October is National Co-op Month, so it’s a perfect time to highlight and celebrate this special business model. At a time when the news includes reports of businesses intentionally harming their customers and placing “company over country,” it’s all the more meaningful to be part of a movement that prioritizes shared values, sustainability, and community service.
The co-operative model is alive and well nationally and globally. It is now estimated that there are 3 million cooperatives worldwide with membership totaling at least 12 percent of humanity and employing 280 million people. In the United States, there are about 65,000 co-operatives, and one out of every three people is a co-op member. Regionally, the Neighboring Food Co-op Association includes 40 food co-ops and startups locally owned by more than 164,000 people, providing good jobs to 2,460 people, and selling more than $100 million in local products every year.
All these co-ops exist to serve their members and their communities. Here at Hunger Mountain Co-op, we have been doing that for over 49 years. The past year has undoubtedly been one of the most challenging. We faced COVID, labor shortages, supply interruptions, and societal upheaval as we worked to maintain the flow of healthy and local food while advancing our mission to “create and sustain a vibrant community of healthy individuals, sustainable local food systems, and thriving cooperative commerce.”
A few numbers help tell the story of this past year:
- Co-op membership grew to 10,454, which is the equivalent of about 18 percent of the population of Washington County.
- We doubled our community donations and sponsorships to $77,345 last year. Much of that support went to the Montpelier Food Pantry and Vermont Food Bank as our community responded to the hunger crisis heightened by the pandemic.
- Shoppers purchased $12.9 million in organic products, $11.8 million in fresh foods, and $9.3 million in local products (retail value) from the Co-op last year, helping to sustain our network of Vermont vendors.
- At year-end, 100 percent of our employees were earning at least the Vermont livable wage. Our Co-op offers exemplary benefits, including excellent medical, dental, and vision insurance; generous paid time off; paid breaks and holidays; a 401(k) retirement program with matching contributions; a shopping discount; a gain-share bonus program; and for virtually the entire year an essential worker pay raise of $2 per hour. It is no surprise that 30 percent of our employees have worked at the Co-op for ten years or more.
- We continue to support co-operative development. Our investment in other co-ops and associated loan funds grew to $630,535, and 6 percent of store sales were from the products of other co-ops.
Given the past year’s challenges, we are incredibly proud of these results and the benefits that our Co-op generates for our community. Looking forward, we are preparing for another busy and safe holiday shopping season. Everyone is welcome at Hunger Mountain Co-op. If you’re not already part of our co-op community, we invite you to stop by our store or visit us at hungermountain.coop to learn more.
Kari Bradley is General Manager of the Hunger Mountain Co-op in Montpelier.