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Orange food co-op looking to grow

Grant to pay for study on moving downtown

Amy Borezo Board President

Amy Borezo Board President

ORANGE — Since its founding just less than four years ago, the North Quabbin Cooperative has traded more than $100,000 in local and regional food products for its nearly 200 members from a 250-square-foot space in what used to be the Minute Tapioca factory.

Now, with $23,500 in funding for a feasibility study, the all-volunteer co-op is looking at moving by year’s end to a storefront in the downtown.

While that’s less than 1,500 feet away from its home in the Orange Innovation Center, a new storefront location is thought will give the store more visibility. The funding announced Monday — a $21,500 Rural Business Enterprise Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development agency matched by $2,000 from Holyoke-based Common Capital — will help Turners Falls-based nonprofit consultants Field to Table study the needs of a store that’s envisioned to be at least 1,500 to 2,000 square feet, with a paid staff person.

The co-op, which serves members from Orange, Athol and throughout the nine-town North Quabbin area, began planning more than a year ago for a store that would better provide this economically challenged community with nutritious foods, largely from local growers and manufacturers, said board President Amy Borezo. It’s already identified two or three possible sites and hopes to move by the end of the year.

The board has mounted a campaign to nearly double membership to 350 and to raise a capital fund of $50,000 or more.

“The biggest challenge will be raising the capital,” she said, although one anonymous donor has already given $10,000, and the Garlic and Arts Festival has provided another $5,000, she said. There are also plans to approach businesses in town as well as other private donations.

Michael Abbate, chief operating officer of the nonprofit community development financial institution that provided $2,000 for the feasibility study from a fund that specifically targets helping set up retail businesses to provide healthy food in under-served areas, said Common Capital is also interested in loaning start-up capital for an expanded co-op. The money, which it loans at below-market rates, can be used for equipment, renovations and start-up inventory, he said.

Congressman Jim McGovern, D-Worcester, said of the co-op, “Wouldn’t it be great if it were located in downtown Orange? Such a location would not only anchor the downtown but also increase the co-op’s visibility and expand opportunities for growth.”

He called the local co-op’s model — emphasizing sale of local farm products as well as specialty items like locally made Dean’s Beans coffee — “is a model for the country.”

McGovern, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, said he was “deeply troubled” by the Congress’s recent decision to move anti-hunger programs like the Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program (SNAP) from the Farm Bill. But he added, “This here, this is the future ... Making food accessible to people where it’s hard to get fresh, locally grown foods is important. And it’s one of the ways to contain health care costs.”

You can reach Richie Davis at:
rdavis@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269

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