When it comes to purchasing food, most people are familiar with the different places you can buy your groceries. Supermarket? Check. Natural Food Store? Check. Farmer’s Market? Maybe a check…but definitely self-explanatory. Food Cooperative (“Co-op”)? Hmm…come again? Isn’t that the same as a natural food store?
Although food cooperatives can be found in many communities now and have a strong (and often long-standing) presence in the food buying market, people still may not understand what they are exactly and how they’re unique from every other place you can buy food. So, since 2012 is the International Year of Cooperatives, we would like to clear up the “co-op mysteries” for you once and for all!
In its simplest terms, a food co-op is a grocery store that’s run as a cooperative. Cooperative businesses are owned and democratically-controlled by members, which creates an open, inclusive, democratic and socially responsible governance structure. Cooperatives are motivated by service to their members and meeting their needs, not driven by profit. Another feature that makes cooperatives unique is that they return surplus revenues to their members proportionate to their use of the cooperative, not their ownership share. So the more a member utilizes the co-op, the more surplus they may receive in return. Cooperatives can be businesses of all types, but food co-ops are the most common.
- Voluntary and Open Membership – Cooperatives are voluntary organizations, open to all people able to use its services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without discrimination.
- Democratic Member Control – Cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members who actively participate in setting policies and making decisions.
- Members’ Economic Participation – Members contribute equally to, and democratically control, the capital of the cooperative.
- Autonomy and Independence – Cooperatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members.
- Education, Training and Information – Cooperatives provide education and training for members, elected representatives, managers and employees.
- Cooperation among Cooperatives – Cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.
- Concern for Community – Cooperatives work for the sustainable development of communities through policies and programs accepted by the members.
Cooperative businesses date back to 1844, with the first known food cooperative that was founded in Rochdale, England. The “second wave” of the food cooperative movement occurred in the 1970’s when almost 10,000 food co-ops were established in that decade. Today, there are 29,000 cooperatives of all kinds with over 100 million members.
Food co-ops may be just a grocery store, while some even have a café and food service. Others are “buying clubs” – food cooperatives without a physical building or space. In whatever form they take, co-ops are incredibly unique businesses and hold a very important place in today’s food consumption market.
Here’s a list of food cooperatives you can find in Maine, if you’d like to experience one first-hand:
- Belfast Co-op | 123 High Street, Belfast | 207.338.2532 | http://www.belfast.coop/
- Blue Hill Co-op Community Market & Café | 4 Ellsworth Road, Blue Hill | 207.374.2165| http://www.belfast.coop/
- Castine Co-op | Main Street, Castine
- Deer Isle Co-op | PO Box 25, Deer Isle | 207.348.9376
- Rising Tide Co-op |323 Main St., Damariscotta | 207.563.5556 | http://www.risingtide.coop/
- Fare Share Market | 443 Main Street, Norway | 207.743.9044 | http://www.faresharecoop.org/
- Oxford Hills Food Cooperative | 35 Cottage Street, Norway | 207.743.8049 | http://www.faresharecoop.org/
- Rabbit Run Buying Club | 750 S. Main Street, Rockland | http://www.cheshiremoonstudios.com/rabbit_run
- Good Tern Natural Foods Co-op | 750 S. Main Street, Rockland | 207.594.8822
- Crown of Maine Organic Cooperative | 960 Main Street, North Vassalboro | 207.877.7444 | http://www.crownofmainecoop.com
- Portland Food Co-op | 56 Hampshire Street, Portland | http://www.portlandfoodcoop.org/