by N.R. Mallery
While the Upper Valley Food Cooperative was officially incorporated in summer of 1976, it was actually born from a group of people that had a vision and a dedication, in 1970, the “Do It Store” started on Main St. in W. Lebanon, NH with a vision of an environmental center – a center for human survival. The vision included a place for health, recycling and bulk buying of natural foods. Their motto was “Do it, don’t just talk about it!” The sign above the entry door read: “The Do It Store: Cooperation-Responsibility-Freedom”. One could find health foods, all 100% pure – no white sugar or white flour, and books,and hang out on funky couches… Bulk foods were purchased by an honor system: everyone weighed, marked and put the money in a tin can. Free clothing was available in the back of the store, where they hoped more people might learn about natural foods…
The Do It Store front operation was a 60’s type of place run by volunteers (Otto Christensen, Chris Nord, Judy Kaufman) – a bunch of hippies (guys with long hair and beards, girls with long dresses). The public started to come in when they realized that the group wasn’t building bombs in the back of store.
The monthly bulk buying pre-order groups were able to buy in bulk and buy it cheaper with an eventual statewide network, including Middlebury, Burlington, Northeast Kingdom, the Upper Valley, that took a tremendous coordinating effort. This led to the need for a warehouse, which was rented in Pompanoosuc, and which also provided space to Ben Ptashnik for $50/month. He lived there with no running water, with an outhouse but all rice he could eat and with a garden in the back. After food was divided up, full moon dances and potluck hoedowns with good foods like chocolate tofu cheesecake and wild greens.
The Do It Store closed in 1975, but re-opened in 1976 as the Upper Valley Food Co-op on Mechanic St. in Lebanon, where it struggled financially. Their re-location to downtown White River Junction in 1984 is where they gained financial security. People liked the friendly feel and the community started to shop there… Bob Reitsma proclaimed “Whenever i walk into the co-op, good things happen!”
In June of 2010, the UV Co-op purchased their buildings which had been leased up until that time. Now managed by a three person management team consisting of long-time staff member Kye Cochran (outreach & education), Sue Miller (store manager), and Norm McMullen (finance manager), the UV Co-op continues it’s growth as it transitions to meet today’s needs.
Much of the original “feel” and ways still exist such as recycling containers with what they now call “experienced containers”, for bulk options, that abound. Customers are encouraged to help themselves to the chlorine-free filtered water to take with them in re-used containers. In addition to the store functions, more space is used for offices, a member loaner library for books galore; also classes or workshops where one can learn to sew with donated materials, to bake, knit, or many re-skilling workshops or just for a gathering.
With this space also comes concerns for energy efficiency and meeting future energy needs. The staff have chosen to hang their wash to dry and have installed efficient lighting, an efficient Boderus boiler, and have sealed windows and insulated the attic with many inches of cellulose which has made a huge difference.
Plans for solar pv and hot water are in the future as well as additional weatherization measures for their 13,000 s.f. post and beam building. As Carol Langstaff states in the history of the UV Co-op CD, “Improving your heath through a co-operative endeavor – it just doesn’t get any better than that”.
It just keeps getting better! ♻