Cooperatives, Bringing Power Back to Consumers

With the amount of political dissatisfaction that's churning and bubbling these days, co-ops are a breath of fresh air. They offer the very elements that are missing in our governments and parts of society- accountability, transparency, and balance.

With some of AFC's board members.
Photo courtesy of Gigi K. of Nutritiously Curious
Gigi K, blogger of Nutritiously Curious, and I sat down with Patrick Reagan, president of the Arroyo Food Co-op, to learn more about a community-owned grocery store and what it means for us to become "stakeholders."

Patrick's involvement in the co-op started when a Wild Oats Market in his neighborhood closed down due to a supposed acquisition by Whole Foods Market. But the merger was challenged by the FTC on the grounds of the anti-trust laws and Whole Foods ended up reselling Wild Oats in the same year (side note: here are the companies that were gobbled up by Whole Foods, listed on Whole Foods' own website). But the real losers of the market battle were the local customers of this Wild Oats Market. The community was left without a natural food store that was "human sized and addressed the neighborhood's needs" as Patrick recounted. Fast forward a bit and now a group of unhappy shoppers banded together in hopes of bringing some changes to the area's grocery scene. Patrick's ties with the efforts early on earned him the position of president of what would become the Arroyo Food Co-op. In March 2008, the group had its first meeting, and now they're 370+ members strong! 

As much as it's a goal of the co-op to return the power to consumers, Patrick reminded us that "it's a business that's for capitalism but just bringing it to the local level." And along the way, encourage a social movement about food choices. Their product sourcing guidelines and M.O. are an exemplar of setting up a responsible business with transparency and balanced decision input. The co-op plans to get to know and establish fair relationships with each of their vendors. Customers can shop with a piece of mind knowing there are none of those funny chemicals that are a tongue-twister to pronounce. Everyone is welcomed to attend their board meetings to find out first hand how and what decisions are being made. To me, the most admirable aspect of Arroyo Food Co-op is its aim to empower their customers in making thoughtful food selections. Purchasing from local farms and artisans is something that's very important to the board of directors. But when asked how "local" is defined, Patrick said that the co-op will use placards to display the city and farm/orchard/etc. of where the product came from. Empowering customers is to allow them to make sense of the food-miles themselves instead of having labels that tell them what to think. 

Most certainly, this is an excellent movement to support for folks around the Pasadena area. But what if you have to battle with the dreadful LA freeway traffic just to shop at Arroyo Food Co-op? What's in it for you? Patrick explained that he hopes some customers will make the co-op a "destination shopping" and can see that with their support, they can "increase savings in the long run" when the co-op's established enough to have greater purchasing power.
From Arroyo Food Co-op's website
So help them help you! The co-op needs 500 members to open the store. So print out a form at http://arroyofoodcoop.com/invest and invest at your comfort level to help make the Arroyo Food Co-op happen!


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