Cooperatives on the bean

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAThis third instalment on cooperatives will take a more personal approach to the topic: namely, why I became a member way back when (3 years ago or so) and what my personal motivations are in seeing Skookum develop and increasingly become a big part of our community, and a draw for the like-minded out there looking for a great place to live.

Other points of view are encouraged on this blog as well, so if you want to share, please contact us with your story or simply comment on this one, at the bottom of the blog post.

In 2009, while our trusty economy was taking its latest major dip, a small group of us got to talking about how to increase our community’s confidence in being able to feed ourselves. The  ‘food insecurity’ was and still is, caused by various factors like volatile food prices and the constant low-level awareness that as a remote community producing probably no more than 4% of our food, we could be in big trouble and fast. Other areas of concern are the effects and costs in both today-dollars and future costs to the environment and our health inherent to fossil fuel use in food production/transportation. Coupled with the growing local interest in food self-sufficiency in terms of growing, raising, catching, preparing, preserving and sharing the best food possible, made it seem like a good time to try something new.

Underlying this was the need to great create stronger community links between people with resources and skills and those who could gain from these, for the benefit of all. We saw the newly developed non-profit Community Service Cooperative designation as providing a great model for democratic ownership. Even before we had the Skookum name, we had the feeling that the group would grow to include many different types of activities that would support local food and also create links between people with a concern for related progressive society-building activities like affordable housing, collective ownership of land, materials, vehicles, structures and resources. Any profits raised from our group’s activities goes back into the cooperative, and with  no membership fees (except for the initial one-time purchase of an actual share at $20 that is also redeemable), the cooperative was meant to provide open access to jointly-owned resources.

cabbages at the EGTSo what do you do? Who do you benefit? What can I get out of this?

The one-line ‘elevator speech’ describing Skookum is a pesky critter: the fact is that the cooperative was designed to be what the membership wants it to be, provided that our core goals of  helping our members “acquire and share the knowledge, skills, and resources they need in order to  grow, gather, raise, and catch healthful food as locally as possible and to preserve, store, prepare, and share the bounty”. That’s a mouthful. I like to say we’re here to help make local food happen, however we can. If a member wants to run a lending library of books (we have this at Kingfisher Books) or tools, run workshops on growing rabbits, catching fish, canning tomatoes, growing or picking mushrooms, baking bread, or run a bulk buying project that will help members get the best possible food or food-related product (seeds, plants, trees, growing or preserving supplies) at reasonable prices, they should be able to do so and get payment from those members or non-members who want to participate.

These activities help the membership gain the skills, materials and products at reasonable cost, while having a door open to non-members also opens the cooperative up to the wider community, since our goals include “building a strong community and a diverse local food economy based on mutual support, fair prices, living wages, and respect for the natural systems which sustain life”.

If you went on the local Edible Garden Tour this year (kicking off the  Annual 50-Mile Eat Local Challenge), you visited several Skookum members’ gardens, saw our Skookum cider press (the morning part of the tour) and probably talked with many Skookum members too! We have 137 memberships comprising 186 members at this point and we’re always looking for active members to increase the scope and to work on existing projects that need support. Tell your friends!

 

What it means to be a Community Service Cooperative

This is Part 2 in a short series on cooperatives, and specifically on Community Service Cooperatives, because that is the designation for Skookum.

As a cooperative, we adhere to all the rules as described here (there are 171 of them) based on the BC Cooperative Association’s Regulations. This includes the fact that cooperatives are owned by their members (that’s one member=one vote, as opposed to being based on amount invested/donated, making cooperatives very democratic entities), and that each member holds a stake in the cooperative, that can be redeemed at any time. At Skookum, this is represented by your share certificate that costs $20.

The gist of it: What’s A Community Service Cooperative?

  • The purpose of a Community Service Cooperative can be either charitable or to provide health, social, educational or other community services to members, with a responsibility to the wider community. While Skookum is a non-profit cooperative organization, we are eligible via this new Community Service Cooperative designation, to apply to the Canada Revenue Agency for charitable status, if we so wish.
  • Assets collected or donated may only directly support and grow the cooperative (providing members with services and access to information, events, tools, land, supplies etc.), Skookum cannot return profit shares to members (unlike Mountain Equipment Co-0p or First Credit Union), whether on a periodic basis nor upon dissolution of the cooperative.
  • If the cooperative were to dissolve, members would receive their initial share price, after satisfaction of its liabilities and the costs, charges and expenses properly incurred in the dissolution or winding up. Any further assets must be transferred to or distributed among one or more community service cooperative or a registered charitable organization.

Skookum is concerned with increasing the amount of food available locally, regardless of how it comes to people:

  • Grown: any kind of produce, grains, beans, etc.
  • Gathered: wild foods, gleaned fruits nuts, etc.
  • Raised: animals other domesticated food sources;
  • Caught: wild animals, fish, etc.
triplebottom-linegraphic-1
The Triple Bottom Line:
Healthy Community: we intend to produce benefits for the social life of the community, through the strengthening of ties among people, by respecting and honouring the work that people do to feed themselves and others;
Economic Vitality: we intend to produce economic opportunities for people, embedded in a vision of a fair and just economy which pays fair prices and fair wages;
Natural Environment: we intend to minimize waste and destructive practices as we go about our work.

In practical terms, the cooperative’s members are encouraged to reflect Skookum’s commitment to the three pillars of the Triple Bottom Line (social, environmental, economic) by creating and supporting projects that help members to grow, gather, catch, raise, preserve, prepare and share healthful food as locally as possible.

As a cooperative, Skookum is a ‘bottom-up’ organization that relies on the energy and ideas of its membership to address this Triple Bottom Line through engagement at the levels of governance, project management, and participation in the projects or events we develop/participate in.

Skookum has no paid staff, but projects are expected to provide for coordinator remuneration, while addressing our core values and purposes, and providing a percentage toward Skookum operating costs. Recent projects include a member-run bulk purchase of fruit trees, ongoing Tattler lid sales, Cover Crop sales, and The Abundant Pantry Bulk Buying Club (now offering Cafe Justicia fairer-than-fair trade coffee, and always more local products), but also the recent get-together and plans for more informational/fun events like seasonal potlucks, film screenings and guest presentations in the fall/winter to come. We are also planning another round of our yearly ‘Apple Cider Press-a-Thon’ at the 2013 Powell River Fall Fair on the weekend of September 21-22.

We are seeking helpers for this as well as materials to make it work even better, so contact us with how you want to help out or click here and come up with your own Skookum project; check this page out for inspiration.

 

 

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