Co-Op Coalition Shines Spotlight on Cooperative Model

A group of cooperatives known as the Co-op Coalition are working together in support of the United Nations declaration of 2012 as the International Year of Cooperatives to promote the cooperative model and raise awareness in the state of Washington.

Laura Steiger, community affairs coordinator for the Community Food Co-Op, was one of the primary drivers behind getting the coalition off the ground earlier this year.

“All of this came about because of the United Nations 2012 International Year of Cooperatives,” Steiger said. “One of the principles of cooperatives is cooperation among cooperatives. So, to live up to that principle, we thought this was an excellent opportunity for us to reach out to the other co-ops in Whatcom County and also regionally in the Pacific Northwest.”

“So, I did that,” Steiger continued, “because we often don’t work together, which is too bad.”

Steiger started by organizing a meeting with a handful of area co-ops to talk strategy and generate ideas, and the group quickly grew.

“I got a really good response,” Steiger said. “Everybody is interested across several different sectors. We’ve got the credit unions involved, some other retail co-ops, and also some worker cooperatives. It’s fun to have brought that group together for the first time and actually work on something.”

All told, the Co-op Coalition currently consists of the Whatcom County-based Community Food Co-op, Whatcom Educational Credit Union (WECU), Industrial Credit Union, GaPAC Community Federal Credit Union, REI, Whatcom Farmers Co-op, Circle of Life Caregiver Cooperative, Farm Implement Co-op, and Bellingham Bay Builders; plus Skagit Valley Food Co-op in Mount Vernon, Sno-Isle Natural Foods Co-op in Everett, Central Co-op in Seattle, and the Northwest Credit Union Association (NWCUA), which is based in Federal Way and serving credit unions across the Pacific Northwest.

Once formed, the group has wasted no time in moving forward with a number of different initiatives, all of which are geared toward advancing the cooperative principle and raising awareness of cooperatives in the region.

One of the coalition’s first campaigns was to produce a series of yard signs, “similar to what you’d see during elections,” Steiger said, “that people are collecting and sticking out in their yards that say ‘proud co-op member,’ just to raise awareness about how many people in our community do support co-ops and belong to co-ops.”

Steiger said they also produced a sign for co-op employees that read, “This family supported by co-op dollars.”

Additional plans include a Co-op Day of Action likely scheduled for June, when co-ops and their members will work together to perform volunteer work in their communities for one of a handful of selected nonprofits.

The Community Food Co-op’s Community Celebration, an annual event, will also this year include the participation of a number of co-ops working to create a carnival-like event while sharing more information about the local co-ops. Scheduled for July 29 at Boulevard Park, GaPac, Industrial and WECU have already committed to taking part.

The group is organizing co-op-themed scavenger hunt, as well, along with many other events during Co-op Month in October.

The coalition is doing much more than just hosting local events and looking to generate word-of-mouth buzz, however. One of the group’s more ambitious initiatives has it working to have October recognized as “Co-Op Month” in the city of Seattle and in the state of Washington. The proclamations have been sent to Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and to Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire. Credit unions interested in signing on in support should contact Nell Abercrombie at Central Co-op in Seattle.

“We figured, if we’re going to ever make a big splash, this is the year to do it,” Steiger said.

The Community Food Co-op has established a resource page on its website to help connect and educate consumers and is publishing a monthly article about cooperatives in its newsletter.

The Community Food Co-op is a consumer-owned natural foods grocer with two locations serving Bellingham and Whatcom County with quality products. Both Community Food Co-op stores are full-service supermarkets and feature a full array of departments including certified organic produce, a deli cafe, bakery, wine shop, bulk foods, flower shop, health and wellness, mercantile area, meat and seafood market, and espresso bar.

Established in 1970, the co-op provides ongoing support for local farmers and community organizations. Everyone is welcome to shop at the co-op—membership is not required. For more information, please visit or find the co-op’s Facebook page.


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