The Gardiner Food Co-op & Cafe is a consumer-owned cooperative working to bring Maine food to Maine tables. Everyone is welcome to shop and anyone can join to become a member-owner. Opened in 2015, the Co-op is a welcoming space offering produce, meat, dairy, grocery, heath & beauty, beer and wine. They have a large bulk foods selection that includes spices, tea and coffee. The Cafe offers Grab ‘n Go, sandwiches and salads that are already prepared so you can grab and head off to the office or the beach. The Cafe has a full espresso bar, where they craft delicious hot and cold beverages. Please come in and see all the Co-op has to offer!
What’s a Co-op?
From the outside, many co-ops may look like any other business, since a co-op provides products and services like conventional businesses do. But it’s what goes on behind the scenes that make co-ops unique. Everyone is welcome to shop at the Gardiner Food Co-op, but those who buy a share (also known as an equity investment) have the benefit of cooperative ownership.
The Neighboring Food Co-op Association explains it well:
What makes a co-op unique is that it is owned and democratically governed by its members, the people who use its products or services, or are employed by the business. The purpose of the enterprise it to not to accumulate profit for investors, but to meet the goals and aspirations of its members. For this reason, any surplus generated by a co-op is reinvested in the business or returned to the members based on their use of its services. Membership in the co-op is obtained through the purchase of a member share in the business, which does not change in value (in contrast to publicly traded corporations) and entitles the member to one vote in matters that come before the members.
Around the world, co-ops operate in all sectors of the economy, from agricultural and fishery co-ops to food co-ops, industrial manufacturing to financial services, health care to the arts. From small-scale community co-ops to multimillion dollar enterprises, co-ops include almost 1 billion members and employ 100 million women and men (more than multinational corporations).
And here is the definition by the International Cooperative Alliance:
A co-operative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.
Co-operatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.
The co-operative principles are guidelines by which co-operatives put their values into practice.
1. Voluntary and Open Membership
Co-operatives are voluntary organisations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination.
2. Democratic Member Control
Co-operatives are democratic organisations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions. Men and women serving as elected representatives are accountable to the membership. In primary co-operatives members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote) and co-operatives at other levels are also organised in a democratic manner.
3. 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.
4. Autonomy and Independence
Co-operatives are autonomous, self-help organisations controlled by their members. If they enter into agreements with other organisations, 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.
5. Education, Training and Information
Co-operatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their co-operatives. They inform the general public – particularly young people and opinion leaders – about the nature and benefits of co-operation.
6. Co-operation among Co-operatives
Co-operatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the co-operative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.
7. Concern for Community
Co-operatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members.