Yard to Market is a producers’ co-op. That means we are democratically governed and owned by the producers whom we serve. This is the second in a series of posts about the 7 Co-operative Principles which provide the foundation for how co-ops function. You can see the first post here.
A co-op is owned by its members. Even in consumer co-ops where typical member interaction is straightforward buying of goods, there’s another layer of economic engagement that takes the form of Member Capital Investment. When a new member-owner joins the co-op she agrees to make a contribution to the co-op’s capital. Beyond contributing to the daily business activities of the co-op, member-owners share an economic stake in the co-op’s success.
This investment plays two important roles in the life of the co-op. First and foremost, it provides the business with capital that can allow it to operate, get approved for small business loans, and prepare for expansion or new lines of business. Secondly, it promotes another level of member engagement. There’s just something about laying out some cash that really makes us feel like we have a bigger stake in the business as a whole. It’s a great tool to help teach member-owners about the “owner” part of their role.
Another central feature of this form of participation is that it’s an investment, not a fee or payment. Member-owners throw their financial support behind the co-op for the period of their membership, and when they decide, for whatever reason, to leave the co-op, they withdraw that investment. It’s a win-win: the co-op has the capital to operate, but the member can call back their investment any time.
Here at Yard to Market we work hard to keep a level of member-owner investment that will be meaningful for the capital needs of the co-op while remaining affordable for member-owners. In fact, once new member-owners have contributed the first $10 nonrefundable administrative portion of the investment, they can even choose to have the remainder of the investment amount deducted from their sales.