Union Leader Op-ed: Hanover Co-op not slowing down after 81 years

Hanover Co-op, Recognized Leader Among Food Cooperatives Nationwide

NEW HAMPSHIRE is known for many things: Its breathtaking landscape, the nation’s first public library and Timberland boots, to name a few. 

But did you know that it’s also known for having one of the oldest cooperative businesses in the United States? That’s right: the Hanover Co-op Food Store was created during the heart of the Great Depression. In January 1936, the founders — 17 Dartmouth faculty members and spouses — sought to find better quality food at fair prices. 

Eighty-one years later, it continues to succeed by serving the needs of its members, the greater community and by boosting the local economy.

Historically, co-ops have been born out of necessity, and throughout that history, the cooperative movement has empowered numerous communities by creating platforms and opportunities to rise up and provide for themselves. Today, co-ops remain a powerful resource, and it is important to note that the cooperative business model has largely been successful in today’s economy. 

It continues to break the traditional mold for how successful businesses are organized and function. While most people recognize large national co-op brands like Nationwide Insurance, Organic Valley, Ocean Spray, or REI, local co-ops are having a more profound impact on their economies — and New Hampshire is proof of that fact.

We pride ourselves on regularly working hand in hand with our region’s farmers to sustain and hone production plans to ensure optimal produce for our customers. For example, each February for the past 19 years, in the dead of winter, we gather together with local produce growers and plan the summer harvest. 

This has not only enabled the farmers to survive, but has also allowed them to make a decent profit and establish “farmer-to-farmer” partnerships; which is rare in their overly competitive industry. These close-working relationships allow us to work with the farms to eliminate duplications of produce, which ensures decreased waste, increased efficiency, and economic and health benefits. Efforts like this are part of our co-op’s effort to build a well-nourished community cultivated through cooperation.

For more than eight decades, we have worked together to ensure our community is indeed well-nourished and has reliable access to healthy food. We adhere to values around equality, equity, fair treatment of producers, staff and customers. Cooperation among cooperatives is an uncommon philosophy in the business world, but here at Hanover Co-op we are able and committed to share knowledge and ideas across the co-op business spectrum. It is an advantage that gives our community collective strength.

This past weekend, Granite Staters had the opportunity to experience a broad sampling of food and beverages that more than 35 local producers brought to the table at our annual “Producers Fair.” Later this year, co-op grocers like the Hanover Co-op Food Stores will take our story to Washington, D.C., joining fellow co-ops from across all industries and geographies alongside the National Cooperative Business Association as it brings a village of co-ops to Congress.

The co-op festival will highlight the impact that co-ops have on the economy and in communities. Co-ops and the relationships they develop throughout their communities not only cross-pollinate ideas but also members, professional services and best practices.

We started with a need that planted a seed of self-help and determination, and with care, nourishment and community, our garden continues to grow and feeds us all.

Allan Reetz is director of public relations for Hanover Co-op Food Stores.

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About Hanover Co-op Food Stores

The Hanover Co-op Food Stores—also known as the Hanover Consumer Cooperative Society—is owned by more than 24,000 members. The Co-op seeks to build a well-nourished community cultivated through cooperation. From its founding in 1936 by 17 Dartmouth College professors and their spouses, the Hanover Co-op is now one of the oldest and largest of its kind in the United States. In recent years, this business has served more than 5,000 customers a day. For more than 85 years, this cooperative has stood by its founding commitment to buying locally produced food and goods. From locations in New Hampshire and Vermont, this consumer-owned business generates sales of $85 million annually from three grocery stores, a community market, and two auto service centers.