Shire Co-op: Building a Freer Community

Shire Co-op goodsMANCHESTER – Over the last year, Community Market Days (CMDs) have sprung up in Manchester.  I attended one in January and left with a ridiculous quantity of food: several pounds of humanely-raised ham, bacon, two varieties of sausage, and pork chops from Bardo Farm; two dozen eggs; baked goods; and grassfed ground beef ordered wholesale.

I spoke with five members of the Shire Co-op to learn more about this unique organization. I spoke with Jessica Love, who moved to Manchester from Florida three years ago as part of the Free State Project; Constance Spencer, another Free Stater who moved from Alaska with her family less than a year ago, now also in Manchester; Jack Shimek, a 30-year New Hampshire resident who signed the FSP Statement of Intent prior to the selection of New Hampshire as the “Free State”, now based in Milford; Kate Ager, a Keene native now living in Henniker; and Daniel Cuevas, also in Manchester.

SLN: Thank you all for agreeing to be interviewed! Could each of you tell me what your role is in the Shire Co-op?

Jack: I’m a consumer member (buy stuff) and help on community market day.

Constance: I joined to offer wholesale Frontier orders to others and to rebuild my bulk spices that I gave away when I left Alaska. I’ve also helped at Community Market Day.

local farmer Kate Ager beside a "grow tent"
local farmer Kate Ager beside a “grow tent”

Kate: I’m a vendor, selling eggs, and I plan to supply some produce this season. As time goes on, hopefully I’ll expand into other products as well. Assuming all goes as planned, tomatoes, carrots, peppers, cabbage, a couple different kinds of lettuces and salad mixes, kale, peas, green beans, chard, cucumbers, squash, herbs, and more.

Jessica: My title is marketing director but I just do what needs to be done for business to operate and come up with new ideas to try as we create this unique system. I joined in September 2013 and noticed that nobody was consistently creating event pages for the business meetings, orders, etc and thought that would be an easy task to take on. As I began to realize what an amazing idea this was, I became inspired to put my marketing training to good use and began promoting with excitement and positivity. I also started recruiting vendors to participate. In March of 2014, we opened the first Community Market Day at Area 23 [a local liberty meetup space] with several vendors and did over $1000 of business in just 2 hours!  We moved to the Quill [another liberty meetup space] two months later. About that time, I started putting energy toward developing relationships with local farms in the greater community. I am very pleased to say that this month we are ordering wholesale from Associated Buyer (AB), Frontier, and grassfed beef from Benedikt Farm in Goffstown.

Daniel: I served as treasurer from February to November 2014, a period during which the Shire Co-op experienced tremendous growth. During this time, we went from one supplier (Associated Buyers) to five.

Jessica: The five suppliers included AB, Frontier, Kindred Hill Farm and Brookford Farm, both providing produce. Kindred Hill and Brookford have since backed out; Kate will be filling that void now as well as bringing suppliers “closer to home”… individuals from within the community.

Daniel: and Longcape Farm providing free-range, soy-free chicken and duck eggs

young entrepreneurs learning about the marketplace
young entrepreneurs learning about the marketplace

Constance: There are lots of other vendors who come to market day. For example, Stone Farm on Liberty Acres was there last month. My daughters (ages 9. 7 and 4) decided to draw and sell art. They made $2 and are excited for the next one!

SLN: Kate, could you tell me more about your chicken operation?

Kate: I have 19 free-range chickens. They forage for their own food as much as possible, and I feed them scraps from the kitchen: vegetable trimming, eggshells, meat scraps, etc. I will be growing food specifically for them this season to store for next winter. I use the “wide row, organic, raised beds, deep soil” method for growing produce. The next project (coming in April) is meat rabbits.

SLN: What year was the Co-op founded?

Jack: Discussions were underway in 2007 and 2008, and I held some co-op mini workshops in 2008 and 2009.
The first organizational meeting was in 2009 in Concord. I proposed the name “Brave New Co-op”, but another member suggested “Shire Co-op” and that stuck.

SLN: How many members does the Co-op have?

Constance: almost 90

SLN: What are the goals of the Co-op?

Jack: I would say, to create alternate channels of sourcing everything we need to purchase for day-to-day living. Products that are high quality, healthy, durable, and purchase them at wholesale from our community and from natural foods distributors, which are part of our extended community, in that we all share the goal of healthy food consumption.

Jessica: To buy, supply, and provide each other with everything we need. Creating an alternative system enabling us to not have to be dependent on the mainstream system. To provide a venue for each member of the community to have purpose and value, to feel like they are a part of something bigger. To establish trade channels from Manchester to other hubs around the Free State. We have individuals coming to CMD from towns up to an hour away. They could soon be sending a delegate to CMD to pick up goods for themselves and others in their area. They could even start their own CMDs in their areas at some point! We’re creating software to turn this whole thing into an amazon-like resource, enabling the potential for great expansion.

Constance: My personal goals for joining were to get involved in a network of people who care about food, their health, and liberty. Also, to feed my family for less. Right now that means less money, but I’d like less dependence on the mainstream and less impact on the environment as well.

Kate: Personally, my goal is to become part of a network within the community where I can sell goods and purchase items I need from people locally in a transition from relying on the grocery stores, etc. to my end goal of being able to purchase or barter for all of the items I need directly from the source.

SLN: The term “community” has been used a few times.  Am I correct in assuming y’all are referring to the liberty community in New Hampshire?

Jessica: Yes, loosely the liberty community. We’re finding that many locals and farmers appreciate what we are doing. People are trying new things, excitement is contagious, and everyone loves liberty! We have had a few participants that are not all that familiar with the FSP but share similar values. Including more of the greater local community in this project is definitely a major asset to advancing liberty here in the Free State.

Jack: I’d say that we are promoting initially to our freedom movement colleagues because we want that to be the overall tenor, similarity of long-term missions, but there’s a great deal of pro-freedom vibe in the “alternatives” communities (like natural foods movement) that place us in a very parallel path, so we would welcome them in.

Kate: When I refer to community, I am referring to all of the people I choose to surround myself with, which mostly tend to be liberty-oriented people, but also include many good people who don’t put much thought into the government’s role in people’s lives.

SLN: What is the best way for people who want to learn more and/or join to get in touch with you?

Jessica: We’re working on a website. For now, our Facebook group is the best way.

SLN: What methods of payment do you accept?

Kate: Some CMD vendors will accept Bitcoin, precious metals, or barters for other desired goods.

Jessica: We can make bitcoin work at any application – membership fees, ordering, and at CMD. Hopefully, soon we will convert some farms to the bitcoin bandwagon and close that link in the chain. Kind of like these guys.

SLN: CMD is the third Sat of every month at the Quill [131 Amory St., Manchester], correct? And it’s open to the public?

Jessica: Correct. May will begin a beautiful season of outdoor CMDs in a liberty community member’s backyard in Manchester and it will be every 3rd Sunday during season.

SLN: Thank you all again!  I appreciate your participation.

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