There comes a point of reckoning in the life of some. A challenge arises and the choice is made to either march, perhaps to a different beat into a relevant future, or to fade. The now 41-year-old People’s Food Co-op reached its moment of reckoning in 1998. “We have a mission to educate the community, but we were losing money doing it, and we didn’t have any [money] to begin with.”
So it established the Fair Food Matters not-for-profit which brought relevance and interest to the co-operative through its educational activities. Now Fair Food Matters has leapt from employing one person part-time to four full-time employees with financial assistance from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation.
Secondly, the food co-operative was operating as a workers’ co-operative where members paid an annual dues of $US30. It moved to an equity-based structure where members made a one-off investment of $US250. “That was a big leap,” says Chris Dilley, General Manager of People’s Food Co-op. He said members had to understand that the co-operative wasn’t just a club where they could buy cheaper products, but that they actually owned the business.
“Starting in 2008 when we made this transition under this new equity structure we had 450 members. Today we’re just shy of 1400.” Saving money from that membership increase meant it could build new premises which in turn also increased community interest and memberships.
“I’m not sure what’s next, I’m hopeful that we continue to drive interest in what we’re doing,” says Dilley.