Credit unions—like Dupaco—are financial co-operatives. What's a cooperative? A cooperative is an independent group of people united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise. The co-operative model of enterprise can be applied to any business activity, including financial services and food. Credit unions, like Dupaco, actively collaborate with cooperatives from all sectors as a way to foster growth and improve the communities in which we work and live.
This 2-part post will explore the inner workings of two food co-ops in Iowa: one a well-oiled machine, and the other just getting off the ground.
Like many co-ops, Oneota Community Food Cooperative started humbly.
The Decorah, Iowa, food co-op got its start in a house with a dirt floor. The half dozen families knew where the keys were, and could come and go as they pleased.
What a difference nearly four decades make.
Today, Oneota offers 8,000 square feet of retail space. The co-op claims about 4,000 active members, including 200 new members since the beginning of the year, according to David Lester, the store's general manager.
"Now it seems like a natural food grocery store that anyone can shop in, and it's very accessible to lots of people and has a lot more variety," Lester said.
Oneota is among some 30,000 co-ops in the United States, with several in the tri-state area alone. Dupaco also is a cooperative – a business owned and run by and for its members.
"A cooperative's entire purpose is to provide products and services to its members — not to maximize profit," said David Klavitter, Dupaco's senior vice president of marketing and public relations. "That means cooperatives make decisions which are in the best interest of their members, and thus, the community."
Co-ops are rooted in principles like community, voluntary and open membership, and cooperation.
Food co-ops, specifically, are formed by people seeking better access to good, healthy food, Lester said.
"By forming a co-op, you have control over what type of products you can have in your store," Lester said. "Local control over your own business is a good thing."
In a recent survey, Oneota members said co-ops' biggest advantages are: the treatment of their workers, community support and local control of business.
It is a business that not only does good things for its members but also for its community. A new study, Healthy Foods Healthy Communities, looked at the differences between food co-ops and conventional grocers. Here are some of the highlights:
- For every dollar spent at a food co-op, 38 cents is reinvested in the local economy, compared to 24 cents at conventional grocers.
- Conventional grocers work with an average of 65 local farmers and food producers, while food co-ops work with an average of 157.
- Co-ops recycle more cardboard, food waste and plastics than their conventional counterparts.
Dubuque is preparing to welcome its first food co-op. Read our next post to learn how other food cooperatives are doing their part to help launch the Dubuque Food Co-op – all in the spirit of cooperative help.