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Farm to table: local food coop comes to campus

Thanks to the efforts of a group of committed volunteers at UMass Chan Medical School, the Massachusetts Local Food Cooperative is now offering monthly distribution at the Worcester campus. 

Led by Rachel Gerstein, PhD, associate professor of microbiology & physiological systems—who has been volunteering for the food coop for several years in her hometown of Holden—the effort to bring the coop to UMass Chan has relied on students from all three schools and staff members from across campus. 

The Massachusetts Local Food Cooperative was launched in 2009, after several years of planning by founder Kelley O’Connor, who was concerned about the sustainability of local farmers and local food and worried about excess oil consumption related to transporting food to market. Since the coop was launched, it has grown to include more than 330 paid members and hundreds of vendors selling thousands of locally grown products, many of which are sustainably or organically grown. The coop currently has seven pick-up sites, including UMass Chan, which had its first distribution on March 2, fulfilling orders from 20 members. 

On the first Friday of every month, Mass Local Food Coop sets up distribution of items that members have ordered from participating vendors—organic meat and poultry, made-from-scratch granola, fresh eggs, homemade pickles, soaps and candles and much more. Then, a handful of UMass Chan volunteers head out to the distribution center in Westminster to pick up orders from UMass Chan in a van lent by Auxiliary Services. 

When the van arrives back on campus, the goods are unloaded to a pick-up area set up in the old Medical School lobby. Members of the coop who have ordered food for pick-up at UMass Chan come by between 5 and 6 p.m. to retrieve their order on the way home for the weekend. 

Gerstein is quick to point out that bringing the food coop to UMass Chan was itself a cooperative effort. In addition to the individuals who will be helping with pick-up and distribution by volunteering once or twice throughout the year, several departments—including Community & Government Relations, Human Resources, Facilities, Room Reservations and Auxiliary Services—generously helped make the venture possible. 

Gerstein also notes that having access to the products available through the food coop nicely augments what the Farmer’s Market offers during summer months and that both ventures support similar goals. “While there will be some overlap in products, both the food coop and the Farmer’s Market have enough unique items to sustain both ventures,” she said. To learn more, or to get involved, send an email to

Visit the Massachusetts Local Food Cooperative website to learn more about membership and to see the list of products available. There is a one-time membership fee of $50, which can be paid in installments if necessary, and there is no minimum monthly order.