A Cooperative Primer

Better Together.

Time for a primer on cooperatives, because apart from knowing you’re a valued member of Skookum and that you gain value from our cooperative, it’s important to know what we are creating together. This little review includes the different types of cooperatives out there, how Skookum bridges several types (while primarily being classified as a Non-profit Community Service Co-op, primarily engaged in the Consumer Co-op model; see below) and what your role is in the whole thing. Consider this part one of a multi-part series on cooperatives. Cooperatives are becoming much more popular, and in future posts, we will discuss why that is.

The information below was culled from the British Columbia Cooperative Association website (we maintain membership in the BCCA) and from the Canadian Cooperative Association.

Types of Co-ops 

Co-operatives are unified by their democratic structure, but different co-ops may be set up for different purposes.

Consumer co-operatives: These are co-operatives whose members are their customers; the majority of consumer co-operatives are retail stores. Mountain Equipment Co-op, UFA and the local retail co-ops that are part of Federated Co-operatives Limited, Co-op Atlantic and Arctic Co-operatives Limited are examples of consumer co-operatives. Housing co-ops, carshare co-ops, funeral co-ops and other types of service co-ops are also consumer co-operatives. At Skookum we have ‘Consumer co-operative’ as one of our models for The Abundant Pantry Bulk Buying Club (TAP) and for bulk purchases of seed, trees, Tattler canning lids, and food dehydrators ( interested in heading a project? Click here).

Other models we dip into have to do with community education, with the potential to engage in cooperatively purchased land, tools, and a host of other things that would grow out of our mission, values/principles and purpose statements.

Financial co-operatives: Credit unions and caisses populaires are examples of financial co-operatives. Like consumer co-operatives, the members of financial co-operatives are the individuals or business owners who use their services. Another type of financial co-operative is The Co-operators, an insurance company which is owned by Canadian co-operatives, credit union centrals and like-minded organizations.

Producer co-operatives: These are groups of producers who band together to process and/or market their products. Agricultural co-ops like Gay Lea Foods, Agropur, La Coop fédérée, Organic Meadow, Scotsburn Dairy, Farmer’s Dairy, Northumberland Dairy, Citadelle, Granny’s Poultry and Organic Meadow are examples of producer co-operatives.

Worker co-operatives: These are businesses owned and controlled by their employees. La Siembra (Camino chocolate products), Just Us! Coffee Roasters, The Big Carrot and the Vancouver Renewable Energy Co-op are examples of worker co-operatives.

Multi-stakeholder co-operatives: These co-operatives include different categories of members who share a common interest in the organization: for example, clients, employees, investors and community organizations. Multi-stakeholder co-operatives in Canada include Common Ground Co-operative, which provides employment opportunities for people with developmental disabilities; the West End Food Co-op, a Toronto co-op owned by consumers, producers and employees, and the Aylmer Health Co-op, formed by citizens, doctors and health professionals to improve community health services in Gatineau, QC.

Mutuals and co-operatives: Mutuals, which in Canada exist primarily in the insurance sector, are governed by different legislation than co-operatives but operate under a similar business model. Both mutuals and co-operatives are independent associations of individuals who have voluntarily come together to fulfill their economic or social needs through co-ownership in a democratically-run organizations. Source: http://www.canada2012.coop/en/what_is_a_cooperative/Types-of-co-operatives

Click above for a list of some popular Canadian cooperatives.

 Skookum Food Provisioners’ Cooperative is a Community Service Co-op

Since April 2007, an amendment the BC Co-op Act means that “non-profit” co-ops can now be incorporated as Community Service Co-ops and have similar status to non-profit societies. The change made community service co-ops eligible for charitable status via CCRA. Skookum has this designation, but at this time we are not seeking charitable status, but this is certainly a possibility for the future.

The Community Service Co-op designation ended the confusion arising from uncertainty surrounding the legal status of non-profit co-ops, while affirming the democratic structure of member ownership and control that is unique to the co-op model.

As a Community Service Co-op, Skookum’s Memorandum of Association includes all of the following non-alterable provisions:

  1. That the co-op is a community service co-operative,
  2. That the co-op will not issue investment shares,
  3. That the co-op’s purposes are charitable or to provide health, social, educational or other community services,
  4. That upon dissolution, the co-op’s property must be transferred to another community service co-op or a charitable organization,
  5. That no part of the property of the co-op is to be distributed to members while it is in operation.

Want to start your own cooperative? Here’s a guide: placeholder

Guide for “Cultivating Co-ops” http://farmfolkcityfolk.ca/PDFs_&_Docs/Cultivating_Co-ops.pdf



Our “Growing a Co-op” event was a big hit!

On Wednesday February 9, 2011, Skookum brought Carol Murray up to Powell River to spread the word about cooperatives, what they can do, and how to get them going. Carol is the Director of Co-op Development at the BC Co-operative Association, and is one of the people who helped Skookum’s initiating group find its bearings and get through the early stages of planning and incorporation.

Some of the amazing food prepared by Skookum members Jacqueline MoralesFran Cudworth

Skookum planned this public event in the spirit of the fifth principle of the International Co-operative Alliance’s Statement on the Co-operative Identity (emphasis mine): “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.”

Skookum signed on to a very slightly amended version of these seven principles when we crafted our own statement of principles,  and we endeavour to live up to themcommunicate them to members  and others.

We wanted to create an opportunity for people to learn more about cooperatives, since we learned when we got started that there is a lot of misinformation and confusion out there.

A pretty full house! And somehow enough food to go around...

Carol spent most of the day on Wednesday meeting with various people and groups who had indicated that they were interested in having a sit-down meeting to talk about a cooperative idea they were thinking about. And then on Wednesday evening she made a presentation to packed room in Trinity Hall at the Powell River United Church.

But before we got to the presentation, there was food: Skookum member Jacqueline Morales prepared two delicious lasagne made with pasta from flour locally-milled by Periwinkle Granary. Fran Cudworth of Periwinkle Granary also prepared fresh garlic breadfantastic vegan pizza in honour of Carol Murray, who is vegan. Members brought salads and desserts, and amazingly we managed to feed everyone who showed up, although the turnout was somewhat larger than we anticipated. Maybe cooperatives are one more people’s minds than we thought…

Carol Murray in action

Carol presentedtook questions from the floor. You can view or download her PowerPoint presentation here. One thing is certain from the conversations that Carol had earlier in the day and from the questions that people were asking: there is considerable interest in cooperative housing  and land ownership. There are a lot of people keen to farm and create collective projects requiring land, but the cost of land  remains too high for many people, especially younger people in the region. Skookum hopes that we can make progress on that front, since access to land  for community agricultural projects is certainly something we’re thinking about for the future.

We wish to thank the Powell River Food Security Project, First Credit Union,the BC Co-operative Association for helping us put on this event; Fran and Jacqueline for the most wonderful food I’ve ever seen at a free public event; all our members who helped with donated food and labour; and everyone who showed up. Most of all, we thank Carol, who was extremely generous with her timedid a great job of spreading the word about cooperatives.

Skookum’s first event of 2011: Growing a Co-op

Hello and welcome to 2011!

Skookum Food Provisioners’ Cooperative is proud to present our first event of the new year: we’re bringing in Carol Murray, Director of Co-op Development for the BC Co-operative Association.

Gorgeous poster by our very own Giovanni Spezzacatena (AKA rabideye).

There is a lot of interest around the region in forming cooperatives for various purposes: food co-ops, land co-ops, farming co-ops, housing co-ops, and more. I know, because people often ask me about how we formed Skookum, and also people are often discussing the sorts of challenges and projects that seem suited to a cooperative solution.

If you’ve ever wanted to know more about how co-ops work, how to get one started, what they are good for, and learn about some interesting existing models of co-ops that we might want to adapt in this region, please come on out. There will be a brief presentation on Skookum to let you know what we’ve been working on and where we’re heading in 2011 and beyond. We hope to sign up some new members and start talking about what we want to work on together in 2011. We’ll have plenty of time for questions and answers with Carol, who is very knowledgeable about all kinds of cooperatives. We’ll even have door prizes!

Admission is free and is open to all.

Please note that this special meeting will take place in Trinity Hall at the United Church in Powell River (6932 Crofton St., at the corner of Duncan & Michigan) at the normal time of the Kale Force meeting. With generous assistance from First Credit Union and the Powell River Food Security Project, we will be providing food at 6:00 PM. Carol’s presentation will begin at 7:00 PM.

If you are considering forming a cooperative, or if you simply have some detailed questions about cooperatives, we are setting aside time for people to meet with Carol during the day on Wednesday. If you’re interested in setting up an appointment with Carol, please contact us at skookum@skookumfood.ca