University of Missouri Extension

EC942, Reviewed October 1993

Consumer Co-ops: Steps in Organizing a New Pre-Order Food Cooperative

Michael Cook
Department of Agricultural Economics

This information is for a small group of organizers who want to establish a new pre-order food cooperative. No two groups will follow exactly the same steps since goals, needs and situations vary. But all groups need to follow a process that will generate both efficiency and participation. The focus of this guide is on decisions to be made and how to make them.

The organizers of the cooperative should make the following commitments:

By the time of the second meeting, leadership in the new cooperative should be broader than the initial group.

Self-preparation

Through self-preparation organizers should be ready to introduce people to the idea of a cooperative at the first meeting. An introduction should include the following elements:

It will be helpful to do some reading on the history and principles of cooperatives, and, if possible, to visit existing pre-order cooperatives. Most important, the organizers should come to a consensus about the goals of the cooperative and on the purposes of the first meeting.

The first meeting

The first meeting should have the following objectives:

In addition, the first meeting may resolve some operational questions. Many people at the meeting are likely to have suggestions about how to order, from whom to order, how to collect money, how to organize delivery and distribution, and how to organize work. The organizers may also have some views on these questions. It is fine if some of these operational questions are resolved at the first meeting, but the organizers must be sure that the meeting does not become a discussion session for working out the details of any one operational question. Instead, they should guide interested people into committees that can work on these questions. Be sure that the meeting focuses on policy questions which by their nature cannot be resolved in a committee. These questions depend on the group and on what the organizers have already decided, but may include the following:

Most of these questions will not be resolved at a first meeting; people new to cooperatives will not have had much chance to consider them. Where a strong consensus already exists, it is important to know that consensus. Where there is no consensus, it is useful to sound people out.

The first meeting should lead to some kind of commitment by people to involve themselves in the tasks that remain to be done in organizing the cooperative. Here are some ways to do that:

Committees

Different groups will decide upon different committee structures according to what questions are left unresolved from the first meeting. Here are some of the tasks which may be assigned to these committees:

In addition to committees for these particular tasks, the group should establish a steering committee that will take general responsibility for communication and coordination of the effort to establish a cooperative. This committee should review the decisions of the first meeting and determine what decisions remain to be made. It should stay in touch with and coordinate the various committees. It should take responsibility for areas not assigned to a committee, for example, finding someone to set up the cooperative's books. Finally, it should call and facilitate the second general meeting.

The purpose of the second general meeting should be to resolve the issues that must be resolved in order to begin actually getting food. Possibly, if all has gone smoothly, the group will be able to actually put in an order at the end of the second meeting. The steering committee should be sure, however, that membership requirements are understood and met before any order is placed. A "trial order" for only a few items on which there are substantial savings and which the cooperative is assured of getting from its suppliers is often a good idea. The cooperative should not begin ordering food, however, until it is clear that there are enough committed members to make the cooperative viable and that there will be no important bottlenecks in the ordering or distribution process.

Very little has been said here about publicity, fund-raising or community involvement. Two good sources for thinking through this side of organizing a new pre-order food cooperative are these publications:

Guidelines for developing a pre-order cooperative

The original authors of this publication were John Noller and C. Brice Ratchford.

 

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