Frequently Asked Questions
What is a cooperative?
A cooperative exists to serve its members, but what makes co-ops unique is that the members are also the owners. So, in addition to getting the products and services you need, you also have a say in the business decisions the cooperative makes. Shared Harvest is a food co-op working to open a full-scale consumer-owned grocery store in Elgin to provide direct access to affordable, local, natural products. Shared Harvest will meet our community’s needs for healthy food, support our local economy, and provide a sustainable community based-alternative to corporate supermarkets. Our vision is to open a food store cooperative that provides fresh, affordable, healthful, food that is primarily organic and locally produced.
Do I have to pay to be a member of the co-op and do I have to be a member in order to shop there?
While co-ops welcome everyone to shop, there are definite benefits to becoming a member. To become a member of most co-ops, you invest a small amount of money in the form of shares. To become a shareholder and voting member at Shared Harvest, you must purchase at least one share for $100. By law, a shareholder can buy up to ten shares. Most co-ops allow you to buy them all at once or over time (but most member benefits start at once). Your share makes you a co-owner along with the other owner/members. If for any reason you decide to leave Shared Harvest, our bylaws provide a process to get some or all of your investment refunded.
What are the benefits of membership once the store opens?
Benefits MAY include:
- Ownership over your food source. Each shareholder/owner will have a vote on policy initiatives and board elections.
- When Shared Harvest does well, you do well — profits from the store are returned back to member-owners in the form of dividends based on how much you buy from the co-op!
- Member-only sale days and sale items.
- Case discounts and special orders.
- Supporting local and sustainable food production.
Why join now?
The sooner you join, the sooner Shared Harvest will open: As a cooperatively owned business, we need YOU to be able to open the doors. Become a founding member and when the store opens, you will know that you were truly one of the visionaries who made it possible. The sale of founding shares in the co-op will help us build the community support and financial backing necessary to open the store. The names of the first 250 founding shareholder/owners (Seedlings) will also be prominently displayed in the store to remind us that we are, collectively, the owners of our own food source!
Who controls a co-op and if it makes a profit, who gets it?
In a cooperative, shareholder members democratically control the direction of the business. In most co-ops each shareholder member gets one vote. Shareholder members elect a board of directors to monitor the business, set goals and hire management to operate their business. Ultimately, the board is accountable to the shareholders for its decisions. However, rather than trying to maximize profits for outside investors, a co-op board balances profit with other goals. Most profit will be invested back into the co-op but surplus revenue may be returned to the members in proportion to how much they use the co-op. This democratic approach to business is a powerful economic force that benefits the co-op, its members, and the broader community.
Does being a shareholder mean I have to join the board, work part-time at the co-op, or do something else I’m not really sure I want to do?
All you really have to do is enjoy shopping at the co-op! Sure, you can run for the board or participate in co-op events if you like, but your level of participation is always entirely up to you.
Where is Shared Harvest in the development process?
- We have incorporated as a cooperative in the State of Illinois under the name Elgin Food Cooperative; our doing business name is “Shared Harvest.”
- We are selling shares of common stock; $100 per share to be a member and you can purchase up to 10 shares by IL Cooperative Law. This is to raise the initial capital to start the cooperative.
- We have bylaws and a board of directors.
- Our board of directors meets monthly.
- We have several working committees including Marketing, Business Planning, Site Selection, Finance, and Vendors.
- We have just redesigned our website; the URL is www.sharedharvest.coop (Note the .coop is for cooperatives around the world).
- We have conducted a professional feasibility study on a food store cooperative in downtown Elgin and the possibility of other food businesses in Elgin.
- We are reaching out to the public through community events.
We are one of several food cooperatives start-ups in Illinois including the Prairie Food Co-op in Lombard, the Sugar Beet in Oak Park, The Food Shed in McHenry county, and the Green Top Grocery in Bloomington, IL.
When will the store open?
The short answer is, when you buy a share! Because the capital to open a cooperatively-owned grocery comes from individuals across the community instead of a single private investor or corporation, we rely on member investments (YOU!) to provide the necessary funds to open our store. It is our member-owner equity that will leverage further financing to open the doors.
Where will the store be located?
Shared Harvest is committed to locating the store in or near downtown Elgin.
Where will the rest of the financing for the store come from?
Just like any business, we will need to get business loans in order to open. By selling shares, we are gathering the collateral we will need to seek financing from lenders. Once we have sold enough shares, we will begin a shareholder-loan campaign to receive interest-bearing loan investments. Outside of co-op shareholders, potential lenders will include traditional banks as well as non-traditional lenders that exist specifically to help start-up co- op businesses.
Other than becoming a member-owner, what else can I do to help?
- Ask Your Friends to Join – Host a House Party: Many existing Shared Harvest shareholders first heard about it through word of mouth. A house party is a great opportunity for you to invite some friends to your place for a casual, informative discussion about Shared Harvest, with opportunities to join right then and there. You provide the space, snacks, and some interested friends, and Shared Harvest will arrange for a neighborhood co- op member to give a short presentation and answer questions. If hosting a party is not something of interest, you can always point friends to SharedHarvest.coop to join online.
- Facilitate a Presentation: You can facilitate a meeting for a group of interested folks through your workplace, church or community group. Arrange for a Shared Harvest shareholder member to make a short presentation to a group of people at your work or other group. Maybe you work at a hospital or are a member of a book club. Think about your kickball team, the ad agency where you work or your new moms’ play group…
- Join our crew of willing volunteers! Volunteering is great for your resume. Opportunities include manning a table at events including farmers markets; planning events; working with supportive local businesses; coordinating with event hosts; writing press releases; networking on behalf of Shared Harvest etc.
- Join a Shared Harvest Committee! We are in need of members with skills in the areas of financial forecasting, retail business management, and communications to name a few. If you can help, let us know!
Will food at the co-op be affordable?
Yes! Not only will the co-op emphasize affordable items through access to bulk foods, but shareholder-owners will also have access to member-only sale items and sale days and will have the opportunity to take advantage of volume discounts by pre-ordering food by the case. Where price differences are significant, conventional items will be offered along with natural/organic foods.
If I move, what happens with my co-op membership?
You can keep your shareholder membership as a show of co-op support, or you can sell your membership back to the co-op. The co-op will purchase the membership from you provided it does not hurt the financial integrity of the co-op.
What if I buy a membership now and the co-op doesn’t open?
If the Shared Harvest does not open and the organization is dissolved, the remaining contributions would be divided by shares and what is left over returned to shareholders.
Will the co-op sell what I want?
Yes! Since the co-op is community-based, it will stock what is suggested by our community of shareholders. If you want it and have a way to get it, we will order it for you. The co-op will be smaller than massive chain supermarkets, however, so we will not be able to keep all items in stock at all times. We are developing Buying Practices to guide us in prioritizing which items we will keep in stock.
What are Shared Harvest’s buying practices?
We are working on a DRAFT of our buying practices as an extension of our mission and values, and we take responsibility for explaining and educating ourselves about the products we carry: We seek to provide a wide range of groceries and basic household products, with emphases on produce, bulk foods, and other whole or minimally-processed foods.
- We give preference to products that are grown or otherwise produced locally or regionally, giving preference to those items produced closest to our store, all else being equal.
- We give preference to those animal products that are produced humanely and responsibly.
- We attempt to buy products from businesses that support conditions of shared wealth and non-exploitative labor practices.
- We support the sale of products that do not meet the above criteria (either in addition to or instead of a product that would otherwise receive preference) in cases where the price difference, when weighed against the above criteria, may challenge our sustainability values or damage our relevance to a large part of the community.
What are the Seven Cooperative Principles?
The co-operative principles are guidelines by which cooperatives put their values into practice:
- Voluntary and Open Membership
- Democratic Member Control
- Member Economic Participation
- Autonomy and Independence
- Education, Training, and Information
- Cooperation among Cooperatives
- Concern for Community
Information sources: http://strongertogether.coop/food-coops/common-myths-about-food-co-ops