Victory Gardens Co-op

Why I buy from co-ops


I need a utility shelf, something to organize homemade preserves, bulk grocery purchases, and the odd bottle of wine.

Budget and convenience argue for a trip to a  big box store or to buy what Douglas Coupland once referred to a “semi-disposable Swedish furniture,” but I’m uncomfortable with these choices.

In recent years I’ve become much more sensitive about what my money buys and where my money goes. Do I need more stuff? If I do, what’s the quality? Where was it produced? Is my money going to stay in my community? The big box stores are not headquartered locally and they sell goods produced elsewhere. While they employ local people, most of the revenue they generate leaves for Toronto, as far away as Delft (in the Netherlands), or parts unknown.

What is a co-op?

To support my local economy, and my community, I always turn to a co-operative.

A co-operative is a business that is owned and democratically controlled by its members, the people who use the co-op’s goods or services. Co-ops are communities of people that have formed a business to serve their needs. Because there are no external shareholders, the profits produced by co-ops tend to be invested back into the business and the local economy.

I rely on co-ops to meet many of the day-to-day needs.

Some of our best local co-ops

Living near Commercial Drive, the East End Food Co-op is my first choice for high-quality groceries, much of it local and organic. My membership at Modo, a local car sharing co-op , gives me access to 500 cars in Greater Vancouver and southern Vancouver Island (and the profits stay here to build our community). Of course I do my banking at a financial services co-operative (Vancity, where I work), or credit union, with a deep commitment to investing in the local economy.

What’s in it for us?

While other organizations can charge membership fees, a co-op membership makes me a part owner. I can attend the annual general meetings to praise, complain or express my aspirations for my co-op, vote for the board of directors, or run for the board if I so choose.

In my quest for a shelf, I turn to this workers co-operative called The Wood Shop. The purchase of a membership here provides a job and a right and responsibility to democratically control the business.

This local business designs and manufactures wood furniture and interiors out of reclaimed and re-purposed wood, including wood waste from construction projects and pallets (which is important to me from an environmental perspective). I give them the dimensions, and opt for reclaimed fir, assembly and pick up. Because this will cost me more than the assembly required Swedish alternative, I choose to do the final work of applying a lacquer finish to keep it within budget.

All I need now is a wine rack.

As it happens, The Vancouver Tool Library, a tool lending co-operative, is hosting a build your own wine rack workshop as part of its ‘Intro to Tools’ series. For $25 I’ll learn how to properly use a table saw, mitre saw, drill and other tools, and walk away with a few more skills and a hopefully functional rack.

Do you support your local economy by shopping at any co-ops? Tell us which for Co-Operative Week  @Vancity by using the #GoodMoneyBlog tag.

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