Economic Social Institution of CSAs and CO-OPs.

Notes on Co-Ops

Did you know that CSAs are cooperatives? Did you know that the Cooperative Movement is over 175 years old and has it’s own organization? And, that there are records of cooperatives as early as 1498 in Aberdeen, Scotland? 

Over the next few newsletters, in place of the recipes I’ve been sharing, here is a 3 part history of Cooperatives placing CSAs fully within the development of this unique political and economic social institution.

Part 1: History

The increasing mechanization of the economy during the industrial revolution transformed society and threatened the livelihoods of workers resulting in new social movements.

The first successful cooperative in the US, and the oldest continuing cooperative, was founded by Benjamin Franklin who, in 1752 formed the Philadelphia Contributionship for the Insurance of Houses from Loss by Fire. The first recorded cooperative in Europe was in Fenwick, Scotland. On March 14, 1761 local weavers lugged a sack of oatmeal into a whitewashed, cottage front room and began selling the contents at a discount to the newly formed Fenwick Weavers Society.

By the 19th Century such small, grassroots organizations began to appear all over Western Europe, North America, and Japan. Facing miserable working conditions and low wages workers could barely afford basic goods and food. By the 1830s there were several 100 co-operatives. While some were initially successful, most had failed by 1840, though a few still trade today.

In 1844 a group of 28 artisans working in cotton mills in northern England decided that if they pooled resources and worked together they could access supplies—flour, oatmeal, sugar, butter—at a lower price. Establishing the prototype of the modern cooperative movement they formed the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society with a set of ideals for the operation of cooperatives. In the Rochdale Society every shopper was a member with a true stake in the business. They believed that shoppers should be treated with honesty and respect, that they should share in the profits, and have a democratic say in the business.

In 1865 Michigan passed what is believed to be the first law recognizing cooperatives as a legal mode for buying and selling.

In 1895 the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) was founded in London during the 1st Cooperative Congress attended by delegates from Argentina, Australia, Belgium, England, Denmark, France, Germany, Holland, India, Italy, Switzerland, Serbia, and the US. Aiming to provide information, to define and defend “Cooperative Principals”, and to develop international trade, the Alliance adopted the RochdalePrinciples of Cooperation were officially adopted in 1937.

The ICA was one of the only organizations to survive both World War 1 and 2. While its members did not always agree politically, the ICA survived by staying committed to peace, democracy, and by remaining politically neutral. In 1966 The ICA updated the original Co-operative Principals, and in 1995 a new set were created, the “Statement on the Co-operative Identity.”

In 1922 the US Congress passed the Capper-Volstead Act allowing farmers to join to market their products without violating antitrust laws. Over the next 2 decades Congress would establish a number of government agencies—The Farm Credit Administration (1922), The National Cerdit Union Administrationg  (1934), and the RurualElectrification Administration (1936) to provide loans and assistance to farm cooperatives. And in 1978 Congress passed the National Consumer Cooperative Bank Act establishing a bank of the same name for the use of cooperatives.

Contributed by CSA Member C. Stern, by way of cooperative action.