Common Questions (& Answers)

Here are the answers to a few questions we’re asked fairly often.

What is a Co-op?

A co-op is a member-owned, member-controlled business, wherein people have voluntarily united to meet common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations. All co-ops share seven basic principles:

1. Voluntary and open membership
2. Member economic participation
3. Democratic member control
4. Autonomy and independence
5. Education, training and information
6. Concern for community
7. Cooperation among cooperatives

A co-op can sell anything: shoes, art supplies, services. It’s the structure and philosophy that makes it a co-op. The Upper Valley Food Co-op happens to be a natural foods co-op.

The modern co-op movement dates back over 150 year. Today, co-ops are still going strong all over the world.

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How did co-ops begin?

Early human societies learned to cooperate and work together to maximize their efficiency for hunting, fishing, gathering foods, building shelter, and meeting their individual and collective needs. Early agriculture would have been impossible without mutual aid among farmers. Farmers relied on one another to defend land, harvest crops, build barns and storage facilities, and to share equipment. These examples of informal cooperation – of working together – were without doubt the precursors to the cooperative form of business.

The earliest cooperatives appeared in Europe in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, during the Industrial Revolution. At that time, working people were increasingly reliant on stores to feed their families because they were unable to grow their own food. This led to a growing concentration of power in the hands of those with money. Those without money had very little control over the quality of their food or living conditions. Early co-ops were set up as a means of safeguarding and promoting the interests of some of the less powerful members of society – workers, consumers, farmers, and producers.

In England, groups or consumers began experimenting with various methods of providing for their needs themselves. Groups of these people decided to purchase groceries together and raised money for that purpose. When they purchased goods from a wholesale dealer and then divided them equally among themselves, they were surprised at the savings and the higher quality of products they were able to obtain.

One of the most famous groups of people to form a co-op was England’s Rochdale Pioneers. In December of 1844, these pioneers opened their co-op store at 31 Toad Lane. Although they weren’t the first group to try forming a co-op, they were the first to make their co-op work and endure. To help others and to avoid the mistakes made by earlier co-op societies, they developed a list of operating principles governing their organization. These formed the basis for what are now known as the cooperative principles. Rochdale is still considered the birthplace of the modern cooperative movement. In the United States, cooperatives of one sort or another have roots going back to the days of the American colonies. One of the earliest was established in 1752 by Benjamin Franklin and is in operation to this day – the Philadelphia Contributorship for the Insurance of Homes from Loss by Fire.

From colonial times on, most early co-ops were formed primarily to help Americans with agricultural production. Some helped farmers keep their costs low through joint purchases of supplies, such as feed, equipment, tools, or seed. Some marketing co-ops helped farmers obtain the best prices for their goods by selling in large quantities. Others provided storage or production services, such as grain elevators or cheese processing. But it wasn’t until the early 1900’s that co-ops gained recognition as a truly viable business form and began to have their first true, long-lasting successes in the United States.

In the late 1960’s and 1970’s, the “new wave” of consumer co-ops began. Born out of the ideas and philosophies of the 1960s counterculture, these stores were opened by young and idealistic members. They set up co-ops to fit their beliefs in equality and social justice, not to follow their co-op predecessors. Most of the new co-ops focused on whole, unrefined, and bulk foods. These co-ops were pioneers in a growing health-conscious society and in what came to be known as the “natural foods” industry. Not all were successful. But the surviving ones are well-established and strong proteges of a long and rich consumer co-op legacy.

Food cooperatives are the dominant market forces in the United Kingdom, Scandinavia, Japan, and many other countries – setting the standard for food quality and responsible grocery retailing.

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What is the International Co-Operative Alliance?

Formed in 1895, the International Co-operative Alliance is the oldest voluntary international organization in the world. The United States has been formally represented at the ICA since 1918 by the National Cooperative Business Association. The ICA is the largest representational, non-governmental organization in the world with more than 726 million individual members from over 100 different countries. Its largest concentration of members is in Asia and the Pacific, with European countries supplying the second largest group. The purpose of the ICA is to promote the cooperative principles, economic relations between co-op organizations, and the progress of workers of all countries. The ICA also aims for the establishment of lasting worldwide peace.

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Types of co-op:

Producer Co-ops: These come in two types: Supply Co-ops supply producers with the materials they need. Most are found in agricultural areas, and supply farmers with things like feed, seed, equipment, fertilizer, tools, and related items. Marketing Co-ops store, process, and market products for producers. For example, they help farmers by storing and marketing grain, processing milk into butter and cheese, refining sugar, milling flour, packaging nuts, etc. These co-ops then often sell their members’ products under a brand name. Examples include Land O’Lakes (dairy products), Sunkist (citrus fruits), Ocean Spray(cranberries), and Welch’s (grapes).

Producer co-ops range in size from small groups of farmers who own a grain silo or two, to the 14 co-ops on Fortune magazine’s 1994 list of the 500 largest companies in the U.S. In agriculture alone, there are over 2,200 marketing and over 1,600 supply co-ops, with more than 14 million members. But producer co-ops aren’t just agricultural. For example, when a group of artists rent and operate a gallery together, they are operating a marketing co-op. Fish marketing and processing co-ops are common on both North American coasts.

Worker Co-ops are businesses that are owned and controlled on a democratic basis by the employees. They are most commonly found in enterprises with an industrial or labor-intensive focus, such as manufacturing or service businesses. They are wholly and solely owned by their employees. Examples might include plywood and appliance factories, taxi cab services, health and home care services, restaurants and bakeries, and cleaning services. There are approximately 300 worker cooperatives in the U.S. with about 102,000 employee-members.

Consumer Co-ops provide goods or services used primarily for personal consumption. They are most common in industries such as food retailing; housing; child care; insurance; health care (HMOs); and utilities (telephone, heating fuel, electricity); hardware; books and office supplies; bicycle and car repair services; clothing; and many other products and services. Credit unions are the largest type of consumer co-op in the U.S., with over 65 million members and more than $277 billion in assets. And the largest consumer co-op of all in the U.S. is REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc.).

While most co-ops fit these basic forms, some are hybrids of two or more types, such as worker / consumer co-ops.

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What does “organic” mean?

The term “organic” is applied to food based on USDA-established guidelines, and refers to foods produced under certain conditions.

For food to be labelled “organic,” most synthetic fertilizers and pesticides may not have been used in production; irradiation, genetic engineering, growth hormones, and antibiotics are also disallowed.

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What does “natural” mean?

“Natural” is not a USDA-defined term, and is not regulated. However, the label is intended to signify foods which are minimally processed, and do not contain artificial ingredients (such as colors, flavors, preservatives or sweeteners).

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How do I cook different types of grain?

Here’s a chart showing various types of grains, the amount of water (or other liquid, such as vegetable broth) required, and the cooking time for each, as well as the final yield.

Grain (1 cup) Amount Liquid Cooking Time Yield
Amaranth 3 cups 25-30 min. 2 1/2 cups
Barley 4 cups 30-40 min. 4 cups
Buckwheat 2 – 5 cups 20 min. 3 cups
Bulgur 2 cups 15 min 2 1/2 cups
Cornmeal * 4 – 5 cups 30-40 min* 4 – 5 cups
Kamut 3 – 4 cups 1 hour** 2 1/2 cups
Millet 4 cups 25-30 min** 4 cups
Oats 3 cups 30-40 min 3 1/2 cups
Oatmeal 2 cups 10 min 4 cups
Rice (Brown) 2 – 2 1/2 cups 35-40 min 2 1/2 cups
Rye 4 cups 1 hour** 2 2/3 cups
Triticale 4 cups 1 hour** 2 1/2 cups
Wheat Berries 3 – 4 cups 1 hour** 2 1/2 cups
Wheat Cracked 2 cups 25 min.** 2 1/3 cups
Wild Rice 4 cups 40 min 3 – 3 1/2 cups

* With cornmeal, mix with 1 cup of cold water before adding to the remaining 4-5 cups of boiling water.

** To reduce cooking time on “hard” grains such as wheat, rye, triticale, & Kamut. Bring grain and liquid back to boil. Boil 10 min., then let soak 8-12 hours. After soaking, bring back to boil and cook 15 to 20 min.

Liquid may be water, meat or vegetable stock, juice or milk. The more flavorful the liquid, the more flavorful the grain.

Another method is to “pilaf” the grain. Saute the grain with minced onion in oil and then add twice as much liquid as grain; cover and cook over medium-low heat til liquid is absorbed and grain is tender. Cooking time is usually as above. (Brown rice, bulgur, barley, millet and wild rice are great this way.)

This section courtesy of www.chefnoah.com

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