First_AlternativeBackground image source: McKay Savage, Flickr

Values-based solutions in a time of need  

[This article was previously published in the spring issue of the Cultivator, Cornucopia’s quarterly newsletter.]

“Concern for community” is one of the seven guiding principles of cooperatives. It’s also at the core of the responses and solutions offered by co-ops throughout the country as they keep their owners and neighbors fed.  

We recently asked First Alternative Co-op in Corvallis, Oregon what that community safety net looks like in action. “As the national food distributors are struggling to keep up with demand, our local businesses and farms have been able to make extra deliveries and go above and beyond to make sure our community gets what it needs,” says Emily Daniel, brand manager.  

Local is more than a buzzword at First Alternative. Local purchases account for 35% of total sales and are reflected by a comprehensive labeling strategy developed in-house to build connections to hyper-local producers.  

Soon, shoppers will also be able to identify which items are hydroponically grown. The co-op is creating a symbol for those items, allowing owner-members to “make informed purchasing decisions based on their preferences,” Daniel says. 

[Read more about the issues surrounding “organic” hydroponic production.] 

Co-ops across the country are caring for their communities in multiple ways. In this time of a national health crisis, they have implemented substitute shopper programs that deploy healthy owners to shop for those who are immune compromised, online ordering systems, curbside pickup, and increased compensation and paid time off for employees.  

As First Alternative marks its 50th anniversary with shoppers social distancing in the aisles, its own ability to adapt shows us that a community strengthened by a cooperative can unite powerfully, even when its members can’t join hands. 

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