It’s not every day you see a large statue of a cow perched atop a historic building. For folks living and traveling through the Hilltowns of Western Massachusetts, nestled between Berkshire County and the Pioneer Valley, however, the cow, and the Old Creamery Co-op on which it stands is a symbol of the vibrant and engaged community that surrounds it.
Here, the day begins early with hot breakfast sandwiches, fresh pastries, and pour-you-own coffee. At the heart of the Co-op stands a tempting and well-stocked deli counter, where lunchtime visitors are spoiled for choice with six kinds of quiche, shepherd’s pie, stuffed baked potatoes, and lasagna. The prepared foods are hearty and satisfying, and vegetarian and vegan options, like roasted tofu, black bean burgers, and sesame green beans, are plentiful.
Mouthwatering sandwiches are available throughout the day, with the option to build-your-own or select from their tasty combinations. Their most popular When Pigs Fly features roasted turkey with bacon, arugula, roasted garlic mayo, and jack cheese. Whether you’re in the mood for a classic grinder or a hot and melty grilled panini, the friendly and attentive deli team will compose the sandwich of your dreams. Hot soups, a grab-and-go case, and local breads and cheeses are close-by, ready to be enjoyed at home or in the Co-op’s cafe seating area.
In the cafe, bright sunshine filters through tall windows, and onto the aqua and sunflower yellow walls, warming the space. Eight small tables greet guests looking to enjoy their food and drink without delay, with a colorful kids’ table for the littlest in the community. It is a tranquil spot to sit with a steaming bowl of creamy homemade mac and cheese with a dash (or five) of complimentary hot sauce. There are many small details that make a stop here so special - a little flower pot with colorful blooms graces each table, and the Little Gallery area shows the work of local artists and artisans. Paintings, ceramics, and signed copies of books from local authors sit alongside beautiful wooden spoons and cutting boards, objects of beauty and utility, all available for purchase. A tall display rack of seeds stands next to another holding witty and cheerful greeting cards.
The Co-op’s grocery selection is broad and thoughtfully varied, focused primarily on locally-produced items from the Hilltowns and the Pioneer Valley. A wide range of bulk offerings lines the first aisle, from locally roasted coffees, nuts and grains, to herbs and candy. Visitors can also fill their own containers with bulk dish soap and laundry detergent.
Organic produce, naturally raised and organic meats, local dairy products, beer, and wine are also available, making the Co-op a welcome one-stop shopping experience for those living and working in an area without a supermarket for miles around. Beyond the variety in food staples, the market stocks a wide array of health, beauty, and other useful items, from Alpaca socks and hats, to shoelaces, massage oil, light bulbs, lighter fluid, and motor oil.
The range in available products under this particular roof is prolific, especially considering the history of the building. In the late 1800s, when it was home to the Cummington Cooperative Creamery, 145 neighboring farms here produced 20,000 pounds of butter per month. Over time, and under private ownership, the Creamery evolved beyond butter. It changed along with the needs of the community, existing as a restaurant, then a general store, and finally a merging of the two visions. In 2012, after a few years of fundraising and development work, the community purchased the business from private owners. Now, anyone in the community can become a member-owner by contributing a small one-time fee, earning a voice in Co-op decisions, the opportunity for participation in Board of Directors, and tangible commitment to the active cooperation between people, businesses, towns and area organizations embodied by the Co-op structure.
The Co-op strives toward a vital, healthy community. In so many ways it exists as a meeting point to those ends, a place where running into a neighbor can easily turn into an hour of conversation over coffee. It is a place of connection, of enjoying and valuing the real relationships between land, producer, and consumer, connections that sustain our bodies and our communities.