A Co-op Membership is Ownership

As we get closer and closer to our Annual Meeting (Friday, October 25th, 2019 — Save the Date!), I think it’s a good time to remind all of our Members that you are more than Members, you are Owners. But why should you own your co-op?

As Member-Owners you receive a quarterly discount, you are eligible for 10% off case pre-orders, and you receive various other coupons — helping you save at the checkout. While standard discounts are always appreciated, they do little to create a sense of ownership. So how can we develop a sense of ownership?

For that question, we look at another benefit of being a Member-Owner, our patronage refund. Our patronage refund allows you, our Member-Owners, to see if our co-op is in good hands. How? Well, we only have a patronage refund in years our co-op is profitable. If our active Member-Owners have several years without a patronage refund, you better be asking what the state of your co-op is.

During years of profitability, the board approves the issuance of a patronage refund. Each Member-Owner receives a share of our stores’ profits. Refunds are calculated by how much our Member-Owners spend over the year — spend more, get more in return if our store is profitable. These refunds are an important feedback tool for our Members. It provides a tangible feedback mechanism for you. Refunds are easier to read than a financial statement. Refunds are more than a marketing slogan. They are a clear indication to you, our Member-Owners, that we are in good financial health that we all can profit from.

There is another reason why our patronage refund is essential. It reminds us all that we are indeed, a community that values the entire food system. It is easy to think of our food system as just local food producers and our store. We often forget the most valuable cog in our system — our consumers. Or to put it in more familiar terms, our community of Member-Owners. Patronage refunds allow us to share our success with all of our active Members. It also lets members know that we are indeed in a healthy community that values every stakeholder in our local food system.

While discounts are nice — patronage refunds show real investment in our community. Many would say it would be a mistake to give back to our Members. I would strongly disagree. Giving back to our Members will only see our store grow. Many recipients of patronage refunds spend that money at the co-op, continuing the system that allows for more local food sales. Others donate that money into the community, and the extremely rare few take that refund out of our co-op. We must ensure that our rising tide lifts every boat.

To help us do that you can use your final benefit of being a Member-Owner, voting for board members that represent you. We hope you will all vote in our next election. We hope to create a healthier local food system. We hope to continue delivering our Member-Owners patronage refunds for many years to come. Without you we don’t have a co-op — I won’t forget that.