Food for thought...Thought for food.

By Caryn Knudsen | Jun 13, 2008

Belfast — By Caryn Knudsen

This is the first in what we hope will become a series of blogs about our co-op. We hope that each person who reads what we write will not only learn something new, but take that information with them and teach it to another.
We want to begin with membership, and try to answer the question of "Should I become a member? Why, what's the big deal?"

For those of you that are unaware, the Belfast Co-op has been an active business member of our community for over 32 years. We are one of 5 food co-ops in our state. We now have over 2500 member owners, yet there are still many who aren't quite sure what being a co-op member is all about, and why it's so important.

Often times a person will come into our store and ask "What does becoming a member get me,how expensive is it and do I have to work?" There is a down and dirty answer we can give people that consists of pricing differences on certain items, discounts and special sales...but what we really want to shout from the tops of our old fashioned wooden shelving is that your membership has a far greater meaning! When you become a member of a co-op you are investing in your local community. You are in effect saying "Wait, there is a better way, and this is it!"
Yes, there are monetary benefits to membership but other benefits can be felt much deeper than the bottom of your pockets, and no, it's not expensive and we do not require our members to work!

There are 3 basic ways in which co-ops differ from private sector stores.
1. Co-ops do not base their decisions on what is going to make the most money for the shareholders. Yes we want to be profitable, but our goals are not all monetary. Service is our first priority.
2. What profits co-ops do make is reinvested into it's operations and local community, through staff and member education, store improvements and charitable contributions. Members can also receive a dividend (it's like a refund) in proportion to their patronage.
3. Co-ops conduct their business in a democratic fashion. All members are equal: one member = one vote. Each member invests the exact same amount of equity, so no one shareholder can own more than another. Community service is the bottom line and co-op practices are centered around ways to enhance and strengthen the local community.

"What drives a co-op is service to the community that founded it, sustains it and needs what it has to offer. While profit driven busineses thrive by selling us the image of ourselves as islands of unique, separate needs, co-ops emphasize the connections between growers and buyers, country and city, animal welfare and food quality, farming practices and environmental/health concerns, co-op and members. By joining a co-op, members commit themselves to a business that serves and reinvests in the community, and exists for no other reason."
Elizabeth Archerd, Members Services Director, Wedge Community Co-op. Co-op Consumer News Nov/Dec 1996

"So what does this all mean for ME?" one might ask. Good question!
One answer would be that you are investing in your local economy. Through your membership and patronage you are ensuring that your spending dollars stays here in our community. You are helping to create and support local jobs.
Another answer would be that your membership helps you to develop a stronger personal connection with your food and other needs.
And just so we are all clear here, Chocolate is not simply a food, it is a need!:)

I want each of you to take a moment and think about the following questions...
Do I care where my food comes from? Should I?
Do I care about the way my food was produced? Should I?
Do I care about contaminates and chemicals in my foods and body care products? Should I?
Do I care if the money I am spending stays in my local community? Should I?
Do I care that the staff who work where I shop is treated in a fair and respected manner? Should I?
Do I care if the store where I shop truly appreciates my business and strives to make me feel it each time I walk through the door? Should I?

We believe the answer to all of those questions should be a big yes. It is our job, one we take very seriously, to help each and every member of our community learn the ways and the whys of how each of these questions is so very important.
And yes, there are those monetary benefits. Discounts on full case preorders, our monthly Member Advantage Program that offers hundreds of items at a lower cost to members and super sale days where almost the entire store is on sale. Pricing advantages for members is a great benefit of being an owner, but membership does have a deeper and ultimately more satisfying meaning.

But what's the cost you ask? Not all that much really, certainly less than your average dinner out. When you become a member you pay what is called equity, which is your ownership share of the store. We ask that each adult in the household pay their own share and that children over 18 still living at home do so as well. Each adult member invests $60.00. The co-op gives it's members a grace period of up to 3 years to complete their equity payment. After the 3rd year you pay $15.00 in annual dues. If for ANY reason you choose to no longer be a member, the equity you originally invested is 100% refundable. So as you can see it's financially affordable for most everyone. And for those that wish to become members but just don't think they can afford it? There is an equity assistance program available to help cover part or all of your investment share...that's right, there are other members who feel so strongly the importance of strengthening our co-op, they are willing to help pay your fees!! Ah, cooperation at it's finest!

"One of the persistent myths about America is that rugged individualism built this country, but don't you believe it. If you look at critical moments in our history, starting with the Revolutionary War and the writing of our Constitution, it's when we came together that we have been most successful. People working together built our schools and our industries... Cooperatives are part of this. They built our farms, brought power and light to rural areas and provided a place to deposit money in the 1930's when the banking system failed. Rugged individualism didn't build America-- cooperation did. And it's needed now more than ever."
Paul Hazen CEO of the National Cooperative Business Association speaking at a U.N. commission about economic development in February 2008.

We invite each of you to please come in and let us help you learn why being a member of a co-op; our co-op, is such an amazing thing.
We are located at 123 High Street in Downtown Belfast. Open 7 days a week 7:30am - 8:00 pm. 338-2532

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