If you live in the Madison area you are probably familiar with the concept of a cooperative: a democratically owned enterprise created for the mutual benefit of its owners. Madison is indeed a hip place to be a cooperative: we have over three dozen inside the beltline. This includes consumer co-ops like Willy Street Co-op, Group Health Cooperative and UW Credit Union, to worker-owned co-ops like Just Coffee, Isthmus Engineering and Union Cab, producer-owned cooperatives like Landmark Services and Middleton Farmer’s Union and housing co-ops like Phoenix and Rivendell.

So what are all of these different co-ops doing these days? Well, here is what eight cooperatives had to say:

  • Community Pharmacy celebrated their 37th anniversary and has created seasonal classes at Olbrich Gardens as they continue to thrive, offering alternative health information and products at their location just off State Street.
  • Nature’s Bakery Co-op had their anniversary in January, celebrating 40 years of baking whole grain organic baked goods and the Madisonians that have made this possible.
  • Tenney Nursery & Parent Center has been thriving for 30 years as a pre-school that focuses on cooperation between teachers, families, and the community.
  • Lakeview Co-op Preschool is celebrating 50 years as a community preschool this month with a benefit concert at the High Noon Saloon.
  • Summit Credit Union has been working with members to help them save in these tough economic times—their new Save the Change program has helped members save over $109,000 in just four weeks.
  • The Regent Street Co-op has been doing well with an increase in memberships, more local products and improving sales.
  • Worker-owned cooperatives in Madison have formed MADWORC, an association of worker-owned cooperatives created to help build and develop worker co-ops in Madison.
  • Housing cooperatives have partnered with other co-ops to create the Madison Co-op Network to distribute foods to co-ops, advocate for co-ops in local government, and build the local cooperative movement.

All in all, Madison cooperatives are doing quite well and are working together in new and exciting ways. Where could Madison’s cooperative movement go? Other cooperative movements around the world have provided free city-wide health care, built the first roads for their community, fought discrimination and poverty, and more. Cooperatives create 20 percent more jobs than multinationals around the world, and the United Nations estimates that three billion people’s lives are made secure by co-ops. The U.N. recognized the work of cooperatives around the world in community development and impacting the alleviation of poverty in December by naming 2012 as “International Year of the Cooperative.” This declaration is part of a campaign to encourage governments and individuals around the world to support local cooperatives.

The success of co-ops around the world is possible because individuals believe in the power of cooperating together for a better tomorrow and a better today. At the risk of sounding like a commercial, when you buy coffee from Just Coffee or Equal Exchange at Willy Street Co-op or Regent Street you are partnering with the owners of those co-ops to create a great product and great co-op jobs—but that’s not all. You are also partnering with farmer-owners of coffee-producing co-ops in Peru, Ethiopia and beyond to improve their communities and standard of living. When you support a housing co-op in your neighborhood you help create a low impact, economically accessible community. When you take a Union Cab, make copies at Lakeside Press, become an owner of Lakeview Preschool, you are supporting a more democratic economy—one that is owned and controlled by consumers, workers, and farmers for their shared benefit. And it is all possible because individuals decide to cooperate and make it happen. So to all of Madison’s cooperators: Thank you!

December meeting

  • The Co-op’s Director of Finance, David Waisman, gave an overview of the Co-op’s financial and accounting information at the December education session (organized by George Hofheimer).
  • The Board once again considered releasing executive session meeting minutes. No decision was made at this meeting, but the topic will be renewed in March.
  • The Retreat Planning Committee reported their progress on planning the annual Board retreat.

February meeting agenda

  • There will be no regular Board meeting in February—instead, the Board will meet at the Goodman Community Center for their annual strategic planning retreat!

Ongoing projects/Committees

  • The Board’s one standing committee—the Finance Committee—reviews monthly financial reports at each of its meetings. They are leading the Co-op’s staff in expanding their Disaster Plan.
  • The Board’s Retreat Planning Committee has selected a facilitator for the annual Board Retreat (which will take place in February) and is working to set an agenda.
  • The Patronage Refund and Non-Owner Surcharge Committee continues to look into the advantages and disadvantages of the non-Owner surcharge. This committee wants to know what you think, so keep an eye out for listening sessions in the near future!
  • Expansion opportunities in the greater Madison area continue to be explored.
  • Educational Sessions
  •  The Board of Directors will be engaging in educational sessions from 6:00–6:45pm, immediately prior to the Board meeting. Since there will not be a Board meeting in February, the next educational session will be in March—Owners are encouraged to attend!
Remember, you can always catch play-by-play board minutes at: https://board.willystreet.coop/board_minutes/board_minutes_home