By Johanna Bergan
I’m going to share a little secret with you – our Co-op is unique. We, the staff, spend a lot of time comparing ourselves to other food co-ops. In particular, we compare ourselves to co-ops that are our size, in communities that are similar in size to Decorah. We like to make sure that our numbers are similar – be it sales figures, member numbers, labor percentages, or staff size. These numbers make us feel secure in our business practices –especially from a financial perspective.
However, there is one of those numbers that is off – and even categorized as “wrong” in the eyes of some. The Oneota Co-op has one of the highest percentages of sales to member/owners of any natural foods cooperative that I’ve seen. Nearly 80% of our sales each year are contributed by the customers who own this store. Quite frankly, I’m proud of that.
There is no need to hide that number. We are a co-op that proudly follows the Seven Cooperative Principles. We are a store that has an Ends policy that guides our practices as a business entity which is guided by much more than simply financial profits. Furthermore, these Ends are carefully monitored by an elected Board of Directors – elected by the membership and responsible for overseeing the checks and balances of the greater organization.
As a cooperative, we represent the opportunity for all members of the community to own a piece of a local business. Anyone can become a member/owner of the Co-op. Customers and community members see that, and they purchase a share – a part of our store, and further encourage and make possible this cycle of cooperative livelihood.
During this particular time of year, members are exercising their voting rights in electing to fill vacant positions on the Co-op Board of Directors. At this same time I offer you, the reader of this article and the customer of our particular co-op, the opportunity to become a member/owner of this unique and vibrant local business.
During March there will be ten days of enhanced opportunity to become a member/owner of the Oneota Community Co-op. From Monday, March 5th through Friday, March 16th, the Co-op will be hosting a membership drive. During this time, there will be an increased incentive to become a member/owner of the Co-op. In addition to the benefits that already exist to members throughout the year (see page 12 of The Scoop to learn more), we will be offering one-time benefits to new member/owners that sign up during these dates.
Along with a sincere “thank you” for helping to make our organization thrive through membership dollars, new member/owners will have the $5 sign-up fee waived and will receive one of the best chocolate bars created by the first organic, Fair Trade, bean-to-bar chocolate factory in the country – Theo Chocolate.
Theo Chocolate believes “there is no luxury in products that benefit us today, while jeopardizing future generations ability to meet their needs.” We hope, as does Theo Chocolate, this chocolate will “ignite your imagination and inspire you to think and act sustainably.”
In addition, new member/owners that join paying their membership/share in full ($140) will receive a free meal for two at the Water Street Café.
There are numerous additional reasons to join the Oneota Community Food Co-op that are not mentioned here. However, as 2012 is officially declared as the International Year of the Co-op by the United Nations, I would like to share two very important cooperative principles with you. These two principles are one way to help our customers understand what a commitment to becoming a member/owner means.
The first principle is number 2 – Democratic Member Control. We are only as good as the sum of our parts, and our parts are composed of you. The Oneota Co-op is made up of our customers, our member/owners, our community. As an employee at the Co-op I answer each day to our General Manager, David Lester who in turn answers to our Board of Directors. Our Board of Directors answers to our membership. This chain is short – the feedback is quick – and the results are a cooperative that reacts quickly and willingly to the demands of our customer (membership) base. We seek to provide excellent customer service to all of our customers – but there is a special place in our hearts (and, yes our store has a heart) for our member/owners.
Each year, the United Nations seeks to raise awareness of ideas or initiatives that truly make the world a better place. The commitment of the United Nations to stand behind cooperatives is important. This declaration validates what we know and practice daily – working together cooperatively WORKS. It works in Decorah, it works in New York and it works in Africa. The reason cooperatives are successful is because of the buy-in and support of member/owners.
The other principle I’d like to share is number 7 – Concern for Community. Principle 7 states that “while focusing on member needs, cooperatives work to improve the quality of life in the areas they serve.” Your investment in the Co-op, the $140 cost of a share, enables Oneota to make a positive impact in Northeast Iowa. The Co-op is about so much more than selling food. We are here to support and further grow our local food system in Northeast Iowa. Our commitment to local and organic food is seen in our merchandising policy, our staff education and knowledge, and our support of local initiatives like Food & Fitness. Even with our tight definition of local – products grown, processed and produced within 100 miles of our store – the total sales of our store are more than 20% local. The commitment of our member/owner dollars in share payments make this and much more possible. These investment funds allow our business to focus on our cooperative principles and work to engage and educate our community.
To further focus the work of each co-op, a document called “The Ends” is created. The Ends of the Oneota Co-op consist of eight carefully crafted goals. The Co-op Management Team, along with the General Manager and the Board of Directors, have worked together to determine the primary focus of the Oneota Co-op in the coming year(s). From our set of eight Ends, three have been chosen as areas of focus – End 1, 2 and 3.
These direct our store’s energy and passion towards supporting a retail location to sell local and organically grown food from a sustainable local foods system while educating our community to use and love these same foods. This is the truly fun part of our job. It is also why shopping at the Oneota Co-op is an EXPERIENCE. We want you to taste, smell, hear the food cooking. Our staff is here to help you sample products like Tamari almonds and fresh ground peanut butter before you buy. We bring the freshest produce, grown close to Decorah to you year round. The Water Street Café prepares local and/or organic FRESH food for our customers daily – showing you the many ways to enjoy quality food. Finally, our classroom and educators are kept busy helping you to feel more capable in the kitchen and able to experience the food from a local and organic foods system at your own table.
The Oneota Community Co-op exists to make all of this happen, and we need your support to continue doing this wonderful work. Your commitment to becoming a member/owner of the Oneota Co-op makes real food available for everyone.
I thank you in advance for your support of our cooperative work and welcome you as a new member/owner of the Oneota Community Food Co-op!
See you at the registers and in the aisles.