Definition of a “relational food economy” is Random Harvest Market
Random Harvest Worker-Owner Team: Margot Seigle, Robin Mullaney, Hillary Melville, Claire Wolf, and Amy Lawton.
The re-opening and re-conceptualization of the Random Harvest Market in Craryville, New York, is a fabulous example of how modern economic concepts and ideas about community-focused agriculture can help revitalize and strengthen classic small-scale local farms — and the towns and people that need them. The new Random Harvest has a verdant market, a comprehensive and tasty café and deli, and a community center upstairs that takes the market’s commitment to the area to another level.
For those who knew it when, it’s hard to believe the original Random Harvest, with its racks of fresh produce and goodies, closed over a decade ago. Now a team of five worker-owners are sourcing product directly from neighboring farms with a thoughtful and intuitive business plan. For one thing, vendors work on consignment, allowing them to net 75 percent of their profits.
Hillary and Cameron Melville purchased the building, originally constructed as a post office in the late 19th century, in 2015. As they restored the building inside and out they also brought on a team of differently skilled women that now make up the ownership collective. Running the show are co-manager and community space co-coordinator Hillary Melville, head chef Amy Lawton, office manager Robin Mullaney, community space co-coordinator Margot Seigle and co-manager Claire Wolf.
“I feel very passionate about worker ownership,” said Melville. “It's more equitable and spreads out the responsibility. And it's more fun! With the consignment model, we are building a more resilient food economy, where we aren't dependent on global food systems.”
The vision of the employee-owned market, as stated by the team, is to participate in a “relational food economy,” a food system that puts relationships at its center by using models of exchange, pricing and community-building to support the needs of workers, producers and community members.
The five owners bring a variety of talent and experience in food, farming, and community organizing to the business. Additionally, the structure allows the owners to strike a healthy work-life balance.
“With more people, we are brilliant together and more creative,” Melville said. “The creativity of the collective brings more wisdom to the project.”
The cafe is serving up deli classics and fresh takes, made with the same local ingredients on the shelves. Out on a blustery open stretch of Route 23, it’s no surprise that meatball subs and chicken parm are popular at the moment, but lighter fare like the caper chicken salad is also a hit.
In addition, the community center upstairs is already filling its calendar with meetings, classes and other activities. Anyone holding a class upstairs is compensated on the same consignment scale as a farmer.
While there is a strong emphasis on selling local products from organic farms, the selection at Random Harvest is varied so they can support as many local farms as possible and provide food to the community at accessible prices. To that end, the market accepts payment through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). They believe healthy, farm-fresh food should be available to all regardless of income.
The new Random Harvest is an intriguing test of a new model in how a farming community can support itself. Though they have only been open for a few months, there’s excitement in the air.
1785 NY-23, Craryville, NY
Open 11a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Open until 6 p.m. Sunday.
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