For food lovers on the hunt for fresh local produce and healthy, sustainable products, the local food co-op may be a hidden gem. Why hidden, you ask? Many people, including co-op shoppers, are not entirely sure how co-ops work—or how to get involved. Luckily, the most common misconceptions can be cleared up in a snap. Read on to get the real answers to frequently asked questions about food co-ops. You may be surprised by what you find!
The co-op way of doing business is to be open, fair, and democratic. That’s not just marketing speak, either. These concepts are based on a set of seven guidelines called the International Cooperative Principles that serve as the standards for how we operate.
Food co-ops demonstrate their commitment to these principles every day, by promoting a safe and sustainable food system and partnering with individuals and organizations to improve our neighborhoods. After all is said and done, when the co-op makes money, members determine how profits get used. No big box retailer is going to give local shoppers that much decision-making power. These values and principles are common to all co-ops, whether they are in business to offer electricity, insurance, or groceries.
Cooperation is such a powerful positive force that 2012 was designated the International Year of Cooperatives by the United Nations in recognition of the influence of cooperatives worldwide. Thousands of co-ops from all over the world joined together to say loud and proud how local ownership is making life better.
I have to be a member to shop at the food co-op.
Everyone is welcome to shop at nearly all co-ops. Just do your shopping like you would anywhere else. Once you’ve discovered the benefits of co-op shopping, you might want to find out more about the benefits of membership, too.
I have to be a hippie/liberal/vegetarian/etc. to shop at the co-op.
Same answer: everyone’s welcome. Liberal or conservative, hippie or yuppie, veggie lover or bacon lover—anyone can shop co-op (that means you!).
Being a co-op member means I have to join the board (or work part-time at the co-op, or do something else I’m not really sure I want to do).
All you really have to do is enjoy shopping at the co-op! Sure, you can run for the board or participate in co-op events if you like, but your level of participation is always entirely up to you.
I have to pay an annual fee to be a member of the co-op.
To become a member of most co-ops, you invest a small amount of money in the form of shares. Most co-ops allow you to buy them all at once or over time (but most member benefits start at once). Your shares make you a co-owner of the co-op along with the other members. If for any reason you decide to leave the co-op, there is a process to get your investment refunded.
There’s no reason to become a member if I can shop at the co-op for free.*
While co-ops welcome everyone to shop, there are definite benefits to becoming a member.
For instance, members can vote in co-op issues, so they get a say in how the co-op works and where it spends its money. And speaking of money, when the co-op turns a profit, members may be eligible for a patronage refund in proportion to their purchases. There’s also a host of other member benefits that are specific to each co-op (just talk to the staff to find out more).
So even if you only shop at the co-op once a month, the benefits are likely to exceed your investment, and you’ll get to play a part in a vibrant community resource.