by Chris Lindgren, reporting on the Slow Living Summit, Brattleboro, VT. Early June 2011.

The Slow Living Summit session, Economy and Business: Building the Resilient New England Economy: Common Good Success Stories, was inspiring.  Our first two presenters from Coop Fund of New England, and Coastal Enterprise Inc, represented long established organizations with enviable records of success.  Bonnie Rukin then shared the tremendous activities of Slow Money Maine. Leah Cook ended the session with an overview of and antidotes from her family’s food distribution business, Crown of Maine Organic Cooperative.

Common Good Success Stories Part I:
Regional organization report on their history and experience.
Cooperative Fund of New England (CFNE) was represented by Betsy Black. “Do you know what happens in 2012?” asked Betsy “The year of the coop.” was shouted out.  And indeed it is. CFNE has been supporting and building the coop movement with a focus on food coops for 36 years.  The fund has lent $24 million and 99.1% has been repaid. No investors have lost money. The growth of CNFE, Black pointed out, has been slow but steadily accelerating.

As the fund has grown so have the small food enterprises who sell at food coops.  And as food coops (Like Onion River Coop’s tranformation to City Market) have become successful and profitable they have invested money back into the fund continuing to seed healthy food into our communities.  Recently CFNE has made its largest loan for the new expansion of the Brattleboro Food Coop right here at Slow Living Summit central.

Black reminded us that coops are everywhere (AP news wire is a coop as are True Value and ACE hardware store chains) and they have a long rich history; while their strengths are many, a core benefit of smaller coops to local economies is local ownership, local membership. “Coops are place based.” Black emphasized that as supermarkets have abandoned down-towns leaving food deserts in their wake, coops are springing up. As a regional player supporting cooperative enterprise, CFNE has long supported investing in the CommonGood.

Organized in 1975 by “coop activists and social investors”, the CFNE operates to raise and distribute capital to coops throughout New England. A revival of coops in the 1960s and 1970s created a real need for funding sources that understood coops and supported the principles of the coop movement. In these early days the fund evolved to fill this gap by focusing on providing food coops  with financing; starting with a pool of $11,000.  CFNE’s first loan was for $2,000 to Buffalo Mountain Food Co-op in Hardwick, VT.

Black explained, CNFE exists to assist borrowers, living in a symbiotic relationship with coops. “We provide funds to coops who in turn support the fund with investment.” CNFE also assists coops with finding technical assistance as needed. The organization has been providing financial and business assistance, supporting the growth of a regional cooperative economy built on vision of equality, justice, and social responsibility since their first placement of funds in 1975. CFNE’s lending fertilizes our regional food system and provides a foundation for affordable housing in New England.

The mission and purpose of CNFE:
We advance community based, cooperative and democratically owned or managed enterprises with preference to those that serve low income communities through:

●      provision of prompt financial assistance at reasonable rates

●      provision of an investment opportunity that promotes socially responsible enterprise

●      and development of a regional reservoir of business skills with which to assist and advise.
Thank you Cooperative Fund Of New England.