What's Next?

One hundred issues of Cooperative Grocer: it's a nice round figure, 100, but I haven't been able to attach much significance to the number of this edition. However, I have two related goals: this year, complete the project of posting to www.cooperativegrocer.com all of the valuable material from editions dating back to 1985. Then, more round numbers: after reaching 20 years and 120 editions, sell the publication for a figure with a lot of zeros.

New Co-op Resources

How to Start a Food Co-op is now available, thanks to Karen Zimbelman, the Cooperative Grocers' Information Network (CGIN), and several financial contributors. This 70-page online manual has a comprehensive set of contents plus many references and links to further resources. Cooperative Grocer, I'm pleased to report, has obtained distribution rights for the printed version.

How to Start a Food Co-op is long-awaited and fills an important need. Despite ongoing concentration in food retailing, and contrary to perceptions that retail food co-ops are shrinking in number, new community-based efforts continue to spring up. Grassroots co-op development can be a long, difficult struggle within market and money constraints -- such efforts will now have improved chances, thanks to this excellent new manual.

To view the new publication, see http://www.cgin.org/howto.html. To order a copy of the printed, bound version, see p. 28 of this magazine or go to Special Publications.

Other newly available resources include many valuable articles from 1991-1993 now posted at the Cooperative Grocer website (as are articles from 1994-2002). Topics in the newly added material include: co-op development examples both successful and failed; member capital, discounts, and labor; employee issues; merchandising and departmental management; board of directors issues; and more -- see the sidebar for examples. The entire text of each article can be found at Back Issue Index and under the Topic Index.

Co-op as Gift

A few of those new website postings from past editions discuss cooperative purpose -- by no means a settled issue. I observe aspects of that discussion in the impressive accomplishments in Burlington, Vermont (briefly highlighted elsewhere in this edition), where the co-op fulfilled an opportunity to serve a much larger section of the community by tripling its size and expanding its product selection.

One important part of a cooperative's purpose has to do with building something larger than simply its membership -- a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Yet some view co-ops as fundamentally a means for advancement of individual interests. As was pointed out in a recent contribution on member relations and co-op democracy (Ann Waterhouse, CG #98, Jan.-Feb. 2002), this concept of cooperatives as groups supplying services to individual consumers is a shift from viewing cooperatives as a solution to common problems.

I'm talking about community ownership and "remembering that we're all in it together," a reminder by one co-op manager quoted in a past editorial, "Co-op as Gift":

"An attitude of 'I've got mine, Jack,' is pretty inconsistent with what we're trying to do here. The co-op is in large part a gift from those who preceded us, and we have an obligation to pass it on and spread it around."

Democratic ownership, the heart of cooperative purpose, differs from the product identity that many food co-ops grew up with. If narrowly adopted, that identity can be exclusive rather than inclusive and create a market weakness as competitors carry more and more natural/organic items. If co-ops are to maintain and expand their position, much more than being a source of natural/organic products will be needed. It's exciting and gratifying to see Burlington's new City Market take the path of a broader cooperative identity.

Incorrect

John Prine should have been credited with the line, "Your flag decal won't get you into heaven anymore." Thanks to Seth Tibbott for singing the Prine verse to prompt my failing memory; apologies to readers and the late Waylon Jennings.

Of course, it's still the right line these days. I was glad to see the Park Slope (Brooklyn) Food Co-op newsletter report on co-op members joining the weekly demonstrations at the local federal detention center, where after months many immigrants continue to be held without being identified, without charges, and without legal representation

See other articles from this issue: #100 May - June - 2002