On June 5, the newly reopened Palindrome hosted The Food Co-op’s 2016 annual meeting. The day was unseasonably hot, the audience attentive, and the food scrumptious!
Of Electric Cars and Ceramic Plates
In an effort to lessen our carbon footprint and to provide transportation for members without cars, we contracted with PTeRider, the new electric bus service, to deliver members who had entered our contest to win a ride to the Palindrome. In addition, we were able to use real plates and forks—although not glass cups due to the complications of county rules—thanks to the PT School District and the district’s food service director, Stacey Larsen, who lent us some of the plates that were collected last year in their plate and silverware drive.
Paella House Feeds the Member Masses
The day culminated in members enjoying Paella House veggie paella and manchego salad while young local musicians played old-time music. Square dancing was involved! Find the Paella House at the Saturday Farmers Market and check out their website, http://www.paellahousept.com.
Co-op Had Great Year in 2015!
Board President Janet Welch began with meeting by welcoming member-owners and noting that two members had set up a display on the deck of the Palindrome to inform fellow members of the pervasiveness of plastic packaging. Next, General Manager Kenna Eaton talked about how cooperatives support economic democracy, a prerequisite for political democracy. Then Kenna unveiled the 2015 Annual Report, which details the Co-op’s successful year, with financial statements and fun facts as about our work to fulfill our principles (the annual report is available online and at the Member Services Desk). Then she announced our first member dividend distribution! (You should have received either an email or a mailer about your dividend. If you haven’t, contact Dan Goldstein at email@example.com.)
The Importance of the Cooperative Economy
To open the second portion of the meeting, Board Treasurer David Wayne Johnson explained how the cooperative economic model combines the best of capitalism and socialism, because co-ops compete in the open market yet are democratically governed—plus co-ops are owned by their customers and/or workers, not outside investors. Co-ops also have a higher multiplier effect than other businesses in terms of money put back into the community. Further, the seven principles of cooperatives— voluntary membership, democratic member control, economic participation, autonomy and independence, co-operation among co-ops, education, and concern for the community—mean that co-ops don’t just have a positive economic impact, they have a positive social and quality-of-life impact. David noted that we often don’t realize all the co-ops around us in the community, and he introduced the local cooperatives in attendance at the annual meeting.
Cooperatives Bring Jobs and Stability to Italy
Next on the program, co-op expert David Thompson described the impact of cooperatives around the world. As an example of co-op power, he recounted the story of the Emilia Romagna region in Italy, where cooperatives are a major part of the economy, and employment, living-wage jobs, and disposable income are all higher than in other areas of Italy.
Summary of David Thompson’s Talk on Emilia Romagna
There are a billion members of co-ops world wide, providing employment for 100 million people, more jobs than with all corporations together. With co-ops, capital is a servant rather than a master. The region of Emilia Romagna in Italy shows what the future might look like if we work together.
An Economy Built on Co-ops
For the most part, Emilia Romagna is an agriculture state, with some little villages and towns. What they have done with co-ops in amazing. Cooperatives are a way to stay small while accomplishing great things. In Emilia Romagna, parmesan cheese is made by a cooperative of 10,000 village dairies. Averaging 12 cows each, they provide a third of Italy’s milk as well as supply milk to cheese co-ops. Farmers make a decent living, so they don’t leave looking for better work. And the cooperative economy is strongly interconnected—for instance, the warehouses for storing cheese in each villages (worth millions of dollars) are financed by co-operative banks.
In Italy, A Co-op is the Largest Retail Business
In Italy, consumer co-ops have much more market share than capitalistic chains. Co-op Italia, for instance, has 53,000 employees and $15 billion in sales, making Italy the only country where a co-op is the largest retailer. Co-ops build solidarity, promoting each others’ products and sharing retail developments, etc. Members also support their co-ops; as an example, Co-op Italia needs to borrow very little money from banks because members lend money through a mechanism at the cash register.
In addition, Italy collects 3% of the profit from every co-op in the country into a cooperative development fund. As of 2010, the fund had 404 million euros, and a group elected by the members chooses what to do with that money. This fund was the inspiration for the Twin Pines Cooperative Foundation (David Thompson is the president of this foundation, which supports the development of all kinds of cooperatives in the US).
Cooperative Emilia Romagna Has Higher Standard of Living
How does this affect the economy of Emilia Romagna? About 30% of the total economy is from the co-ops. Emilia Romagna has the highest percentage of family firms, the highest disposable income, and the highest employment rate of women in Italy. Reciprocity is a critical part of the co-operative economy, helping create livable wages that enable people to buy homes, live well, and save money.
The story of Emilia Romagna is important because sometimes we don’t know what the future might look like because we haven’t seen it. Emilia Romagna shows what happens when people come together even in small villages. In Port Townsend, we have the opportunity to build an economy that houses us, feeds us, farms for us, and provides living wage jobs. We have a responsibility to continue to build on what has been bequeathed to us.
Download David Thompson’s slides here: I ER Co-ops in Emilia Romagna 2014 stats
Note: David Thompson also participated in two other events—a mixer with representatives from local cooperatives at Finnriver on Saturday night and a Sunday morning coffee meeting at the Co-op dining room to discuss cooperative housing possibilities in PT. The coffee meeting drew about six member-owners, plus three board members, Kenna, and David. Participants were concerned about affordable housing and David provided good information on the way cooperative housing can be part of the solution, although it is still hard to reduce costs. He told the group ways to seek information and support, including government grants. The attendees decided to continue the discussion at a later date and have since met again, although they’ve morphed more into an affordable housing group than one about cooperative housing. If anyone is interested in joining these efforts, please contact Mark Cooper at firstname.lastname@example.org.