Harvest Co-op is a community owned cooperative food market with two locations; in Central Square in Cambridge, and on Washington St. in Jamaica Plain. We specialize in natural, organic, local, fair trade and commercial food.
The origin of the present Harvest Co-op was a buying club formed on the BU Campus in 1971, called The Boston University Student Union Food Co-op. This was a pre-order bulk food coop where all members did member work – there was no staff. In the beginning, the B.U. Co-op distributed produce once a week from a “run-down, old, forgotten gas station” on Commonwealth Avenue. In 1972 they secured their first permanent location at 12 Babbitt Street on the B.U. campus. By the end of 1972, the Co-op had changed from pre-order to a store format where members could shop 5 days a week, and had hired a cashier/manager. In 1973 the B.U. Co-op instituted a glass and can recycling program, offered cooking classes, and set up the first Free Store. Membership was rising rapidly, and by 1974 business was brisk enough to require forming a paid staff collective to replace the single paid manager. Soon there were so many members that it was literally too crowded to shop, even after forming the Sunday Co-op (members of this group could only shop on Sunday). Membership was closed, and didn’t reopen until August of 1975. In 1974, the original Co-op moved to Allston.
At about the same time, some Co-op members, helped by a group of Cambridge community activists and a Model Cities Grant, opened a separate business called the Cambridge Food Co-op. Their mission was to be a cooperative market for low income residents of Cambridge, and to encourage multi-cultural participation. When first opened it was for members only, opening its doors to the public in 1983. In May of 1992, Cambridge and Boston Co-ops joined together to form Harvest Co-op Markets.
In April of 1993, the joint Board of Directors produced a new mission statement for Harvest Co-op. And by June of 1993, General Manager David Barry could proudly announce that the organization as a whole had ended its first year in the black. The Cambridge store had lost far less money than expected, and Harvest was off to a good start.
Since then, things have not stood still. We introduced scanning in Allston in 1993 and in Cambridge in 1994, bringing Harvest further into the modern world. In 1994 the members voted to re-incorporate Harvest as a co-operative corporation (as CFC had done in 1987).
Harvest succeeded in crafting a strong and happy two-store co-op, overcoming the many obstacles with the power of cooperation. The members and the community became used to calling their co-op “Harvest”.
In 1998, the Allston store was closed after years of declining sales. The staff had been searching to relocate the store, but no suitable sites had been found. Closing the store was a very difficult decision for the management and the Board. Some who had been members of the Boston Food Co-op for many years felt that more could have been done to save the store. The board and management felt that many strategies had been implemented over the years but the losses from that store were now threatening the co-op as a whole. The doors were closed on April 30, 1998. The search for a new site continued. The Allston building was sold in May. During that same year, the Cambridge store was renovated to include the Café at Harvest in the front entrance to the building.
In October 1998, Harvest announced that a new store site had been located in Jamaica Plain. It was in the Arborway Natural Foods store which was being sold by its owners. Harvest purchased the business in Jamaica Plain as a second site for Harvest Co-op.
The first opening date was set for February 15. After some delays, the store opened at 4:30pm on May 20. A crowd gathered outside the front door throughout the course of the day as a rumor circulated throughout the neighborhood that we were about to open. We spent the entire day stocking shelves. We received the final permit to open from the health inspector about noon. The store did very well and gained about 1000 new members in the first two weeks.
In 1999, Harvest started an annual holiday fundraising tradition that continues today – raising money for Greater Boston Food Bank and Food For Free.
In July 2001, the Board of Directors proposed a revised membership system, which would eliminate the Annual Membership, and makes $200 the new equity amount. We also started the Harvest Co-op Community Fund whereby when a member has fully paid the $200 equity deposit, new choices are available to them: 1) register discount; or 2) donate to Community Fund.
In August, 2003, we unveiled plans for a new mural for Harvest-Cambridge, joining David Fichter’s “The Potluck” on the east wall. We announced that noted artist Be Sargent will be doing a new mural at Harvest. Sargent’s “The Precautionary Principle” Mural, an 11′ x 99′ color production, was painted on the west wall, on the Essex Street side of the Co-op – where the small public lot is. It was dedicated on Saturday, November 15
In March 2004, Harvest allocated the first $2000 from the Harvest Community Fund. Receiving grants were the Kitchen Table Project; the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, On The Rise and citysprouts.
In April, 2005, Harvest starts its CSA involvement as a drop off location for local organic Red Fire Farm, CSA from Granby, MA. In 2006, Harvest adds JP to Cambridge as an additional drop off location for Red Fire Farm, CSA. We eventually had 5 farms doing CSA drops 6 days a week and was the driving force in the area for CSAs.
In May 2005, we had a “Grand Reopening” (although we never closed) of both stores. We signed up over 150 new members, and almost doubled our usual sales for the day! In December, 2005, Mike St. Clair was hired as General Manager.
The following year, the Board of Directors announced a change in the membership program, with a patronage rebate to replace the register discount, scheduled to start in November 2006 (actually started end of April, 2007, at start of new fiscal year). Harvest held four member meetings, online and in store surveys, and BoD tabling to discuss Patronage Rebate changes.
In January, 2006, following national cooperative trends, the Member-Work program ended due to liability (workers compensation) and other issues.
In November 2006, due to a need to “restate” the Harvest (BFC) charter Thursday, the new Patronage Rebate plan was delayed. A special member meeting was held at the YWCA in Central Square, The purpose was to help the Board of Directors in their efforts to “restate” the charter.
In January 2007, the Massachusetts Secretary of State approved the amended and restated articles of organization. That month also saw Harvest begin a composting program with Save That Stuff and the City of Cambridge to compost trash.
April, 2007, for Earth Day, the Harvest bag refund was doubled to 10 cents.
With the new fiscal year, on April 29, 2007, the new Patronage Rebate Program starts, ending register rebate and replacing it with patronage rebate checks sent to members after profitable years.
In July 2007, the Café at Harvest closed, and Clear Conscience Café renovations begin. In October, the Clear Conscience café opens. The Potluck Mural was refurbished and rededicated. We helped support a new program for bicycle deliveries by New Amsterdam Project (Now MetroPed)
On March 6, 2008, Harvest hosted an area co-op celebration as Community Room in Cambridge as it is rededicated as James F. “Jim” O’Connor Jr. Community Room to honor the work Jim did in co-op and non-profit community in the Boston area. In December 2008, after a profitable fiscal year 2008 (May 07 – April 08), the first Patronage Rebate checks are mailed to members.
In June, 2009 Harvest – Cambridge store hosts first ever Shift Mob, part of a new movement to get people to buy local. In December, the second Patronage Rebate checks mailed to members.
2010 brought Harvest’s fourth continuous year of profitability. Harvest – Cambridge was also among the first 11 businesses certified by the Sustainable Business Network as a Sustainable Business. We also won the City of Cambridge Go Green award for waste reduction. In December, the third patronage rebate checks were mailed to members.
In December, 2011, Harvest celebrated our 40th year. For the fourth year, patronage Rebate checks were mailed to members.
In 2012, Harvest celebrated with co-ops around the country and the world the UNITED NATIONS INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF THE CO-OPERATIVES IYC 2012.
In late 2012, the Harvest Co-op in Central Square moved back across the street, above the location of the original store. We also opened a new store at 3815 Washington St., part of Arboretum Place on the Jamaica Plain – Roslindale line. Boston City Councilors Felix Arroyo and Matt O’Malley joined Board President Stephanie Golas in cutting the ribbon the new store.
December, 2012, the fifth patronage rebate checks mailed to members.
In early 2015, the lease on our South Street Store in Jamaica Plain was ending. Our General Manager and his team are diligently worked to keep it open, but we were unable to come to a new lease agreement that worked for both Harvest Co-op and the building’s landlord. We extended the lease for a few months while negotiations continued, but to no avail. South Street closed April 12, 2015
All around the country, we are seeing now a new “third wave” of new food co-ops starting up. The first wave came out of the depression, the second – which BFC and CFC were part of – came out of the environmental movement of the late 60’s and early 70’s. This third wave is built on community control and anti-corporate ideals.
We want to continue to have a community owned co-op we can call our own, so we need you to continue to shop here, get your friends and neighbors to shop here, and be ambassadors to the community. We can do it, but that we includes YOU. Thanks again for your support.