cooperatives

Celebrate Co-op Month!

Every October, cooperatives across the United States join the National Cooperative Business Association in celebrating Co-op Month. The theme for 2019, “Co-ops:  By the Community, for the Community,” is a celebration of how co-ops enable people to work together to meet their needs and build stronger communities.

Across the Northeast, people have used food co-ops to improve access to healthy, local, affordable food. While most of these grocery stores got their start more than 30 years ago some began in the 1930s and ’40s, and a new wave of start-ups have opened their doors in the past ten years, representing a renewed interest in food security and community ownership. Today, the Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA) includes over 35 food co-ops and start-ups, locally owned by more than 150,000 members and employing over 2,300 people. Together, these co-ops generate shared annual revenue of $340 million, including sales of $93 million in local products. 

 

Our Co-op, founded over 40 years ago, is proud to work with more than 300 local farmers and producers to keep our shelves well-stocked with local foods. Last year, 34% of our store sales represented purchases of local products. This means that the hardworking local farmers and producers in our community have a stable retail market for their wares and your purchases ensure that they can continue to thrive doing the work that they love. But the impact goes well beyond that. Vermont’s dynamic local food system is made up of a diverse range of farmers and food producers including dairy farmers, farmers of fruits & vegetables, livestock, hay, maple products, and specialty crops like hemp; and it also includes thousands of entrepreneurs creating a variety of value-added products (e.g., cured meats, baked goods, beer, chocolate); sophisticated distribution networks; and dozens of organizations that provide business planning, technical assistance, education, and outreach services for these local farmers and producers. So when you’re buying local products, your hard-earned food dollars are supporting so much more than the individual farmer or producer, plus you’re keeping your money circulating within your own community in an impactful way. 

 

 

Another exciting way that our Co-op is able to cultivate community is by giving back. Last year, our Co-op donated over 7 tons of food to our local food shelves, representing a dollar value of $96,527. Thanks to your patronage and willingness to round-up your purchases during our quarterly Rally For Change events, we passed along over $12,818 dollars to Addison County-based non-profit organizations that serve at-risk populations. Last year’s Empty Bowl dinner raised $2,244 for local food shelves, HOPE and CVOEO, and the September Share the Harvest partnership with NOFA-VT allowed us to pass along $1,844 to purchase local farm shares for community members in need. We were also able to donate gift cards to each and every Addison County-based non-profit that reached out to us seeking support for various raffles, fundraisers, and community events, totaling over $20,000. Being a community-owned, not-for-profit grocery store allows us to share our profits back to the community in a meaningful way that benefits all. 

Food co-ops are not alone in their contribution to more resilient local communities. From farmer co-ops to worker co-ops, credit unions to artist co-ops, and housing co-ops to energy co-ops, cooperative businesses thrive across the U.S. economy, where 350 million people are co-op members. Nationwide, cooperatives generate $514 billion in revenue and more than $25 billion in wages, according to a study conducted by the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives. And because they are member-owned, co-ops are rooted in their communities and governed by the people who use them to meet their needs.

Throughout Co-op Month, we’ll be featuring special sales and promotions on many of our favorite co-op-made products. Just look for the “Go Co-op” signs on the shelves that identify products that were made by our Co-op or other cooperatives. You may be surprised what you find, including dairy products from Cabot Creamery Co-op and Organic Valley; fairly traded fresh produce, chocolate, and coffee from Equal Exchange; fairly traded quinoa and chocolates from Alter Eco; naturally fermented vegetables from Real Pickles; body care products from Alaffia;  and wine from La Riojana! You’ll also find that many of these products are part of our Co-op Basics program at everyday low prices that keep them within reach for any budget. 

To learn more about the history of the cooperative movement and the impact that co-ops have in their communities, visit nfca.coop. And thank you for supporting your locally-owned, locally-grown Co-op!

Celebrating International Co-ops Day

On Saturday, July 7th, we will join co-ops around the world in celebrating International Co-ops Day, joining the United Nations (UN) and the International Co-operative Alliance in a commemoration held annually since 1923.  This year, at a time of dramatic change in our climate and local economies, co-ops and credit unions are highlighting how their businesses offer a solution by contributing to more sustainable local communities.

“Co-ops Day is an opportunity for co-ops and their members to celebrate how we contribute locally and globally to address climate change and economic instability,” said Bonnie Hudspeth, Member Programs Manager of the Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA), a federation of more than 35 food co-ops across the Northeast, locally owned by more than 130,000 people from all walks of life. “When community needs are not being met — whether it’s for things like healthy food, credit, jobs, or insurance — co-ops offer a way for people to work together to make the world a better place.”

The theme of sustainability builds on the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which seeks to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and tackle climate change over the next fifteen years. As democratic, community-based businesses, co-ops have a unique role to play in these efforts.

Here in our region, food co-ops have been at the forefront of efforts to build more resilient and inclusive local economies. And over the past few years, NFCA member co-ops have been working together to share strategies for sustainability. One way that our Co-op is working to contribute to a more sustainable local community was through our recent expansion project. This project allowed us to make many physical improvements to our building envelope and upgrades to our equipment resulting in significant increases in our energy efficiency. Additionally, our larger store has allowed us to serve more community members (membership recently crossed the 5,000 household mark!), support more local farmers and producers, and provide more quality jobs for community members.

Observed internationally on the first Saturday in July, Co-ops Day often coincides with Independence Day celebrations here in the United States. Based on the principle of one member one vote, co-ops reflect American ideals of democracy, mutual self-help, and equality. We appreciated the large number of community members that turned out for our recent Annual Meeting and the excellent voter turnout in our recent Board election. This is democracy in action!

“The co-operative model is unique in that it empowers people to work together to meet their needs though jointly owned, democratically governed businesses,” said Erbin Crowell, NFCA Executive Director. “It should come as no surprise that co-ops have been part of American history from our beginnings and continue to play a key role in building vibrant and sustainable local communities, and a stronger, more resilient economy that works for everyone.”

For more information and a map of food co-ops across the Northeast, please visit www.nfca.coop/coopsday.

NFCA Statement on Diversity & Inclusion

The Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA) is a co-operative federation bringing together 35 food co-ops and start-up initiatives throughout New England that are working together toward a shared vision of a thriving co-operative economy, rooted in a healthy, just and sustainable regional food system and a vibrant community of co-operative enterprise. Our Co-op is a proud member of NFCA and in light of recent occurrences of political, social, and economic division, the NFCA Board of Directors released the following statement to clarify our collective position on these events:

 

For over 170 years, the Co-operative Movement has stood for ideals of democracy, empowerment and inclusion — ideals that are at the heart of the America’s journey as a nation, and that we continue to strive toward today. From our beginnings, co-ops have celebrated human diversity and worked to bring people together to meet our needs and achieve our aspirations. In short, we believe that we are better when we are welcoming, when we lift one another up, and when we work together to make life better for everyone.

In keeping with the principles of the International Co-operative Alliance, our food co-ops work to ensure that our doors are open to all persons, “without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination.” As community-owned enterprises, we value respectful dialog, debate, and participation as expressions of economic democracy. As organizations of people who depend on a healthy planet to survive and thrive, we are committed to development policies and strategies that will sustain our communities over time.

Today, we are witnessing levels of political, social, and economic division that we believe do not reflect our ideals as a nation. While we honor differences of opinion, we are concerned that actions by this administration are fundamentally at odds with American principles of democracy, diversity and inclusion, as well as co-operative values of equality, solidarity, and caring for others. Specifically, we are seeing initiatives that we believe undermine human rights, immigration policies that exclude people based on their origin and religious beliefs, and initiatives that undercut efforts to slow climate change.

In this context, we reaffirm our commitment to being not just welcoming businesses, but empowering community enterprises. We seek to be a positive resource and influence, presenting opportunities for constructive dialog and collective action for change. And we will explore ways that we can reach beyond our walls, advocating for policies that will contribute to democracy and equality, advance human rights, and support environmental sustainability.

As a federation of community-owned food co-ops, we seek to empower people to enjoy healthier lives, build stronger local communities, and provide good jobs. We advocate for a deeper sense of corporate social responsibility that includes democratic ownership, the full expression of human diversity and the needs of future generations. In taking this stand, we acknowledge that we can always do better and must challenge ourselves to live up to our values and principles. By working together, we believe that we can help build stronger communities, a more inclusive nation, and a better world for everyone.

Sincerely,

The Board of Directors & Staff of the Neighboring Food Co-op Association

Happy Co-op Month!

Print

October is Interational Co-op Month! We’re celebrating all month long with special store promotions on products made by cooperatives like Organic Valley, Equal Exchange, Alaffia, Frontier, Blue Diamond, Cabot, La Riojana, and Real Pickles, to name a few. We’re also celebrating this special month by spreading the word about the cooperative business model and what makes it so unique.

There are over 2.5 million cooperatives around the globe, including food co-ops, agricultural co-ops, housing cooperatives, artists’ co-ops, credit unions, and even cooperative sports teams! Despite our diversity, we are all unified by the Seven Cooperative Principles, which are a set of ideals that form the basis for how cooperatives around the world operate. They were first created in 1844 by the founders of the very first co-op, the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers in Rochdale, England, and we are still guided by this same set of principles today.

In short, cooperatives exist to meet the needs of their member-owners and their communities. They are democratically controlled by their member-owners through an elected Board of Directors, and the profits generated by a cooperative are equitably distributed back to the member-owners and the community through patronage dividends and community philanthropic activities. When you choose to shop at our Co-op, you’re supporting local and sustainable food systems, fair compensation for employees, environmental stewardship, and a vibrant local economy.

We recently came across the following article about The Power of the Cooperative Movement by Robert Miller. Miller is a resident of Shelburne and is CEO of VSECU. He is a former commissioner of the Vermont Department of Economic Development and currently serves on the boards of the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies, Capstone Community Action and the Energy Action Network. We enjoyed Robert’s article so much that we reached out to him and asked for his permission to share it:

The Power of the Cooperative Movement

Imagine a strategy that could transform a country’s poorest regional economy into one of great wealth and prosperity. An approach that could build a community that produces more than 9 percent of that country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), 12 percent of its exports, and 30 percent of its patents, while only comprising 7 percent of its population. This scenario is no fantasy. It’s the reality in Emilia Romagna, Italy. What’s their secret? A thriving cooperative economy. Their success is largely attributed to the region’s commitment to building co-ops and employee-owned firms since 1950. In fact, co-ops now account for 30 percent of Emilia Romagna’s GDP.
The region is just one of many examples, from Spain to Cleveland, that demonstrate how a thriving cooperative economy can spur economic and community development. Co-ops are certainly not a new phenomenon – the first was established in 1844. Nor do they offer a “magic bullet” to fix all economic woes. But as Vermont continues to work to strengthen its economy, stabilize our population, and create more opportunity for Vermonters, it is important to recognize the value of cooperatives as an essential element of economic and community development. With greater emphasis on the cooperative economy, we can work together to support a sustainable, locally owned, and locally controlled business sector, contributing to vibrant local communities that support all Vermonters.

The good news is that cooperatives and employee-owned firms already play an important role in our communities, with more than 130 cooperative organizations currently operating in the state, according to a new census from the Cooperative Development Institute. The Association of Vermont Credit Unions reports that 54 percent of Vermonters belong to at least one cooperative credit union. Many Vermonters may support cooperatives without even realizing it, including companies such as Ace Hardware, Ocean Spray and REI; and locally, Cabot Creamery, Mad River Glen Ski Area, and PT-360.

Our existing cooperative economy offers a great foundation. Yet when you consider the value co-ops add to local economies, the potential impact of growing this sector is significant. As local businesses, co-ops provide an attractive economic multiplier effect. Approximately 48 percent of money spent at local businesses is recirculated within the local community, compared to only 14 percent from national businesses. Cooperatives also bring stability by offering stronger success rates than traditional businesses. Data from the World Council of Credit Unions found that within five years of opening, 90 percent of cooperatives were still in operation versus 3-5 percent of non-cooperative businesses.

Co-op profits are more equitably distributed across a broader ownership base than traditional businesses. And with democratic, local control, cooperatives are also more likely to stay in the region for the long term. Beyond economic value, community development and support are part of the cooperative DNA – a set of inherent characteristics that speak to our Vermont values and further benefit our communities.

But we are all in this together. Local economies thrive when local businesses see strong local support – whether owned privately, by employees, or by cooperative members. We all play a role in building a diverse and dynamic local economy.

So go local! Support your local businesses. Discover and join a co-op. More broadly, let’s work together to strengthen our economy for all Vermonters.

 

 

© Copyright 2020 - Middlebury Food Co-op