Food Co-ops

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Cooperation has been an essential aspect of communities throughout world history. Informal cooperation in agriculture was present before the cooperation business model. [1] Food Cooperatives, or Food Co-Ops, are cooperative businesses that are owned by the people to secure lower prices on food, while allowing the members more choices about the food they buy. Anyone can shop at a co-op but owners receive extra benefits. [2]

History

Food Co-ops in the United States go back at least 180 years. [3] There have been three main waves of growth of consumer co-ops: pre-1930's, The Great Depression, and the late 1960's and 1970's. [4]

First Wave: 1830's- 1920's

The first wave of food co-ops emerged as a response to capitalism. In fact, many involved in the first cooperative movement hoped cooperation would replace capitalism. [5] Laborers drove this first wave of food co-ops with economic concerns such as their purchasing power and working conditions. [6] As early as 1829, workers in Philadelphia opened their own store to address these concerns. [7] Co-ops like the one started in Philadelphia were organized to give consumers more control and the ability to go against the unfair practices of private and company stores.[8] Many of the co-ops formed after the 1840's [9] would follow the Rochdale Principles of democracy, usually meaning one person one vote, limited buying of shares, and redistribution of surplus. [10] The first wave of consumer food co-ops expanded during the progressive era among concerns over food safety and consumer protection. [11] This first wave also supported the creation of co-ops in different ethnic communities, where these communities could establish their own businesses to keep money inside the community, and the co-ops would help reinforce ethnic ties. [12] Consumer-owned stores seemed the better option to corporate stores. Unfortunately, many of these early co-ops would fail during the 1920's, often due to the lack of capital. [13]

Second Wave: Great Depression Era

After the Great Depression hit, there was some federal support in the National Emergency Council, Federal Emergency Relief Administration, and the Farm Security Administration that fostered the growth of co-ops. High unemployment also let to the need for alternate economies which co-ops supported. At this time, there were also many people and organizations that advocated for co-ops. [14] After the Progressive era, there were still concerns over consumer protection. The FDA, in 1935, refused to require labels with ingredients, but many food co-ops had established their own labels. [15] This unrequired safeguard for consumer protections also helped create support for food co-ops. There were two features of Co-ops that were established during the Great Depression through the 1950's that distinguished them from the turn of the century co-ops. One way was that these co-ops were no longer controlled by one particular ethnic group. Often, black co-ops were separate from non-black co-ops, but the other ethnic co-ops faded. The other feature was the large number of co-ops started by college professors and students. [16] The Great Depression years saw increased coursework around consumer coops, going from 24 courses in economics with materials on these coops in 1935 to 130 courses in 1938. [17] These co-ops did share some similarities with other co-ops though, such as the desire to use co-ops to establish a new social and economic order and the consistent failures due to the lack of capital. [18] After WWII, food co-ops continued to expand. [19]

Third Wave: 1960's - 1970's (New Wave)

The 1960's gave birth to a new counterculture in the United States, and consumer Food Co-ops became a part of this counterculture. There was a belief in an ability to change the world through a collective, not corporate approach. [20] The organizers of co-ops during this time were often unaware of the history of food co-ops but were concerned with politics, civil rights, and environmental issues that led them to co-ops. [21] These new co-ops were very different from one another. They had differing operating practices, some of which were experimental. Some co-ops relied on worker self-management, while others had a traditional management system. [22] They were of different sizes, ideologies,and levels of politicial activism and committments to natural and organic food. [23] Many emphasized collectivism, but they all interpreted colletive differently. Some co-ops, like Mifflin Street Community Co-op in Madison, did not have paid workers and relied on volunteers to run the store. Some interpreted collective as staying away from a hierarchical model of corporation. Other co-ops focused the ideal of collectivism around collective decision making based on democracy. [24] Co-ops also grew in low-income neighborhoods during this time as an effort to lower food costs. [25] Civil rights leaders like Stokely Carmichael championed co-ops as a way to give black communities more economic independence. [26] The 1960's and 1970's also saw a new concern over the health of our planet. [27] The Book "Silent Spring" helped lead to an awareness of pesticides that influenced many co-ops to focus on organic and local products. [28] These new wave co-ops ended up being pioneers in the natural food industry [29] Many carried hard to find unprocessed foods, [30] and bulk and organic foods [31] Members started to link environmental issues to products they sold and made conscious decicions surrounding these issues. [32] The decisions over what types of foods to carry were important to the members, like how much sugar and additives were in the food, how healthy the food was, whether it was local or organic, what the labor conditions of harvest and production were, and its cost. The Cooperative League of USA estimated over 500 co-op stores opened in 1970's [33] However, in the early 1990's only 300 stores were left thanks to naievete, lack of financial expertise and competition with mainstream grocery stores [34] Other co-ops failed because of their experimental structures and operating systems, insufficient capital, and a stronger commitment to idealism rather than economic success. [35] The co-ops that survived to 1980's often became less collective, however they interpreted collective. [36]

Fourth Wave?

Some scholars consider the post-2000 growth of co-ops as a new, 4th wave of co-op. [37] Preceding the recession in 2008 was the appearance of a local food movement, which, along with the state of the economy in 2008, led do a resurgence of food co-op growth. From 2006-2016, the number of farmers markets in the United States almost doubled. The public had an increasing awareness of the industrialization of food and demanded more sustainable options, which supported the local food movement and growth of co-ops. [38]

Food Co-ops in Wisconsin

There are many food co-ops in Wisconsin, but here are a few highlighted co-ops.

People's Food Co-op

People's Food Co-op is in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, and has a second location in Rochester, Minnesota, and has been around for over 40 years. [39] Their mission is to build community, grow a loyal and thriving membership, and be the best fresh food market in the country. [40] They carry produce, grocery items, meat, dairy and seafood, deli and bakery items, health and wellness items, mercantile and houseware items, and wine, beer and spirits. [41] They also have a bulk department to encourage reducing food waste by buying only what you will use and to save money by not paying for packaging. [42] The People's Food Co-op focuses on local, which they define as being within a 200-mile radius of the co-ops, and regional, which are products from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Iowa and Illinois, products. In 2017, 17 percent, $4 million, of total store sales came from local products. [43]

Willy Street

History

Willy Street Co-op, originally known as the Williamson Street Grocery Co-op, was created amongst the social and cultural forces of the 1960's and 1970's. It was incorporated in September of 1973 at 1101 Williamson Street. It started as a buying club with limited space for inventory and was kept operating by a volunteer staff. In 1974 it moved to 1014 William street, which had more space, but they still limited their selection. Here they had their first six full-time workers, who were not initially paid but instead had the option to draw up to $50 a week for sustenance, however, some would take less or nothing until the co-op was on more stable financial ground. After three months with this system, the workers started to get paid. In October of 1977, the co-op relocated and expanded to 1202 Williamson Street. Within five years of this move, the co-op increased its membership from 1,300 to 4,000. During this giant growth, they experienced issues with their staff and governance structure, since there was no functioning board of directors and governance issues were dealt with at monthly member meetings. A board of directors was finally elected in March 1979. Willy Street originally had a collective staff structure where all employees shared decision making authority, which led to staff tensions that impacted profitability. After their first two years of financial losses, the staff restructured and they hired their first general manager in the fall of 1982. In 2010, after raising $1 million in owner bonds in 39 days, the second store in Middleton, Willy West, was opened, and the company returned to profitability in just two years. [44]

Today

Today there are three Willy Street locations: Willy North, which was opened in 2016 and is twice the size of the other two stores, while being more of a conventional grocery store with more non-organic items and more of a focus on low prices [45] , and Willy East in Madison, and Willy West in Middleton. [46] They offer 488 different bulk food products. [47] There are 34,000 owners of this co-op company and their annual sales total over $51 million. [48]

Menomonie Market Food Co-op

History

The Menomonie Market Food Co-op started as a buying club before becoming a food store in 1973, during the New Wave of Consumer Food Co-ops. [49] The first location was in the loft of a church, but in 1979 moved to the "Silver Store." [50] Here, the workers were partly volunteers and received low pay. The Store had a rocky start, but it soon outgrew this location. In 1988 the market moved to the 1707 Stout Street location [51] before experiencing major cash flow problems in 1991. The co-op almost closed in 1992 during their "year of crisis," but the immediate threat of dissolution led to intense action to keep the co-op alive. [52] Within days, the co-op gained 48 signatures pledging to be new members, 2 shy of their goal of 50 to keep the co-op running. The co-op survived, but was evicted from the Stout Street location. [53] They moved to the Block Building, where volunteers helped unload and set up the new store. [54] By 1998, the co-op was able to give its first ever patronage dividend to members, and by the next year it had paid all debts and put $15,000 away into savings. [55]

Today

The Menomonie Market Food Co-op focuses on supporting local producers. [56] They focus on high-quality food, with as many locally sourced products as they can, with an emphasis on organic food. [57] Since 2004, it has switched to giving patronage dividends rather than discounts at the register for its members, and has consistently been giving these dividends and producing operational profits since 2007. [58] As of October, 2015, the Menomonie Market Food Co-op has over 1,800 owners. [59] They offer bulk food options to save money and reduce packaging, [60] and work with a program called Hill O'Beans to reward patrons for reusing reusable bags, containers, and mugs. [61]

References

  1. "History of Co-ops," Strongertogether.coop, Accessed 2018-04-24, http://strongertogether.coop/food-coops/history-of-co-ops.
  2. "Our Cooperative and You," Willy Street Co-op, Accessed 2018-04-24, https://www.willystreet.coop/our-cooperative-and-you.
  3. Anne Meis Knupfer, Food Co-ops in America: Communities, Consumption, and Economic Democracy, ( Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013), 14.
  4. "History of Co-ops," Strongertogether.coop, Accessed 2018-04-24, http://strongertogether.coop/food-coops/history-of-co-ops.
  5. Anne Meis Knupfer, Food Co-ops in America: Communities, Consumption, and Economic Democracy, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013), 16.
  6. Anne Meis Knupfer, Food Co-ops in America: Communities, Consumption, and Economic Democracy, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013), 27.
  7. Anne Meis Knupfer, Food Co-ops in America: Communities, Consumption, and Economic Democracy, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013), 15.
  8. "History of Co-ops," Strongertogether.coop, Accessed 2018-04-24, http://strongertogether.coop/food-coops/history-of-co-ops.
  9. "History of Co-ops," Strongertogether.coop, Accessed 2018-04-24, http://strongertogether.coop/food-coops/history-of-co-ops.
  10. Anne Meis Knupfer, Food Co-ops in America: Communities, Consumption, and Economic Democracy, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013), 17.
  11. Anne Meis Knupfer, Food Co-ops in America: Communities, Consumption, and Economic Democracy, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013), 18
  12. Anne Meis Knupfer, Food Co-ops in America: Communities, Consumption, and Economic Democracy, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013), 27.
  13. "History of Co-ops," Strongertogether.coop, Accessed 2018-04-24, http://strongertogether.coop/food-coops/history-of-co-ops.
  14. Anne Meis Knupfer, Food Co-ops in America: Communities, Consumption, and Economic Democracy, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013), 31.
  15. Anne Meis Knupfer, Food Co-ops in America: Communities, Consumption, and Economic Democracy, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013), 34.
  16. Anne Meis Knupfer, Food Co-ops in America: Communities, Consumption, and Economic Democracy, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013), 36.
  17. Anne Meis Knupfer, Food Co-ops in America: Communities, Consumption, and Economic Democracy, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013), 36.
  18. Anne Meis Knupfer, Food Co-ops in America: Communities, Consumption, and Economic Democracy, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013), 37.
  19. Anne Meis Knupfer, Food Co-ops in America: Communities, Consumption, and Economic Democracy, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013), 40.
  20. Anne Meis Knupfer, Food Co-ops in America: Communities, Consumption, and Economic Democracy, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013), 129.
  21. Anne Meis Knupfer, Food Co-ops in America: Communities, Consumption, and Economic Democracy, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013), 134.
  22. "History of Co-ops," Strongertogether.coop, Accessed 2018-04-24, http://strongertogether.coop/food-coops/history-of-co-ops.
  23. Anne Meis Knupfer, Food Co-ops in America: Communities, Consumption, and Economic Democracy, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013), 134-135.
  24. Anne Meis Knupfer, Food Co-ops in America: Communities, Consumption, and Economic Democracy, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013), 135.
  25. Jonathan Kauffman, "The Rise of the Modern Food Cooperative," SFGate, last modified March 31, 2017, https://www.sfgate.com/news/article/The-rise-of-the-modern-food-cooperative-11006896.php.
  26. Jonathan Kauffman, "The Rise of the Modern Food Cooperative," SFGate, Accessed 2082-04-24, https://www.sfgate.com/news/article/The-rise-of-the-modern-food-cooperative-11006896.php.
  27. Anne Meis Knupfer, Food Co-ops in America: Communities, Consumption, and Economic Democracy, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013), 129.
  28. Anne Meis Knupfer, Food Co-ops in America: Communities, Consumption, and Economic Democracy, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013), 131.
  29. Strongertogether.coop, Accessed 2018-04-24, http://strongertogether.coop/food-coops/history-of-co-ops.
  30. Jonathan Kauffman, "The Rise of the Modern Food Cooperative," SFGate, Accessed 2018-04-24, https://www.sfgate.com/news/article/The-rise-of-the-modern-food-cooperative-11006896.php.
  31. "History of Co-ops," Strongertogether.coop, Accessed 2018-04-24, http://strongertogether.coop/food-coops/history-of-co-ops.
  32. Anne Meis Knupfer, Food Co-ops in America: Communities, Consumption, and Economic Democracy, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013), 136.
  33. Jonathan Kauffman, "The Rise of the Modern Food Cooperative," SFGate, Accessed 2018-04-24, https://www.sfgate.com/news/article/The-rise-of-the-modern-food-cooperative-11006896.php.
  34. Jonathan Kauffman, "The Rise of the Modern Food Cooperative," SFGate, Accessed 2018-04-24, https://www.sfgate.com/news/article/The-rise-of-the-modern-food-cooperative-11006896.php.
  35. "History of Co-ops," Strongertogether.coop, Accessed 2018-04-24, http://strongertogether.coop/food-coops/history-of-co-ops.
  36. Anne Meis Knupfer, Food Co-ops in America: Communities, Consumption, and Economic Democracy, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013), 138.
  37. "Food Co-op History," Cooperative Grocer Network, last modified May 29, 2015, https://www.grocer.coop/library/wikis/38602.
  38. Jonathan Kauffman, "The Rise of the Modern Food Cooperative," SFGate, last modified March 31, 2017, https://www.sfgate.com/news/article/The-rise-of-the-modern-food-cooperative-11006896.php.
  39. "Eating Local," People's Food Co-op,http://www.pfc.coop/our-co-op/eating-local/.
  40. "About the People's Food Co-op," People's Food Co-op, http://www.pfc.coop/our-co-op/about-the-peoples-food-co-op/.
  41. "Departments," People's Food Co-op, http://www.pfc.coop/in-the-store/departments/.
  42. "Bulk," People's Food Co-op, http://www.pfc.coop/in-the-store/departments/bulk.
  43. "Eating Local," People's Food Co-op, http://www.pfc.coop/our-co-op/eating-local/.
  44. "Willy Street Co-op History," Willy Street Co-op, Accessed 2018-04-24, https://www.willystreet.coop/willy-street-co-op-history
  45. "Willy Street Co-op History," Willy Street Co-op, Accessed 2018-4-24, https://www.willystreet.coop/willy-street-co-op-history
  46. "Our Cooperative and You," Willy Street Co-op, Accessed 2018-04-24, https://www.willystreet.coop/our-cooperative-and-you
  47. "Bulk," Willy Street Co-op, Accessed 2018-04-24,https://www.willystreet.coop/products/bulk
  48. "Willy Street Co-op History," Willy Street Co-op, Accessed 2018-4-24, https://www.willystreet.coop/willy-street-co-op-history
  49. "History," Menomonie Market Food Co-op, Accessed 2018-04-24, http://www.mmfc.coop/history/.
  50. Patrick Pesek-Herriges, A History of the Menomonie Market Food Co-op, (2015) http://www.mmfc.coop/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/MMFC-History-Download-c.pdf, 3,7.
  51. Patrick Pesek-Herriges, A History of the Menomonie Market Food Co-op, (2015) http://www.mmfc.coop/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/MMFC-History-Download-c.pdf, 7.
  52. Patrick Pesek-Herriges, A History of the Menomonie Market Food Co-op, (2015) http://www.mmfc.coop/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/MMFC-History-Download-c.pdf, 10.
  53. Patrick Pesek-Herriges, A History of the Menomonie Market Food Co-op, (2015) http://www.mmfc.coop/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/MMFC-History-Download-c.pdf, 11.
  54. Patrick Pesek-Herriges, A History of the Menomonie Market Food Co-op, (2015) http://www.mmfc.coop/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/MMFC-History-Download-c.pdf, 12.
  55. Patrick Pesek-Herriges, A History of the Menomonie Market Food Co-op, (2015) http://www.mmfc.coop/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/MMFC-History-Download-c.pdf, 12-13.
  56. "History," Menomonie Market Food Co-op, Accessed 2018-04-24, http://www.mmfc.coop/history/
  57. Patrick Pesek-Herriges, A History of the Menomonie Market Food Co-op, (2015) http://www.mmfc.coop/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/MMFC-History-Download-c.pdf, 20.
  58. Patrick Pesek-Herriges, A History of the Menomonie Market Food Co-op, (2015) http://www.mmfc.coop/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/MMFC-History-Download-c.pdf, 16.
  59. Patrick Pesek-Herriges, A History of the Menomonie Market Food Co-op, (2015) http://www.mmfc.coop/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/MMFC-History-Download-c.pdf, 20.
  60. "Grocery and Bulk," Menomonie Market Food Co-op, Accessed 2018-04-24, http://www.mmfc.coop/departments/grocery/.
  61. "Community Involvement," Menomonie Market Food Co-op, Accessed 2018-04-24, http://www.mmfc.coop/donation-requests/

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