Scott Cooper is the General Manager of Rising Tide Community Market in Damariscotta — a member-owned food co-op that incorporated in 1978.
SRG: Rising Tide Community Market is a coop. Can you tell us a little bit about what that means.
SC: Rising Tide is cooperatively owned by more than 3000 local residents who purchase equity shares of the business. These member-owners then elect a board of directors to provide leadership and direction for the co-op as well as hire a general manager (me) to run the day to day operations. All co-ops agree on the following Value Statement:
Co-operatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.
Additionally, we follow the 7 cooperative principles in our day to day operations. (See below.)
SRG: When and how did Rising Tide Community Market begin?
SC: Rising Tide began as a small buying club in the mid-1970’s and grew into a small store front and incorporated in 1978. Our original member-owners started Rising Tide in order to source bulk and healthy foods that they could not find locally.
SRG: What is the process for starting a food co-op?
SC: Co-ops usually begin when members of a community find their needs are not being met or when they want to have a greater say in the choices they have in their community. Whether it is a food co-op like Rising Tide providing access to a wide variety of local, natural and organic food or a dairy cooperative providing an outlet for several smaller farmers to get their products to market, co-ops begin to provide value to the community.
SRG: What are some of the ways that food co-ops are different than other food markets?
SC: Our first priority is not maximizing profits for shareholders outside our community. While we are first and foremost a business, our cooperative principles inform and inspire us to maximize the benefits to everyone in our community not just those that have purchased shares. Every dollar made in our co-op stays in our community. Additionally, we work hard to support local suppliers, producers and farmers in order to support our local economy. Many studies have shown that close to $0.60 out of every $1.00 spent at a co-op stays in the community versus closer to $0.25 at corporately owned grocery stores.
SRG: What does it mean to be a “member” of the coop?
SC: Our “members” are actually member-owners of the business. They purchase equity shares and actual become an owner of the business. The important difference between being a member-owner versus a stock holder in a corporation is that each member-owner gets one vote regardless of how large of an equity investment they have made. No one person or hedge fund can influence the co-op for their own financial benefit. It is one of our 7 principles and in my mind the most important.
SRG: How many members and/or employee owners do you have at Rising Tide?
SC: We have about 3000 active member-owners who have invested and shopped at the store in the last year.
SRG: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
SC: I strongly believe that the co-operative business model provides a substantial improvement over the corporate shareholder model. While we must be successful in business, we are just as concerned with supporting and improving all aspects of our community. I believe we are Stronger Together.
The 7 Cooperative Principles
The co-operative principles are guidelines by which co-operatives put their values into practice.
1st Principle: Voluntary and Open Membership
Co-operatives are voluntary organizations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination.
2nd Principle: Democratic Member Control
Co-operatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions. Men and women serving as elected representatives are accountable to the membership. In primary co-operatives members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote) and co-operatives at other levels are also organized in a democratic manner.
3rd Principle: Member Economic Participation
Members contribute equitably to, and democratically control, the capital of their co-operative. At least part of that capital is usually the common property of the co-operative. Members usually receive limited compensation, if any, on capital subscribed as a condition of membership. Members allocate surpluses for any or all of the following purposes: developing their co-operative, possibly by setting up reserves, part of which at least would be indivisible; benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the co-operative; and supporting other activities approved by the membership.
4th Principle: Autonomy and Independence
Co-operatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If they enter to agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their co-operative autonomy.
5th Principle: Education, Training and Information
Co-operatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their co-operatives. They inform the general public – particularly young people and opinion leaders – about the nature and benefits of co-operation.
6th Principle: Co-operation among Co-operatives
Co-operatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the co-operative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.
7th Principle: Concern for Community
Co-operatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members.