For many co-ops, a recurring issue that they face is public awareness of what the cooperative model actually entails. We decided to use Co-op Month (October) to dive deeper into the guiding principles that shape all co-ops as well as provide insight into how the Davis Food Co-op has expanded on these principles to best serve the Davis community. More so than with traditional business models, co-ops do everything, from their daily tasks to large scale planning, according to the principles of the cooperative model.

To better understand the importance of the cooperative principles, it is important to understand a brief history of what a co-op actually is. The concept of cooperation started with the earliest human societies sharing all of their resources with one another for survival and began to take more formal shape in the late 18th century as people moved from farms to cities. Labor workers, consumers, farmers and producers banded together to make joint purchases of supplies and services to keep their collective costs lower as they entered into this new way of life. In their efforts to support one another’s new journey into city life, they became a co-op—a business run by the people, for the people. 

In the late 1960s and 1970s, the “new wave” of consumer co-ops in the US began. Born out of 1960s counterculture, these stores were opened by idealistic community members that wanted an alternative to the standard capitalism business models. Each co-op had its own set of standards and procedures, dictated by the Members/Owners of the co-op. These co-ops were pioneers in what we know today as the natural foods industry.

The first principle of all cooperative structures that were born out of that era is that they are open for everyone to join regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, political or religious beliefs and any other discriminatory based qualifications. While Membership (also known as Ownership) is open for everyone, it is not required for shopping at the Davis Food Co-op. The Co-op truly does exist as a community institution that is accessible to everyone. However, Ownership is highly encouraged!

By becoming an Owner of the Davis Food Co-op, you are investing not only in the store, but also in local farmers and artisans that offer sustainably sourced natural foods and products. You are also investing in programs that enrich our community, such as food drives for those in need, that the Co-op actively supports. As a community-owned grocery store, we are accountable to you, the members of our community who support and invest in us. We are committed to supporting the environmental, social, and economic concerns of all of our Owners. Over the next six principles, we will dive a little deeper into what Ownership actually entails and how you can further contribute to your local Co-op!