Cooperatives around the world generally operate according to the same core principles and values, known collectively as the "7 Cooperative Principles". We'd like to focus on Principal 6 for a moment - Cooperation among Cooperatives - because this principle is so integral in making Prairie Food Co-op a success.
Co-ops are unique among other types of businesses in many ways. One of the most important factors setting co-ops apart is our perspective on competition. Food co-ops definitely compete with traditional corporations in the marketplace. However, there is one major exception: Co-ops do not compete with other co-ops! We coexist and work together for the common goal of providing access to the products and food options that members of our community want.
Principle #6: Cooperation Among Co-ops
Cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.
While Principle #6 may seem counterintuitive at times, it has a proven track record of success. The Twin Cities area of Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota has been a national example of the power of Principle #6. In a region less populated than ours, there are 12 successful food Co-ops in open operation. Chicagoland is following suit. A wave of communities within Chicago and in the suburbs and collar counties have begun working to open food co-ops, including your very own Prairie Food Co-op in Lombard. We are truly part of a greater movement to make choice, democracy, fair practices and sustainability available to our communities and to make organic, locally sourced, quality food available for our dinner tables.
The Prairie Food Co-op has received and continues to receive the benefit of Principle #6 throughout our development process. Our friends at the Food Co-op Initiative and the fabulous people from other Illinois co-ops such as The Dill Pickle (Chicago), Green Top Grocery (Bloomington), Common Ground (Urbana), Shared Harvest (Elgin), Food Shed (Woodstock), Chicago Market (Chicago) and Sugar Beet (Oak Park), have all shared the knowledge they have learned and the helpful tools they have discovered on their journeys toward opening their flagship stores. All we had to do was ask!
One key element that we have learned from those who have come before us was how to set our share price. Prairie Food Co-op organizers spent an entire year researching best practices, consulting with co-op development experts, and building key mentorship relationships with successful established food co-ops before offering shares to the community. One factor that has proven successful is thoughtfully setting the ownership share price in accord with best practices across the country. We follow these best practices to ensure that our flagship store becomes a reality. In accordance with national trends, Ownership cost was set at $200. $200 has become a very common ownership rate because it generates meaningful start-up capital and is accessible to almost everyone through a payment plan. Plus, $200 is a pretty reasonable cost to OWN your own grocery store, right?
Our share price was set within the bounds of the law existing at the time. Since we have been offering ownership shares, Illinois law has changed. We have gone from an ability to offer up to 5 shares for no more than $100 each to now having the ability to offer up to 10 shares at a maximum of $1,000 each. After careful consideration, the Prairie Food Co-op has decided not to raise our share price at this time. We are following the old adage, “Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.”
Setting ownership at $200 has allowed us to raise the necessary capital to organize activities and build support and awareness during the initial organizing phase of our development. More importantly this share price has allowed us to accumulate sufficient capital to pay for the market study that is launching us into the next stage of development and is absolutely necessary for us to open our flagship store.
Thank you to all who have found value in the Prairie Food Co-op and have become owners already. We know many more people in the community are on the cusp of ownership as well. As you make this decision remember two very important things. First, the Prairie Food Co-op, as one of many cooperative businesses developing in Chicagoland today, is part of a community bonded by Principle #6. This provides a strength and legitimacy beyond our numbers. Second, we strive to be accessible to everyone in our community by offering payment plans that can help all households and families who share our values be part of the movement and help open the flagship Prairie Food Co-op store.
By Julie A. Neubauer with contributions from Katherine Nash