Those of us who shop at the Co-op, have a CSA share, or belong to Dane Buy Local value the concept. I recently read a book by David Hess, Localist Movements in a Global Economy, and realized that shopping at the Willy Street Co-op is one of Madison’s best options for pure localism.
Hess defines pure localism as a confluence of four features:
- Locally sourced resources or inputs into food and manufactured goods.
- Production of goods by locally owned businesses.
- Sales through locally owned organizations.
- Consumption by a population that shares a geographical locale with producers and retailers.
Examples of pure localism exist in organizations like credit unions, local investment clubs, and community-supported radio and TV.
Pure local dollars
While the Co-op embodies Hess’s four defining features, here are four things you might not know about the Co-op, that make it one of the purest local dollars you can invest:
- The Owners of the Co-op don’t live in a huge house in a gated community; you and I own the Co-op. This gives us a direct say in how the Co-op is run, from electing our Board to attending Owner meetings. Our Owners are locals.
- Every item on sale at the Co-op is locally sourced whenever possible. The Co-op doesn’t use “food miles” placards (see note below); sourcing locally is a primary filter for choosing farmers and vendors.
- The Co-op cares about its impact on the environment. As one of the leaders in the Madison green technology community, it works hard on carbon neutrality, Energy Star ratings, and LEED certifications. This is hard for publicly traded companies to do because it cuts into their shareholder’s return, but it’s part of how the Co-op runs.
- The Co-op is more than a grocer. It is a local, economic engine, investing its profits back into the community. You know about the CHIP program; but did you know that in 2011, we Owners pooled $180,000 to Community Shares to help fund local non-profits? Or that the Co-op helps local farmers through grants ($25,000), sponsorship ($31,000), and donations ($12,000)? Or that the Co-op helps meet the nutritional needs of low-income Owners through the Access program by providing $227,000 this year? In January, the Co-op plans to return $445,000 in patronage refunds back to its Owners. That’s nearly $1M redistributed back into our local community! How cool is that?
Considering the environment
Some area grocers use “food miles” to help customers identify which food was grown/produced locally. The Co-op doesn’t, and here’s why. Food miles placards display the distance food travels from the farm or production facility to the retail store, but they don’t make an allowance for whether the food was grown or produced using sustainable farming practices. For example, a tomato grown in a hot house could travel two miles to the store, but cause more carbon offset than a tomato grown in the sun, 10 miles away. Often, the miles traveled are less harmful to the environment than how the item was grown and processed.
At your Co-op, the environment is considered when sourcing products after some basic business needs are met, including quality, consistency, and delivery schedule. We don’t try to bamboozle you with nifty placards, we do our due diligence, and adhere to our seven cooperative principles, which you see displayed at every location. At the Co-op, our motive isn’t money; our motive is pure localism.
I’m not a purist on most things, but aspiring to be a local purist is at the top of my list.