It's October, and October still means a lot of fun things going on. For one, we've got the big spooky candy-fest at the end of the month, so those of us who love scary movies, themed candy in black-and-orange packaging, or just generally being a little bit over the top - we're filing our vampire fangs and spinning our spider webs in anticipation. That's not the only thing going on this month, though, and that's not for a few weeks yet. We've got three separate month-long celebrations right here at the Co-op going on now: Co-op Month, Fair Trade Month, and Non-GMO Month. Co-ops (and fair trade practices, and non-genetically engineered food) are so important that we celebrate them for a whole month—and the month that’s filled with Halloween, candy, and scary movies, no less! But there's no tricks involved with these treats; we're giving away some great stuff just because you're here, and there's even more available for those who choose to invest and become a Harmony owner.
So what does it mean to be an owner, anyway? When you become part of Harmony Co-op, you are actually purchasing a share of stock and a real stake in the business; you’re making an investment in a community owned business that is grounded in local commerce and sustainable sourcing. Co-ops – or cooperatives – are owned by the people they serve, democratically controlled by their members (usually through a board of directors elected by their members), and designed to allow people to work together to achieve the same goals (that is, to cooperate). Besides stores like Harmony, there are electrical cooperatives, credit unions, insurance coops, agricultural coops, and more, all owned by the people who use the services they provide. These are businesses, not nonprofits, so there is a financial element; however, co-ops making enough profit are often able to give back to their members in various ways in proportion to their use of the co-op; in Harmony’s case, that comes in a variety of ways.
Co-operatives like Harmony often use dividends as a way of financially “giving back”; Harmony has been profitable enough that we have been able to send patronage dividends (a share proportionate to the amount each person has spent at the co-op in the past year) to all of our owners for the past two years. Any unclaimed dividends are donated to a community organization; last year, we were able to donate over four thousand dollars to Gitigaanike Foods Initiative; their community garden and farmer’s market work to decrease diet-related health issues, increase access to local healthy foods and develop a local foods economy for Red Lake.
Cooperatives, if you look at it one way, have been a part of human society from the very start. Human society wouldn’t exist at all without individuals working together for the common good - for their very survival, in fact. Cooperative buying, as we are familiar with it, is generally understood to have begun in Europe during the Industrial Revolution. People moved from rural areas into cities following jobs, and many found themselves at the mercy of sellers and stores with predatory practices. As a way to defend against that, people would pool their money and buy larger quantities of food and other goods together wholesale, then divide that up accordingly. They were able to save much more money and buy higher-quality goods than they would have individually.
The Rochdale Co-op in England is regarded as the first modern co-op store. Workers at a textile mill in Rochdale, England had gone on strike in search of better wages and fair working conditions; however, the strike failed, and the workers were forced to look for other ways to improve their lives. Some opened a small store selling a few food items and candles as an alternative to the often-predatory company store, and there was born the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society; it lent its name to the Rochdale Plan, used by later cooperatives to organize around (including Harmony).
In the United States, many cooperatives revolve around the agricultural industry as well as food and utilities. In Bemidji, we have several other cooperatives besides Harmony, including Cenex and Beltrami Electric. Harmony started as the Bemidji Buying Club in 1974 with seven original members, then was incorporated as the Harmony Cooperative Grocery in 1978. It has gone from the basement of the old Baptist church on the corner of 7th and Beltrami to a stand-alone grocery store at 117 3rd St in 1990 (where the name changed to Harmony Natural Foods Co-op, as it remains today). Harmony moved to the current location and expanded in 2011, where we have been ever since and now encompass a full-service grocery and health section, the Good Food Deli, and even a commercially certified Community Kitchen. We are able to give back to our community though our providers, our donations, and our sustainability work and environmental impact. Harmony has come to truly embody the Seven Cooperative Principles as well as the spirit of the Rochdale Pioneers and their ancestors; we work together for the betterment of ourselves and our community as a whole. The more we cooperate together, the bigger the goals we can achieve!
In a happy coincidence, October is also Fair Trade Month—since fair trade is such a vital part of cooperatives in general and Harmony in specific, it seems only “fair” to celebrate the two together. According to the Committee for the Promotion and Advancement of Cooperatives (COPAC) the main goals of Fair Trade Cooperatives are: to improve the livelihoods of producers; to promote development opportunities for disadvantaged producers, especially women and indigenous people, and to protect children from exploitation in the process; to protect human rights by promoting social justice, sound environmental practices and economic security; and to raise awareness among consumers. Fair Trade supports small farmers and encourages organic and sustainable farming practices, biodiversity, and conservation of natural resources.
It’s Non-GMO Month too—what do we mean by GMO, anyway? GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism, and it’s usually in the context of a plant, animal, virus or bacteria whose DNA has been changed or altered artificially; in this case, we’re usually talking about a crop (like corn or squash) or even a commercially-raised fish or chicken. Organic items are by definition non-GMO, though not all non-GMO items are necessarily organic. Many GMOs are specifically designed for resistance to industrial pesticides—pesticides which have harmful effects on other plants, groundwater, pollinators like bees and butterflies, and even people. Not only are non-GMO plants and animals better for us, they’re better for the planet!
October is Co-op Month around the world. Originally formed by people in your community who wanted access to healthy, delicious, eco-friendly foods, co-ops remain community-owned to this day. If you invest & become a Harmony Co-op owner in October 2020 you will receive a Klean Kanteen mug! We are also giving away a $100 GIFT CARDS for people who sign up this month! Now you have double the chances to win! There is also weekly prizes of a local gift bag valued at $70 that every body is eligible for. Thank you for choosing to be an integral part of our community and Harmony.