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Cooperative Co-ops

By Gretchen Hein


October celebrates the cooperative movement. In 1844 a group of weavers came together in an effort to survive a massive change of the economic structure of their day, the Industrial Revolution. Guiding principles were developed that still steer contemporary cooperatives. One of these principles directs cooperatives to support and collaborate with one another. We do this in two ways at New Leaf Market. There are cooperatives we buy from and then there are cooperatives that help us do the business of selling food.

The list of cooperatives we patronize is impressive and even more impressive is the inspiration behind them. Each cooperative uses as its model the ideals of cooperation: transparency, sustainability and commitment to a better world.

Here are some of the cooperatives that supply our products.

Blue Diamond Growers founded in 1910, now with 3,000 growers, is the world’s largest tree nut processing and marketing company. They celebrate their 98th anniversary this year, taking California’s almond industry from a minor domestic specialty crop to the world leader in almond production and marketing.

Cabot was founded in 1919 by diary farmers who joined forces to turn their excess milk into butter. Cabot now boasts over 1,500 farms, four processing plants and a large product line, producing high-quality dairy products.

Equal Exchange is a younger cooperative formed in 1996. The founders envisioned a food system that empowered farmers and consumers. They started with fairly traded Nicaraguan coffee and have added other organic coffees, teas, chocolates and snacks from farmers all over the world, including the United States.,/p>

Frontier began as a two-person operation in 1976 in a riverside Iowa cabin and has grown to encompass an 85,000 square foot facility with 50 adjoining acres, 22 of which are maintained as a tallgrass prairie—a threatened ecosystem. They’ve created two additional cooperative ventures: Aura Cacia, a supplier of essential oils and personal body care products, and Simply Organics, a 100 percent certified line of organic spices, seasoning mixes and baking products. Frontier is 100 percent green powered—committed to the environment, community and employees.

Organic Valley began in 1988 as a small, organic farming cooperative whose members shared a love of the sustainable approach to agriculture. It has now grown into the largest farmer’s cooperative in North America.

Sweetwater Coffee, the youngest cooperative on this list, is Florida’s vanguard Organic and Fair Trade Coffee Roaster. They are committed to sustainability on every level from recycled disposables, computer systems and building materials to donating 10 percent of their profits to charitable endeavors.

In the other realm, those that help us do the business of selling food—we use the services of these cooperatives.

Cooperative Developmental Services was formed in 1985 with a mission to help existing cooperatives thrive and plan for the future. They have been instrumental in helping with our expansion projects, as well as help us hone our business practices.

Cooperative Grocers’ Information Network (CGIN) was created to strengthen retail co-ops by creating community and to facilitate sharing and development of resources among members.

National Cooperative Bank is dedicated to strengthening communities through banking and financial services, co-op expansion and economic development.

National Cooperative Business Association was founded in 1916 and has been a national voice for cooperatives, helping them keep their competitive edge in changing economic and political environments.

National Cooperative Grocers Association is an organization that provides hands-on how-to information to retail food co-ops. Their 109 co-op members operate over 130 storefronts in 32 states with combined annual sales of over $945 million dollars. Their mission is to provide vision, leadership and systems catapulting food co-ops into a position of prominence in the natural foods industry.

Sharing resources, information and leadership along with commitment to community, equality and democracy in action are principles that have guided cooperatives for over 160 years. I cannot help but feel that if the world conducted business based on the cooperative principles, our economic situation would look very different. The cooperative movement is about cooperation, collaboration and sustainability throughout all sectors of community. It’s an intricate web that continues to grow and expand and for many, it’s a way of life. Join in our celebration of National Co-op Month, there’s a lot to celebrate!

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