In recognition of the International Year of Cooperatives, we will be sharing the stories of different cooperatives throughout the year. This month, we're highlighting Viroqua Food Co-op. Read on and enjoy!
This month we are privileged to write about our hometown cooperative grocer. The Viroqua Food Cooperative (VFC) has grown up with CROPP Cooperative here in the Driftless Area of southwest Wisconsin.
Actually, “grown up” is an understatement. Because this amazing “engine that could” has grown phenomenally in the short 17 years of its existence. VFC sprang from the roots of a buying club in 1995, and has evolved into a beautiful green-built store on Main Street with 2,800 members.
Two thousand and eight hundred members? Doesn’t seem like much when you consider the membership of more established food cooperatives in major metro areas. But when you realize that this phenomenal member participation occurs in a town of 4,300 people, you realize that VFC has an amazing following.
VFC’s member-owners show their appreciation for their hometown co-op resource in a number of ways, not the least of which is financially. Sales in fiscal year 2011 totaled $5.5M. A whopping 72% of that figure came from co-op members, and 40.7% of products sold were organic, which is much higher than other coops. As VFC’s General Manager, Jan Rasikas, puts it humbly, “It is a testament to a commitment to organic food in our community. We’ve got something going on here.”
As Rasikas explains, co-ops are created to provide some service or product that is otherwise not available to the community. “The only way that happens is by pooling our energy and resources. We would not have a natural food store this big or this vibrant if it were owned by an individual. By coming together to form a co-op, we create powerful resources. The strength and robustness of cooperative business structure can do great things for big and small towns alike.”
And VFC intends to grow continually, as long as growth flows from their cooperative mission. Ends policies based on that mission were developed by VFC’s Board of Directors to make certain that the co-op’s growth springs only from its value proposition:
“We have a local food movement in the U.S. because of food co-ops,” Rasikas says. “Granted, other organizations, like CROPP, have helped to make that happen, but unless you have a retail outlet where people can get food every day of the year, the system doesn’t work. The trick is to hold hard and fast to the high ideals of organic and local food, run a great store, and serve the community.”
How do CROPP and VFC work together? Our relationship is concentrated (like all great things!) in the food. VFC uses OV products in its hot bar, salad bar, soup bar, and coffee bar, plus just about every Organic Valley product is represented on the store’s shelves. And, of course, many CROPP employees also share membership in VFC and contribute to its community efforts in countless ways.
“Back when we only had room in the cooler for one kind of milk, of course it was Organic Valley Milk!” Rasikas says. “The integrity of OV products is so high, it fits every kind of value we believe in. It’s important to be supportive. We grow and learn with each other.”
Not to mention shop, work and eat together!
Since its beginnings in 1976, Frontier Natural Products Co-op® has been a member-owned cooperative dedicated to supporting and advocating the values of the cooperative community: integrity, openness, social responsibility, and respect for the environment. In other words, they have chosen to grow and prosper by contributing to the world rather than exploiting it.
The wonderful thing about food co-ops is that they belong to their communities in ways that go far beyond the footprint of the store itself. As Elizabeth Archerd, membership and marketing manager of the Wedge in south Minneapolis, Minnesota, puts it, “We are so much more than a grocery store.”
Forgive us if we get a little teary on this one, because this month’s profile highlights a partnership with an organization that was there for us from the get-go. While our partnership today with National Farmers Organization (NFO) is more equitable, we are nevertheless “joined at the hip,” as CROPP CFO Mike Bedessem likes to say.
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Who knew the purchase of some of the tastiest chocolate on earth or the finest “cupping” coffees could be so deeply satisfying? Equal Exchange fans tend to sum it up perfectly: “It’s easy to choose organic and fair trade when it tastes great!”
Founded in 1976 by 300 families seeking healthy food, La Montanita Co-op Food Market now tallies about 15,000 members and serves New Mexico out of six locations in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Gallup. Learn what sets La Montanita apart from your basic grocery store.
Most folks think of Organic Valley and Organic Prairie as sources of delicious and healthful organic foods. What they don’t know is that the key to our success is our cooperative business model known as Cooperative Regions of Organic Producer Pools (CROPP).
In recognition of the International Year of Cooperatives, we will be sharing the stories of different cooperatives throughout the year. Please join us this year to celebrate the benefits of working together!