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Amherst co-op shares progress report on future grocery store

A progress update meeting for the Amherst Food Co-op was held at the Amherst Unitarian Meetinghouse on Sunday. Board members spoke to an audience of roughly 50 people about future plans for a multi-stakeholder grocery store in Amherst.

“We’re starting a business basically from zero by trying to knit together a diverse community that has different needs,” said Alex Kent, 59, president of the Board of Directors.

To the audience, he laid out a “grow, fund, build” process. The reach is set to 800 shareholders by Jan. 2019. The program has more than 350 shareholders now. With additional contributions from neighboring co-ops, like River Valley Co-op in Northampton, the group aims for a store size similar to that of Trader Joe’s in the town center by 2020.

“The biggest challenge we face is getting people to realize that while this is a food store, it is not a food store,” Kent said.

Kent said that providing fresh and local food is a means for community building and community resilience against big corporations and that the co-op movement is a political action.

Felicia Sevene, 49, a board member and Kent’s spouse, also addressed the crowd over her concerns over food justice, especially in a small area where grocery stores may not adequately satisfy the needs of diverse ethnic groups.

Following the presentations, the audience broke into groups of 5 to 6 to share stories of food and culture. Many recalled shopping at Yellow Sun, a food co-op in Amherst upon the arrival of Bread & Circus in Hadley in 1983.

Bread & Circus was acquired by grocery behemoth Whole Foods in 1993.

Eric Nakajima, 51, a resident of Amherst for over 40 years who is challenging Amherst Rep. Solomon Goldstein-Rose, said one must be “more than just a passive consumer of food. Nakajima’s family was part of Yellow Sun in the 1970s. Nakajima is also a member of Community Supported Agriculture.

“Like CSA, food co-op is another great way of directly engaging in the quality of the food and the treatment of workers in the farm,” Nakajima said.