From the Board: Cooperative Principles #3 & #4

by Debi Boen – Board Member & Board Secretary

The “cooperative principles” are guidelines by which cooperatives put their values into practice. This month we will discuss Principles #3 and #4.

3rd Principle: Member Economic Participation

Members contribute equitably to, and democratically control, the capital of their co-operative. At least part of that capital is usually the common property of the co-operative. Members usually receive limited compensation, if any, on capital subscribed as a condition of membership. Members allocate surpluses for any or all of the following purposes: developing their co-operative, possibly by setting up reserves, part of which at least would be indivisible; benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the co-operative; and supporting other activities approved by the membership.

This is how the principle is worded in our existing policy register (the document used by your board for guidance as we govern the business of the Medford Food Co-op). That’s a lot of words; let’s simplify their meaning.

Each member of the Medford Food Co-op has purchased a share in the co-op. Each share costs $100.00. When you purchase a share, you become an owner. As an owner, your opinion carries weight; the color palette for our store was a decision made by owners before we opened. Everyone is welcome to shop at Medford Food Co-op, but only owners will be allowed to vote. Owners will vote on directors for the Board of Directors, or any bylaw additions or changes. When an official vote is not required, the voices of owners are actively solicited by your Board of Directors and General Manager. Medford Food Co-op is currently developing our café expansion because our owners overwhelmingly requested that we take this step. Owners’ shares have the advantage of being a low-cost way for the Co-op to build capital and maintain growth.

This is my favorite part: consider Bylaw Section 3.6, which reads, in part: “…each ownership unit shall have one and only one vote on each issue submitted to a vote…” An owner may choose to purchase up to 20 shares; MFC has used additional owners loans and/or gifts in our brief history. An owner might choose to purchase multiple shares and/or make a loan or gift to the co-op simply because that owner supports the concept and mission, and wants to help bring those to fruition. This is a wonderful thing; I acknowledge, recognize, and am thankful for such owners. But I am even more thankful for the equity provided through that bylaw. Not every owner will be able to afford multiple shares, or be able to make a significant loan or gift. At Medford Food Co-op, the owner who used a payment plan ($20.00 down, $10.00 per month) to purchase one share, has the same vote and the same voice as the owner who purchased 20 shares, made a loan, and threw in a one-time gift just for fun. Neither of those owners is any more or less necessary than the other – and both are part of the same club. They are both owners of the Medford Food Co-op.

4th Principle: Autonomy and Independence

Co-operatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If they enter into agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their co-operative autonomy.

This principle naturally carries on the discussion of the third principle; Medford Food Co-op is not your typical sole proprietorship or limited partnership business. The cooperative is our membership. The members are, indeed, owners. You control, democratically, what agreements are entered into by MFC. Now, not every agreement will come to a full ownership vote. Your Board of Directors is elected (by you) to represent your interests and conduct business in your name. This is why it is so important to vote for your directors, and to talk to them on a regular basis. Make your voice heard. Consider running for the board yourself, or coming to one of the monthly meetings. All board meetings are open to our owners, and there is time set aside at each meeting to hear from those owners who are in attendance. Our agendas are posted on the MFC website in advance. We typically gather on the third Monday evening of every month.

Purchasing your share in the Medford Food Co-op was just the beginning. We want to hear your voice; every voice. Your board invites you to continue with us on this remarkable journey. MFC owners are a diverse and complicated group – and every one of you matters.