Cooperative Principle #7: Concern for Community

Over the course of the last year, Board members Patty Casebolt and Debi Boen contributed newsletter articles exploring the cooperative principles and how Medford Food Co-op embodies each principle. These articles help to describe and define the principles and values that differentiate cooperative businesses from other types of businesses and organizations. In this article, we will delve into the seventh and final cooperative principle.

7th Principle: Concern for Community

Cooperatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members.

Genuine concern for our community and the commitment to make it thrive is second nature as a cooperative business. So much so, that we regularly field the question “Is the Co-op a non-profit?” The short answer is no, cooperative businesses are not the same as non-profit organizations. The long answer helps connect the dots. In economic terms, a non-profit is an organization that uses its surplus revenues to further achieve its objective, rather than distributing its income to the organization's shareholders or members. Non-profits are tax exempt, meaning they do not pay income tax on the money that they receive for their organization. Like non-profits, cooperative businesses do use surplus revenue to achieve our vision and ends. However, co-ops are not tax exempt, and in profitable years, co-ops have the option of returning profits to owners in the form of patronage dividends, and/or retaining the capital for growth and improvements.

While the co-op is not a non-profit organization, the seventh cooperative principle ensures that our focus includes policies and objectives that express our concern and commitment to the community. This inherent concern very much guides the our outreach and education efforts - which vary from hands-on efforts to financial or in-kind donations.

Our hands-on efforts vary from nutrition education to environmental stewardship. For the last two years, staff members have visited classes at Orchard Hill Elementary to offer brief instruction to students on how to make easy, tasty, healthy snacks at home. We have also hosted store tours for a local Head Start class, which provides opportunities to talk to little ones about healthy foods and let them sample new things like pea shoots and sunflower seed butter. In regards to environmental stewardship, every April and September we help to coordinate and facilitate Bear Creek Stewardship Day, a volunteer effort to keep litter out of the creek and beautify the greenway. We also take on sustainability efforts right here on co-op property because we know that what we do effects others. Through our participation in National Co+op Grocers’ Co+Efficient program, we are able to track metrics related to waste, energy use, and more in order to make improvements over time. Through our enrollment in Pacific Power’s Blue Sky program, we support green electricity sources like wind power and reduce our CO2 footprint.

In terms of financial support, our efforts are equally varied. Since 2013, we’ve donated over $7,000 to local non-profits thanks to our partnership with Griffin Creek Coffee and our coffee donation program. In support of Rogue Valley Farm to School and their various programs, we donate 100% of the proceeds of our three pound bagged apple sales. A lot of our support comes in the form of in-kind donations. For example, we offer small in-kind donations to local organizations promoting local, organic food, food related issues, or community health concerns to help support their efforts and events. We also make weekly donations of wholesome, nutritious produce, eggs, dairy, and assorted grocery items to the Medford Gospel Mission’s The Main Ingredient Community Restaurant, who provides nutritious dinners seven days a week at no charge. Since 2016, we’ve donated over 55,000 pounds of food to the Mission, which simultaneously diverts food waste and helps feed hungry folks in the community.

Concern for community takes many forms. We allow non-profits to table in front of the store to help raise awareness about their causes. We support over 100 local farmers and producers purchasing their products and promoting their brands in the store. And because we know we can’t do all the work on our own, we work with groups like the Rogue Valley Food System Network to address food issues at an organizational level and grow our local food economy. Our sponsorship and participation in a wide array of community events allows us to engage with and educate the community about cooperatives. Events like the annual the City of Medford Employee Health Fair, the Brews, Bluegrass & BBQ festival, and the Oregon Wine Experience provide opportunities for interaction, education, information gathering – all of which better prepare us to provide for the needs of our community.

Of the community, by the community, and for the community could be a co-op mantra! We are so grateful for supportive people that have allowed the co-op to exist and to give back. We hope to grow our existing outreach efforts in 2018 and create new opportunities to interact with the community as well. Some of our future plans include: coordinating training opportunities for local food producers; offering space for local artists and acoustic musicians in The Café; utilizing Juliana, our new in-house nutrition and wellness expert, to develop nutrition and wellness demos and classes; and cooperating with the Ashland Food Co-op to organize the first-ever Rogue Valley Farm Tour this July. With dedication and enthusiasm, your co-op is here for you.