Celebrating 40 Years of Cooperation!
In 1976, a small group of health and budget conscious folks decided to take their buying club public. They incorporated Chequamegon Food Co-op on March 9, 1976. From there the cooperative moved through a few different storefronts on Second Street (now Main Street) in Ashland, Wis., before settling at 215 Chapple Avenue in 1986. Now, 40 years later, the Co-op is back on Main Street and thriving more than ever.
Cooperatives operate based on a shared set of seven principles: voluntary and open membership; democratic member control; members’ economic participation; autonomy and independence; education, training, and information; cooperation among cooperatives; and concern for community. In the Chequamegon Bay area, there are a variety of cooperatives in a number of different business sectors, including agricultural (farmers), financial (credit unions), fuel (gas stations), and telecommunications (telephone and Internet). While anyone can become an owner of the Co-op, you do not need to be one to shop for groceries at the store. Co-op owners just receive more benefits, including refunds on purchases in years of profitability and regular discounts on products, among other incentives.
Today, the Co-op has more than 2,600 current owners, who have each purchased a share of the business. Through these last four decades, Chequamegon Food Co-op has grown because of the community’s commitment to both good food and local ownership. Shoppers have applauded as the Co-op prioritized purchasing products from local growers and food producers.
The Co-op’s Produce Promises program is a local product purchasing agreement program. Each growing season, the Co-op sends out requests to local farmers asking them to commit to growing and selling a certain amount and type of produce to the Co-op. These standing purchase orders create an agreement for both the Co-op and the farmer. All told, approximately 10 to 15 percent of all produce sold at the Co-op is locally sourced each year.
In 2008, the Co-op created its local micro-loan program as a way for the cooperative grocery store to invest its profits in the local food system and to potentially provide more local foods for the Co-op’s shelves. In 2012, the cooperative implemented CHIP for Change. CHIP for Change is a contribution program where money given by customers at the Co-op’s registers helps fund the micro-loan program. The community gave $20,934.60 to CHIP in 2015, 100 percent of which went to the Co-op’s micro-loan fund.
“This cooperative was founded by a group of folks dedicated to providing good food at affordable prices,” says the Co-op’s Board president Steve Sandstrom of Bayfield, Wis. “We plan to continue that tradition in the years to come, and that’s something to celebrate for sure!”
In celebration of this accomplishment, the Co-op will be holding an open house, along with other commemorative activities throughout the year. On Wednesday, March 9 from 4-6 p.m., stop by the store for a celebration of cooperation with refreshments, a “meet the farmer” fair, free samples, music, and more. For details, please visit the Co-op’s website at chequamegonfoodcoop.com.