A Third Place: 50 Years of Co-op Memories

Dark green illustrations adorn a light green background. At the bottom of the drawings there are two thin monochrome bars of rust red and brown. On top of the drawing there is a dark green rectangle with a rounded top and bottom. The words "Celebrating 50 Years of Food with Purpose" are printed in white inside the rectangle. The "0" in the 50 consists of an onion.

This month, City Market celebrates 50 years since we incorporated as the Onion River Co-op! To help us celebrate, we asked our Members, customers and community members to share their best memories of our Co-op. We heard from members of the original Buying Groups, folks who volunteered in our stores, kids who grew up with the Co-op, and Members who found community when they needed it most. Check out some of these stories below!


The Original Cooperators

One of the best parts of celebrating our 50-year history has been hearing from our pre-storefront Members. These cooperators came together when the Co-op was a collection of buying groups working to bring healthier and more diverse food choices to Vermont. Without their immense commitment to building a stronger local food system, and their devotion of many unpaid hours to building up the Co-op, we would never be where we are today.

Green illustrations of a person weeding crops, a burlap sack labeled "Buying Club," and a globe are clustered over a light red oval.

We joined Onion River Co-op in the 70’s to eat healthier and to try different foods.  We would gather at someone’s house to exchange thoughts on what people liked and to place our orders with the person hosting the meeting.  We would each take turns fulfilling all of the orders which could take a while to sort.  I remember lighting the old wood stove on Archibald Street to get the place warmed up when I would volunteer early morning. I smoked up the house a few times. We loved the Onion River Co-op and now love City Market where my husband and I take cooking classes using the freshest ingredients from the store with chefs who make the classes fun and educational.  Happy 50th, Onion River Co-op/City Market!  We loved you then and love you now.
-- Maddi Arthur

I'm an original Member! We lived in Westford in the early 70's and were part of a Buying Group.  We met monthly in someone's home and, using the list provided by the Co-op, decided what we as a group would buy.  This often involved some negotiation and persuasion among those present - can you buy an extra 5lb of rolled oats or King Arthur flour? We learned about new grains, beans, nuts, seeds and dried fruits to add to our homemade bread or granola. 

After we submitted out buying list to the people at Co-op "headquarters" on Archibald St., it was consolidated with the lists of all the other buying groups so that we had a final list of what we would pick up a couple of weeks later. One member of our buying group would volunteer to pick up the order in Burlington (where it had been broken down by more volunteers), bring it back to Westford, and assemble the group to break it down one more time for individual families. Responsibilities were shared and rotated, including taking a shift driving to Boston to pick up the total order.

At some point a critical mass of members realized that this took a tremendous amount of organization and work. If one link in the chain broke it affected many people who might not get the food they were counting on. Running an operation this big solely with volunteer labor became impossible.

Thus began the next exciting phase of the Co-op, the establishment of a storefront.
-- Sally Howe

I was a member of a pre-order group in Cambridge, VT, in the early to mid 1980s.   About a dozen remote neighbors gathered once a month to order bulk items from the Onion River Co-op.   Because I worked in Burlington, I often delivered the list along with payment to the coop on Archibald Street and picked up the order when it was ready.  We took turns working a few hours in the Co-op as part of our obligation.  The meetings to order food were social events, hosted at different homes in the evening with dessert and coffee or tea and a chance to catch up on our families and happenings.  It was also a great opportunity to buy healthy food at reasonable prices and perhaps try something new.  When I brought the food order back to Cambridge, one or two of us divided the bulk items into appropriately sized units for each family.  The Buying Group provided an opportunity to meet people from diverse backgrounds and nurtured friendships and connections in a rural and sometimes isolated community setting. Good food, good people, special memories!
-- Susan Clark

A Changing Co-op

The Co-op’s first and second storefronts, on Archibald Street and then on North Winooski Avenue, witnessed many changes to how the Co-op operated. The organization survived and thrived during this time thanks to the dedication and imagination of a small staff. Their steps to professionalize the Co-op laid the groundwork for today’s Co-op in countless ways.

A group of eight women and one man pose for a photo with a variety of produce items, including tomatoes, apples, corn, an artichoke, a pineapple and a very large gourd.

I worked at the coop in the 80s into the 90s when it was run as a worker’s collective.
The photo was taken in the early 80s…circa 1983?

We did all the work of the Co-op with the help of Member Workers and “10%-ers”: all the planning, bookkeeping, buying, receiving, marketing, cleaning, stocking, cashiering, outreach, orienting/education, and all other day to day operations. We didn’t even have an elected Board yet; the “Board” consisted of whoever turned up at the monthly meetings.

This picture was taken at the storefront on Archibald Street.  I think it’s important to note that women did the lion’s share of the work (along with the single gent shown here Terry Bouricius).

Pictured in this photo, from left: Patrice Onofrio, Laurie Larson, Jane Dewey, Terry Bouricius, Sandy Bauer (front), Donna Dannenhoffer, Kathy Anderson, Mandy McDermott, Alison Forrest

-- Laurie Larson


Co-op Kids

Parents have brought their kids into the Co-op ever since our Buying Group days. It’s a privilege to hear how City Market has positively impacted people’s relationship to food and helped young people develop a deeper understanding of our local food system. It’s not every day that we get to see the generational impact of our work! Thanks to all the Co-op kids who wrote to us to share their memories. 

One of my earliest memories was helping to paint a mural inside what I think must have been the first storefront. I was probably 3, and had a deep love of Winnie the Pooh, which I remember telling to the person doing the painting, and I helped paint as my mom helped set other things up. I remember seeing that little corner I helped paint for years, (and remember a Winnie the Pooh being on it, but maybe not! I was so young, I'm not sure) and always felt like a part of the place. 
-- Emma Lambert

I’ve been coming to City Market since I was a child when it existed in its original location. I remember always loving the Co-op more than other grocery stores because you had children’s grocery carts and I was able to help in the grocery store mission. My father has always had an adventurous palate and is an excellent cook, so your bulk section was always essential, especially to a young father on a budget who liked to experiment with new recipes. I was able to try his attempts at various Indian dishes, jambalaya, gumbo and I’m sure many other recipes I’m not recalling at this moment, all thanks to bulk spices. I have been a member myself for as long as I can remember, and your tofu scram saved my life many days before going into work at 3 tomatoes back in the day. I lived in NYC for 10 years, and didn’t realize how spoiled I was to have a grocery store like City Market in my life before I moved. You are still my favorite grocery store. LONG LIVE CITY MARKET!
-- Jennifer Brandt

A rust red oval forms the base for a collection of dark green illustrations. At the left is a puffy cloud. In the center, a family consisting of two parents and a child walks hand in hand. One member of the couple has her hair in a dark bun and is carrying a bag of groceries. The other member of the couple has two light braids. The child has short hair and is carrying a half-peeled banana.

Ever since I was a toddler, I remember going to City Market with my dad. I would get tofu and an apple samosa and we would eat lunch together outside. I always remembered the nice people who worked there. Now that I’m older, I work there myself and I see kids with their parents and remember how much I loved the place when I was that young. This store has been and will continue to be a huge part of my life.
-- Siobhan Shepard

When the Onion River Co-op started its buying club in 1973, my family signed on. I was 15 years old. I was heavily into making jams and jellies out of any fruit or berry I could forage. My family pre-ordered a 10lb flat of wild Maine blueberries one summer, and I remember spending several back-breaking hours cleaning them! The jam was delicious. 

When the first storefront opened on Archibald Street, it became my primary food source, and I volunteered in the store - cutting cheeses, bagging raisins.... As a shopper, a memorable experience was going to fill a jar with laundry detergent and having the spigot of the container come off - spilling laundry liquid far and wide! I learned that one cleans soapy items with dry rags. 

My family had a small market garden for a bit, and sold edamame to Onion River Co-op one season in the 1970's - long before edamame was a thing. 

I'm proud to have been a member of City Market/Onion River Co-op since the early days, and very thankful for growing up with this model of procuring food. 
-- Ann Pearce

A Third Place

Many people remember the Co-op as a place to gather, connect with acquaintances, and make new friends. City Market serves for many as a “third place” – a place outside either home or work where meaningful connection and collaboration can take place. We’re grateful to serve as a third place for members of our community. It’s a joy to hear how having a place like City Market enriches people’s lives!

I joined City Market before I even moved here, I was that in love with it and that excited to live here.  I lived in the ONE my first year in Vermont, beginning in the fall of 2010.  I knew only the family that I was renting from.

My first familiar faces were at the Co-op. A couple of the cashiers knew my name.  This was so important to me being new and not knowing ANYBODY. I walked to the Co-op every day for something, even if it was just to "see what's going on."  If I didn't need groceries, I certainly needed some brown rice with tahini dressing (if you haven't had that yet, beware.  It's addicting!) 

That first fall, there was an event - a vendor fair I think.  I met a wonderful woman there who was representing an apple orchard and she is one of my favorite people to this day.  That connection led to a volunteering opportunity bagging cider donuts as they came out of the fryer. Can you even imagine?!  

The combination of daily encounters with the staff and the exciting places volunteering through the Co-op took me laid the groundwork for my Vermont existance.  I am so grateful to the store and the people.  
-- Laurie O’Hanlon

I have taken so many wonderful classes at City Market over the years! From grain-free baked goods from the folks at Blank Page to sourdough pizza crust with Brot. One that has had a particularly lasting impact though was learning to make my own fire cider. I use a variation of the recipe I learned monthly now with all of the amazing local herbs, onions, garlic, and of course, apple cider vinegar from Dwight Miller Orchards. Thanks for always providing such a huge variety of classes!
-- Corey B

My partner John remembers going with his mom to pick up their groceries when the Co-op was a buyers club on Archibald (in the early 70s?);he said he remembers the big sacks of flour, oats, etc. sprawled on the floor looked big to a six- year old! When I moved to town in the early 90s, the Co-op was still located at its first storefront on North Winooski; I loved the bakery, especially those maple streudel-like pastries that Neil Heims used to make! Later at the new storefront on South Winooski, I once played duos at the entrance with John (violin and cello) for a  Co-op event/celebration. My favorite member work duty was fiddling with a friend for the gleaners at the Intervale.
-- Laura Markowitz

A dark green oval with the words “art by Christine Tyler Hill @tenderwarriorco” hand-printed in white letters inside it. Around the oval, there are a few hand-drawn dots and four-pointed stars in rust red.