Tuesday, August 26, 2014

MA Co-op Tour Pioneer Valley Part 3

You don't have to go to Mondragon in Spain or Emilia Romagna in Italy to visit three worker-owned co-ops on one block.

You can go to Greenfield, MA and visit Real Pickles, Pioneer Valley Photovoltaics (PV2) and Artisan Beverage Co-op, all located on Wells Street. The Franklin County Community Development Corporation (FCCDC) is also on the block.

On our recent Pioneer Valley co-op tour, we stopped in at Real Pickles, where Annie Winkler, Production Manager, took time out from full pickle production season to show us around. She showed us the food processing area where worker-owners were busily handling fresh produce. We observed dozens of huge barrels of kimchi quietly fermenting in a storage room.  The company started in 2001 using the Food Processing Center at the FCCDC. By 2009 their products were in high demand and they had outgrown that space. They purchased and renovated a building across the street and moved in. Their neighbors, PV2, helped them go 100% solar in 2011. In an effort to remain small, independent and locally owned, and thanks to a successful community investment campaign, they were able to convert the business to a worker-owned co-operative in May 2013. I recommend reading their blog for more details about this process. We asked Annie about life as a worker-owner at Real Pickles. It's not easy processing vegetables, so they have 4-day work weeks, and not everyone chooses to work full-time. They are committed to supplying smaller, local businesses with their products while they also supply some Whole Foods stores.

After our tour, Annie took us next door to Pioneer Valley Photovoltaics and introduced us to Philippe Rigollaud, a senior designer and one of the worker-owners. Philipe hails from France and was drawn to the Pioneer Valley's resemblance of his homeland. Growing up around co-op businesses gave him the desire to start one here. In business for 12 years, the solar energy installation company didn't even feel the recession, he shared. Also remarkable is the co-op's salary ratio. The highest paid employee makes no more than 3 times the lowest paid.


We then crossed the street to check out Artisan Beverage Cooperative. They make Katalyst Kombucha, Ginger Libation and Green River Ambrosia. I remember buying Katalyst Kombucha at Whole Foods several years ago and being impressed that it was made in MA. Then I didn't see it anymore and heard Whole Foods had taken kombucha off the shelves due to the alcohol content, which is naturally inherent due to the fermentation process. Then I noticed eventually that other brands of kombucha came back to Whole Foods, but not Katalyst. Here's a story published in the midst of that tumult. Fortunately, Katalyst Kombucha is alive and well. As I reported in a previous post, they have "kombucha on tap" in several retail and restaurant locations. While vacationing in Rhode Island this summer, I came across Ginger Libation at a local liquor store. They call it "real ginger beer" and it's REAL GOOD.

The day we visited, one of the founders, Will Savitri, took a few minutes to chat with us about the decision to become a worker-owned cooperative in 2013, and about preparations to move the business to a larger space nearby. Will started out in the Franklin County Community Development Food Processing Center, as well. To me, this is further proof that every county should have one of these places for small businesses to get their start. Recently, NPR did a story about food incubators, shared spaces for people who are starting food businesses and who need access to commercial kitchen space. There's one starting up on Cape Cod.

We appreciated the opportunity to speak with several co-op business members on our MA Co-op Tour of the Pioneer Valley. Again, we recommend the Valley Alliance of Worker Cooperatives for more information about co-operatives in the area.