Just down Main Street from the president’s residence in Poultney is the Stone Valley Community Market, a food cooperative owned and operated by local shareholders since 2011. GMC president Paul Fonteyn, who is retiring this semester after eight years at the helm of the College, and his wife Marsha, were instrumental in helping the business get off the ground by purchasing the co-op building and providing a rent-friendly lease agreement. Last week, the Fonteyns further assisted the co-op organization by formally donating the building to the College.
“Having a co-op in town that can be used by students and townspeople was important to us, and we believe this step will help the organization continue to grow and prosper in the future,” Paul said after the College’s board of trustees formally accepted the gift.
In 2006 Poultney was awarded a U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development grant to create a business and marketing plan for a prospective food cooperative. Project organizers saw the unoccupied building on 216 Main Street as the perfect location for the new business.
But the building carried federal, state and local tax liens, raising doubts that enough money could be raised to purchase the building through the sale of member shares and individual donations. The Fonteyns offered to buy the building, providing a stable home for the fledgling business. In return for forgiveness of some of the back taxes, they paid the town $50,000 for the building and spent significant additional out-of-pocket monies for structural repairs, thus improving the overall value of this historic structure. They also assumed ongoing responsibility for property taxes, insurance, and any future repairs.
The opening of the food co-op in 2011 became a large experiment in town-gown collaboration. The GMC student senate gave the co-op a $10,000 grant to serve as collateral for a larger business loan from the Cooperative Fund of New England. Students, faculty and staff worked side by side with co-op staff and town residents to get the building in shape for opening. Students in prof. Lucas Brown’s design and build class developed initial floor plans of the building; several local businesses contributed shelving, furniture and building materials.
Five years later, the Stone Valley Co-op is looking to expand its local food inventory and the collaboration between the town and College is as healthy as ever. Stone Valley board chair Deborah Mackey serves as the administrative assistant to the GMC dean of faculty, and several other board members have connections to the College. Todd Walker of Wells serves on the boards of both organizations.
“It was generous of the Fonteyns to buy the building because Stone Valley wouldn’t have had the resources to open without their support. It allowed the co-op staff to concentrate on equipment and inventory,” he said.
Walker and Eleanor Tison, a Stone Valley board member and assistant professor of anthropology and sustainable agriculture at the College, look forward to opportunities for future collaborations that benefit both organizations.
“This is a place where students do internships and learn about marketing local food to the community. It’s a place where students, faculty and local people interact and share a common commitment,” Eleanor said.
As part of the transfer from the Fonteyns to GMC, the College will honor the terms of the lease between the co-op and Paul and Marsha. The building will be maintained by the College.