Harvest Co-op closes doors after months of losses

Co-op served students with plant-based lifestyles, dietary restrictions

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Harvest Co-op's Central Square location displays two "Closed for Business" signs on its doors.
Patrick Wahl–The Tech

Harvest Co-op Markets closed its Massachusetts Avenue location Oct. 12 as a result of financial insolvency.

Located in Central Square at 580 Massachusetts Ave, Harvest provided patrons with cheap groceries under the cooperative model, wherein members of the cooperative each own a single share of the company, which purchases supplies in bulk and redistributes any profits back to shareholders.

Founded in 1971 at Boston University, Harvest has since its creation been dedicated to “organic, natural and wholesome food choices, … sustainable agriculture, certified organic, local and small family farms, and fair trade businesses,” according to its website.

Students with dietary restrictions or concerned about the provenance of their food valued Harvest as a place to purchase vegan, gluten-free, or organic goods in bulk at low prices.

“I feel it was very valuable for students to promote plant-based lifestyles primarily because it had such a high stock of local, fresh produce,” Jennifer Fox ’21, president of the organization mitLEAF, which promotes sustainable diets such as vegetarianism and veganism, said in an interview with The Tech.

Harvest’s branch in Jamaica Plain, its other remaining location, is also closing.

“Harvest is approaching [financial] insolvency with no viable path forward,” an email sent Oct. 4 from Harvest’s leadership to its members read. “We have put many cost controls into place, reducing purchasing and labor costs. Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked. Sales continue to drop, and Harvest continues to lose significant money each month.”

Fox described Harvest’s closure as “another loss of opportunity for students to cook for themselves and get fresh local produce.”

“Something that would be really awesome as a response to this would be for MIT administration to show their support of students with plant-based lifestyles and make sure that dining options on campus provide good plant-based, nutritious options," Fox said.

Joshua Anderson, the treasurer of Harvest Co-op’s Board of Directors, said in an interview with The Tech that the board considered other possibilities to continue Harvest, but none were successful.

“We had been trying to create a deal with National Co+op Grocers to start a new co-op in the same space and continue the operations, just under a different name,” Anderson said. “Unfortunately the resources it would have taken to create that deal were greater than National Co+op Grocers’ budget. Since Harvest was not able to identify any other potential buyers and it was losing money quite quickly, we made the decision to close.”

Anderson believed that several factors have contributed to Harvest’s decreasing profitability over the past few months. Previously, Harvest had occupied H-Mart’s current location and sold prepared foods on site, but it was no longer able to provide these goods after moving to a new, smaller location without access to a prep kitchen or café.

Additionally, while Harvest initially was one of the sole providers of its niche — food that catered to certain dietary restrictions, or was organic, non-GMO, or responsibly traded — the advent of chains such as Whole Foods and the growing movement of organic food has created greater competition.

“It used to be the co-ops were the almost sole provider of organic produce, and now that's certainly no longer the case,” Anderson said.

Anderson believes that Harvest’s legacy will be felt through its impact to the growing discussion over the provenance of food.

"I think that we brought together a lot of people around the idea of healthy food, and that has taken off broadly in the community: Harvest itself is not the beacon that it used to be in that movement,” he said.