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coop imageAccording to the International Cooperative Alliance, a cooperative (also known as co-operative, co-op, or coop) is an autonomous association of people united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically controlled business.

Cooperatives include non-profit community organizations and businesses that are owned and managed by the people who use their services (a consumer cooperative); by the people who work there (a worker cooperative); by the people who live there (a housing cooperative).

Can coops play a role in New Mexico where economic development has been hard to achieve and opportunities have been uneven? A team of speakers in the region last month to address cooperative-based economic development thought the answer was yes!

This work is meaningful for our Agriculture Collaborative as much of the discussion was based on self-reliance, equity, profit and community. All values that we hold dear in the agriculture community. In fact, we covered the topic of cooperatives at our Ag Collaborative back in 2014.

Coops are not new, in fact, they’ve been around since people began organizing into collectives—some say beginning thousands of years ago, others pointing to formalized coops like those in Benjamin Franklin’s days to provide fire insurance in Philadelphia and the Rochdale coop of English weavers in 1844. Today, the economic impact of cooperatives is over $3 trillion in assets and $654 billion in revenues. And that’s in the US alone. One of the largest coops is the Mondragon Coop in Spain which is highly diversified but collectively has 120 companies owned and run by their workers. There are over 100,000 employees and $25 billion in annual sales.

The philosophy in worker owned coops is that there is no wealth redistribution but rather earned profits by the worker-owners. A key tenant of traditional cooperative is economic participation, meaning that coop members share in both the profits and the losses. Other tenants include voluntary and open membership, education, and concern for the community. Can we pull this off in this region? What would be some areas that would be ripe for this kind of organization?

Thanks to Eric Griego, Fred Mondragon, Sandra McCardell, Tim Nisly and others for organizing a discussion about finding ways to implement the cooperative model in this region and using the tool to cultivate jobs and economic development. Thanks also to Steve Dubb, formerly with the Democracy Collaborative, and Michael Peck, from the Mondragon Corporation, for helping us explore this age-old model and how to apply it to meet our needs.

If you are interested in learning more about coops, and some areas we can look at (food aggregation, growing coops, infill development, urban farms, land grants, and other local food, farming and land-based sectors), please contact us This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

View this and other stories in the May 2017 issue of Local Food Connections.



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