Community Contributions, Funds, and Foundations

Community contributions

Some food co-ops make contributions directly to other nonprofit and allied organizations, with the funds usually generated through voluntary customer add-ons at the checkout, and funded as well as through voluntary donation of patronage dividends and through other means.  Funds are also augmented by interest earned on the fund holdings.


Community foundations

Food co-ops have developed programs and allies that help magnify the co-op’s positive impact in its community.  Examples again include regular contributions by the co-op to other nonprofit and cooperative organizations that serve the community and address social needs in areas that complement the co-op’s mission.  Such donations are institutionalized and leveraged in some instances through versions of Cooperative Community Foundations and in other instances through a single local fund.

One of the earliest examples of a food co-op establishing an allied educational foundation is the Community Mercantile Education Foundation (CMEF) established by the Lawrence, Kansas co-op: That 2004 report was updated in a 2011 article by Nancy Moore on CMEF, “Cultivating Community Through School Gardens”:


A Cooperative Community Fund (CCF) is an endowment food co-ops can sponsor for the purpose of more effectively managing and highlighting their giving programs. These CCFs are administered by Twin Pines Cooperative Foundation,  Twin Pines Cooperative Foundation was launched in California during the 1990s and has since expanded to be the umbrella for CCFs in several locations in the Eastern U.S. Here is a 2005 report, “Cooperative Community Funds: Meeting local needs while building cross-sector collaboration,” by Ellen Michel:  Growth in the Cooperative Community Funds has continued since the time of that report.


Food co-ops in Sacramento and Davis are depositing funds with Twin Pines Cooperative Foundation for their “One Farm at a Time” campaign that aims at preserving local farms.  Paul Cultrera of Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op described that program in 2011:


Our largest consumer food co-op, Seattle’s PCC Natural Markets, started its own nonprofit in 1999.  Kelly Sanderbeck gives background and a progress report (2011) in “PCC Farmland Trust: Harnessing the power of the co-op”:


In 2000, Community Food Co-op (Bellingham, Wash.) initiated its Farm Fund to help local projects.  Jean Rogers provided a 2010 report, “The Power of Cooperation”:


A different approach is described by Mark Warner of Briarpatch Community Market (May 30, 2012): “We have started a program through an organization called California Farm Link.  They loan the money, we guarantee 50% of it so that they can offer a reduced interest rate of 3%.  We did our first loan for a working capital loan to a local organic grower to cover the winter lull.  So far it is working very well.  We are also providing loans as advance payment against invoices to cover organic certification (which is a small dollar amount).  The beauty of Farm Link is that we do not have to go through the Department of Corporations for approval here in CA, which is a lengthy process.  Each state is a bit different I expect, but if you can get someone to provide that kind of a cover agency for the process, this makes it all much simpler.  We act as a guarantor rather than direct lender.”


Shawn Furst of People’s Food Co-op (Portland) described that co-op’s loans to local farmers: “Our Farmer Loan Program gives no-interest loans of up to $1,000 to local farmers.  The program started in 2009, and we've loaned out $13,800 so far.  Our on-time payback rate is over 98%.  One farmer paid us back in produce for our store to sell, which worked out well for us, our shoppers, and the farmer.  Our policy is to only have up to $5,000 in outstanding loans at any time.  We have more details here:” 


[For additional examples of food co-ops that focus on helping local farmers, see the wiki on SUPPORTING LOCAL PRODUCERS.]


Two regional cooperative funds that provide loans as well as a home for co-op investment are the Cooperative Fund of New England ( and the Northcountry Cooperative Development Fund (  These two organizations are nearing the close of their fourth decades of operation.  In “Fair Trade Finance: Where is Your Money?,” Margaret Lund presents the case for investing in cooperatives:


The Howard Bowers Fund, administered by the Cooperative Development Foundation (, has invested in Cooperative Fund of New England and Northcountry Cooperative Development Fund along with making annual grants to co-ops.  Named after a former consumer co-op manager and leader, the Howard Bowers Fund is strongly supported by food co-ops, both through fundraising at the annual Consumer Cooperative Management Association conference and through a portion of sales on a designated day or days in October, Co-op Month.


The Cooperative Development Foundation, based in Washington, D.C. and allied with the National Cooperative Business Association, manages several funds focused on specific areas of cooperative needs:

Item Details

Resource Type: Document Page
Created date: September 17, 2012
Last Updated: May 29, 2015