The United Nations General Assembly declared 2012 the International Year of Cooperatives, highlighting the contribution of cooperatives to socio-economic development.
In this pronouncement, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated, “Cooperatives are a reminder to the international community that it is possible to pursue both economic viability and social responsibility.” In the midst of so much global economic turmoil, cooperatives offer a different way of doing business – by creating and distributing wealth in a democratic, socially equitable way.
For example, if you have ever seen organic, fair trade bananas at a Twin Cities food co-op, chances are that they were grown by farmers belonging CIPEBO, the banana-grower co-op in northern Peru. In 2001 the farmers began working together cooperatively, to negotiate a better price for their product, more importantly, control the conditions of their labor and their product. Where they used to receive only $1.90 per box, the banana farmers now receive a fair trade premium of $1.00 per box above the minimum price. with $4.00 per box going directly to the farmer. The farmers, each member-owners of the co-op, vote on how the fair trade premium is spent – to improve the working conditions of the banana workers, purchase educational material for community schools, invest in business opportunities for the local youth, sponsor community events and help families in financial need.
Bringing the cooperative story closer to home, did you know that Minnesota is home to four of the top ten cooperatives in the country? According to Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, “Our state’s co-ops generate more than $34 billion in revenue and provide goods jobs for 46,000 Minnesota residents. Large or small, urban or rural, the key concept of a cooperative business is friends, neighbors and fellow members delivering value for each other and their communities.”
In the Twin Cities people often think of co-ops as the place to buy natural foods. That’s not surprising – for nearly 40 years we have had many excellent natural foods co-ops from which to choose. Today, in addition to serving countless shoppers who haven’t yet invested, the 12 Twin Cities area food co-ops have nearly 70,000 active member-owners. A recent study commissioned by the National Co-op Grocer’s Association showed that the average food co-op purchases from 51 local farms and 106 local producers and that for every $1 they spend at the co-op, $1.60 is generated in the local economy. Co-op member-owners know that their co-op focuses on building healthy lifestyles and healthy communities – not only do we circulate more dollars in our community, 83% of food co-ops offer healthy eating and nutrition classes and give three times more of profits to charity then conventional grocery stores.
The Sweet Taste of Cooperation
Even though the International Year of Cooperatives is officially over, you can still celebrate the cooperative spirit! Food co-ops across the country have partnered with Theo Chocolate to create two decadent, limited-edition chocolate bars: a smooth and rich 85% ultimate dark chocolate and a rich and creamy 45% milk chocolate.
These scrumptious confections are organic, fair trade certified. Buying one of these chocolate bar helps support cocoa farmers by ensuring living wages, promotes the health of our planet through organic growing practices, and creates artisan food manufacturing jobs in the U.S. – 50¢ of your purchase goes directly to support the cooperatives that provide the cacao for our bars: Fortaleza del Valle in Ecuador, and Cepicafe in Peru. It’s just another way that food co-ops and our shoppers and owners are helping to build a better world!