I don’t know what originally got me interested in cooperatives, but I signed up for a cooperative living space when I went off to college – and I loved it. I love being around lots of people and I have forever been trying to balance my competitive nature with my cooperative one. Early on I think I was trying to squelch my competitive nature, as a matter of fact. But as I have gone through a few more decades of life I have come to believe that there is a very productive balance for all of us, and all of our institutions, in including both competition and cooperation in our endeavors.
My next cooperative immersion was to join a food co-op right after our first child was born. From 1977 for 5 years in Boston and then another 20 or so here in Barre (until UNFI pretty much shut down the local pre-order co-ops), I was a much invested food co-op member. Food co-oping always provided a quite enjoyable community of people who had a slightly different take on reality and values than the average person. I remember on September 11, 2001 that we had a co-op delivery that day. As we sat around awaiting the truck we spent some real quality time considering this disaster and feeling solace in being together to begin the processing of it. Truly I have met some of my best friends over the years in food co-ops.
When it was pretty impossible to get organic grain for animal feed I started a co-op to bring in enough grain to make the trucker’s time worth the delivery. This was another about 20 year enjoyable experience of getting together with my farmer friends every month or two for the short period of meeting the truck and unloading together. Busy people all of us, this insured that we saw each other and compared notes all along our respective ways.
In 1985 I took on the job of putting together a bulk order for NOFA/Mass. Though I am no longer the bulk order coordinator, one of the delivery sites is our farm. It includes one of my most favorite days of the year when we unload several thousand dollars’ worth of inventory for 50 or so people and organize it into piles for everyone. It is a once a year opportunity for us NOFA members to hang out, work hard, often freeze to death, eat good food and share a joint project, all while dreaming of the perfect farming year ahead.
Besides the myriad social benefits, a major impetus for putting together a cooperative is the savings that can be had by buying in bulk. This also makes it possible to access hard to obtain items, products or services that would not otherwise be available.
Co-ops often have a distinctively political nature too, in my experience. Going around the mainstream economic system, choosing to purchase from small or highly socially or environmentally focused purveyors, keeping it small and local are often guiding principles for co-ops. I have lived so much of my life avoiding the mainstream and have been so very grateful for cooperatives all along the way.
We hope this issue of The Natural Farmer will help excite you about the potential benefits that co-ops can bring to your life!