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



Show us what you love to do & win film festival tickets!

Click the picture to take the 3-minute survey and you can win tickets for 2 to the Powell River Film Festival (Feb 19-24, 2013)
Click the picture to take the 2-minute survey and you can win tickets for 2 to the Powell River Film Festival (Feb 19-24, 2013)

As a cooperative, we want to know more about you: what your concerns are, what your skills and interests are, and what you feel you can do to help strengthen our cooperative and the larger community. We encourage each member to commit to initiating or participating in projects, joining a committee, serving on the board of directors, and helping with events and tasks as they arise. No pressure, though. Just take the short ‘n snappy survey now (2 minutes of your time) click here BY THURSDAY FEBRUARY 14 (yes, Valentine’s Day) and we will return the love via a random draw of two pairs of tickets for two, to the Powell River Film Festival (Feb 19-24, 2013)!

If you’ve already taken this survey, thank you! You are automatically entered in our random draw!

Catching (and Wrapping) Up

Happy Holidays and thank you for helping to make local food happen.

It’s been a very busy Fall for Skookum so far this year; and as we head into 2013 it’s ‘whiplash time’ as we look back to see what we accomplished, and forward on how we can do more and better. 2012 was the UN-designated Year of the Cooperative and we are working on airing a 5-program series on cooperatives on CJMP 90.1 FM Community Radio before year end. Keep your ears (and eyes, as we will be promoting it) peeled.

You may remember seeing some pictures on our Facebook page  from our last event of 2012, as several of us helped press apple cider for James Thomson Elementary School’s Farm to School program. We had another successful Abundant Pantry order (next order will be mid-January 2013, check the site in January to order), and we’re just about ready to distribute over 500 lbs of dried fruit/nuts/confectionery from our second Rancho Vignola order that just came in.

Skookum is more than bulk buying, though, and we’d like to increase our workshops and other hands-on projects in 2013. That said, one great reason to have a cooperative is to be able to generate some buying power as a group, and in doing so, also help the community and the cooperative grow and increase self-sufficiency.

Buying seed together.

Last year just after Christmas, I started thinking about and then planning a bulk seed order. A dozen or so members got together and I coordinated an order from our local Eternal Seeds company, who gave us a 20% discount overall if we collectively bought 10 packets of any of their seeds (about 5% was allocated to Skookum and the coordinator). This year, the feedback indicates that we need to order earlier than the February 14th deadline we had last year, by at least a month.

If anyone out there would like to manage the seed order (and the project can be as different as you like), please drop us a line or fill out a short proposal here. Deadline for a proposal or indication of interest in managing this project is EXTENDED to Dec. 30, 2012. The deadline to order should be by Jan 14, 2013.

Below we have a list of our completed projects for 2012, and in addition to these, we have an on-going Abundant Pantry bulk food order every two months. All our past projects are listed on our past projects webpage.

January 2012:

  • Skookum held a potluck members’ social event to celebrate 2012, the UN International Year of the Co-op. Read the story here.

March 2012:

  • Bulk seed order from Eternal Seeds

June/July 2012:

  • Skookum held 2 home tanning workshops

August 2012:

  • Bulk purchase of fruit/vegetables and dehydrating work party at the Community Resource Centre

September 2012

  • Skookum’s second Tattler lid bulk order
  • Bulk purchase of Sausagemaker dehydrators
  • Skookum was at the Fall Fair, pressing cider and raising funds

October 2012

  • Second Rancho Vignola Fruit and Nut Bulk Order

November 2012

  • Skookum helps the local Farm to School project press apples for James Thomson Elementary School for a second year.

Skookum Rolls Out Food Library at Kingfisher Books

It’s been in the works for a while, and it’s still a work in progress, but Skookum is very proud to announce that our members-only Skookum Community Bookshelf (a lending library) is now open, and living in Kingfisher Books: 4486 Marine Ave.          Tel. 604.414-4573

The lending library shelves are right across from the cash register. Memberships to Skookum can also be purchased at this location.

Bookstore co-owner Sharon Deane–a former director of Skookum Food Provisioners’ Cooperative–spearheaded the project a while ago and has been instrumental in compiling our burgeoning collection on:

“anything on Organic gardening, fruit raising, subsistence farming, livestock, foraging, preserving, or cooking with home-raised ingredients”

Sharon is being assisted by Skookum member Melissa Leigh, with the full support of Skookum’s board of directors. The goal is to have an automated system of lending out the books, but that needs some work.

Sharon is looking for donations of books and DVDs on the above topics, from Skookum members and the wider community. Cash donations that will go toward purchasing new materials are also accepted. So, dust off those excellent books you’ve been holding onto, and feel you are helping to spread the wealth of knowledge on all things ‘food’. Plus, as an empty-nester, you can borrow your own book again or visit with it whenever it’s in the store.


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 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.

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