March 2016

Forty Years A Co-op

Wow, how time flies! It’s hard to believe that our Co-op is turning the big 4-0 this year. We’ve enjoyed strolling down memory lane in preparation for this big birthday celebration, and we’ve gathered some beautiful stories from Co-op member-owners that have been with us since the very beginning. While many have shared personal anecdotes and fuzzy memories about how the Co-op came to be, and we had a general idea of how it all began, we were still lacking detailed written records to help us understand our beginnings — until we reached out to Charles Adams. He shared this vividly detailed account below, complete with photos.  There is an old Abenaki adage which suggests that identity is a function of how well one understands their history. In this way, the gathering of our history has led to a rediscovery of our identity as a Co-op, and for this we are truly grateful.


My Years with the Middlebury and Vermont Co-ops

By Charles Adams of Newport, Rhode Island

Like dividing the wheat and other grains from the fields in times of old, each month the Loaves & Fishes Trucking Company would deposit the bulk order of foodstuffs at a rented house on Weybridge Street. On a given Saturday, the neighborhood coordinators from all the outlying towns would converge and with the help of Middlebury Co-op organizers, David Tier & Foxy, each 50# bag of flour, wheat berries, oats, or powdered milk, each wheel of Cabot cheese, each pail of molasses, cooking oil, peanut butter, or honey, and bags of dried fruits, nuts, and seeds would be measured out into smaller containers and driven back to the neighborhoods according to their monthly order sheet.

Dave & Foxy mimeographed and distributed the order sheets which were then distributed to individual families. Once a month the coordinators would collate their neighbor’s orders and return to Dave for collation. Only whole size bags, pails, or cartons of goods could be ordered and efforts were made to minimize leftovers since there was no ability to preserve or store excesses. Middlebury’s orders were then submitted and combined with those of the other 12 Food Co-ops around the state with the Plainfield Co-op as the central leader. Once a month, Carl from the Loaves & Fishes Trucking Co. in the Northeast Kingdom would drive a tractor trailer to the Boston and New York warehouse districts to collect the food haul for Vermont. Then he would drive around to each of the co-ops from Bennington in the south to Derby Ctr. in the north dropping off foodstuffs. Each co-op provided labor to assist with the pickups and deliveries in rotating order. I went on several such trips, including one that suffered a breakdown on the way back from New York with all of Vermont’s food for the month in the back. Those were fun days!

Co-op Food Ctr 1

Recognizing the difficulty of dealing with foodstuffs on the front porch and the growing popularity of the Co-op, Dave rented an improved barn on Rt. 7 south of New Haven for the monthly distributions. This greatly expanded the space available for subdividing the food, made organization of the process possible, and kept everything out of the rain and wind. About springtime 1975, Dave & Foxy were ready to hand off their management duties and my girlfriend, Barbara Charbonnet, and I accepted the responsibility.

All the flours and cornmeal distributed by the Vermont Co-ops was milled on a Meadows 30 inch stone mill originally purchased from Erewhon, a large natural foods distributor near Boston. The miller was Henry Tewksbury and the mill was located in a back room at the Plainfield Co-op. The mill was known affectionately as ‘Audrey’ as it was the sister mill to ‘Jane’ which was also owned by Erewhon.
There was growing dissatisfaction in Middlebury with the co-op location out of town and with the ‘once-a-month’ system over time and about mid-summer 1977, the old REA baggage building adjacent to the Middlebury train station (then a NAPA auto parts) was rented from Joe Bok. Volunteer labor from members cleaned the building, painted walls, repaired floors, and built shelves. As the sparsely paid coordinator, I lived in the ‘storefront’ for a winter with a wood-burning stove and my Russian wolfhound, Sonja.

33 Seymour St Floor Patching 2

With the help of Walt Miller, who taught me double entry bookkeeping and exercised some oversight of the growing bank balance of the co-op, we accumulated enough reserve to begin buying ‘extra’ food for a storefront operation several days a week, gradually increasing the extent of the items offered for sale.The pre-order operation continued and had lower pricing than the storefront. It was always the pre-order folks who were the lifeblood and base of volunteers that kept the co-op alive and performed its tasks.

About year-end 1977, the Vermont Co-ops decided that business had grown to the point that they needed to establish a warehouse for the temporary storage, trans-shipment, and logical loading of the trucks for deliveries. As well, the flour mill would be re-located to this, more central and accessible location from Plainfield. However, the miller wasn’t going to re-locate, and I volunteered to become the new miller. A large barn on South St. in New Haven which used to be a chicken farm was rented, steam cleaned, and painted. A loading bay was built, office area enclosed, 3-phase power service installed, the mill moved and set up, staff hired, and operations begun. Ellen Temple was the warehouse manager and I was the miller.


Mill In Operation

About twice a year, the mill was disassembled and the turning millstone was removed so that the lands and grooves could be leveled and sharpened. The milling process slowly dulled the stones to the point that more and more pressure had to be used forcing the stones together to accomplish the degree of fineness required in the flour. This pressure would produce heat which was not desirable as it would destroy the nutrients in the whole wheat flour and could produce sticky flours which would jam the mill and flour transport. The dressing of the stones was done with a carbide-tipped chisel and air hammer – not a pleasant job!

Mill Stone


My guide in setting up the mill and laying out expansion plans was Oliver Evans (1755-1819), Young Millwright & Millers Guide, re-printed in 1850. The mechanics of receiving, storing, moving, cleaning, milling, and bagging grains was unchanged from his time except by the luxurious addition of electric motors. Essentially the vertical orientation of machinery was identical to the early mills.The warehouse never got a freight elevator so every 50 and 100 pound bag of grain and flour had to be shoulder-carried up and down the stairs. I might add that these stairs were built by Paul Ralston , then the volunteer laborer provided by Old Nash Farm on a work weekend while we were getting started.

Grain Silo Construction

The mill operation expanded with the purchase of Vermont-grown wheat in bulk, the construction of a grain storage silo, grain elevator, and purchase of a commercial seed cleaner (from French’s mustard). The Vermont Federation of Co-ops eventually discussed the possibility of marketing its flour through commercial grocery stores such as Grand Union in smaller quantities (5 pound bags). However, the regional managers collectively decided that this was a step too far outside the co-op spirit of volunteer labor holding the enterprise together. I disagreed with that decision, feeling that the economics of flour milling are volume-driven. The profit per pound is extremely low and only volume sales can hope to carry the capital expenditures necessitated by the equipment required.

By the summer of 1979, my work with the Co-ops was done. Stephen Pilcher agreed to take over my flour milling duties. I had decided to go to UVM and proceeded to get a degree in Electrical Engineering. I look back with great pride in the work of those years, in the friendships formed, mostly under pretty adverse conditions, the results achieved, and the sense of community present at every level from the neighborhood coordinators, to the regional co-ops, and even the New England Co-ops (NEPCOOP, New England People’s Co-op). It was a time of idealism, hope, and promise for the future.

Seeing that the Co-op has endured and grown makes me immensely proud and happy to have been a part of its origins.

Scott, Elise, Charles, & Emily 2012




Co-op Business of the Month: Danforth Pewter

Danforth logo with lion

With graduation, Mothers’ Day, and wedding season on the horizon, perhaps you’re in search of some special, locally made, hand crafted gifts. Look no further than Middlebury’s own Danforth Pewter! They’re our Co-op Connection Business of the Month for April and  member-owners can enjoy 10% off when shopping at Danforth Pewter. Visit their workshop and store at 52 Seymour Street where you might catch a glimpse of their pewter crafters in action, thanks to the workshop viewing windows. They also have a beautiful retail store on Main Street in the heart of downtown Middlebury, or you can visit them online.


The Danforth family has a rich history of working with pewter, dating all the way back to 1755 when Thomas Danforth II opened a pewter workshop in colonial Connecticut. Several generations of the Danforth family followed him into the pewter trade. The last of the colonial-era Danforths stopped working in pewter in 1873. There is colonial Danforth pewter in the Smithsonian, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Museum Collection at Colonial Williamsburg, and many other American museums.

One hundred years later, Thomas Danforth II’s great-great-great-great-great grandson Fred Danforth, and Fred’s wife Judi Danforth, revived the family tradition when they opened Danforth Pewter in Vermont in 1975. Over the next 33 years, the company grew to include four retail stores, a web store, a wholesale business providing products to several hundred independent gift stores around the country, a custom design business, and a corporate gift and recognition business.

Today, every piece of Danforth, Shirley and Pewter Port pewter is crafted by hand from 100% lead-free fine pewter in our Middlebury, Vermont workshop. Our line includes everything from miniature pocket charms to one-of-a-kind oil lamps signed by the artist, and our more popular categories are jewelry, holiday ornaments and key rings.

Here’s what Fred & Judi have to say about their pewter:

Judi&Fred Ferns

We are passionate about our craft and proud of our family’s longtime involvement in the rich history of pewter making in America. We strive to keep artisan pewter alive and well in the 21st century by offering a wide range of items, with both original contemporary designs and classic pieces.

Our pewter is 100% lead-free and meets or exceeds all FDA food-safety standards. Our designs and products are all hand crafted right here in Middlebury, Vermont.

We strive to make your entire experience special. From learning about pewter to receiving your final purchase, we want your every interaction with our company to be a reflection of our passion for beautiful pewter gifts. Our goal is your complete satisfaction, and to ensure that your ordering experience is timely, convenient, and enjoyable.


Click here for a full listing of Co-op Connection businesses and discounts.

Helen bench filing
mirros in vibe
Danforth Pewter 004
Danforth Pewter 007
Danforth Pewter 006

B The Change

Perhaps you’ve noticed that some of your favorite products are sporting a new logo and you’re wondering what it means to be B-Corp Certified? Here’s the scoop:

B Corp is a global movement of people using the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. You might say that a B Corps certification is to sustainable business what LEED certification is to green building. To earn a B Corps certification, companies must pass a rigorous review by the non-profit B Lab, which verifies that a company is meeting the highest standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. Over 1,600 companies in 47 countries have been certified thus far, with one unifying goal:  to redefine success in business. Because transparency is a valued component of this program, all company ratings and impact reports can be found on the B Corp web page

Here are just a few of the B Corp Certified brands that you can find at the Co-op:

EO Logo
GladRags logo
LEAP Organics Logo
Lotus Foods Logo
Manitioba Harvest logo
Pete &Gerry's Logo

NOFA-VT Farmer Correspondence Program

Have you heard about the NOFA-VT Farmer Correspondence program?

The goal of this unique partnership is to expand agricultural awareness by nurturing relationships between children in the community and their local farms. The Farmer Correspondence Program matches classrooms with farmers based on interests and grade levels. Farmer pen-pals correspond with students during the winter and spring, educating them about life and work on the farm. The students then have the opportunity to take a field trip to visit their farmer pen-pal and see what life on the farm is like! NOFA-VT pays the farmer a stipend for their time, and the Middlebury Co-op provides funding for the field trips. The program is free for schools interested in participating! To learn more about how to get involved, click here.

Group Shot
group eugenie harvest

Co-op Spotlight on Henry & Lisa’s Natural Seafood

Henry & Lisa’s Natural Seafood, based in Seattle, Washington is our Member Deals Producer of the Week from March 31st – April 6th. During this time, member-owners can enjoy 20% their full line of sustainable seafood products!

Henry & Lisa Lovejoy launched their company in 1999 with the belief that there are many concerned people just like them who care about where their food comes from, care for the environment, and desire a source of all natural premium quality seafood from environmentally sustainable fisheries. Having spent 10 years in the seafood industry traveling around the globe and visiting seafood exchanges from Tokyo to Paris, Beijing to Madrid, they witnessed the astounding volume of seafood being sold each day on these exchanges, and noticed the size of many of the fish decreasing. Simultaneously, there was more and more news that numerous species were being fished to the point of commercial extinction. It became very evident that the world is harvesting our oceans faster than they can replenish themselves, and these resources need better management.
Henry & Lisa both have a deep respect for and great appreciation of the oceans. As a youngster, Henry was inspired by Jacques Cousteau, spent time volunteering at the New England Aquarium, and learned to scuba dive. Now as avid scuba divers and sea kayakers, whenever they have a chance, they are out exploring the ocean and feeling their love and respect for it grow.
Much has changed since Henry first sat down to write the EcoFish business plan. Today you can find EcoFish/Henry & Lisa’s in over 3,500 grocery/natural food stores and many restaurants nationwide. But, a lot has stayed the same. They continue to source the finest seafood available from both well managed wild fisheries and state of the art eco-friendly aquaculture operations.
From how they purchase their seafood, to their 100% recycled packaging, to the renewable energy that powers their office, to the many marine & conservation causes they support, each purchase of Henry & Lisa’s Natural Seafood helps them further their mission.