democracy

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.

I Own a Grocery Store with Some Friends

Happy Co-op Month!! In honor of this special time, we’d like to share one of our favorite articles about what it means to be a member-owner of a co-op, written by Mandy Makinen of National Co-op Grocers:

 

I am probably the last person you would expect to own a grocery store, and yet, I do. In fact, I own three. I am a Midwestern, married suburban mother of two, my car is twelve years old and most of my fashion finds come from the thrift store. I don’t fit the bill for corporate honcho, and my bank account corroborates that truth.

So how do I manage to own not one but three successful grocery stores? I guess in true “industry disruptor” style, I found a unique solution to a common problem: how to get the kind of food I want, and have my voice heard by a place where I shop. That solution is food co-ops. My local food co-op offers me fresh local food, a way to support my community and the opportunity to invest in the co-op, ensuring it remains a resource in our community for good.

To be honest, I’m mostly in it for the food

I can still remember the first time I tried a fresh, organic and locally grown sugar snap pea. The crisp, tender pod was a shimmering, almost translucent spring green, the texture was light and juicy and crunchy, the flavor sweet and slightly floral in a way that only a freshly picked pea can taste. I had this amazing experience in the produce aisle of my co-op, the specimen unceremoniously thrust at me by a tall guy with a beard and a flannel shirt, the very same guy, it turned out, who had grown the peas, picked them early that morning and brought them to the store to sample to customers, like me.

As a sales technique, it worked, you better believe I bought some. But unpredictably, it had a life-changing effect on me because it opened my eyes to the existence, and value, of locally grown food. It turns out that locally grown food is not just better tasting, it’s better for the local economy because it keeps people employed in the rural areas that surround where I live and it’s traveled a much shorter distance to arrive on my plate. Another unexpected bonus of buying locally grown food has been that fresher vegetables actually have more plant sugar in them (it’s chemistry!) so they have been a much easier sell for my kids. When vegetables taste the way nature intends them, people more naturally enjoy them. It’s neat how that works.

Like a boss! Creating jobs and making investments

Most of us don’t expect a lot more than food out of our grocery store, but why shouldn’t we? Eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures but to be real, it’s one of its greatest chores, too. Buying and eating food is not optional, so it makes sense that we should have somewhere to buy food that is just here to help us meet that basic need, not to make money for business executives that live in other states. I don’t know about you, but I am tired of sending my money to Wall Street while Main Street closes up shop. Food cooperatives are locally owned by the people that shop there, like me, and my investment means that I get to vote for our board of directors and weigh in on important governance changes. If I wanted to, I could even run for the board!

Even better, when I buy food at my co-op more of the money I spend goes back to the local community via local producers and patronage refunds (a return on your investment, similar to a stock dividend or profit sharing but your amount is proportionate to how much you spend). Also, co-ops provide good jobs, most of them with benefits, to people in my neighborhood. Because co-ops are community-based (and because I’m an owner!) it’s easy for me to see how my shopping choices can benefit my community directly.

You can own a food co-op, too

There are many reasons why it’s smart and fun (yes, fun!) to shop at and invest in your local food co-op, I could never cover all the reasons here. For me, shopping the co-op is a great way to get the fresh, local and healthy food that I love (plus super tasty treats and snacks!) and at the same time, participate in an organization that is working to meet the needs of my community first and foremost. That community focus will never change as long as it exists because that’s what being a co-op means, and that’s what makes it different from other stores.

Just like you don’t need a wallet full of Benjamins to own a food co-op, you don’t need a Ph.D. to know that co-op ownership just makes sense.

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

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