Food Co-Ops

One way to support local farms is to shop at a food co-op.  A food co-op is a grocery store that is generally run and owned by it’s members in the community.  These stores typically offer natural or organic food choices and sell locally grown and locally manufactured items.  According to the International Co-operative Alliance, co-ops have seven principles that put their values into practice.


Principles of a Co-Op

The first principle is that it has voluntary and open membership, meaning that anyone can choose to join the co-op if they are willing to accept the responsibilities of membership.

The second principle is that the co-op must be under democratic member control.  Members have equal voting rights for setting policies and decision making and officials are elected.

The third principle is that members must contribute to and democratically control the capital of their co-operative.

The forth principle is that the co-op must be an autonomous, self –help organization controlled by it’s members.  Even if they join with other organizations or the government, they must maintain this autonomy.

The fifth principle is that the co-op must provide education and training for their members, elected officials, managers and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their co-op.  The co-op is also responsible for informing the general public about the nature and benefits of their co-op.

The sixth principle is co-ops must work with other co-ops to strengthen each other on a local, national, regional and international level.

The seventh principle is that co-ops must have concern for their community and help development through policies approved by their members.


How does a co-op benefit a community?

According to the Cooperative Development institute, co-ops help build communities socially, economically and environmentally.

They help communities socially by helping to maintain and increase resources.  Co-ops also help build the skills of  democracy and  conflict resolution throughout the population.

Communities benefit economically from co-ops because they help to keep money and resources in the area.  Jobs, profits and resources stay in the community longer because the co-op is controlled by community members.  When people spend more money in locally controlled businesses, like a food co-op, the money is re-circulated in the community.

Co-ops help communities economically as well.  They help members to adopt more responsible  patterns of consumption so fewer resources are used.  By using food that is grown and manufactured locally, less fuel is used to transport the goods and the food does not need chemicals to preserve it, making it healthier and more environmentally friendly.

What are the benefits of being a co-op member?

Being a co-op member has many perks and benefits.  When buying food from a co-op you know where it was grown and who grew it.  You also know that it is fresh and grown in an environmentally friendly way.  In addition to food quality, you are helping your community by becoming a member and get voting rights to decide how the store is run and who is running it.

Most co-ops charge shelf price for their products, giving you an inexpensive price.  Many offer programs allowing you to volunteer at the store in exchange for store gift cerfificates so you can save even more money on your groceries.

Iowa City’s New Pioneer Co-Op

New Pioneer Co-op is the food co-op serving Iowa City and Coralville.  It was founded in 1971 by a group of Iowa City people who desired food free of preservatives, grown on healthy soil and distributed in a way that served human need rather than greed.

The original co-op had a bulk section of grain, beans, peanut butter, honey, granola and cheese.  Working members ran the business while it began to expand in product selection and store size.

Today, the co-op is selling over a million dollars worth of locally grown food annually from over 125 area businesses.  Members pay a low cost for these foods and the money they are paying stays in the local economy.

The co-op also donates to several organizations in the community such as the United Way of Johnson County, The Crisis Center, Table to Table and Local Foods Connection.  Last year over $40,000 was donated to organizations in the community.

“By shopping at the co-op you are also supporting a living wage,” said President Sarah Walz.  “Over 80% of New Pioneer’s employees work full-time with health benefits.”  In addition to being consistent and knowledgeable, the employees and decision makers are all from the community, not a distant corporate office, so they have the Iowa City area in mind when they’re working.

Besides employees earning a living wages from the co-op, paying farmers fairly is of great value to the co-op in supporting a just society.

“Buying locally-grown, fairly traded organic products from New Pioneer Co-op is voting for a better world.  It helps the growth of a society that encourages and honors hard work, offers food that is healthy and free of toxins and pesticides and makes farming methods that do not abuse the land possible,” said Walz.


Is a Food Co-Op Right For You?

If you think that helping your community and local farmers is an important issue to you and you think becoming a co-op member is the right step for you click here to find a co-op near you.



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