What Is A Food Cooperative?

Hello! My name is Hillary and I’m currently interning at the Swarthmore Food Cooperative. When I tell my family, friends, and peers I work for a Co-op, I get the same puzzled look. A look that wants to ask, “What’s a food cooperative?” So, I’m here to tell you what a food cooperative is and what I do as the marketing intern.

A food cooperative is essentially a member-owned grocery store. Because food cooperatives are owned by their members, every store differs. Usually, members pay a membership fee to own a stake in the company and have an influence on how the store is operated. Co-ops offer an alternative to commercial grocery stores because usually the food is locally sourced and unique to the neighborhood/members. The Swarthmore Co-op is the third oldest Co-op in the nation (we turn 75 in October)!

To become a member of the Swarthmore Co-op, the prospective member must pay a $300 lifetime fee. Other Co-ops require members to pay an annual fee as well as volunteer working hours (volunteer hours keep the costs of the Co-op products low by decreasing the amount of money spent on employee checks). When a person becomes a member of the Swarthmore Co-op, he or she owns stake in the Co-op and is allowed to participate in store politics. The board, or the members that are elected to represent the members as a whole, control how the store is operated and makes big budget decisions. In addition to financial advantages, our members receive discounts on various products throughout the year, classes, and at various, local businesses within the community.

About a year ago, the Co-op decided to revamp its reputation in the Swarthmore community. That’s where I come in. I work with the marketing department on creating a closer relationship with our customer base, while expanding to a larger market. Recently, we teamed up with a local news outlet, Fig Media, who promotes us weekly on their website and social media handles. This past July, we created a new membership benefit by partnering with local businesses. Now, members are able to get discounts at restaurants, boutiques, museums, etc. within the area.

I became interested in working for the Co-op because I am interested in the local food movement (I’m also a bit of a foodie). I’m excited to be working for a company that shares similar beliefs.

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