The Cooperative Principles: Part Two, Democratic Member Control

After our great membership meeting on Oct 8 with over 60 participants, it is a great time to highlight the 2nd core cooperative principle: Democratic Member Control. 


(Photo courtesy of artist Mel Marmar and Weavers Way Co-op)

A Co-op is defined as an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspiration through a jointly owned and democratically-controlled enterprise. The International Cooperative Alliance defines seven core principles that co-ops strive to meet in an effort to best serve their communities.  Fundamentally, Co-ops give members an opportunity to own and operate a business that serves their needs.  Membership participation is therefore an essential part of cooperatives.


This is a key time for the Ambler Food Co-op. After initially taking pledges from possible members, since spring 2014 we have been accepting actual memberships. The households that consist of members will literally make up the co-op itself.

The elected representatives of the co-op are accountable to the members. Most co-ops operate under the one member (household) = one vote rule, but some have other set ups.

Many people ask volunteers and members of the Ambler Food Co-op about specifics. When are we opening? Where in the borough will the co-op be located? Will members have to volunteer a certain amount of hours at the co-op each month or year? Will there be a full deli, bakery, or cheese counter? Will members be eligible for certain sales or a general discount?

Fortunately (and unfortunately) the answer is, “We don’t know.” Why? Because these are all decisions that are left up to the membership as a whole, not the executive board, not the co-op founders, and not the future store manager. While that makes it hard to promise anyone their favorite item or to say that we will operate just like a certain other co-op that does something in one certain way, it does leave open the ability for the Ambler Food Co-op to become the perfect food market for our community, as well as for us to change the way it operates over time.

For example, the Weavers Way Co-op in Philadelphia at one time required volunteer hours from member households in their stores. Several years ago, that provision was rescinded as the volunteer labor was no longer needed and members did not think it was something that was important to them. Weavers Way has now been around for over 40 years and being able to change certain aspects of their operations has certainly helped them stay strong and even expand into several properties and locations!

The Ambler Food Co-op is moving forward in membership and building its organization ever day! Are you a part of it?