What's a Co-op?

City Market, Onion River Co-op

Wondering what makes a cooperative, like City Market, different from other businesses?  According to the International Cooperative Alliance, "a cooperative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise." In other words, a cooperative is a business that is "run for the people, by the people."

Cooperatives value self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity, and they adhere to 7 main cooperative principles:

  • Voluntary and open membership,
  • Democratic member control,
  • Member economic participation,
  • Autonomy and independence,
  • Education, training, and information,
  • Cooperation among cooperatives, and
  • Concern for community.

Anyone can become a Member (and owner!) when they purchase equity (a membership investment) in the Co-op.  At City Market, Members pay $200 for a full share of equity. Most Members make minimum annual $15 installments until they reach a total of $200. 

Membership is different at a Co-op than at a privately-owned discount club in that Co-ops are created to meet the needs of their Members, are owned and governed by their Members and profits are returned to their Members (Patronage Refunds), not to distant investors or stockholders. The Patronage Refund is a powerful economic stimulus that benefits Members, the community, and the Co-op itself.

Co-ops are an alternative business structure which allows people to get what they need in ways that meet their economic, environmental, and social needs.  Because Co-ops are based on cooperation, strong bonds are created between Members, the Co-op, and the community.  Co-ops can help transform the food system so that farmers receive a fair price for their products, shoppers can purchase products that align with their environmental and social values, and connections are created to make a stronger community.  I guess you could say Co-ops make the world a better place.