Yard to Market is a producers’ co-op. That means we are democratically governed and owned by the producers whom we serve. Co-operation as a business model has a long history, and most types of businesses can be organized as a co-operative. Here in Austin we can find examples of co-ops for housing, purchasing, banking, baking and beer making! Co-ops are guided by 7 principles: i) voluntary and open ownership without arbitrary discrimination; (ii) democratic governance; (iii) economic participation by owners; (iv) autonomy and independence of the Co-op; (v) providing education and training; (vi) cooperation with other cooperatives; and (vii) concern for community. Over the next several months we will have occasional posts on these principles, to explore why Yard to Market chose to organize as a co-op and how being a co-op influences our operations.
Principle 1. Voluntary and Open Ownership Without Arbitrary Discrimination
Co-operatives are voluntary organizations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination.
The benefits of Co-op membership must be made available to everyone who will comply with the co-op’s basic terms of membership based on the 7 principles. Co-ops can limit membership when required for economic or practical reasons but co-ops should be open to anyone without discrimination. As anyone knows who has looked at our application, Yard to Market evaluates each potential member-owner carefully before admitting her. Our commitment to our member-owners means that we must take great care to ensure that all of our producers meet our high standards for production quality, safety and environmental stewardship. We’re also committed to growing as slowly as necessary to serve all of our existing member-owners, so there may be times when we place all qualified applicants on a waiting list.
Co-ops in general and producers’ co-ops in particular have a long and proud history of participation by otherwise excluded groups. Since the time of Reconstruction, black farmers in the South utilized the co-operative model to increase bargaining power and access markets. Similarly, women who might otherwise have been isolated, solitary farmers have challenged gender norms by co-operating to take advantage of economies of scale. At Yard to Market, we’re honored to be a part of this tradition of inclusion. In order to truly meet the spirit of the 1st Co-operative Principle of Voluntary and Open Ownership, we know that we must do more than evaluate applications without discrimination. That’s why we’re working to get our guidelines and application materials translated into Spanish, and are actively seeking opportunities to engage new and diverse communities from all around Austin. We see the incredible potential of Yard to Market to bring people together in the marketplace, and even in these very early days we are working to make our co-op inclusive and serve all of our fellow Austinites.