One Way the Food Co-op Can Help My Family

Every summer when I was a kid growing up in Maryland, I would spend a month with my grandparents living on Cliff Island, Maine.  I never got tired of waking up to fresh baked muffins despite seeing my breath in the morning air.  Later at lunch, we would grab lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, and carrots from the garden to make a fresh salad and watch the boats go by our beautiful westward view of Casco Bay.  Those summers were filled with garden chores and cooking assignments, but they were also filled with the love my grandparents shared with our family and friends.  My daughters are now the same age as I was when I went to Maine and I find myself searching for a way to share that sense of community through food.

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 2.39.40 PMGetting food to an island is something that is not taken for granted; our weekly schedule was set around food.  Cliff Island was about 2 hours ferry ride outside of Portland, so “going to the grocery store” was an all-day affair.  We would check our stocks against a meal plan in the morning and then catch the 10:00am ferry to get to the city by lunch time.  After a quick bite, we would walk to the grocery store where they would have just enough of everything stuffed into the smallest store I ever knew.  Our groceries, including frozen and refrigerated items, were packed in those old chaquita banana boxes.  We shopped there because the store would take our boxes (and everyone else’s) by cart over to the freight bay at the ferry terminal.  It was clear us “islanders” were a huge part of their business.

When I was young, I would hang over the rail of the ferry and watch these huge, dark tanned, bearded sailors throw our grocery boxes through the air from the dock to the ferry one-by-one until all the pallets were emptied and the ship was ready to shove off.  The big excitement on the ride back was whether our grocery boxes were packed on the outside (facing the sun) in inside to stay cool.  I only remember that it was hard to tell one chaquita box from another.  At each stop, the muscled men would toss the right boxes onto the right dock until we reached the end of the line, our stop, where our boxes would be tossed and neatly stacked.  They did a great job and my grandparents knew that at $1/box, this summer work would put these local island boys through school.

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 2.39.57 PMOur arrival at the Cliff Island dock was always full of fanfare.  Younger kids would jump into the big wake of the ferry, the older kids would be showing off their tans and our family would be there to greet us with big smiles and all the family carts.  The stronger ones like my cousin and I would load the grocery boxes into the carts and we would all work together to push the carts up the hill, past the recreational center and down the gravel road to our house.  We were lucky; folks with houses on the other side of the island had to wait for the one island station wagon to pickup and delivery their boxes.  Finally, we would unload and then unpack the boxes while the rest of the family quizzed us on our Portland visit and all the ferry gossip.

Every day in Maine was a lot of work and a lot of fun that will be among the best days of my childhood.  Food was not about completing another errand, but about connecting with the grocer, the dockhands, the passengers and our family that bound us together.  The birthday cake was chocolate because thankfully this time our grocery box was in the cooler middle of the stack.  The salad was fresh because it was literally picked 10 minutes ago and the dressing was made from scratch. Our dinner that night was a celebration of all that was accomplished when we left our house at 9:30 that morning.  And this is what I want to teach my daughters every Saturday as we drive to Maynard, meet our friends at the Co-op, help pack our own grocery boxes and head back home to make chocolate cake and fresh garden salad.

-By Rob Olney (Owner #326)

Nearing 400

We are just about at what could be our halfway mark…400 Owners!  While we are still busy collecting data, we anticipate needing between 800-1000 Owners to open our store.  If we are at the low end of this range, then we are almost halfway there.  As of today (Sunday June 28, 2015) we sit at 392 Owners from 22 towns, with Maynard, Acton and Bolton being our top three.  That is all pretty exciting!

To make things more exciting, we just had our market study completed, and while the report is still being compiled the gist is ALL good news!  The consultant confirmed what nearly 400 of us have believed all along — Maynard is a great location for a food co-op and we have several viable locations to choose from in which to create our Co-op!

Let’s take a moment to savor that information.

More details to follow, but WOW.  This is wonderful news.AVFCO Flyer General 2015-0430 (1)

If you’ve been waiting for evidence that this is a good idea (the Co-op) — and the belief of nearly 400 people is not enough — then this report should help you feel confident and encourage you also to become an Owner.  Cooperatives are owned by people, together, who want to not only make an important difference in their community, but build a healthy place to shop and learn.  Help us build this community — let’s see how quickly we can reach 400 Owners (just 8 away) and then let’s see how quickly we get to our next round number of 500!

We just keep growing.  Together we are building a community through our connection to food and together we will open a village grocery store in the town of Maynard – “a great location for a food co-op.”

Rain Barrels, Board Elections, and Hi Neighbor – oh MY!

If you’re not excited by one of the things in the title, then you need to be paying better attention!

We are moving folks…the momentum is building.  There is a lot happening.  Stay informed and stay involved!

  • Tuesday 6/23 by 5pm – the LAST chance for you to order your Great American Rain Barrel.  They will be available for pick-up on Saturday 6/27 from 9am to 11am at the Maynard Farmers’ Market (Mill Pond parking lot, off of Main St in Maynard).  This is ALSO the opening day of the market – lots of fun events, including meeting all the great vendors and farmers who will be present at the market.  There is even a costume parade happening at 10am!
  • Thursday 6/25, 7pm-8:30pmQ & A with the current board of directors.  This is YOUR opportunity to find out what is happening with the initiative, ask questions, help out, AND find out about board elections — what it means to sit on the board, and what you can do to apply for a board position.  This will be our first time electing our board or directors, as set forth in our by-laws (which were voted in last year at our first owners’ meeting).  The election will take place at this year’s annual meeting on Oct 17th, but the election process begins on Thursday.  Come find out more.  There is at least ONE open seat.  You could fill it!
  • July 6th – Aug 30th – Hi Neighbor!  Our next membership campaign will run through the summer.  It is all about summer cookouts, group pot-lucks, farmers’ markets, picnics, and more!  If you would like to participate or have a Co-op representative at a block party, house party, or just around to party – let us know! We want to be out meeting our neighbors.  Building community, one gathering at a time!

All pretty exciting!  Oh, and there’s the little (HUGE) matter of the market study that is happening!  We are very excited about this process in our development and are looking forward to sharing more information with our community.

Check us out, serve, stay informed, volunteer, and join us in building a community through our connection to food.  Oh My!


Chef Brian Clark’s Pop-Up Style Thank-You Dinner

fancy saladOwner #19 Brian Clark, a Culinary Institute of America trained chef, created, cooked and hosted a pop-up  style fundraiser dinner for the Coop at his family’s home on June 13.

This well-orchestrated and fun, sociable evening was also made possible with the help of Brian’s partner Kate Clark and his sous chef Brianna Clark.

Their living room held three large dining tables with plenty of room to socialize and the décor of their home with interesting pieces scattered everywhere and hanging strings of lights created a wonderful ambience.

The 15 diners enjoying the feast that night were in awe of Brian’s very creative culinary masterpieces, theIMG_20150613_181505 ingredients of which were mostly locally and all ethically sourced. Brian and Kate are members of around five CSAs, for produce, meat and seafood!

Owner #156 Elena Colman and her partner Karl of Crooked Row Fields in Concord donated the lovely field greens.

The evening began with two appetizers—tiny arancini with radish leaves and pistachio pesto along with red wine and soy marinated smoked bluefish crostini. Small plates of spiced rubbed shrimp and popcorn grits with house cured bacon chive oil and stuffed pasta bundles filled with quail mousse in a golden game consommé followed. Next came the field greens with radishes and house made herb buttermilk ranch dressing. The entrees were served family style, and included faro and seafood paella with a seaside chimichirri, spinach soufflé, and roast chicken filled with spring greens porchette style. After all that we could not resist the rhubarb and strawberry filled hand pies with fresh berry coulis and house made salted caramel ice cream.

I don’t think a meal close to this one could be found anywhere in MetroWest, not to mention enjoying it while donating to an initiative which will support healthy eating and community! A significant amount of money was raised for the Coop, which will allow us to expand our outreach and marketing efforts.

Our heartfelt thanks again to the Clarks and Crooked Row Fields!

– Kim Giovacco, Board of Directors


3 entrées family style

It’s been a long time coming…

This initiative first began in February of 2012, when four people met at a local pizza place to talk about the idea of starting a food co-op. One of the first things we did was to hold an open information night at the Maynard Public Library to gauge community interest. We created a power point presentation. We talked about what cooperatives are, and how they work. We talked about our vision for the store and for the community it would create. We talked about the rich history of cooperatives we have here in Maynard. And we talked about what it would take to get from A, to B, to C, to opening the doors. We created a slide, and on it were listed three things, with arrows going from one to the next:

Market Feasibility Study –> Financial Feasibility Study –> Business Plan

That information night feels like a lifetime ago. So much has been accomplished since then. So very many wonderful people have done tremendous amounts of work to keep the initiative moving forward, and forward we have come. As of this writing, our Member count stands at 383. Three hundred and eighty three people who have been inspired enough, and who trust us enough, to throw their lot in with ours! To join this fledgling cooperative. To stand up and say “I want this store to open!”. And the store is still just an idea.

But not for very much longer. We’ll be meeting with our market study analyst on June 26th. And we’ll be getting her report three or four weeks later. And then we won’t have “just an idea”. We’ll have the first of two studies that will form the basis for our business plan, our budget, and our loan application. We’ll know how many members we’ll likely have, and from where. We’ll know how big of a store this area can support. And we’ll know the projected revenues for each of the three possible locations. And that’s a lot. It’s not the only step, but it’s a big one!

I believe, and have always believed, that Maynard will be a great place for a food co-op. And now, after all these years, we’ll have our market study to back that up☺. It’s been a long time coming, and I’m so excited that we’re finally here. I’m proud, and humbled, and grateful beyond my ability to express to everyone who has worked on this initiative, to the Food Co-op Initiative and the Neighboring Food Co-op Association, and to our three hundred and eighty three members.

Will you be member #384? Don’t wait. The Co-op is coming!

– Siobain Mitchell, Board of Directors

Farming for Fish, Part 3: My 9 to 5

Hi, Assabet Village Coop! Ellen the fish girl is back, after a week at work — and that’s what I’m here to tell you all about today. My first blog in this series talked about the state of salmon fisheries today and why fish farming is an important issue for us fish eaters to think about. (By the way, I was recently directed to this excellent article about deciding which fish to eat.) In part 2, I went over some of the details of salmon farming. Today, at the tail end of a long, hot week (whew), I’m going to tell you about what I do every day: smoking fish.

I think that officially my job title is something boring like “assistant production manager.” But when I’m not putting it on my resumé, I call myself the Smokemistress. My job is to turn 3 pound salmon fillets into neat, smoked little chunks in pretty packages. At the moment, The Boston Smoked Fish Company works out of a souped-up garden shed with a 2 person crew on a busy day. Over the summer, we’re going to get a major upgrade so we can handle bigger orders (like the Boston Public Market–you excited yet?), and we’ll move to a building on the fish pier in Boston. The smoking process will be a little different after we move–stay tuned, because I might blog about it.

These are the steps to make smoked salmon: cut, brine (dry or wet), dry, smoke. Done. We make hot-smoked salmon. Hot smoking is a processing method that leaves you with cooked fish at the end, and a fairly mild flavor–more like grilled salmon than like, say, lox. The brine is short and strong, the smoke is hot and quick. This is different from cold smoking, which is probably what many of you are more familiar with. Cold-smoked salmon (like lox) is smoked for 12 to 24 hours over cooled smoke, not exceeding 90 degrees, so it comes out soft, raw, salty, and strongly flavored.

Obviously, you can smoke other kinds of fish. We also smoke bluefish and haddock, and next week we’re going to try trout–check in at a farmers’ market and ask us how it went. Smoked whitefish is classic, but hard to get in these parts. You can even process mussels this way. And you can do this. Pretty good smokers are available to the ambitious home cook, and none of this is rocket science. You just need very fresh fish, good ventilation, and some trial and error. Do try this at home. But try ours first!

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 5.59.13 AM

We start out with a trip to the fish pier. Each cooler we pick up there has about 40 lbs of whole salmon fillets–at the moment, we go through two of those a week, but during the height of summer we need closer to 200 lbs to supply all our stores and farmers’ markets. When they get to the shop at 9 in the morning, I dig them out of the ice and cut them.

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 5.59.26 AMAt this stage, the fish are raw–filleted and trimmed, but that’s it. They’re slimy and wet, which is good–as they sit out, they lose moisture, which tells you they’re not fresh. (But you have to be careful not to lose your grip and drop them. Which I’ve done.) They have almost no smell, except for a hint of the Bay of Fundy if you lean in and really sniff. They’re bright and shiny and really rather beautiful, with brilliant scales, deep pinky-orange flesh and thin white stripes of heart-healthy fish fat. I’ve eaten this stuff raw. It’s pretty good.

First, I trim off any funny-looking bits–fins, bruises, and so on. This is some of the best salmon money can buy, so I don’t have to do much trimming. Next, I trim off the belly–in the picture, that’s already gone. I set those aside to turn into bacon. Then I cut the pieces for smoking, trying to nail that window between .3 and .33 lbs every time. Once it’s lost some water during the smoking process, each piece weighs just about a quarter of a pound. I flatter myself that I do okay at it by now, but it took a lot of practice. The tails aren’t usually the right size to sell, so I set those aside to make salmon pâté.

Once 40 lbs are cut — it takes me about 20 minutes — I pile everything into our brine tank. The ingredients are a secret, but there’s salt, sugar, tamari, and garlic, and no weird chemicals. It’s the same brine I use in my own kitchen at home. Just at work, I make about 15 gallons of it. The fish sits in the brine for about an hour and a half–brining helps preserve the fish by pulling out some of the water and replacing it with salt, keeping bacteria from growing. Once it’s done, I pull it out and rinse off the scales and bits of garlic that are inevitably stuck to the outside. From there, it goes onto the smoking racks and sits out in front of a fan for a few minutes. This little step is actually very important: it creates a sticky outer layer of dry protein, called the pellicle, that catches smoke particles for flavor.

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 5.59.39 AMWhen the salmon is nice and tacky, I move the racks into the smoker. We use hickory and pecan wood, with different blends depending on the fish. Hickory is a strong, distinctive flavor — cook yourself some bacon and you’ll smell it. Pecan is subtle and quite sweet. The two of them together work well for smoked salmon. The fish sits in the smoking chamber for about 2 hours at 200-250 degrees, or until it’s done. This part, like all cooking, is more of an art than a science. In wet weather, smoking takes longer. If it’s cold outside, I have to turn up the heat. And so on. I’m looking for a temperature above 145 for at least half an hour–this kills any pathogens that might be in there. After coming out of the smoker, the salmon is shiny and brown, and the bellies have turned into crispy bacon. (Don’t eat them right now, Ellen…) And that’s it — each piece gets a quality control check (that is, I brush off any bits of soot that got on them in the smoker), and I spice some of them with secret ragin’ cajun rub. They go into vacuum pouches, and then to market.

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 5.59.50 AM

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 6.00.01 AMAnd what, you ask, do I do with this hot-smoked salmon? Good question! At this point, I have to regretfully confess, I’m somewhat beyond loving to eat smoked salmon — smoke never quite washes out of your clothes and hair when you spend as much time around it as I do. But at the smokehouse we’re all about taking work home with us, and we have some suggestions from our own kitchens: Put it on a salad. Make a tomato-cream sauce with it and serve it over pasta. Stuff it into a cucumber. And if all that isn’t enough, it’s still really good on a bagel.

I hope I’ve shed some light on a part of the food industry that spends far too much time in the dark. There are plenty of articles talking about the problems with fish farming, but that’s only a tiny bit of the story. As I’ve discussed, fish farming is an important part of the solution to our fishery depletion problem, and it can even be an environmentally friendly practice, but it’s important to do your research and be thoughtful about the farmed fish you buy. And even the farm is only part of the story–most of us aren’t buying live fish and gutting them in our kitchen sinks. (Even I don’t do that.) When you pick up a piece of fish in the store, it’s gone down a mile or so of conveyor belts; it’s been laser-scanned; a line of workers has pulled out its pinbones; it’s ridden on boats and trucks; and a lot of people like me have tried to make it just right to sit on your plate. What do you think?

-Ellen Green

Stay tuned: Ellen will be writing monthly profiles of local farmers, cooks, bakers, butchers, craftspeople, and more. If there’s anyone you’d like her to profile, or if you would like to be profiled, email the coop.

Hello From Idaho!

11535658_595067457302649_5829299691389167766_nI just wanted to write a short note to our community!

After a long journey, and lack of sleep (early flight), I arrived in Idaho Wednesday (6/10) and was greeted by free trial mix, almonds, and a lovely sign welcoming me and others who are attending the CCMA conference this week/weekend when I stepped off the plane in Boise Idaho.

[side note, CCMA stands for Consumer Cooperative Management Association, and is one of the many acronyms I am learning this weekend :)]

I am not a frequent flyer (I have taken two flights in the past 20 years) and this was my first time ever away from my two small kids. Lack of sleep and being a novice traveler aside (and missing my kids – who are doing great) I am in Boise and have already met many lovely people from other cooperatives and the staff at the Riverside Hotel has been exceptional.

This conference is a great gathering of cooperatives from all fields of business, and I am excited to get a chance to IMG_0369learn new things and meet new people.  If you would like to see some of the things I will be doing this trip, check out the conference schedule here. I am so excited to bring back strategies and information to move our initiative forward!

I will check in again once I arrive back in Massachusetts brimming over with knowledge.  In the meantime, if you are not yet an Owner, do some research yourself and join our community.  I know I am happy I did and can’t wait to have a store-front food cooperative in our area!

Reporting from Idaho,

-Heather Nickle, Board of Directors

Curried Lentil Pilaf  

Recipe for Curried Lentil Pilaf  —  Serves 6

This combination of fruit and warm spices tickles the senses with aroma, flavor and texture.

1 C Long grain brown riceCurry-Powder-1
1 C Lentils
2 Carrots, ¾” pieces (or 1 sweet potato)
1 Onion, ½”
½ Green pepper, ½”
4 C Water
2 t. Curry powder
1 t. Cumin
½ C Golden raisins
¼ t. Salt
¼ C Cilantro, chopped, for garnish

Combine harvested-cilantroall ingredients through raisins in a deep skillet.
Cover and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to medium and simmer 30 minutes.
Stir in salt.
Adjust water if necessary, adding up to ½ C.
Cover and cook another 15-20 minutes.
Serve garnished with cilantro.

-Recipe by Nancy Teasdale (Owner #294)

Thank You for All the Love

Update on Hudson Community Fest 2015: Our tabling team had a GREAT time at Hudson Community Fest today (6/6/15). We had FIVE new Owners join our community, increasing our numbers and bringing more enthusiasm and support for a village grocery store that serves the Metrowest/Assabet 11255865_582960505180011_6394348360348608155_nValley region. Over 2 dozen people signed up to be on our mailing list, and many, many, many people went away with information (and Owner agreements) about us – including some “grow with us” wildflowers.  We also had a couple farms contact us about our CSA promotion we just launched!

Thank you to all the volunteers that made the day a success and all the current Owners who stopped by to say HI and have your Owner testimonials taken.  You will see these pictures posted on our Facebook page (LIKE us!) and we hope to add a page on our webpage soon with some displayed. We would also like to thank the Assabet Valley Chamber of Commerce for hosting such a great event.

Today was a great success for us, and we would LOVE to break over 400 Owners before the end of the month!  Can you help us out?!  Of course you can!  You can:

Together we are building a community through our connection to food.  Together we are strengthening our regional food system. Together we are creating something great. 

Join us…at Hudson Fest!

Time to joinThe Assabet Village Food Cooperative is excited.  We have nearly 400 Owners, our market study is going to be completed by the end of the summer evaluating 3 potential sites in Maynard, we have an amazing fund raiser coming up, and a wonderful community of Owners and supporters.  There is a lot going on.

Saturday June 6 we will be participating in Hudson Community Fest in downtown Hudson, MA.  Here are the two things we would LOVE to have happen:

“I Like having a say about the products sold in my Co-op. It is great to support local businesses.” – Sadie DeSimone, Owner #338

  1. Current Owners – come visit us at our tent.  We are going to be taking Owner pictures!  Tell us 1-3 sentences why YOU love the Co-op, why YOU joined, snap a picture with our “I Own My Grocery Store” sign and have fun!
  2. Prospective Owners – Come visit us too! Now’s the time to join.  Stop by, ask your questions, learn more about us – bring check, cash or CC.  The Ownership share is $200, which can be paid all at once or over time.  This is NOT an annual fee. It is YOUR share in the store, and provides you ALL the benefits of Ownership – the biggest of which is opening our doors!

We hope to break over our 400 mark this weekend!  If you’ve been waiting and watching, wait no more.  Join online, join through the mail, or join in person.  We are building a community together through our connection to food.  This community connects towns, families, farmers, and other producers.  What’s not to love about that?!

See you at Hudson Fest!

“I like to support local businesses and I love to buy my food from local farms. I also would like to do my grocery shopping in a small, comfortable, and welcoming environment.”
-Jason Sobel, Owner #74