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The Complete Believer's Guide to Food Co-ops
by Stuart Reid
Did you ever feel a bit offended by the concept that guidebooks are now being written for "Complete Idiots"? Well, if you are interested in food co-ops, I think it is fair to say that you do not need a guide for idiots. As we look at the recent financial crisis, it seems that the same cannot be said for the traditional investment community.
Owners of cooperative stock are investing in their community and personal needs, not in hopes that their money will grow in direct proportion to the capitalist success of a multinational corporation. Does this sound radical? Early American settlers set up cooperative communities and founders such as Thomas Jefferson warned against the influence that corporations were building. Lest we forget, this country was founded on the principles of individual rights within a cooperative society.
In an age where the benefits of our capitalist society are proclaimed daily, it is good to step back and ask whether there are better alternatives. Capitalism does not equate to democracy. In fact, modern capitalism has created a society in which the wealthy (capitalists) have far more voice in government than their employees who do the hard work that actually creates value. The cooperative movement has existed in the United States since the earliest settlers arrived and before that in aboriginal societies. Why then are competitive, corporate business systems dominant in our society? Very simply, those systems concentrate wealth and once that has been accomplished, wealth-holders can control markets and government. Cooperative societies and businesses do not build huge war chests; they exist to meet the needs of all of their members, not to enrich a chosen few.
Why are food co-ops gaining in popularity? Why should you patronize one? Because food co-ops are owned by the people that use them and they are responsive to local needs. Co-ops tend to support local growers and producers, helping to strengthen the local economy and create connections between consumers and the people that grow their food. When you join a co-op you become an owner. Your investment may be relatively small (typically less than $300) but you become an owner of a community business with a voice in its affairs and a share of its profits.
Co-ops are also committed to education. They provide information about the products that they sell so that you can make a reasoned decision about your purchases; they offer workshops and classes to help you appreciate new and exciting products, cuisines, and ideas.
There are thousands of co-ops in the U.S., from farmer co-ops, to credit unions, electric associations, producers, retailers, and food c o-ops. Up to 40% of the population belongs to a cooperative, whether they realize it or not. Food co-ops are one of the key components of the retail sector. There are about 300 cooperative food stores operating in the U.S. at this time with another 200 groups working to open new co-ops. If you would like to find a co-op near you, check out this directory at: http://cooperativegrocer.coop/coops/, provided courtesy of the Cooperative Grocer magazine. If you do not have a food co-op near you, contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org for information on how to being organizing one in your own community.
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About the Author
Stuart Reid is the Food Co-op Development Specialist for Food Co-op 500, where he provides technical assistance, information and resources to groups organizing new retail food co-ops across the United States. He has an extensive background working with a variety of cooperative and investor-owned businesses.