. His product list is expansive, and Curro praised Takacs’s hearty heirloom tomatoes and flavorful microgreens.
Takacs grows 12 varieties of tomatoes. He grows root vegetables, 12 varieties of salad greens, Asian greens, brassicas – like cauliflower and broccoli -legumes, squash, onion, garlic, chives, eggplants, fresh herbs, and more.
The co-op purchases from auctions and also directly from the producers, Curro said.
The increased business at the co-op has helped it purchase (locally) new equipment, including a box truck so it can haul more goods. Curro said before he used a hatchback to pick up orders.
“A lot of it we pick up right from the farms, and by getting produce on sight, we get to know the farmers,” Curro said.
A new produce cooler and freezer allowed the co-op to improve and increase the size of its display, he said.
With the new point of sale system that went online in 2012, the co-op can track wholesale purchasing in specific categories like dairy, produce and meats. It didn’t have that capability in 2011, so a breakdown comparison in specific categories was not available.
After being open in 2011 for four months, the Micropolis art gallery in 2012 posted nearly $20,000 in sales, said Elizabeth Batchelor, who helps manage the gallery.
“I can say that for a gallery to survive in our area and be able to expand and still show a modest profit is remarkable. We keep investing in such items as display and storage cases, a specialized hanging system, an iPad, advertising and marketing,” Batchelor said in an email to The Leader-Herald.
Having space in the co-op is a significant advantage for the artists who benefit from the draw of the co-op.
“And, we are too small to hire a manager or to staff the gallery with our members during the entire time Mohawk Harvest is open. But the staff of the co-op has been willing to accept payment from those purchasing artwork. We couldn’t do it without them,” Batchelor said.
Artists must be juried to be members of the gallery, meaning those whose work is on display are accomplished. In fact, some are nationally known, Batchelor said.
“Judith Plotner has a piece that was selected to be in international juried show in San Francisco, California; Judy Olson has a show at the Northville Library Gallery and Lynda Naske has a show at the Frothingham Library. Many of our artists display at the [Sacandaga Valley Arts Network] gallery in the Fulton County Visitor’s Center in Broadalbin. Many have won awards. There are several shows in the Adirondack area during the summer which many of our members participate in,” Batchelor said. “But to have a gallery nearby that is open seven days a week year round enables the artists not only to show their work continually but also to sell regularly.”
Micropolis opened with 12 artists and now includes 16. There are two categories: those who work in the gallery six hours a month and vendors. Initially there were no vendors, now there are eight, Batchelor said. It’s location allows it to host “Meet the Artists” opening receptions that also highlight a food vendor from the coop.
“Micropolis offers regional artists the opportunity to be part of an art-based community. Support and cooperation are wonderful things and often lead to community outreach,” Batchelor said.
Last summer the Micropolis partnered with the Fulton County Department of Solid Waste for a community “paint-out” using recycled materials.
The department donated paint from their latex exchange program.
“We sold raffle tickets for the finished product and donated all the proceeds to Mohawk Harvest for their walk-in cooler. We asked our members and invited community residents to create a piece of art that utilized recycled materials. Lexington’s Creative Expressions group also participated, crafting a huge chandelier from plastic containers,” Batchelor said in an email.
In addition to the straight direct purchasing numbers, Curro said there’s a multiplier effect from buying local.
Citing the U.S. Department of Agriculture, he said for every $1 spent locally on agriculture the community typically sees a seven-fold return.
“It combines to create a ripple effect,” Curro said, explaining that consumers buying local products instead of imports puts more money into the pockets of local businesses, many of which are family-owned.
This in turn allows them to buy more for their families, get necessary upgrades or repairs to equipment, and be able to produce more to meet demands.
This can result in a boost for the labor market if they need to hire extra help.
According to the USDA, in the early 1900s nearly 40 percent of Americans lived on farms. By 2000 that figure decreased to 1 percent, and advanced distribution systems changed the way consumers purchased products.
The push to buy local food has been growing as consumers look for the reassurance of knowing where their food came from, Curro said.
Growth in local food markets, according to numerous studies, has far-reaching effects. According to research presented by the USDA, numerous studies indicate a growing local food market is a development strategy for rural areas.
News Editor Amanda May Metzger can be reached at [email protected].