The MVY Co-op: Food for the people, by the people

Eva Raposa just wanted better food, cheaper.

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The coronavirus pandemic has turned grocery shopping into a front page, dinner table topic that covers everything from what we are buying and cooking to the ethical amount of food one should buy at one time and, of course, where we are buying it.

In my own family and around the Island, these conversations have inspired BIG feelings and STRONG opinions. We were appalled when a family member wanted to buy 35 pounds of flour in one go, but felt justified in having more than five pounds of shredded coconut on hand for our homemade granola, which is as equally unjustified and irrational as the desired flour purchase. It’s been a great reminder that, for we humans, food is not just fuel. Every morsel we crave, cook, and eat is wrapped in memories and driven by whatever emotional state we are in.

The coronavirus has also highlighted how incredibly critical our food systems and suppliers are — not only as a community, but as a country as well. And I want to pause and give a giant shout out to Steve Bernier and his entire crew at Cronig’s, to Stop & Shop, Vineyard Grocer’s Elio Silva and staff, and Reliable Market’s Pacheco family and crew, and all the other food purveyors on the Island who have been on the front lines, serving and caring for us — at great risk to themselves — when we need it most. THANK YOU. I also want to thank the newest member of our grocery community: the MVY Co-op, which sells organic food that is also eco-friendly through embracing zero to nearly no waste packaging. Most food is distributed via glass ball canning jars or in paper bags. Thanks to the MVY Co-op, I have a pantry that can feed my family during this stressful time. We have black beans, chickpeas, rice, gluten free pasta, flour from Maine’s Grains, coconut covered dates, and chocolate chips. I could go on. But having these staples from the MVY Co-op has been a tremendous relief — emotionally, cooking wise, and financially.

And it is not lost on me that when my friend Rebekah Thomson called six months ago to say I had to join MVY Co-op, which she was helping to realize, I was not inclined to join. I explained to her that while I loved the idea of a Co-op, I had had two previous co-op experiences where, yes, I had saved money, but had paid by enduring dogma and too many early morning commitments.

In the early ‘70s my mom and her late friend Jane Langmuir made up the cheese team for our church’s 100 or so person food Co-op. Being a member of this Co-op was no joke. Every week, we had to drive to the Providence docks at 5 am to purchase giant blocks and wheels, then lug them — some weighing as much as 80 pounds each — to the car, unload them, and then spend an entire morning carving, wrapping and divvying up each cheese order. Of course, this whole endeavor was also time sensitive. We did not have the refrigerator holding capacity for more than a hundred pounds of dairy. As you can imagine, our family’s Co-op participation didn’t last long. Maybe a year.

Twenty years later, I opted to move into my college’s vegan co-op where, because I had a station wagon, I immediately became co-captain of the bi-weekly vegetable pickup. This meant that I had to get up at 3:30 am twice a week to drive to the same Providence docks I had visited as a small child to buy enough fruit and vegetables to feed 40 twenty-somethings for a few days. At first being part of the co-op was fun — I loved cooking with my roommates and having access to truly fresh fruit and vegetables. While my co-captain Jim and I always had a general list of what we needed — onions, carrots, broccoli, oranges, bananas, and of course potatoes And there were sketched out menus; chili and lentil soup were staples — our purchases were mostly driven by what we found. Fantastic portabella mushrooms? Let’s make a mushroom risotto this week! And working with Jim was never dull. He was a proselytizing vegan who paid for his room and board by working as a nude model for RISD’s drawing classes. He also had a 9-foot python who routinely escaped from his tank (terrifying every time). But, as you can imagine, getting up at 3:30 am got old. And, honestly, so did Jim’s theories.

So, I told Rebekah, it’s these past experiences, along with my Brooklyn friends who belong to the notorious Park Slope Food Coop, that have defined food co-oping for me. In other words, no thanks. Not worth it.

Rebekah promised that it was easy.

Really? Really.

I paid $69 and signed up.

And, as I have said, it has been a godsend. And easy. Fill out an online order form. Pay online. Pick up your food. Volunteer for two hours every six months. That’s it.

I Skyped with the MVY Co-op’s owner and founder, Eva Raposa, who has been running the co-op from her husband’s home town of Salto de Pirapora, Brazil for the last few months, to talk about how this business came about.

Eva, who has bright eyes, a bouncy bob, and a wide smile tells me, “I just wanted better food cheaper. I am about 80-90% raw. And when I turned raw, I began buying bulk food from Elio Silva — he has been so generous — to feed myself and my family. Then I was so excited by all of the amazing food movements on the Island — IGI and the Island Food Pantry in particular — and saw that this was a hole that needed to be filled. So I talked to Elio about it and we got it going.”

Eva says this as though it is the most obvious and basic thing to accomplish. But if you look at the MVY Co-op website with its three-phase plan and goals like “plant 1,000 trees by the close of 2020” (They fund the planting of five trees for each new member family that joins the co-op.) or “open a zero-waste retail location for our members by 2020,” one learns that maybe this first phase of co-opping is simple for Eva because she is is a big thinker with even bigger goals.

Eva Raposa grew up in the south. First in Tennessee, then Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida. As she tells it, her mother was not a good cook and she didn’t begin to understand or appreciate good food until she got a scholarship to attend the University of Florida in Gainesville where a college friend’s mom was “an amazing cook.” This mom gave Eva the basics. And then later, after getting a degree in marketing, Eva advanced her food skills with Wicked Healthy Food co-founder Chad Sarno in London, and raw food chefs Alissa Cohen and Russell James.

After a bad accident on a Vespa, Eva came to Martha’s Vineyard to recuperate and met her husband, Carlos Bricoli, on her first day on the Island. “I saw him and knew I was going to marry him,” she remembers. In fact, they were married three months later and now have an 8-year-old daughter, Lilla.

In 2007, Eva was having “major digestive issues” and decided to try going raw to see if changing her diet could support and improve her health. She immediately saw positive changes. By 2008, Eva was offering sold out raw food weekend workshops and vacations on the Island to share her experience and raw food expertise. “The co-op just feels like a natural extension of this work,” she says.

In September 2019, Eva opened the MVY Co-op with seven foods and now offers more than 60 organic items and has more than 96 member families. All of the co-op’s items have been selected by the co-op community via “democratic vote” on an online survey. “It is such a nice group of people. And everyone is as committed to great food and zero waste packaging as I am. It’s really amazing,” she says. “And I couldn’t do this without Rebekah Thomson’s help. She has kept everything running with me not there. She has been so flexible and helpful, especially now with the coronavirus. She really cares about our mission and members. Last week she stayed up until 2 am organizing orders so we could deliver half a ton of food to our members. It’s just incredible.”

When I talk to Rebekah about what it has been like for her she says, “I guess I feel like the co-op is more important than ever. Obviously, we’ve had to modify our food distribution protocols and they are still evolving. But I am grateful to be doing something that feels helpful at this time. And I feel what we are doing is valued now more than ever.”

I couldn’t agree more.

To learn more about the MVY Co-op or to sign up, go to: http://mvycoop.org

Mollie Doyle is a frequent contributor to Edible Vineyard. She’s also a yoga teacher, and lives in Chilmark with her family.