Wednesday, October 24, 2007

All about co-ops & how to find one near you

So it turns out that October is not only Fair Trade Month, but also Co-op Month!

Co-ops are businesses that are owned and controlled by their members/customers/workers. There are actually a lot of different kinds, more than I'd realized: a wide range of consumer co-ops (from grocery co-ops to credit unions to child care co-ops to telecommunications co-ops) to housing co-ops to farmer co-ops (Land O Lakes and Florida's Natural are examples of really big ones, but they vary widely in size) to my favorites, the worker co-operatives. (Apparently there are even patient-owned health care co-operatives; anyone use one of these and see a difference?)

Co-ops are pretty awesome because generally they're really rooted in the community, and are more interested in good products/services, good working conditions, and good relationships with the community than companies that are owned and run by shareholders and distant CEOs. (Obviously there will be some variation in how this happens in practice!) There are actually seven core principles of co-ops that you can read about, including democratic member control and member economic participation.

I'm a member of a local co-op grocery store, which means I can run for the board and vote in board elections, and there's a different kind of accountability to member-customers than there is to ordinary customers at a big chain store. (My current campaign is to get certified humane dairy products stocked; I'll keep you posted!) I am a fan of co-ops in general.

So I was really excited to find this search engine for U.S. co-ops on the Co-op Month website. You can narrow it down by type or just search for all co-ops near you. My search brought up tons of credit unions, but also a few worker co-ops that I hadn't known about, more grocery stores, several agricultural co-ops, a few preschools, and even an electric utilities co-op (not covering my immediate area, though.)

Do you use co-operatives? Why or why not? What are your experiences with co-ops of different kinds?


MoneyChangesThings said...

Shout out for Weavers Way in Philadelphia, the social center of mt. airy!

JP said...

Nice post, I posted this to GreenDeals Daily because I think it would interest our readers.

Nivek said...

There are also private residential co-ops. I lived in townhouse co-op Kansas City. Every townhouse owner was a shareholder with voting rights.

I spent about $7000 to buy in and then paid about $550 a month (known as a "carrying charge")for a 3 bedroom, 1.5 bath townhouse- maintenance, security patrols, and groundskeeping included. And it was in a good school district.

When I moved out I sold my unit at a small profit.

Residential co-ops don't seem easy to find, I just kinda stumbled onto the one I lived in. It's worth the search though. You can't beat it if you're young and just starting out or are supporting a family on a small budget.