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Co-ops 101

A co-op is a business owned and operated by and for its members.

Co-ops aren't owned by a single individual or speculative investors. We're based on shared ownership by people who have a personal stake in the business and its impact: Consumers who own the store they buy from, workers who own the business they work for, farmers who own the company that gets their products to market, or a combination of stakeholders.

Co-ops are a powerful economic alternative, one that acknowledges our interconnectedness and leverages our shared resources.

Solidarity cooperatives bring together multiple ownership groups.

Central Co-op is a solidarity cooperative with both consumer and worker ownership. Solidarity co-ops are one way that connected groups of stakeholders can work together for their common good. They can take different forms, based on the needs, resources, and visions of those involved. Weaver Street Market of Carrboro, NC, is a well-known example of a solidarity cooperative that also has both worker and consumer ownership. Membership at Fifth Season Cooperative in the Midwest is open to producers, producer groups, processors, distributors, institutions, restaurants, and retail operations. 

Solidarity co-ops expand on the basic cooperative model in ways that are both symbolic and practical, helping build resilient communities and economic democracy.

Co-ops put their members' needs and values into action.

While co-ops are for-profit, we're not just here to turn a buck. We operate to serve our members, and we follow cooperative values and principles. As envisioned by the Rochdale Pioneers (pictured above), who spearheaded the modern cooperative movement, co-ops should embody the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity. And most co-ops also follow the internationally-recognized Seven Cooperative Principles. Central Co-op follows our own Twelve Principles--see below for more on those!

Cooperation is a powerful and timeless tool.

Humans have been practicing cooperative economics since the dawn of time--you could say it's in our DNA. Cooperation helps communities meet local needs and have more control over their resources, like food, healthcare, housing, equipment, access to markets, and their own labor. Co-op members save resources by pooling theirs with others, sharing costs and distributing profits back to the co-op or to the members, and their voices are an essential part of the co-op's decisionmaking process.

Food co-ops make important contributions to the health and wealth of our communities. 

Compared to other grocers, we spend more on wages and benefits, contribute more to charity and community organizations, stock more organic, people- and earth-friendly foods and products, and source from more local producers. Plus we kick in more to the local tax base than out-of-state chains.


The Twelve Central Co-op Principles

Co-ops share vision and culture! Central Co-op is guided by the following twelve principles. The first seven are based on the International Cooperative principles, followed by most co-ops, and the final five were adopted in late 2015.

  1. Voluntary and Open Membership 

    Central Co-op is a voluntary organization, safe and open to all persons able to use our services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without discrimination based on race, religion, age, social status, political affiliation, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

  2. Democratic Member Governance

    We are a democratic organization governed by our members. Representatives are elected to serve the whole membership. All members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote).

  3. Member Economic Participation

    Members contribute equitably to, and elected representatives direct, the capital of our cooperative. A portion of that capital is the common property of the cooperative.


    Members usually receive limited compensation, if any, on capital subscribed as a condition of membership. Members allocate surpluses for developing their cooperative, setting up reserves, benefiting members in proportion to their participation, and supporting other activities approved by the membership. Members are encouraged to patronize and invest in the co-op.

  4. Autonomy and Independence

    We are an autonomous, self-help organization governed by our members. If we enter into agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, we do so on terms that maintain our cooperative autonomy.

  5. Education, Training, and Information

    We provide education and training for our members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of our cooperative. We proactively inform the general public about the nature and benefits of cooperation.

  6. Cooperation Among Cooperatives

    We actively strengthen the cooperative economy locally, regionally, nationally and internationally by working together.

  7. Concern for Community

    We support the sustainable development of our communities.

  8. Concern for Ecosystems

    Recognizing our dependence on the Earth’s natural systems and resources, we respect animal habitats, human habitats, and the Earth’s biological and physical equilibrium in the course of our activity as a cooperative.

  9. Concern for Workers

    We strive to provide purposeful, dignified employment and to encourage and enable worker participation in the governance and economic success of the co-op. 

  10. Skilled Cooperative Management

    Recognizing the need for organizational capacity, we rely upon effective management and accountable empowerment, filtering management decisions through the lens of the cooperative model. We seek opportunities to develop organizational skills and cooperative understanding for the benefit of our business and the cooperative movement.

  11. Strategic Leadership

    We are committed to cultivating leadership, accountability and trust at all levels. Leaders are tightly aligned on our principles and strategy, while demonstrating individual initiative and a bias for action. They seek diverse perspectives and work to challenge their assumptions.

  12. Innovative Culture

    We serve our members by fostering a culture of learning, continuous improvement and innovation, to ensure the continued relevance and success of the co-op. We strive to develop and implement new ideas for increasing value and relevance to members.


Co-ops 102: Food For Change Film and Conversation

For our 35th birthday, Central Co-op and our cooperative community, including a panel of cooperative experts, gathered for a screening of the film Food For Change, on October 16, 2014. The panel talked about what's so special about cooperatives, the Blueprint for a Cooperative Decade, and possibilities for a cooperative future. Watch it here!


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