Co-ops Cultivate Co-ops; Co-ops Cultivate Community
As I write, the Supreme Court just ruled in the McCutcheon case, increasing yet again the ability for the wealthy to control the country’s political process. Meanwhile, back at your local co-ops, the co-operative principle of “democratic member control” still holds: one member, one vote. As a co-op member-owner, you have a real say in what happens at your business: who serves on the board of directors, what changes are made to the bylaws. You also have the ear of the board, management, and staff. And any profit the co-op makes goes not to a few, but rather benefits member-owners and the community.
One consumer co-op may not have much influence in national matters. But when added together, co-operatives can be a huge force. When the co-operative model becomes the model that businesses want to emulate, that can change everything. The International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) has set a goal that by 2020, co-ops will be the acknowledged leader in economic, social and environmental sustainability – and that cooperatives will be the fastest growing form of enterprise.*
This ambitious goal can be made reality largely because of another of the seven principles: “cooperation among cooperatives.” Co-ops support each other both formally – through organizations like the National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA) and the Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA) – as well as informally, such as in the way UVFC and the Co-op Food Store in WRJ send customers to one another.
In New England, the NFCA supports existing co-ops, expansions, and start-ups. NFCA provides educational programs and materials as well as gatherings and communication platforms for its member co-ops. NFCA also partners with the New England Farmers Union, which supports co-operative undertakings (such as a producer grant with Deep Root Organic Co-op), organizes educational opportunities, and partners with NFCA around issues that affect family farmers.
NFCA Executive Director Erbin Crowell (guest speaker at UVFC’s 2013 Annual Meeting) has been involved in another huge milestone: co-ops are entering the economics department. UMass now offers a course, “Introduction to the Co-operative Movement,” as well as an Undergraduate Certificate Program in Applied Economic Research on Cooperatives.
Co-ops return more money to the local economy. When the “multiplier effect” of money re-circulating in the local economy is factored in, every $1,000 a shopper spends at their local food co-op generates $1,604 in economic activity in their local economy. That is $239 more than if they had spent that same $1,000 at a conventional grocer.
Food co-ops promote community food security, buying from local farmers and producers and fostering regional food distribution systems. While, on average, conventional grocers work with 65 local farmers and food producers, food co-ops work with 157. Locally sourced products make up an average of 20 percent of co-op sales, compared to 6 percent at conventional stores.
Regionally, co-ops are introducing programs to be sure that all members of the community have access to healthful food options available at food co-ops, and to the benefits of member-ownership.At UVFC, information, classes, a community garden, meeting space, inexpensive lunches, and a place to talk with friends are additional contributions made to the local community. What others can you think of?
*This includes all types of co-ops – Consumer (food co-ops, credit unions, housing cooperatives), Worker (e.g., Brattleboro Holistic Health Center Co-operative , Once Again Nut Butters), Producer (Deep Root, CROPP/Organic Valley), Purchasing/Share Services Cooperatives (i.e., Ace or True Value hardware), and Hybrid (Weaver Street Market in Hillsborough, NC is owned by both consumer members and worker members).