What is a Co-op?

Co-ops cultivate sustainable development on a human scale, and provide consumers with housing, health care, day care, elder services, electricity and even banking services (credit unions) as well as food. International Cooperative Principles guide co-ops to get these products and build connections with producers and vendors. Thanks to those efforts we have a thriving organic and natural food industry. Food co-ops are changing the way Americans look at food and farming.

Cooperatives are member-owned, member-governed businesses that operate for the benefit of their members according to common principles agreed upon by the international cooperative community. In co-ops, members pool resources to bring about economic results that are unobtainable by one person alone. Most simply put, a cooperative is a business:

  • voluntarily owned by the people who use it, and
  • operated for the benefit of its members.

Co-ops can be organized for the benefit of consumers, producers and workers and operate in almost all areas. For instance, consumer co-ops provide food, housing, health care (the original HMOs were co-ops), financial services (credit unions), and other goods and services. Producer co-ops most typically offer agricultural services for farmers – either inputs (e.g. seed, fertilizer, fencing) or processing and marketing (e.g. milk bottling and cheese production). Worker co-ops offer cab services, cleaning, manufacturing, and food production. Regardless of the goods and services provided, co-ops aim to meet their members’ needs.