|My Co-op Story|
by Spoon Agave
Who hasn’t at some time said “why can’t we just get along?’, then sighed, slowly shook their head and walked away sadly. Now and then that question is asked at the Co-op too. But at the Co-op there is an agreement. We won’t ask that question and then just walk away. We’ll find out why. That will take us to our next agreement: find out how we can get along.
Then do it. If it doesn’t work, take a new approach and try again. We aren’t finished until a majority agrees that we’ve reached the best decision possible. Something sound familiar about that? You’re right! It’s a democracy. It’s an economic democracy, more specifically. Our purpose is to run a business, and meet our members' needs, but democracy is still the operative word. A positive bottom line is indeed a necessary goal and one measure of success. However if it is not achieved through a cooperative structure and atmosphere that is understood and felt by all its members, staff and community, the endeavor itself will wither and die as it has in every such case in 168 years of modern co-operative history.
That term, economic democracy, is the idea that underpins and permeates a true cooperative business. Yet as academic as this may sound, it is nevertheless the reason I belong to the Co-op. It is why I believe in it, invest in it, and support it in numerous ways. Economic democracy may be a bit of an abstract idea (though it shouldn’t be, in my opinion) but it is no longer mysterious when, as a member, I am asked to vote in an election to choose who will steer our business. It is certainly not a vague concept when I realize I too can be one of the directors. The policies that support local agriculture and organic food were mandates from the members. A few years ago when some people were thinking it was time for the Co-op to graduate to a big box on an asphalt commercial strip on the fringe of town, I joined the chorus that said: graduate, yes; shopping center, no. The Co-op is the anchor of downtown, and downtown is the center of our community.
The directors asked. The members spoke. The directors listened. Now, day by day, brick by brick, we watch our store rise and blossom in our downtown.
Let me say this. When the purpose is to please, not to exploit, and your credo is to be fair, not to profit above necessity, you create a business with integrity and genuine friendliness. I dare say it is the embodiment of what it means to be a Vermonter: a place where people pull together.
Of course I belong to the Co-op. It’s a natural.