Thursday afternoon in the Marlboro Graduate Center, five panelists shared their personal stories as owners transitioning their businesses to a Co-op, business owners who are considering the transition and members of already successful Co-ops.

The panel included David Ritchie of Green Mountain Spinnery in Putney, Vermont, a worker-owned Co-op, Alice Cozzolino of Old Creamery Co-op in Cummington, MA, Dan Rosenberg of Real Pickles in Greenfield, MA, Adam Trott of the Valley Alliance of Worker Cooperatives, and Rebekah Hanlon of Valley Green Peace in Northampton, MA. The workshop was hosted by Bonnie Hudspeth of the Neighboring Food Co-op Association of Shelburne Falls, MA.

Each panelist shared the gripes of converting to a Co-op, but almost every story boiled down to one idea: despite hardships and “bumpy roads,” with good morale as the outcome, converting to a Co-op is well worth it.

A list of the defining traits of a co-op

The ultimate goal for most of the business owners was a worker co-op, where the business is owned by the employees. Rebekah Hanlon is one of four women who run Valley Green Peace, a produce home delivery service that offers 20% off for EBT customers. Hanlon and her co-workers advocate a bartering system and formed relationships with farms and small business owners in Western Massachusetts.

“We’re not making any money on this, but why should you?” said Hanlon.

Valley Green Peace focuses on bridging gaps in the community between people who have no access to local produce, either because of transportation or monetary issues.

Alice Cozzolino has been running Old Creamery for 12 years and is now in the process of transforming her grocery store/cafe into a worker-owned Co-op. Old Creamery hosts events that do not focus on revenue as much as community building, such as product tasting and coffee houses.

Cozzolino was losing sleep over selling bottled water in Old Creamery. Her community in Cummington raised $14,000 for a sterilizer and Cozzolino and her co-founder re-purposed empty glass bottles from the store’s recycling bins as free water bottles for customers

Dan Rosenberg of Real Pickles in Greenfield presented the other side of the coin. Real Pickles products are carried in over 350 natural food stores in the Northeast. The work fluctuates seasonally is very labor intensive, which makes it difficult to retain a staff and would therefore be a tough transition to a worker co-op. Rosenberg also acknowledged the financial challenges.

“We need to look at outside financing sources. Most of the work is good will,” he said.

Still, Rosenberg says the outlook is positive overall and Real Pickles will probably become a co-op eventually.

–Rachael Roth