Despite being 250 miles away from one another, the two co-ops faced similar challenges in achieving their expansion goals – from finding the right location to hiring the best staff. Owners at both decided early on to prioritize accessibility, particularly for low-income residents, and local hiring. "We have made it a priority to hire employees from our surrounding neighborhoods in order to fully support the Durham community, not only through our products but through our jobs as well," says Laura Pyatt, a spokesperson for Durham Co-op Market.

Durham Co-op Market employs 40, and Hendersonville Community Co-op doubled its staff to 30 with its expansion. Co-ops can be tricky to finance due to their non-traditional ownership structure, and require lenders with specialized knowledge and skills. Natural Capital Investment Fund and its lending partners – the Northcountry Cooperative Development Fund, the Local Enterprise Assistance Fund, and Self-Help – crafted innovative multi-million dollar financing packages that provided the capital these co-ops have used to bring their vision of quality food in healthy communities to fruition.