What is a cooperative?

There are three kinds of cooperatives: producer-owned, worker-owned, and consumer-owned.

Producer-owned cooperative members are primarily business owners, often farmers. They join forces to reach distant markets, lower advertising costs, and save on other expensive efforts that would be otherwise out of reach for the individual farmer or company.

Worker-owned cooperatives are companies owned by the workers. Decisions are made democratically, and each worker has one vote. Worker-owned cooperatives often have higher wages, better benefits, and higher quality products. Some examples are King Arthur Flour and Namaste Solar.

Sprout is a consumer cooperative and is owned by both its workers and its customers. Sprout is all about increasing access to fresh foods, creating jobs by building new food infrastructure, and empowering our communities to organize and achieve goals we otherwise couldn’t as isolated individuals.

Sprout lowers the cost of high-quality, locally produced foods through membership. A lot of people investing a little bit goes a long way, especially when the businesses we create are focused on meeting needs rather than maximizing profits.

Many food co-ops are community-owned. In some cases, profits go back to members in the form of dividends. In others, profit is removed entirely, and the community benefits through lower food costs.

Other examples include: Intervale Community FarmWeaver Street MarketThe Temple Wilton Community Farm 

In 2015, about 38 percent of US Census tracts were considered food deserts. At the city, state, and federal levels, there have been many attempts to raise awareness and address rising food insecurity, including government, nonprofit, community, and commercial efforts to establish grocery stores.

Of these, 50 percent of commercial operations, 58 percent of hybrid government/community initiated stores, 66 percent of government efforts, 92 percent of stores launched by nonprofits, and 96 percent of the community-led operations are still in business.

It’s worth noting that 16 of the 18 stores led by community organizers were cooperatives, 100 percent of which were still in operation at the time of Next City’s report. It seems cooperation is the most successful and reliable business model for increasing food access in our communities.