A Shining Example of Cooperation

October is National Co-op Month, and we’re celebrating by opening our new store in downtown Eau Claire! What better way to shine a light on this unique business model than to open a new location? Our board of directors is obviously excited about the store, but we’re even more excited about the opportunity to share our cooperative values and principles with a wider audience.

So, what is a cooperative? And what makes it so special? First, Menomonie Market Food Co-op is owned by its members—nearly 5,000 of your friends and neighbors across the Chippewa Valley. Our two locations in Menomonie and Eau Claire serve surrounding communities with access to healthy, locally sourced food, ensuring the vitality of our foodshed by supporting the farmers that produce it.

The seven cooperative principles are the core of our business, beginning with voluntary and open membership, available to everyone. Equal ownership by all who choose to participate gives each owner an equal voice through democratic member control.

Does this mean owners get to decide what’s stocked? Well, not quite. Democratic control means your voice is equal to all owners. Owners have an opportunity to vote on bylaws, board member elections, and other important decisions, such as the merger that made expansion possible in downtown Eau Claire. Owners can also choose to run for and serve on the board of directors.

What’s the role of the board of directors in running our co-op? Well, we don’t get to pick the products we carry either. Our board practices a system of governance known as Policy Governance. The board sets operational parameters for the General Manager through board policies. How the General Manager chooses to meet the standards in these policies is up to her. Broadly drafted policies give the General Manger greater flexibility and creativity in operations, while restrictive policies would restrain that flexibility.

In this way, our board gently steers Menomonie Market Food Co-op in a way that best achieves our Ends (or mission), providing value for our owners and our communities.

Perhaps the biggest role of the board is to listen to our owners and to represent what we hear in the boardroom. In short, our board is comprised of seven people who are more or less like you, who care about our communities, about where our food comes from, and about giving people who live here a voice and an ownership stake in a local business.

Celebrate Co-op Month with us in whatever way you can. Become a Menomonie Market Food Co-op owner, check out and shop our two locations, learn more about the other cooperatives in our communities, and share our cooperative values with people you know. Cooperation at all levels has brought us to where we are today—cooperation between cooperatives, between Menomonie Market Food Co-op and our farmers and suppliers, within our communities and municipalities, and amongst our owners. Cooperation has paved the way and will continue to be the shining light that leads us forward.

This article was originally published in the September/October 2023 issue of our bi-monthly newsletter, The Morsel. If you’d like to read more stories like this one and stay up to date on the latest co-op news and events, pick up a print copy in-store on your next grocery run or find more news on our website here.

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