Incubating Community, One Jar of Yogurt at a Time

yogurtA member of the coop makes yogurt. Photo by Adrianne Mathiowetz.

When Sam Christy’s kids were young, he was making three quarts of yogurt a week. “I just thought, ‘I bet someone else is making yogurt tonight too. It wouldn’t be much harder for me to make four quarts and share them with them,’” he says. “And I thought, ‘Hey, maybe I could do this on a larger scale.’”

From there, the Somerville Yogurt Making Coop was born. Eight years in, the coop is made up of about 20 people who pitch in and get a steady supply of homemade yogurt in return.

People come to the coop for different reasons. For some, it’s about reducing plastic use and production processes that aren’t environmentally friendly. For others, it’s about the low price tag—$2.50 per quart. Some people are drawn in for the sense of community, and others just love yogurt.

“I feel like I’ve stayed less because of the yogurt, but more because of the concept,” says Deborah Goldfarb. “Now I could make yogurt at home, but I think it feels rare in an urban environment to have the ability to connect with random people in this kind of way and do things collectively. And it’s not a huge commitment, but I think you can benefit from it quite a bit.”

Each week, two people make yogurt for the entire coop out of the First Church Somerville kitchen. Members can choose how many quarts they want and whether they’d like whole or nonfat yogurt. There are enough people in the coop that members only have to make yogurt two or three times every six months.

The coop is determined to limit waste. The members get their yogurt in mason jars and have to return clean mason jars by the following week if they want to get their next share.

Reducing plastic was one of the reasons that Christy started making yogurt at home in the first place.

“This model can be extremely environmentally friendly, because we are in control of it and can make really good decisions,” he says. “Not using plastic is great, that’s a big waste. We’re using these jars, and we reuse them all the time, and that’s really been nice. In industry, there is some general waste.”

The group also takes great care with its ingredients and delivery processes, sourcing milk from Crescent Ridge Farm in reusable glass containers.

“There’s been some talk about raw milk and if that’s feasible for us to do, and for now it’s not … There’s been talk about how do we become even more sustainable,” Goldfarb says.

The coop’s yogurt is extra thick due to its long incubation period, and lasts for several weeks. It’s plain yogurt with no sugar in it, although some members add honey or maple syrup to sweeten it.

For Goldfarb, getting paired up with strangers to learn how to make yogurt was a rewarding experience. She is a social worker, and happened to get matched with a retired social worker for her first shift.

She says the coop is fairly diverse, especially in terms of age. The coop recently started a share for people who would like to be part of the coop but can’t afford the full share price, which comes out to $60 every 24 weeks.

Christy, a Cambridge resident and a teacher at Medford Vocational Technical High School, also runs a granola making coop and a fermentation coop out of the First Church Kitchen.

“[Yogurt] happened to be what I was making at the time, but pretty early on I began thinking, ‘I like this model, I want to try other foods,’” he says. “To me, it’s really not so much the yogurt as the community cooperative model that I really like.”

This story appears in the Food, Glorious Food! issue of Scout Somerville, which is available for free at more than 220 drop spots throughout Somerville (and just beyond its borders) or by subscription.

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