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Why Go It Alone? The Story of the Somerville Yogurt Making Co-Op

Cheryl Sternman RuleComment
One of Stockpots Used by the Somerville Yogurt Making Co-Op | Photograph © Michael Piazza Photography

One of Stockpots Used by the Somerville Yogurt Making Co-Op | Photograph © Michael Piazza Photography

Anyone who has ever made yogurt knows that the process is the same, whether you’re starting with a pint or a gallon of milk. So if you’re going to make a little, why not make a lot… and share?

Meet Sam Christy. 

The father of three teenagers, Christy was raised in rural Maryland but has lived for 30 years in Somerville, Massachusetts, just a few miles outside Boston. He used to work as an engineer but now teaches engineering and robotics at a vocational school. “It’s so much better to teach,” he says simply. 

He also starts co-ops. 

Christy founded the League of Urban Canners, a granola making co-op, and even a bike kitchen, a cooperative where members of the community can fix their bicycles and share a long list of bike-related tools.

Of course, we’re here now to talk about the Somerville Yogurt Making Co-op, which he started about six years ago. “The idea began because I was making a lot of yogurt for my family,” he recalls. “Two to three quarts every week…” 

Sam Christy, founder of the Somerville Yogurt Co-op 
I’d think, ‘I bet someone else is making yogurt right now. We should make a co-op out of it.’
— Sam Christy, Founder of the Somerville Yogurt Co-op

Christy’s three children were young back then, so the family would go through quite a bit. “When you make yogurt, making six quarts or eight quarts isn’t that much harder than making two or three. Plus, I’d think, ‘I bet someone else is making yogurt right now. We should make a co-op out of it.’”

So, he did.

With its proximity to some of the world’s best-known universities and a highly creative population, Somerville, Christy finds, is a perfect community for outside-the-box thinking. “Living in this area, you can propose an idea that might seem odd elsewhere, but here people are like, ‘Yes, sure!’”

Soon, even the quirkiest ideas have legs.

Within two weeks of putting out the word, Christy had takers. “There was interest almost from the beginning,” he says.

Of course, he hadn’t yet found a space, but remember that Christy is a creative thinker. He quickly realized that Somerville’s many churches had kitchens, the majority of which were underutilized. 

The co-op started out at the Clarendon Hill Presbyterian Church on Clarendon Hill, then moved to the First Church of Somerville, where it has remained since. 

Recipe and jars used at the Somerville Yogurt Co-op | Photograph © Michael Piazza Photography

Recipe and jars used at the Somerville Yogurt Co-op | Photograph © Michael Piazza Photography

Here’s how it works:

Every Tuesday night, two members of the co-op make 20 to 24 quarts of yogurt, enough for the entire 20-person membership. This duo won’t have to make yogurt again for roughly three months when it’s once again their turn. “We have an abundance of labor,” Christy says, “which is neat.” 

The buy-in per member is $2.50 per quart, or $60 for 24 quarts for a 24 week term. And the venture runs like a well-oiled machine. The “Dairy Director” (all positions are creatively titled, and volunteer) places the weekly milk order from Crescent Ridge, a dairy in Sharon, Massachusetts, that receives its milk from a 300 member dairy cooperative in Vermont. Crescent Ridge delivers the milk and places it directly in the fridge on Monday mornings. Every Tuesday evening, two co-op members on duty that week make the yogurt together and place it into coolers that contain hot water bottles from the yogurt making process in order to maintain the incubation temperature. 

Another volunteer, the “Manager of Intra-kitchen Transit” comes in on Wednesday morning to move the jars from the warmth of the cooler to the refrigerator to chill. Members can then come fetch their yogurt up until Sunday night. By Monday, if yogurt remains unclaimed, it becomes fair game for any co-op member to take home.

The jars themselves were something of a thorn in Christy’s side during the co-op’s early months. 

Why?

They’d disappear. “We were bleeding jars,” he recalls. Eventually, a workable solution was found: Now, when newcomers join the co-op, they’re issued two glass jars. Their owners write their names on them and are responsible for their well-being. “This works much better,” he says. “A lot of this troubleshooting is just trial and error.”

In fact, co-op members get together for quarterly potlucks to meet informally and hash out any problems or concerns that may arise. 

Newcomers are also paired with experienced yogurt makers, which ensures a consistency of product each and every week. “There’s a Darwinian evolution to this process,” Christy says.

There’s also a commitment to energy efficiency and to reducing, as much as possible, any waste of heat or water during the yogurt making process. In addition to the reusable yogurt jars, the milk is delivered in reusable glass bottles. Since the co-op is located in a dense urban area, most co-op members live within walking or biking distance from the site in Davis Square.

And what of potential competition? Will there be bad blood if a group of yogurt enthusiasts in, say, Charlestown or Revere starts their own yogurt co-op?

Nah.

“We don’t care,” Christy says. “In fact, I’ve encouraged people to start co-ops in other parts of Somerville. The great thing about this economic model is that it does not have to be big to be successful. It’s really pretty fun.”
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|| Learn More about the Somerville Yogurt Making Co-op ||

Words © Cheryl Sternman Rule | Top + Bottom Photographs © Michael Piazza Photography | Center Photograph © Sam Christy 

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