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BOD Report: More Than Ever, We Need Our Co-ops and Our Co-ops Need Us! PDF Print E-mail

Harriet Tepfer, Board of Directors


By Harriet Tepfer

It's CO-OP MONTH!

     Each year at co-ops across the country, October is celebrated as “Co-op Month,” and cooperatives have much to celebrate this year. Eleven new food co-ops have opened in the US in the past year and the “cooperative business model” is increasingly being viewed as a kinder, more stable and

resilient form of capitalism than the traditional version, where the bottom line and benefiting stockholders is of higher importance than the benefit of people.

co-op month

     “Co-op Month” is a time to appreciate the many benefits and opportunities cooperatives provide, and to spread the word about the advantages of the cooperative business model. It’s a time to renew our commitment to, and to take personal ownership of, what author and economist Jeremy Rifkin calls the “sharing economy.” Because cooperatives are owned and governed democratically by their members—a fundamentally different model than private or corporate ownership—their successes benefit local economies far more than corporation-owned businesses that take dollars away from the local economy. The average food co-op spends 40% of its budget locally, while a conventional grocery store spends only 24% of their budgets in their local community. The Brattleboro Food Co-op is a major downtown employer and is dedicated to promoting local products with favorable pricing and presentation. Local products account for 17% of sales at our Co-op (3,700 products, with sales of over $3 million!) and sales of Fair Trade (supporting cooperative businesses) increase every year, in 2014 by 12.8%. Further, the Co-op paid about $4 million in services from local companies, local taxes, local wages, and local utilities last year alone.

     Most Americans have no idea how large the cooperative world is, and may be surprised to learn that almost 50% of us are served in some way by cooperatives, be they credit unions, insurance, utilities, housing co-ops, and more. In many other countries, cooperatives enjoy a much higher profile than they do in the US, as pillars of their local economies in food production, meeting social needs, and because of their dedication to improving lives. In Japan, the cooperative movement literally rose from the ashes of WWII; Japan’s Consumer Cooperative Union has as its motto “For Peace and a Better Life.” In developing countries, people are discovering that the cooperative model offers an attractive alternative to the destabilizing effects of globalization. And in the US, in addition to the emergence of renewed enthusiasm for start-up food co-ops, an interesting trend has arisen—that of employees and even customers investing in co-ownership of businesses as baby-boomer entrepreneurs retire.

     In 2010 the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) put out “The Blueprint for a Cooperative Decade,” which has inspired countless discussions, articles, and aspirations among co-ops across the globe to raise awareness of and participation in cooperative businesses. Its “2020 Vision” aims high, for the cooperative business model to become:

  1. The acknowledged leader in economic, social, and environmental sustainability,
  2. The model preferred by people, and
  3. The fastest growing form of enterprise

     The ICA will hold its 2015 meeting in Turkey this November, with the theme being “Towards 2020: What Will Your Co-op Look Like?” In Turkey, the cooperative business model is the largest and strongest pillar of the social economy.

It is estimated that the Earth’s population will reach nine billion by the year 2050. Agricultural production will need to increase by 60% to feed this many people, and other needs that are currently fulfilled by both cooperative and private sector businesses will also need to grow to meet the needs of this population. Who will best meet these needs—corporations whose profits benefit the few, or cooperatives that benefit the many?

     As we increasingly see the instabilities, inequities, and all too often destructive effects of capitalism and predatory globalization, it becomes clearer that the cooperative way of doing business and meeting the needs of all people deserves our loyalty, support, and participation.

     There are many ways that you can support the cooperative way, the most obvious by being a loyal shopper. Shop smart, and buy local and Fair Trade when possible. Tell your friends and acquaintances why you support your Co-op. Be part of the democratic business model by voting in board elections, attending the annual meeting, and consider coming to a Shareholder Forum meeting, which meets monthly to educate shareholders and support positive change. And if you have the time, there are always volunteer opportunities you can be part of to support our local community.  

It’s the Co-op Way.