What is a Co-op?

Some Questions—and Answers!—about the Ambler Food Co-op

What is a co-op?

All cooperatives are organized under a set of guiding principles which ensures that they are dedicated to their communities and committed to their member owners.

1. Voluntary and Open Membership
Cooperatives are voluntary organizations, open to all people able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination.

2. Democratic Member Control
Cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting policies and making decisions. The co-op rule is one vote per member.

3. Members’ Economic Participation
Members contribute equally to, and democratically control, the capital of the cooperative. This benefits members in proportion to the transactions with the cooperative rather than the capital invested.

4. Autonomy and Independence
Cooperatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If the co-op enters into agreements with other organizations or raises capital from external sources, it is done so based on terms that ensure democratic control by the members and maintain the cooperative autonomy.

5. Education, Training and Information
Cooperatives provide education and training for members, elected representatives, managers and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperative. Members also inform the general public about the nature and benefits of cooperatives.

6. Cooperation Among Cooperatives
Cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.

7. Concern for Community
While focusing on member needs, Cooperatives work for the sustainable development of communities through policies accepted by their members.


How is a co-op different than a CSA?

A CSA is community-supported agriculture, a great way to get fresh local food direct from a farm or a group of farmers.  We have many great CSAs around us, and supporting them is essential to increasing our access to local, healthy food.  Many co-ops work with CSAs because, after all, we're all doing this work to leverage our local food system in healthy and sustainable ways.

A co-op, however, is different from a CSA in that it is a community-owned and operated, full-service grocery store that will offer an array of grocery staples, including meats, dairy, fruits and vegetables, grains and more. 

How is the co-op organized?

At this point, the Co-op is run entirely by volunteer community members.  There are all kinds of volunteers:  from members who sit on the Board of Directors, to committee members, to volunteers who help run events or perform discrete tasks. 

We in the Co-op have been provided great support from other co-ops in the area, including Weavers Way Co-op, Swarthmore Co-op, and CreekSide.  In addition, the Keystone Development Corporation, which conducted our Feasibility Study, as well as other consulting agencies, offer invaluable advice.  There is a growing movement of food co-ops in Southeastern Pennsylvania and nationwide as studies have shown that cooperatives bring more financial and social benefits to the community than privately-run corporations.

Where else can I learn about the advantages of co-ops?

There are many sites and studies that illustrate why cooperatives are beneficial to communities.  Here are a few: