Staying True to Our Principles

WS Co-op

Principle 6: Cooperation Among Co-ops

By Robin Seydel

At La Montanita, our dedication to the seven cooperative principles has never wavered. In all our decision making processes, our actions, the utilization of Co-op resources and our Board of Directors crafted “Ends Policies,” which some organizations might call mission/vision, we consider how to best fulfill the needs of our community in relation to these principles. Crafted originally by the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers in the mid-nineteenth century, the principles, with slight alterations by the International Cooperative Alliance, are even more important today. Given the state of the nation, the world and the need for and expansion of true economy democracy it is hardly surprising that interest in cooperatives has in the past few years experienced strong renewal.

Our adherence to some of the principles is quite evident. In brief, some of our commitments include:

Principle 1: Open and Voluntary Membership. Everyone, member or not, is welcome to shop at La Montanita and membership is open to everyone in our community, should they choose to become an owner.

Principle 2: Democratic Control. Our one member, one vote annual elections for the Board of Directors and any by-law amendments happen every November. Board members are the elected to represent the needs and wants of the 17,000 households that own this consumer cooperative; they are responsible for crafting the larger organizational vision.

Principle 3: Member Economic Participation. Over the years, based on purchases, member-owners have received well over 4.5 million in patronage refunds. These refunds are based on patronage, how much owners use the cooperative business they own, rather than on investment as in the corporate model.

Principle 4: Autonomy and Independence. Although we participate in other cooperative organizations including the National Cooperative Grocers Association, get loans for expansion from the New Mexico Educators Federal Credit Union (a financial cooperative), and partner with them on our La Montanita Fund grassroots micro-lending project, we maintain our independence and autonomy.

Principle 5: Information, Education and Training. This very publication has been educating on links between food, health and environmental issues in the community since 1987.  Gatherings like the recent CO-OPversations, weekly e-news blasts and other social media have also been added as the information landscape  has changed. Also, for an organization of our size we spend a large proportional of our operational budget on a variety of staff trainings and education.

Principle 7: Concern for Community. Our dedication to this principle is evidenced quite publicly by: our food-shed project that is growing the local food system to provide good food, good jobs and a healthier eco-system; our Veteran Farmer Project is training vets and other community members in sustainable agricultural food production and our volunteer program that makes shopping at the coop accessible for over 200 people with limited income by allowing them to serve the community and shop at an 18% discount at the Co-op, among our many other community service activities.

But where is Principle 6 you ask? It is our work around Principle 6: Cooperation among Cooperatives, that many people might not know much about our activities.

Our dedication to this principle runs deep and wide! We have consulted at a wide variety of co-ops, both regionally and nationally, on a diverse set of operational and community development issues. The hundreds of collective years of expertise we bring to these consults would, on the open market, cost co-ops dearly if they had to hire conventional consultants.

Our volunteer program and our La Montanita Fund grassroots investing and loan program are models that have been successfully utilized by co-ops around the nation. La Montanita regularly trains staff from other co-ops, hosting them as they shadow our staff, providing materials, information and training. We have helped start-up co-ops and relatively new co-ops grow their capacity. Our CDC delivers weekly, both locally sourced and national brands, to small cooperatives, when national distributors will not service them, providing access to products they otherwise would not be able to carry.

Just a few of the co-ops La Montanita supports in one way or another include coops in: Espanola, Taos, La Cruses and El Morro in New Mexico and Durango, Alamosa, Trinidad and Manitou Springs in Colorado, Sweet Grass Beef Co-op, the Family Farmers’ Seed Co-op, and the new Headwaters Co-op, an organic produce grower’s co-op, to name a few.

Cooperation rather that competition is one of the many important hallmarks  of the cooperative economic model. We believe that we all do better when WE ALL DO BETTER! Our community ownership model provides hope for a future with a more equitable distribution of wealth and true economic democracy for all.

Community Funding for Gaia Gardens: Buying the Farm!

By Poki Piottin

For the past 3 years, Gaia Gardens, a nonprofit, one-acre, certified organic urban farm has been providing an important community garden experience for people in Santa Fe. The Gaia Gardens property is now threatened with foreclosure and we are attempting to buy the property through a short sale. To preserve this unique piece of land, continue our educational mission and provide affordable housing for future generations, we have created the Mil Abrazos (One Thousand Hugs) Community Land Trust, a nonprofit, to purchase the farm property.

We believe that lasting ecological health and social well-being are kindled in reconnecting to the Earth and reclaiming our food sovereignty.  Our concern for the planet inspired us not only to farm, but also to facilitate learning opportunities related to urban farming, encouraging schoolchildren to participate, supporting community gardening, and nudging our city to embrace the deeper meanings of sustainability. In recognition of our efforts, we have won awards for Best Recycler (Santa Fe Green Chamber of Commerce) and Best Sustainable Food System (Sustainable Santa Fe Commission).

In order to raise capital to purchase the farm property, we have launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign that will run through November 4, 2014. Please help by going to and make a donation to keep this farm in our community for generations to come.

For more information about Gaia Gardens, please visit


Westside Birthday Bash!


The Westside celebrated its first birthday this past weekend! We grilled on the patio, enjoyed live music from some great bands, saw some awesome costumes for the costume contest, and ate delicious birthday cake!

A year ago, La Montanita proudly opened the doors of its new location, bringing thirty new living wage jobs and organic, local food to Albuquerque’s Westside. The Co-op works to develop community wealth by keeping things local. La Montanita’s presence on the Westside continues to be a sign of a strong and growing local economy, representing the community’s commitment to keeping New Mexican dollars in New Mexico.

Thank you to those who came to celebrate with us! We had a great time and hope that you did, too. Scroll through the slideshow by clicking on a picture in the gallery below to see all the fun!

New Mexico Health Connections: The Co-op Model Works for Health Insurance, Too

Health Care (NMHC)

By Lydia T. Ashanin

No one likes insurance very much. We need it if we drive a car or own a house, and the Affordable Care Act now requires us to have health insurance. One of the many changes the ACA brought to our healthcare system is a new insurance company model—one that focuses on keeping people well instead of waiting until they get sick. This new model is a Co-op health plan.

New Mexico Health Connections (NMHC) Co-op is New Mexico’s only nonprofit, consumer operated and oriented (cooperative) health plan. As new entrant in the marketplace, NMHC Co-op is a change agent, bringing innovation and creativity to the health insurance industry, which is traditionally staid and risk-averse. NMHC Co-op breaks the old paradigm through its commitment to well-care instead of sick-care, its prioritization of people over profits, and its ethical commitments to members, provider partners, and communities.

Any profits NMHC Co-op makes must be reinvested into benefits and programs to help improve the healthcare members receive. We are a lean, start-up health plan, which enables us to work closely with contracted providers to coordinate members’ care and lower their overall healthcare costs. And our members can travel anywhere within the U.S. and get care if they need it.

NMHC Co-op puts its members first by striving to improve their access to healthcare. We offer our members:

  • A $0 copay for generic medications for nine common chronic conditions.
  • A $0 copay for most generic behavioral health medications.
  • A $0 copay for the first three behavioral health visits for most plans.
  • A $0 copay for the first three primary care visits (starting in 2015).

Co-op health plans differ from commercial health plans in two significant ways. The first is the co-op model itself, which emphasizes a strong consumer focus as a primary value. NMHC Co-op is overseen by a Board of Directors, of whom 51 percent or more must be elected from the pool of NMHC members. This gives our members a voice and ensures that NMHC will stay focused on what is best for them.

The second difference is that Co-op health plans are truly nonprofit, mission-driven rather than shareholder profit-driven. While some other New Mexico health plans can legitimately claim a not-for-profit IRS status, their business model is distinctly profit-oriented. Any money these health plans save through member care goes to fund new buildings or executive bonuses. NMHC is required to return all income that exceeds expenses to its members in the form of increased member benefits or lower premiums. NMHC must therefore always reinvest in its members. Furthermore, because NMHC Co-op is a New Mexico-domiciled health plan, its money stays in New Mexico, whether through payments to healthcare providers or profits reinvested in member benefits.

The 2014 theme for National Co-op Month is “The Co-op Connection. How Does Your Co-op Connect?” At NMHC we connect with you to help keep you well, and with our partners to help keep our community healthy and vibrant.

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