October is, among a long list of other things, AIDS Awareness Month, Italian-American Heritage Month, Eat Better, Eat Together Month and National Caffeine Addiction Recovery Month (no kidding).
October is also — as if you needed reminding — National Co-op Month, during which we are all encouraged to be exceptionally preachy about the ills of our modern world: Scold your neighbors for not recycling properly; hector them about the evils of multinational corporations; and wail about the decline in the world’s fish populations.
The louder and more verbose you are, the better. Consistency is key; if the mantra of salespeople is “Always Be Closing,” the mantra of co-op people is “Always Be Lecturing.” If by November 1st you’ve gotten on the nerves of everyone in your life at least once, you’ll know you’ve celebrated properly.
This year, the theme of National Co-op Month is “Cooperatives See the Future.” There’s a website — www.coopmonth.coop — complete with suggested activities (“plant a tree,” “have a cookout,” etc.), videos and writing samples.
In truth, after spending enough time poking around the Co-op Month website, even a snarky, jaded Philadelphian can walk away with a renewed appreciation for the cooperative model and how it betters our world.
You can read about Great River Organics, a four-year-old farmer cooperative in Ohio that markets and distributes the produce grown by its farmer-owners. By providing vital business services and identifying wholesale opportunities, GRO allows its owners to concentrate on running their farms and expanding acreage in Ohio devoted to organic farming.
The six-year-old Agua Gorda Cooperative of Minnesota offers Latino farmworkers pathways to farm ownership. Agua Gorda conducts business-management training and provides access to Minneapolis restaurants for the farmers’ organically grown produce.
In 2017, North Wind Renewable Energy of Wisconsin converted to employee ownership. North Wind specializes in the design and installation of solar electrical systems for residential and commercial customers. As a worker cooperative, its success and growth are now shared by its employee-owners, who naturally are committed to the long-term success of the company.
There are literally thousands of other examples of various cooperative enterprises — producer co-ops, purchasing co-ops, banking co-ops, worker co-ops and, like Weavers Way, consumer co-ops — that are doing good work on behalf of their member-owners.
The common thread in the formation of all of these co-ops is dissatisfaction with the status quo by their members. Whether it’s a group of neighbors in West Mt. Airy who in 1973 were dissatisfied with the lack of quality produce in their neighborhood or a group of Latino farmers in Minnesota who in 2012 were dissatisfied with the prospect of forever toiling on someone else’s land, the cooperative model proved to be the solution.
Cooperatives are by their nature commercial enterprises and, like any organization engaged in commerce, they are subject to the market forces of competition, supply and demand, as well as the changing whims of the consumer. Co-ops that meet the needs of their members thrive. Co-ops that fail to meet the needs of their members flounder.
At Weavers Way, we know we’re hardly perfect. Items are out of stock too frequently, our equipment breaks down too regularly and, well, try shopping in any of our stores late on a Friday afternoon and you’ll experience how frenetic they can be.
But we get a lot of things right, too, and our success is reflected in the continued — and growing — patronage of our members. Membership in Weavers Way continues to grow: sometime soon, probably this winter, we’ll reach 10,000 households. This growth is proof that, despite our preachiness, our Co-op’s values matter to more and more people.
In fact, maybe our preachiness and our growth are more linked that we realize. There’s good reason we co-op folks are constantly prattling on about the world’s problems. The truth is we don’t recycle enough, multinational for-profit corporations can be sinister and the oceans really are being depleted of fish. We just want more people to pay attention!
So this October, while I’m sure you’ll be busy celebrating National Chiropractic Month, National Pickled Peppers Month, National Protect Your Hearing Month and National American Cheese Month (I swear these are all true), be sure to take a little time to celebrate National Co-op Month.
The world might be a mess, but at least we’ve got each other.
See you around the Co-op.