Short History of the Upper Valley Food Co-op’s Roots

This article was written by longtime Co-operator, Kye Cochran.
The latest issue of our community newsletter is still in layout and will be available soon online and in-store. In the meantime, please enjoy this taste of what is to come.
~Chris Jacobson


The Upper Valley Food Co-op has an interesting history with roots all over the Upper Valley.  

Activists in the early ’70’s were unable to get bulk foods, so they started a small store on West Lebanon’s Main Street that they called ‘The Do-it Store’, with its motto over the door: “ Don’t Just Talk about it, Do It!” Customers figured out their own bill and put their money in a can.  

Later, the store became known as the Upper Valley Food Co-op, acting as a buyers’ club housed in a couple of quanset huts near the Ompompanoosuc River in Thetford.  Each month, after the bulk food had been distributed, they cleared the center of the main building and had a dance.  

Eventually it became a grocery store, located on Mechanic Street in Lebanon;  then in 1983, it moved to the Coolidge Block in downtown White River Junction. 

A wonderful video of the our co-op’s beginnings, filmed by South Strafford co-op member Phyl Harmon, is available on DVD in the co-op’s library.  

I began working at the co-op in its White River Junction location in 1987.  My pay was $4.75/hour.  There were two staff members: Chip Blough and myself.  There were no departments, and we shared all the tasks.  On a good day, we took in $1,000.  The store had wall-to-wall carpeting (presumably in place when they moved in), and a superworker came in each morning and vacuumed it. 

Most of our products came from a distributor co-op of food co-ops called Northeast Cooperatives, and the trucks had to park on Main Street across from the store (there was no rear access).  We would carry the boxes across the street, take them in the front door and down an aisle to the back of the store, and pile them in a little dark back hall to be opened and the contents stocked. 

Even back then, before the local foods movement, our co-op bought as much from local producers and farmers as we could. We got tomatoes (and lettuce!) from Longwind Farm before they began to concentrate on just tomatoes, and I remember Jack Lazor of Butterworks Farm bringing his yogurt to us in person! 

It was a charming little store, and we loved it.  We had a big window in front, where we put a little table and chairs, so that two people at a time (or maybe 3) could eat and watch people go by in the street.  

But by 1993, our sales were such that we had to move to a bigger building, and with trepidation we took over our present location.  We knew our customers loved our smallness and humanness and were afraid we would lose that in this big store! 

Clearly, we have been able to preserve what our customers like!  

From the Cooked to the Raw: An Experiment in Eating

Article by Amanda Skinner, published in the July/August newsletter: Raw Food

If you hate cooking, you’ll love raw. Raw means not heating food above 105 – 118⁰ as this damages the nutrients and minerals and can make food harder to digest. That means no steaming, boiling, sautéing, broiling, baking, frying or any of the other creative processes I was used to. None of the ingredients are pasteurized, homogenized, genetically modified, or otherwise compromised.

Levi Strauss wrote about the raw and the cooked as a way of describing what was found in nature and what is formed by human culture. At first glance, our home culture didn’t involve many processed foods. The challenge of eating raw for a week opened my eyes to how many processed foods we actually ate and helped me re-examine our relationship with food.

Our kids’ snacks were off limits. Coffees and teas were also off the menu (help, I thought!). Bread and all the other baked goods that peppered our week were out. And as much as I love cooking, there are days when I just throw the fallback meal together (the one where I know we will be full and I know I have the ingredients), or we eat out. Those options were not available.

Where we found our ingredients also changed. Beyond our home, the food culture is largely processed, in some cases more heavily than others. The majority of supermarket goods are processed, and a large number of those contain genetically modified organisms which are strictly off the table, so to speak, in the raw diet. Unless the produce was raw and organic, I wasn’t buying.

After some rushed research and some serious produce purchasing at the coop (thank you bulk section!) I figured I could at least get us through the first day. I knew I had to soak nuts (to release enzymes and make them more digestible) and I had a vague idea about sprouting seeds (studies have shown this increases proteins, B vitamins, and amino acids). I knew people used dehydrators (but did not have a spare few hundred $ to buy one), and was convinced of the importance of a good food processor or blender.

Despite all this, day one was abysmal.

Breakfast was put on hold when I discovered we had no cheesecloth to drain the pulp from the almond milk. I packed the kids into the car to pick up cheesecloth before they had hunger meltdowns. Did I mention there was no coffee for me during my raw week? The rest of the morning was spent preparing and researching lunch and dinner and made day one exhausting.

We made it through day one, in fact we made it through a week with zero processed foods. Some of the meals were abject failures – we spent one meal choking back blended cabbages masquerading as soup. Other meals were amazing and filling.

Eating 100% raw food completely challenged the culture we had formed around food in our home. We genuinely felt better about food because we were making such a conscious effort to eat better food. Although it was frustrating to let go of the old culture of cooking, the new culture of soaking, blending, marinating, sprouting, and drying offered fresh possibilities.

Making that cultural shift at home was not as hard as I had thought. Making a broader cultural shift will be harder. Eating out is impossible on a raw diet, and visiting with friends and family mean salads and veggie sticks, which is why now we are about 80% raw. I haven’t had a cup of coffee since our raw week began and I don’t miss it.

Store RESET!!! July 26, 27 and 28!

Important Information!!!


Just a reminder that

the Upper Valley Food Co-op will have

adjusted store hours

during our Reset July 26, 27 & 28

Saturday, July 26

Deli & Produce Departments will close at 1pm.

The entire store will close early at 6pm. 

Sunday, July 27

The Upper Valley Food Co-op will be closed. 

Monday, July 28

The store opens at Noon.


~~~  We apologize for the inconvenience. ~~~


Welcome back on Monday

5% off all purchases!


Don’t forget 5% off to Seniors on Tuesday.


5% off on August 1st, 4 to 6pm

Stop by during our First Friday event for a guided orientation to the new setup.

The goals for this reset are two-fold. One is to ease traffic flow in the deli area where it tends to jam and the other is to consolidate the bulk offerings into one area. This will hopefully make it easier for our bulk buying cutomers and more efficient for our grocery clerks to maintain. Please bear with us as we start packing up parts of the store Saturday evening. We’ll be closed all day on Sunday, and we’ll open again Monday at noon.

July Farm Tour in Hartland

written by Larissa Banwell

Breadseed Poppy & Perennial Wheat


One of the many great things about the Upper Valley is the number of local organic farms that reside here. This past weekend the Co-op took advantage of that fact and hosted the first of its two Farm Tours, an opportunity for community members to learn not just the details of how farms run, but also the goals and philosophies behind them.

This first Farm Tour was actually a visit to two neighboring farms, Sylvia Davatz’s Solstice Seeds and Brian Stroffolino’s Heartland Farms, who focus on collaboration over competition. Brian, who rents his land from Sylvia, had little farming experience before starting Heartland Farms. In the two years that this farm has been running Sylvia has been his mentor. He’s adopted her enthusiasm for seed saving, working the land by hand, and using hay mulch for most everything. This similarity in their approach to farming encourages collaboration, while differing crops and goals avoids competition.


Seed Fennel


Walking onto Sylvia’s property, you will be taken in by her orderly gardens and orchard. The stone walled beds and the close quarters of a wide variety of plants gives the sense of a decorative landscape, but amongst these features are the functionary rows of crop. Some of these crops are for eating, but most are for generating seeds. Even many of the edible plants are left untouched to make sure that they produce bountiful seeds.

As Sylvia introduces herself, she explains why seed collecting is so important to her. There’s a value in having your own seeds to plant for the next year. It’s important to know how they were grown and processed. Things like how they were stored over winter can have a big impact on how well the plant grows the following year, or years down the line. There’s also the simple fact of knowing, without doubt, that this seed will do well in your particular climate.




That’s another one of Sylvia’s passions, and one of the philosophies behind her farm: experimenting with new varieties to find out what grows well in her climate. And she points out that her climate is not the northeast or even the upper valley, but Hartland specifically. This year she’s growing peas, and noting how each variety is doing as the season progresses. She’s also planted three varieties of peanuts, a borderline crop, to see how they’ll do.


Heartland Farms High Tunnel


Sylvia’s farm is basically a research farm, with experimentation a constant. Just next door, Brian’s farm is a food production farm. While he has a few crops that he grows for seed, or for experimentation, the majority of his crops are for Heartland Farms’ CSA. He often has four or five rows committed to the same crop, as opposed to Sylvia’s small row containing 12 to 20 plants. Many of these crops were grown from seeds that he got from Sylvia. Brian gets the assurance of knowing his crops will grow well, and Sylvia gets to see how the plants grow and mature, as compared to the parent plants. It’s an arrangement that benefits everyone. Farming is often thought to be a competitive business, but with the right set up collaboration can be extremely successful.


Vegetarian Lunch Provided by the Upper Valley Food Co-op


The second Farm Tour for the summer will be at Free Verse Farm in Chelsea, VT. This small community herb farm specializes in naturally-grown tisanes (herbal teas), culinary herbs, medicinals, and herbal remedies. You’ll be able to taste and smell all the herbs they have growing, and learn about the variety of uses for herbs. The tour will be August 23, from 11am to 2pm. If you’d like to register you can sign up in store or call 295-5804 or email

Product Highlights for July

coles New to our grocery shelves are Cole’s Sardines. From their recycled packaging to selecting only all-natural products that meet our strict standards for sustainable farming and fishing methods, Cole’s brings you great gourmet taste with a conscience.


new chapter We now have Turmeric Force in the Value Size, 120ct. New Chapter vitamin, mineral and herbal supplements are a whole-food complex – something your body easily recognizes and absorbs. Sourced from nature’s bounty of organic fruits, vegetables, herbs and superfoods and cultured in probiotics to deliver the full spectrum of Nature’s benefits.    


timberdoodle New to our Cheese Cave is Timberdoodle, a Tallegio-style cheese from Woodcock Farm, located in Weston, VT. This rectangular cheese has a sticky orange rind and a creamy soft interior. The rind imparts much of the strong flavor to the cheese and is complemented by the smooth texture and creamy, fresh flavors of the interior.

© 2014 Upper Valley Food Cooperative