A Cooperative Primer

cooperation
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

coopstuff
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

 

 

The What, Where and Why of Dry

Dried local peaches, nothing added.

As you may have noticed in our recent Facebook posts, Skookum members are drying up a storm this year, preserving the local (and local-ish) harvest of peaches, plums, squash, tomatoes, peppers, apples, pears, berries and more.

David and Brownie cutting up apples to make applesauce that was then dried into fruit leather.

A crack team of 6 members have been buying, picking and sharing in-season produce from Bernie’s Fruit Truck (a.k.a Vitamin Express), and attending dehydrating work parties at the Community Resource Centre (CRC), which houses two food dehydrators. Part of the bounty is always put aside for CRC client use, thus fulfilling our community share. Additionally, Skookum’s newest project is a bulk order of dehydrators, where members of our cooperative got together and saved on shipping/ brokerage fees to have five Excalibur dehydrators delivered, making at least five local families more food secure.

Black Diamond plums, dehydrated and delicious.

What is the buzz on drying food?

      • What can you dehydrate?
      • Does it replace canning, pickling, or freezing?
      • What are the advantages and drawbacks of drying?
      • What can you dehydrate and what do you do with the dried food anyhow?
      • How long does it take to preparea and dry stuff?
      • How much does it cost?
      • How do I get started?

 

Despite being an ancient form of food preservation, dating back to biblical times,  dehydrating is coming into its own in our less-than-arid climate, through simple technology: a dehydrator. At its most basic level, this is a vented box with heat elements, fans and porous shelves upon which to place sliced, diced, shredded or even select whole fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, herbs, meat, fish, etc. The ‘devil is in the details’ though, as uniformity of dehydration and the ability to set accurate drying temperatures and lengths of time are attributes that only the better machines offer.

Why dry?

            • Dehydrating foods provides “living ” or uncooked foods. If done properly, only the water content is extracted, leaving much of the flavour and nutrients behind
            • They are easy to digest, rich in vitamins, minerals, and enzymes, and are highly nutritious
            • Many modern methods of preserving foods through refrigeration, freezing, canning, pasteurizing, and chemical or even natural additives like sugar, salt, pectin, Sodium Bisulfite, etc. reduce the nutrient content in food, or provide unwanted extra calories/sodium
            • Easily stored in air and light-proof containers, dehydrated foods weigh considerably less than fresh or food preserved any other way (useful in camping and backpacking: easy to carry!) and can sit on your shelf for up to 20 years making them excellent for disasters and hard times (think food security here!)
            • It’s cheaper than freezing, in the end: a few hours of drying at a few cents per hour, and you’re done. This frees up freezer/pantry space for other goodies that must be preseved in other ways.
            • See some seasonal food on sale or have a glut of local food? Pick it or buy it and dry it during any season. Dried pineapples and mangoes make great (if non-local) snacks; autumn is a great time to ponder dried chanterelles…
            • And you can mix and match your foods to create dried culinary delights like pear-apricot leather with embedded walnut pieces, a mixed dried vegetable soup mix (with a different vegetable on each tray of your dehydrator), an entire dehydrated spaghetti dinner, stews and chile, even jerkies of all kinds (salmon, chicken, turkey, beef); think of it as gentle ‘cooking’, in slow motion
            • Using dried food is a dream: either use it as is (as in fruit leathers) or mix it with wetter foods or soak to rehydrate dried food in water or broth to create flavourful concoctions with super-concentrated flavour
            • Dehydrators can be used to raise yeasted bread doughs, make yogurt, teas (out of leafy herbs or bits of  fruit), cheese, seeds for planting, and even dry flowers and leaves for crafts – anything that can benefit from a low, sustained, dry heat (this includes me—Swedish sauna, anyone?)

Drawbacks?

        • As in freezing or canning food, there are some upfront costs, namely for the dehydrator (here is a review of  some of the more popular types; they range from about $80 to $2,000+) and for containers in which to store the food (plastic bags, and even glass jars preferably with the air sucked out via a vacuum sealer); add to this the electricity use in the actual dehydration process
        • Time is of the essence: you need to be able to collect or buy food at the peak of freshness and ripeness to get the best results, and it does take some time to peel, pit, check (drop briefly in boiling water to remove some of the waxy coating on things like blueberries or grapes) and slice certain items like pears, peaches or cherries to prepare them for dehydrating. Also, getting the dried food off the racks and in air-tight containers is best done sooner rather than later because the dried food will act as a sponge and collect ambient moisture!
        • Certain foods just don’t dehydrate that well, such as:
          1. whole items (be it fruits, vegetables, etc.); this reduces access to the moister parts; sliced or shredded food works best and fastest
          2. fibrous food like sliced artichokes or carrots (unless they are sliced really thinly)
          3. high-moisture foods like watermelon and cucumber that take a long time (but they are interesting just the same!)
          4. foods with lots of fat/oil in them that can go rancid without other preservatives like salt/sugar, etc.
        • You need to make sure that foods are dried and stored properly, to avoid mold and spoilage, so home-made dehydrators are not recommended in our climate
        • You need to pay attention and respond to your dehydrating foods as needed; factors such as the type and variety of fruit/vegetable you are dehydrating, its ripeness and sugar level (both increase drying time), and ambient humidity, all factor in the final drying times. While you cannot really over-dry things at the recommended low temperatures, you don’t want to be wasting energy either or producing food that is overly dry for no reason; some moisture content is okay, depending on what you are drying.

Want to get started? Contact us (just comment below or use our contact page)  and we’ll see what we can do to get you drying at least some food this year!

Home Tanning Workshop: Part Deux

Home Tanning Workshop Part 2: Saturday July 28, 2012 11:00AM-3:00PM FREE! (Donations to Skookum  always graciously accepted)

Home Tanning Workshop: Part 2

(Click here for the lovely poster 262kB pdf)

With Hana Turtle Granny and Jacqueline Huddleston

For hunters, homesteaders, craftsmen, seamstresses and those with a serious intent to learn the basics of home tanning leathers and furs

This second workshop will focus on the techniques used to “break” the tanned hide. We will also introduce you to working with larger hides, including: deer, goat and sheep. If you missed the first workshop “green” hides (untanned) will be available to practice fleshing, with instruction.

  • What: Part 2 of a 3 workshop series on tanning local hides
  • When: Saturday July 28th 2012
  • Where: 5905 Fraser Street, Powell River BC
  • Time: 11:00AM to 3:00PM
  • Fee: Free of charge*

(*donations to Skookum always graciously accepted)

We recommend: Tan Your Hide, by Phyllis Hobson (IBSN # 0-88266-101-9) if you want to preview some of the techniques we will be using.

Important: Bring your own tanning kit including:

  • 2 old towels
  • Rubber gloves and apron
  • 1 pair of utility scissors
  • 1 skinning or fleshing knife or other tool i.e.
  • Ulu
  • spoon, shell or something with a rounded edge
  • 1 piece of plywood 3/4 ” thick 2 X 2
  • Your tanned rabbit hide from workshop 1 (if you attended this)
  • Participants should also bring lunch and a thermos

To register please email jaxhuddleston@me.com or call 604 483-9902!

Announcing Skookum’s Bulk Seed-Buying Project


Buying seed together, locally.

We’re happy to introduce a new project open to Skookum Food Provisioners’ Cooperative members only. It’s a bulk seed-buying club that will start off small with a selection of some 30 seed types from a local provider, Eternal Seed. As you know, the more seed one buys, the cheaper the cost, but seeds don’t keep too well past a couple of years… so stocking up is not a great option. If we buy together, it’s better in many ways:

  •  It’s less expensive to buy seeds this way (if you still have too many seeds, you can donate/barter them at Seedy Saturday, or share with neighbours/friends);
  • With a percentage of the cost of buying seed through this project,  you get to support Skookum, the community, and a coordinator for the project;
  • We can support a local certified organic seed company, Eternal Seed.

If we manage to order 10 packs (or more) of any of the varieties listed here, we get a substantial discount from Eternal Seed. Then we tack on a small percentage to support Skookum projects (5%)the community fund (5%) plus another 15% for the project coordinator. Your seed packet will then cost on average 25% less than buying one packet via a normal retail outlet.

How it works

(Remember, this is MEMBERS ONLY. Not a member, but would like to join Skookum? Click here).

Skookum will not be held liable for the quality of seed or results from use of the seed, although Eternal Seed does have its own guarantee that can be found on their web site; download their catalogue as a pdf file here (please use Internet Explorer for best results). All seed descriptions below are from the Eternal Seed catalogue.

  1. I chose about 30 types of seeds from the Eternal Seed  catalogue (see here) ; In picking the seeds, I tended toward earlier, cooler temperature varieties, as well as a mix of good storage crops in a few cases.
  2. 10 packs of each of the c.30 seed varieties are offered to Skookum members only to purchase (note that you will be able to buy more than just one pack of any one seed variety as well) — first come first served;
  3. The varieties of seeds that do not reach that “10 packet minimum order” threshold by the deadline of February 14 (Valentine’s Day!) 2012, will be dropped;
  4. Click here to see the list of seeds on offer (with prices, descriptions, etc), and instructions on how to order.

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.

Our Values and Principles

At the board meeting of May 28, 2010, the directors of Skookum Food Provisioners’ Cooperative passed a resolution to adopt the following statement of values and principles as an official document of the cooperative. You can download this statement in PDF form by clicking here.

We relied heavily on the International Co-operative Alliance’s Statement on the Co-operative Identity as a basis for creating our statement of values and principles. The values are exactly the same, and we adapted the the principles slightly to take our situation and goals into account.

Values tend to be very general statements of the sorts of outcomes we want to promote through our activities, as we work towards our goals (which are stated in the Statement of Purpose clause of our Memorandum of Association). They are valuable reference points for the sort of organization we hope to build. But they don’t do much to tell us how we are supposed to achieve those outcomes. Merely saying that you believe in the value of democracy does not produce democracy in the world.

Principles come closer to spelling out how we want to realize our values. They don’t st in a one-to-one relationship to values, but each value should figure in one or more principles, so that the set of principles is like a more concrete statement of our value and show we see them playing out in the world. If values are the atoms of our organizational culture, principles are like the molecules.

But even principles aren’t specific and detailed enough. Take for example the statement “Elected representatives are accountable to the membership,” which appears in the principle of Democratic Member Control. We need to know exactly what we mean by that: monthly newsletters? Annual elections? A committee of members which evaluates the performance of directors on a regular basis?

Here is where policies enter the picture. The directors of Skookum Food Provisioners’ Cooperative are working on formalizing our policies, but this is a big job and will never be fully complete. The best we can do is to identify when a question that comes before the board deserves to have a more formal and long-lasting answer. In the case of a question such as “Where should we hold our AGM this year?”, there is no need to make a policy. When we answer the question, we can move on and not have to think about this until next year. But once we start thinking about questions such as whether we must hold our AGMs in a room and facility which is accessible to people with physical disabilities, then we’re entering into the territory of policy. And we can attach this policy to the principle of Voluntary and Open Membership to the values of equality, equity, and solidarity.

For the principle of Concern for Community and Environment, there are endless numbers of policies we might enunciate. Do we want to go 100% plastic-free? Is that even feasible? How do we balance our desire to reduce plastic (and other) waste against our need to steward the financial shares of our members? Getting the tradeoffs ‘right’ — or if not ‘right’ then good enough to satisfy the greatest number of members — is a tremendous challenge. But the important thing is to answer these questions out in the open, letting our members know how the board sees the tradeoffs, presenting the pros an cons of all positions as fairly and honestly as we can. And we are committed to that, not least because we have formally adopted the values of honesty and openness and the related principle of Education, Training and Information.

So what exactly is the point of having a statement of values and principles? For one thing, they serve to remind our membership who we are and what we stand  for. When things get confusing or turbulent, they should help bring us back to our original vision and help us remember why we are doing what we’re doing.

These are always works in progress. New situations and new challenges provoke thinking about new values, principles, and policies to put some teeth into values and principles. For now, here is our first statement of values and principles:

Our values

We endorse and adopt the values enshrined in the International Co-operative Alliance’s Statement on the Co-operative Identity:

  • Self-help;
  • Self-responsibility;
  • Democracy;
  • Equality;
  • Equity;
  • Solidarity;
  • Honesty;
  • Openness;
  • Social responsibility;
  • Caring for others.

Our principles

We endorse and adopt the seven principles enshrined in the International Co-operative Alliance’s Statement on the Co-operative Identity, adapting them to our unique situation as follows.

Voluntary Open Membership

The Skookum Food Provisioners’ Cooperative is a voluntary organization, open to all persons able to use its services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership.

Democratic Member Control

The Skookum Food Provisioners’ Cooperative is a democratic organization controlled by its members, who actively participate in setting its policies and making decisions. Elected representatives are accountable to the membership. Members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote).

Member Economic Participation

Members contribute equitably to, and democratically control, the capital of the Skookum Food Provisioners’ Cooperative. That capital is our common property. Because we are a not-for-profit cooperative, we will use all surpluses for further developing the cooperative, for setting up reserves against future needs, and for supporting other community projects as our members see fit.

Autonomy and Independence

The Skookum Food Provisioners’ Cooperative is an independent self-help organization controlled by its members. If we enter into agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, we will do so on terms that ensure democratic control by our members, maintain our cooperative autonomy, and do not compromise our vision, values, or principles.

Education, Training and Information

The Skookum Food Provisioners’ Cooperative provides education and training for all of its members, so that they can contribute effectively to the development of the cooperative and to the general well-being of the surrounding community. We inform the general public — particularly young people opinion leaders — about the nature and benefits of cooperation.

We believe that shared knowledge and skills are the lifeblood of the local food economy, and we actively create opportunities for people to exchange knowledge skills. We engage people of all ages all backgrounds, and we work to preserve traditional knowledge skills and help pass them from elders to younger members of the community.

Cooperation among Cooperatives

The Skookum Food Provisioners’ Cooperative serves its members most effectively and strengthens the cooperative movement by working together with other cooperatives through local, national, regional and international structures.

Concern for Community and Environment

We work for the sustainable development of our community through policies approved by our members. We work within the framework of the triple bottom line, seeking at all times to produce economic, environmental, and social benefits without sacrificing any one of these.

We also adopt the following principles…

Individual Self-empowerment

The Skookum Food Provisioners’ Cooperative is committed to increasing its members’ ability to provide for themselves and for their families, friends, and neighbourhoods. We believe in giving our members opportunities to educate themselves, to mentor and be mentored, and to have hands-on experience producing, preserving, and preparing food. We encourage our members to create and manage projects which will give them experience in small business creation. And we actively help our members acquire the skills and confidence to assume positions of responsibility in the cooperative.

Community Self-reliance

The Skookum Food Provisioners’ Cooperative works towards the development of a strong local food economy, by encouraging the production of new crops and value-added processing, by helping to build a network of sharing and mutual trading, by supporting markets for existing goods and services and creating markets for new ones.

Fairness and transparency

We believe that people can should share power fairly and responsibly. We spread decision-making powers as widely as possible, using term limits and other policies which will give all of our members the opportunity to hold positions of responsibility. We let everyone know what we are doing by freely publishing information on our goals and projects, using plain language.