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 fourth in a series of posts about the 7 Co-operative Principles which provide the foundation for how co-ops function. You can see the series from its beginning here.

Principle 4: Autonomy and Independence of the Co-op

At its heart, this principle is about authenticity. If we say we’re a member-owned co-operative business, then we must truly be owned by our members, with all the economic and democratic participation mechanisms that make a multi-owner business tick. In its best and truest form a co-op is an independent business guided by the needs of its members. The members express their needs primarily through the work of an elected Board. That Board may engage in business operations themselves, though most long-lived successful co-ops eventually transition to a model where the Board sets policies to guide operations and spends its time on long-term strategic questions rather than the minutia of day to day business operations.

For the business to be successful, some of the member needs served by the co-op must have a rational relationship to profitability and good business practices, but it’s a key feature of co-ops that space for values and interests other than pure profit is built into the business model. One way we embody this principle at Yard to Market is through the development of and adherence to Ends Policies. Ends Policies are the guiding values that frame business decisions. They are the guideposts that lead the organizational side of the co-op when it is choosing how to grow the business and where to focus resources. Yard to Market’s Ends Policies were ratified at our May 2015 Annual Member Meeting:

Yard to Market Co-op will strive to:

  1. Provide gardeners with an inexpensive, efficient means to sell home-grown produce.
  1. Offer goods and services that reduce the cost of gardening for members.
  1. Ensure a high standard of sustainable land management and humane animal husbandry practices in the production of food and materials sold through the Co-op.
  1. Create opportunities for Co-op members to share skills and knowledge.
  1. Foster diversity and multiple viewpoints in the Co-op community.

The first two Ends have a clear relationship to the central mission and business operations of the Co-op. The other three say more about the values of the membership and the way Co-op members wish their business to interact with the wider community and environment where it operates. It’s the independent and autonomous nature of cooperative businesses that makes this kind of prioritization possible, and by the same token it’s those unique value guideposts that make each co-op a unique niche participant in the marketplace.