Who we are
North Country Grown Cooperative is a small agricultural cooperative that pools local seasonal produce, and markets it to institutions like colleges, restaurants, and hospitals.
NCGC was established in 2005 by farmers in central St Lawrence County, NY. We supply local foods year round, including vegetables, fruit, herbs, sprouts, honey, maple products, and storage crops. We don’t currently have any active meat producers, but we have marketed beef and chicken in the past.
As a true licensed cooperative, we subscribe to the principles of cooperatives, which offer an alternative to the cut-throat form of capitalism that is so prevalent these days.
How we began…
Small farmers tend to band together to transport and market agricultural products, because of the economies of scale that develop when they work together. Many local people stimulated the formation of North Country Grown Cooperative, but crucial among them was George Arnold, long time food service director at SUNY Potsdam. Under his leadership, the college began buying local produce in quantity in 2002. Soon it became apparent that buying local would be much more efficient if the farmers functioned as a group.
With considerable effort, a group of growers banded together to form North Country Grown Cooperative, and navigated the state regulations to become a licensed corporation. Help came from GardenShare, Seedcorn, Cornell Cooperative Extension, and others.
A rocky road…
NCGC helps small growers market to institutions like universities and hospitals, which need the larger quantities and variety that a group of farmers can provide together.
SUNY Potsdam remained our biggest customer for a long time, and although progress was never easy, the cooperative grew most years. St Lawrence University and SUNY Canton became substantial customers as well. Sue Rau, who was the cooperative’s manager and driving force, provided leadership. We developed an e-marketing website: northcountrygrownmarket.com, which is the easiest way for institutional buyers to purchase our products. By 2013, we had hopes that the cooperative would soon make a major and growing contribution to the health of the local farm economy.
Sadly, in 2014, SUNY Potsdam had a change in personnel, and abruptly stopped purchasing from NCGC. St Lawrence University cut back purchases that year as well, and even more in 2015. The loss of those two major accounts reduced our business by more than 50 %. We had to lay off our manager and driver, and now continue operations using strictly volunteer labor.
NCGC in 2016…
SUNY Canton has increased its business with the cooperative, and is now the single largest purchaser of local food in the region. Canton Potsdam Hospital has been a steady and increasing customer. Some Canton eateries that were regular customers have closed this year, but 1844 House has continued to be a customer for many years.
Through the USDA and St Lawrence Industrial Development Authority, we lease-to-buy a refrigerated box truck, which enables us to move perishable food during the North Country’s brief hot summer.
Farmers and the community still benefit from NCGC even in its smaller current form, and we have hopes that we’ll be able to re-grow our business in future.