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Food co-op looks to open store in Bethlehem

America’s first cooperative feast occurred in 1621, when pilgrims gathered to celebrate the harvest. Were it not for the food, they’d have died, a lingering fact still recognized on Thanksgiving.

America’s first cooperative feast occurred in 1621, when pilgrims gathered to celebrate the harvest. Were it not for the food, they’d have died, a lingering fact still recognized on Thanksgiving.

Food remains essential, but today’s consumers are no longer so connected to the supply.

To help fix that, passionate people are volunteering to create a store by 2015 that will give shoppers a say in what comes to their tables.

It’s called the Bethlehem Food Co-op.

Nearly two years old, the grassroots effort intends to benefit the community through nutrition, education and empowerment. Plus, it is expected to bolster sales for regional farmers and suppliers when shelves are stocked with as many local products as possible.

Small Lehigh Valley producers that cannot meet distributor and wholesaler demand must find their customers at farmers’ markets, roadside stands or through community-supported-agriculture programs. It’s a choppy, inefficient process for consumer and supplier alike, one that the food co-op hopes to correct.

Anyone will be able to shop at the store, but for a one-time $300 fee, a member gets to vote for what products will be sold.

Nationally, co-ops have evolved to create more than 850,000 jobs and a $650 billion slice of the economy, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2010 proclamation recognizing October as National Cooperative Month.

The City Market, a 16,000-square-foot co-op in Vermont, reported $4 million in local product sales within seven years of opening. Sixty-five percent of the revenue was estimated to have remained in the local economy.

A type of corporation, co-ops operate for the benefit of members instead of outside investors. Through agricultural co-ops, for example, individual farmers market their products as a national brand, such as Land O’Lakes or Ocean Spray.

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