Our Deepest Gratitude: Annual Membership Gathering Thanks

By Robin Seydel

During this time of year our thoughts turn to Thanksgiving celebrations and all the things for which we are grateful. In these meditations I feel incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to work with our incredibly supportive cooperative community to make the world a better place.

I know that I speak for all of us here at the Co-op in this expression of heartfelt thanks to all of you who came out to enjoy our Annual Membership Gatherings in both Santa Fe and Albuquerque. It was wonderful to see so many of you turn out to participate in our community dialogues on the democratization of wealth and the role that co-ops can play in creating a more just and sustainable economy.

Our esteemed guest speaker, Gar Alperovitz, is much in demand and we are tremendously honored that he chose to come back to New Mexico and share his time, extensive knowledge and inspirational leadership with us. Two of my favorite concepts put forth by Gar are “involvement culture” and “evolutionary reconstruction.” When tied together, they create an “involvement culture for the evolutionary reconstruction of our communities,” providing a clear understanding of what we are both grateful for and are trying to do. Here at La Montanita, we continue to be dedicated to the concepts of a just and fair cooperative economic democracy. Your support of these gatherings made it clear to us that this commitment is a reflection of the values and the desires of the communities we seek to serve.

The gatherings, both in Santa Fe and Albuquerque were a truly community endeavor and it was a great pleasure to partner with a variety of organizations around the state to make it happen.

A special thanks goes out to Marianne Dickenson, a dedicated “new economy” activist for her organizing efforts, We are People Here and the Unitarian Universalist Church of Santa Fe for their support and co-sponsorship of the Santa Fe event. In Albuquerque, it was a great pleasure to work with Amy Liota and Chef Michael Giese of the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center and the many generous food producers and suppliers who donated food for our FREE community dinner.

Please see the list below and when shopping we hope you will support all these fine food producers. Also, please check out the pictures from this event below or on our Facebook page!

It is a great pleasure to serve you, our fantastic community; you make everything the Co-op does possible.

With love and thanks on behalf of everyone at La Montanita Co-op,

Robin Seydel

Membership and Community Development Coordinator

**Special Thanks to the following businesses and individuals who helped supply the food for our FREE community dinner: When you see these products on Coop shelves, please support these generous people and businesses.

  • Chocolate Cartel/Van Rixel Brothers
  • Co-op Distribution Center
  • Food For Life Products
  • Navajo Agricultural Products Inc.
  • Organic Valley Cooperative
  • Pitman Farms, Mary’s Organic Chicken
  • Sweet Grass Beef Cooperative
  • Tamaya Blue of Santa Ana Pueblo
  • United Natural Foods Inc.
  • Veritable Vegetable

Back To the Future: Cooperatives for Ecological Regeneration

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By Courtney White

Cooperative Behavior

“Food for People, Not for Profit”—as with many co-ops that started up in the late 60s and early 70s, this was the original slogan of La Montañita Food Cooperative, which was founded in Albuquerque in 1976 with three hundred member families. According to Robin Seydel, a co-op staff person since 1985, it was very much a “hippie” establishment in the beginning, dedicated to gaining access to food that was “off-limits” at the time, including organics, whole grains and macrobiotics. The co-op also threw early jabs at the industrial food system by offering workshops on food irradiation, GMOs and the links between pesticides and cancer. Its counterculture spirit even extended to its organizational structure. By setting up as a member-owned cooperative association, it defined itself as an alternative to the corporate model of soulless profit making.

Co-ops for Ecological Regeneration

Fast forward nearly forty years and what was once counterculture is now mainstream, which is good news for all of us!   Today, La Montañita has over 17,000 member households, employs nearly 300 people, manages six stores in three cities, operates a regional food distribution hub and is an active member of the National Cooperative Grocers Association, in which over 140 food co-ops have a combined annual sales of more than $1.5 billion and over one million consumer-owners.

This good news begs a question: could other kinds of regenerative activities considered economically off-limits today—such as building soil carbon or restoring damaged ecosystems or feeding large numbers of people sustainably—follow a similar trajectory? Perhaps cooperatives are the ticket to getting this important work accomplished as well. What about a restoration cooperative!

It’s not a pipe dream. Cooperatives are all around us, including worker-owned manufacturing co-ops, depositor-owned credit unions and agricultural marketing co-ops. Overall, there are nearly 30,000 cooperatives in the United States, accounting for two million jobs and $500 billion in annual revenues. IRS-recognized categories include 1) consumer cooperatives, which are owned by the people who buy their products or use their services—REI is the nation’s largest example; 2) producer cooperatives, set up so that farmers and others can sell their products under one label—Organic Valley, for instance; 3) purchasing cooperatives, for businesses working together in order to be competitive with national chains—like the members of the National Cooperative Grocers Association; and 4) worker cooperatives, which are owned and run by employees—a good example is the Mondragon Corporation in the Basque region of Spain (See the extensive article on Mondragon in the September 2014 Coop Connection News at www.lamontanita.coop)

The consumer cooperative category is by far the largest in the United States, and the movement as a whole is gaining momentum. Recent research suggests why: the broad and diverse benefits created by co-ops make them resilient in a crisis. Credit unions, for example, survived the Great Recession of 2008 relatively unscathed because they viewed rampant mortgage speculation as contrary to the interests of their members. Consumer cooperatives mostly focus on the essentials necessary to a healthy society: food, water, electricity, insurance and finance. Their primary mission is to provide public services, not to act as engines for wealth accumulation. This public service orientation is why it is not such a big leap to extend the cooperative model to ecological restoration and carbon sequestration.

Like nonprofits, cooperatives are a legally sanctioned form of private ownership in service of the public good. While they are profit making, they are not profit maximizing. This sets cooperatives squarely against the corporate model of doing business, whose overriding goal is to turn a small pile of money into a larger pile of money (to paraphrase Wendell Berry).

In contrast, cooperatives see money as a means to an end: creating an economy that supports rather than diminishes the greater public good.

“The cooperative economy is helping to reawaken an ancient wisdom about living together in community, something largely lost in the spread of capitalism,” writes Marjorie Kelly, an author and advocate for cooperatives. Cooperatives represent a need that “arises from an unexpected place—not from government action, or protests in the streets, but from within the structure of our economy itself. Not from the leadership of a charismatic individual, but from the longing in many hearts, the genius of many minds, the effort of many hands to build what we know, instinctively, we need.”

Counterculture indeed!

There are many other reasons to support the cooperative model. La Montañita pays a living wage—and did so before living wages became popular—and it provides an excellent benefits package. Its food hub, the Co-op Distribution Center, serves several hundred local producers in a 300 mile radius around Albuquerque. It is farmer- and rancher-friendly, sending them the important message that they can count on the Co-op to be there. Which explains the unofficial motto of the cooperative movement: “We were local before local was cool.”

Cooperatives are cool. And important to our future!

Come to the Quivira Coalition Conference, BACK TO THE FUTURE for more on ecological restoration. Register at www.quiviracoalition.org

 

Quality Seed from Quality Farmers

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Family Farmers Seed Cooperative: Farmer Owned and Operated

By Dan Hobbs and Members of the FFSC

The Family Farmers Seed Cooperative (FFSC) is a farmer owned and operated cooperative with members in seven western states. Our mission is to produce high quality certified organic, open pollinated and public domain seed for organic growers and other bulk purchasers.

Our member farms are some of the best and most experienced organic seed growers in North America. We uphold high quality standards to ensure the viability and rigor of our seeds and stand proudly behind our product. We stake our business on solid, work-horse organic varieties that have been maintained and developed in the prime seed production regions of the west (Colorado, New Mexico, Nebraska, North Dakota, Washington, Oregon, California).

Our seed is defined by a few key traits: organic, open pollinated, and public domain. These set us apart in the marketplace and enable us to provide organic farmers with quality, open pollinated seed, protect and expand our public organic seed supply, support environmental stewardship, and build a resilient organic seed trade. Our farms are certified organic, adhering to USDA regulations for the production of organic seed. We nurture our crops by building rich, healthy soil and encouraging beneficial organisms such as bacteria, insects, and birds to keep pests in check. We don’t use genetic modification, irradiation, sewage sludge, or synthetic agrochemicals.

Our seed is open pollinated (OP), which means that saved seed will breed true and that farmers have direct access and control of their seed supply. In contrast, F-1 hybrids and GMO varieties are impossible for farmers to reproduce, leaving them dependent on seed companies for new seed. OP varieties reproduce through natural pollination via wind or insects. They breed true provided that there is no cross pollination from other varieties of the same species. If particular plant traits are desired, humans may use natural mechanisms such as hand-pollination or removing undesirable plants from the population before pollination begins. This traditional, open pollinated breeding approach allows for continuous adaptation of a variety across diverse and changing climatic conditions, and represents dynamic evolution in action.

We’re out to save organic seed and we want you to do it too, so all of our seed is held in the public domain (PD). That means there are no restrictions for saving, multiplying, sharing, or selling seeds you produce from our seeds.  Denying seed sovereignty and centralizing seed supplies that are the basis for our food supply threaten food security; we put all of our seed in the public domain for customers to reproduce and improve, creating a worldwide, bio-regionally adapted, publicly held and genetically resilient organic seed bank.

To order seed from the Family Farmers Seed Coop go to www.organicseedcoop.com. La Montanita Co-op supported the creation of the FFSC by being the first retail outlet to sell their seed, providing start-up capital and with branding/marketing materials.

 

Co-ops are Everywhere: Shifting the Focus of Business

Co-op Shift

By Sarah Wentzel Fisher

Co-ops often hide in plain sight. They are all around us all over the world. The take the form of electric companies, agricultural businesses, sporting goods stores, media outlets, banks, breweries, bookstores, bike shops, and, of course, grocery stores. To the consumer, co-ops function like any other business. The fundamental difference between co-ops and privately or publicly owned corporations is who owns the business, where the money goes, and who sets the business priorities.

As a refresher, a co-op is owned and governed by its members. These individuals or groups of businesses all have an equal stake in governing the organization and they share in the profits. They are owned by and operated for the benefit of those using the co-ops services.

Because they wear their co-op model on their sleeve, natural foods co-ops like La Montanita often get their business model misinterpreted by the media. For example I often hear people say the co-op is a nonprofit, or the co-op is a member club. Our business is neither of these—it is a cooperative.

The co-op model has had more and less economic significance historically. The official designation the US government and the IRS recognize (www.sba.gov/content/cooperative) has its roots in the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers who formed a cooperative in Rochdale, England in 1844 to address the needs of textile workers not being paid adequately to afford basic staples. The founders articulated a set of guiding principles that most modern co-ops worldwide acknowledge as a baseline for their operations. (To read about other co-op principles, please visit www.lamontanita.coop/mission/.)

In modern times, as resources are increasingly unevenly distributed amongst the haves and have-nots, the cooperative model has grown in strength. What the cooperative model represents for many businesses is not just a distribution of wealth, but also a shift in focus from profits to a more mission driven business. For example this September the Centre for Human Ecology, a Glasgow-based academic institution will decide whether or not to restructure as a cooperative. According to an article by Dave Matthews published in the Times Higher Education, reorganizing as a coop represents a solution to financial woes, as well as greater democracy. At a time when academic institutions struggle to remain financially viable and students and researchers are increasingly asked to shoulder the financial burden, would restructuring as a coop provide a solution with its model of collective ownership and democratic governance?

The cooperative model also represents a method for starting business without one person needing to have significant start-up capital. This September a cash-poor, but social capital rich group opened the doors of one of very few cooperative breweries in Minneapolis. Fair State Brewery engaged over 350 members at $200 each for lifetime membership. The brewery leveraged the capital to open its doors, and founding members Evan Sallee, Niko Tonks and Matthew Hauck happily pour pints with the motto, “Drink like you own the place.”

Education plays an important role in making the cooperative model viable. Without a clear understanding and direct experience with how a coop works, considering it as a viable business model as an enterprising adult may seem challenging. Much of the work around cooperative youth leadership development in the US happens through the support and initiative of rural electric coops. This year the National Rural Electric Coop Association will celebrate fifty years of a Youth Leadership Council. Regional rural electric coops choose young leaders to learn the coop model, attend summer leadership camps, and visit DC to engage elected officials in dialogue about economics, politics, and service.

Cooperatives are growing, but coops only work and thrive when the membership actively participates in the business. Participation takes many different forms. At our co-op, members primarily participate by shopping, but members can also volunteer, vote in elections, and run for the board. Every level of participation is valuable an important to the health of the business. Next time you shop at the coop, consider what your purchases mean to the business? What does the business mean to the community? Then, consider sharing these thoughts with a friend.

Bag Credit Organization of the Month: Conservation Voters of New Mexico Education Fund

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By Liliana Castillo

At Conservation Voters New Mexico Education Fund (CVNMEF), we believe that protecting our environment starts with the people of New Mexico. Our vision is for a New Mexico where decision-makers and public policies represent the conservation values of our people.

We are working toward our vision by engaging the people of New Mexico in our long-standing shared values of protecting our air, land, water and the health of our communities. We do this by mobilizing people to advocate on policy, enhancing the voting process, encouraging people to vote, cultivating conservation leaders and amplifying the voices of those most affected by environmental injustice.

Conservation values run deep and are an entrenched part of history and culture in this state. Those values are at times not reflected in the decisions made by some rural New Mexican elected officials. Working closely with local residents and leaders from communities throughout rural New Mexico, CVNMEF engages communities in these areas around the environmental issues important to them.

Since 2005, CVNMEF has worked to effectively advocate for conservation by convening the Environmental Alliance of New Mexico (EANM), a coalition of two dozen organizations working to advance a common agenda of environmental priorities at the state legislature. EANM’s partner networks and membership represent over 50,000 New Mexicans statewide and cross-sector interests including public health, business, faith, sportsmen, clean energy, environmental justice and conservation interests. EANM serves as a primary way to unify and align the conservation community and demonstrate broad support for conservation policy.

CVNMEF provides a plethora of educational information and trainings to help people take action for environmental protection. Some of the activities that CVNMEF promotes are contacting our elected officials, writing letters to the editor, testifying at public meetings and hearings, and participating in town hall meetings. For more information, or to make a donation, go to www.CVNMEF.org.

BAG CREDIT DONATIONS: This month your bag credit donations will go to Conservation Voter of New Mexico Education Fund. In August, your bag credit donations totaling $2295.60 went to Camp Fire Kids Care Program. THANK YOU!