The term “food co-op” is getting a lot of attention lately–but do you know what it is? Food Co-ops are essentially grocery stores organized as a cooperative and owned by its members. The modern cooperative movement began in the 1970’s as a healthier and less expensive alternative to grocery store chains.
They are more socially responsible than some typical grocery stores and offer better for you foods and household goods. You can find organic, local and grocery store produce. You can also spot grass fed meats, free-range chicken, sustainably farmed fish and artisan cheeses. For your morning jolt of java you can ask for Fair Trade coffees and other healthy beverages, including craft beer. Vitamins, herbs and homeopathic lines are there for the shopper as well. My co-op sold some items, like spices, coffee and beans, in bulk.
A co-op considers themselves a community. Only members can take advantage of different activities, events and planning the co-op community offers. Everyone who is a member gets to vote on various issues to create a stronger foundation and business. Prices can be lower than at other supermarkets because members provide labor. Each person must work an allotted amount of time each month, doing various jobs. You may even get to meet the local farmers and artisans who sell to the co-op since they are big on buying local and green.
I remember my first encounter with a co-op was in college–as college towns are popular for hosting co-ops–and it was a meaningful one. I had no idea this type of shop existed and to my surprise a great resource for a college student.
If you’re wondering if there is a co-op in your area, the Cooperative Grocer Network offers one of the most complete directories of US retail food co-ops by name and state. Go.coop provides all kinds of US co-ops, information, stories and search by industry, co-op type, name, etc. Find.coop identifies co-ops throughout the world.
Co-ops take themselves very seriously and as with any business a top priority is to build a better brand. So, it would make perfect sense that there is an annual conference. Marketing Matters, which focuses on brand management and development of these enterprises throughout the country. The Food Co-op Initiative is a non-profit foundation that provides sources and support for communities wanting to start this type of business in their neighborhood. Their tagline, which is Cultivating Healthy Communities, really describes what they offer–natural resources.
A top-notch example of this type of store is The Park Slope Food Co-op, located in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Park Slope, founded in 1973 by a small group of neighbors. PSFC has about 16,000 members of all of who have ownership in the Co-op. This establishment is one of the oldest and largest in the country and brought in $45 million dollars last year. Each member is able to participate in the planning and decision-making. Most of these members work once a month and in return receive a savings on groceries (20-40%) after paying a $100 membership fee. They provide a map of the local suppliers, a daily produce list, classified sections and offers different types of programs as well, They recycle, have an eco friendly blog, etc for their community.
Recently the PSFC has been getting a lot of attention because of its celebrity membership, but not all for the good. Maggie Gyllenhaal and other Brooklyn celebs stirred up controversy when they supposedly sent their personal assistants to work their shift instead of doing it themselves. Back in March there was a heated debate on boycotting certain foods.
If you don’t belong, find one in your neighborhood and apply for membership. Some don’t even require you to live in the neighborhood.
Do you belong?