The Battenkill Cooperative Kitchen

The keys to community revitalization are a clear vision of the past, present and desired future, creativity of ideas, pragmatism of methods and hard work. Often times, the revitalizer must work independently of elected officials more concerned about polls and reelection than in doing anything constructive. In an earlier post, I discussed how a small group of activists in Ithaca have created a thriving independent local monetary system that is the model for local currencies around the globe. However, for many would-be activists, the challenge of setting up a local currency is too much to cut their teeth on and is perhaps not “up their alley.”
I would like to present another, perhaps more humble, but just as far-reaching project being realized in the eastern part of our state. The small town of
Salem, NY (population 964) might not normally be rated on the top of a list of hot-beds of social innovation. However, since 2003, local people have been working to set up the Battenkill Cooperative Kitchen.
The idea behind the Cooperative Kitchen is to provide the resources for local people to create, process and package local food-stuffs. So Aunt Ginny would be able to can her famous apple butter to sell at stores or in farmer’s markets. Normally, this is a cost prohibitive venture, as there are strict health requirements for foods. However, the Cooperative Kitchen will meet all of these requirements and be available, at nominal cost, for rental by folks like Aunt Ginny. Since none of these small producers need more than a few hours every week, many people, and organizations, could utilize the kitchen’s resources.
This simple idea has far-reaching consequences and is rooted deeply in regionalist thought. The key to many ecological and regionalist development schemes is a turn to local produce; local food keeps money in the area, decreases petroleum usage, strengthens local identity and forges the network necessary for community. Washington county is blessed with a supply of farmer’s markets and small scale growers, but it is not always easy to process this food into products like jams, breads, pies, etc without industrial kitchens.
Since the project is a non-profit cooperative, it can keep its rental costs low, allowing a wide variety of people to participate. It helps to strengthen downtown Salem, bringing more people onto Main Street. Also important is the fact that the kitchen is located in the basement of the
Salem Courthouse (1869), a threatened local landmark that is being turned into a community center at the heart of Salem. The Courthouse also hosts the newly revived Footlighters Theater Troupe, historic exhibits, classes, art exhibits, community programs and a nascent youth center.

The cooperative functions for its community on many levels: keeping money local, helping small businesses get on their feet, preserving a historic landmark, promoting regional food, allowing for creative expression and creating the person-to-person ties needed to maintain our communities. The people of Salem aught to be an example to the rest of us.
Posted by Jesse

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