By Jimmy Dula, NFU Intern

Although you might not know it, cooperatives are woven throughout every industry in the United States, including housing, banking, agriculture, food retail, and healthcare, providing people with basic goods and services through collectively owned and democratically organized businesses and organizations. Opportunities for cooperatives exist when a group of people or organizations share a common goal or interest and are willing to share profits and benefits of a joint enterprise.

Founded in 1844, the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers was the first cooperative business both to be formally recognized and to pay dividends to its member-owners. 28 individuals came together with the common desire to provide themselves with food and provisions at an affordable price during a time of economic hardship. They raised £28 and opened a small cooperative, initially selling only flour, sugar, oatmeal, and butter. 10 years later, there were nearly 1,000 operating cooperatives in Britain.

The Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers’ governing principles, known as the Rochdale Principles, have persisted, and now act as the basis of cooperative management today. Those principles have been adopted by the International Cooperative Alliance and are recognized and supported in National Farmers Union policy. Voluntary and open membership, democratic control, and concern for community are among the seven foundations of cooperative operations.

Cooperatives allow for individuals to collectively take back and maintain control of the goods and services they depend on. Each year, National Farmers Union hosts the College Conference on Cooperatives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where over 100 students participate in cooperative education and tours. As an NFU intern, I had the pleasure of attending and helping with this event. My favorite cooperative we toured was the Becketwood Housing Cooperative for an active, independent, 55+ community of owners. Not only did everyone have spacious accommodations, but they also had access to a library, a salon, arts and crafts, cultural outings, and 12 acres of open space. However, what was most palpable was the sense of community and belonging, a feeling that all business environments could benefit from through cooperative engagement.

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