BROOKS—As Marsh River Cooperative’s manager Matthew McKillop will tell you, “You’d be surprised to know there’s a lot going on in Brooks.”
A tiny town in Waldo County with a population of little more than 1,000 has a gem of a store anchoring the center of town. The Marsh River Co-op is a year-round agricultural cooperative and retail market for artisans with nearly 200 producer and consumer members.
The building, which used to be Paul and Audrey’s hardware store, became the focal point for local citizens who belonged to the Brooks farmer’s market, which operated behind the building. In 2014, when one of the founding members purchased the building, the idea of creating a year-round agricultural cooperative emerged. A small group of people from Brooks, including a good proportion of the farmer's market vendors, founded the store.
“The original idea was for the co-op to be staffed by all of the farmers,” said McKillop. “The producer members on the board [those who makes or grow products] are given priority to sell their wares in the store and steer the direction of what else we sell in the co-op.”
The store carries a diverse mix of local, organic items including fresh produce, fresh bread and snacks, frozen meats, dairy, bulk organic herbs and spices, and bulk repack flours, nuts, dried fruits, legumes, and pulses.
To truly know what’s important to a community is to spend some time in there. As Brooks and surrounding areas are primarily rural and agricultural, the store’s mission is to “...focus on promoting and selling food and other goods produced within a 10-mile radius of the Co-op, at an affordable price. This radius serves a low-income, low-access area population.”
What’s unique about this co-op is the entire back of the store is dedicated to crafters, artists, and makers who live within a 10-mile radius. Everything is sold on commission.
What else to do in Brooks
McKillop said that the co-op is staffed 100 percent by its producer and consumer members.
“We’re a farm co-op, so the availability of volunteers ebbs and flows with the season,” he said. “Once it hits summertime, many of our volunteers need to be working on their farms.”
In December, the cooperative sold nearly $38,000 of products and merchandise with more than 50 percent of the items sold produced in Maine. And while Marsh River doesn’t get the same kind of foot traffic that coastal food co-ops do, it relies primarily on the very local citizens it serves.
“It’s kind of fun to see how the co-op works come full circle where a farmer will come in, buy say organic layer pellets for chickens and two weeks later, he or she will come back in and sell us two dozen fresh eggs. And then walk out the door with a bag of grain.”
Learn which local producers and artists are part of the store here.
For more information on Marsh River Cooperative visit: marshrivercoop.org
Kay Stephens can be reached at email@example.com