If you live in Minnesota you are in co-op country. Cooperatives of all sizes, within an array of sectors, thrive here, including housing, insurance, electricity and farming. A cooperative business belongs to the people who use it – people who have organized to provide themselves with goods and services.
One of the most dynamic areas of cooperation in Minnesota is within the natural food sector. Natural food co-ops in Minnesota are places where the values of cooperation are merged with the ideals of retailing for a better world. The benefits to people and the environment of sustainable agricultural practices, healthy food choices, and non-toxic household products also compliment the values of community ownership, education and cooperation.
In the early 1970’s a group of people living on the West Bank in Minneapolis decided to start a buying club to get unadulterated grains and alternative foodstuffs – food they couldn’t get anywhere else. These people began selling items on an “honor system,” off their back porch. When the commerce proved too much for the neighbors, they moved the “store” to another location, and formally incorporated as a grocery co-op. Meanwhile within the Twin Cities metro area, natural food co-ops were springing up in virtually every neighborhood. Many of them are still in business, and it is a testament to the cooperative spirit in Minnesota.
You don’t need to be a member to shop at a co-op, but if you patronize one regularly you might consider joining. Since a cooperative is member-owned, individuals and households can opt to join the co-op through the purchase of shares, or in some cases, providing equity in the form of volunteer labor. As an owner you contribute to your co-op’s success as a business and take part in programs that are unique to each store, including special discounts on products, newsletter subscription and ownership rights. Some of the stores feature an annual rebate in the form of a patronage refund based on purchases made over the course of a year.
Cooperatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, cooperative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others. The original cooperative principles were written by the Rochdale Pioneers, exploited textile weavers who formed the first grocery co-op in 1844 in Rochdale, England, in response to the social and economic inequities of the time. These following principles are guidelines by which cooperatives put their values into practice:
- Voluntary and Open Membership
- Democratic Member Control
- Member Economic Participation
- Autonomy and Independence
- Education, Training and Information
- Cooperation Among Cooperatives
- Concern for the Community
(Adopted in Manchester, UK, September 23, 1995)
What You’ll Find at Your Local, Natural Food Co-op:
Organic foods are grown without the synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers that pollute water, harm wildlife and leave residues on our foods. Organic farmers use environmentally friendly techniques that build rather than deplete the soil, and help to sustain a healthy ecosystem. In addition, organic standards require a product to be free of hormones or antibiotics. Certified organic products are available in all local natural food co-ops in a range of foods, including fresh produce, meats, dairy products and poultry.
Education and product information
At the co-ops, you can take part in an ongoing effort to educate yourself about natural foods, sustainable agriculture, food safety and consumer control. Nutritional information, recipes, classes and other resources are available to you at most stores. A special area of importance for natural food co-ops is food safety. In the U.S., an estimated 70% of foods contain genetically altered ingredients, which are currently not labeled. In addition, the emergence of antibiotic-resistant organisms has also raised concerns about the dangers of heavy antibiotic use on cattle and poultry for human consumption. The only way to be certain you are not consuming such products is to purchase certified organically grown foods, and take an active part in letting manufacturers know your preference for unadulterated foods.
Local partnerships with producers
Co-ops are also committed to supporting the local economy. Most partner up with local growers and suppliers. In the produce section signs indicate the growing regions of particular fruits and vegetables
Taste the difference
If you haven’t been into a food co-op lately, you’ll be amazed at the wide selection of products and services, and many of them serve specific diets: vegan, vegetarian, macrobiotic and various food allergies. All of the stores offer many of these amenities:
- To-go foods, including delis and juice bars
- Staffed customer service departments
- Classroom facilities offering cooking and health and wellness seminars
- Environmentally friendly and nontoxic cleaning products
- Tours and orientations
At any of the 11 Twin Cities co-ops you can expect a high level of service and quality because the shoppers are the owners. Everyone is welcome to shop, and your patronage supports a consumer-friendly way of doing business.