Co-op Celebrates 80th Anniversary on Saturday

October is National Co-op Month; 2017 is the Swarthmore Co-op’s 80th anniversary; and the Co-op has been voted best food market in Delaware County. The time is right for a party!

On Saturday, October 7, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., everyone, member or not, is invited to experience the Swarthmore Co-op, meet a dozen of its local vendors, and enjoy a free hot dog from Dietz & Watson and other treats. Enter for a chance to win a 10-speed bike, and save 10% off any purchase during the day.

Then come back for the evening shift, beginning at 6 p.m., with a pig roast from Grilladelphia on Media, vegetable lasagna made at the Co-op, beer from 2SP in Aston, and music provided by Swarthmore’s Sonoma Sound.

Tickets are $30 for Co-op owners,$35 for non-owners, and $5 for kids 10 and under. Get them at, and whoop it up Saturday night till 10 p.m.

The Swarthmore Co-op’s store front at 403 Dartmouth Avenue back in the beginning.

The Swarthmore Co-op: Vital at 80
By Ines Rodriguez

Most Swarthmoreans know well the grocery store on the corner of Lincoln Way and Dartmouth Avenue as “the Co-op.” But how much do they really know about cooperatives? Guided by a set of principles that dates back nearly a century, co-ops are owned and democratically governed by their members, the same people who use its products or services. Ownership in a co-op is obtained through the purchase of member shares in the business, which entitles each member one vote in matters that directly affect the business.

This year, the Swarthmore Co-op is celebrating its 80th anniversary. It is one of America’s oldest operating co-ops. The Swarthmore Co-op opened its doors as a retail food market under cooperative ownership, with shares sold at $5 each. It was part of a wave co-ops that were opening across the country in response to the Great Depression.

Our Co-op started in 1932 as a buying club organized by Edith Morse, Mary “Polly” deMoll, Elizabeth Bonsall, Betty McCorkle, Eleanor Keighton, Maria Wilcox, Gracie Pearson, and Caroline Malin. This group of women wanted access to quality fruits and vegetables at fair prices. Goods were distributed from the basement of a residence at Elm and Chestnut, then known as the Onyx house. Group members placed their orders with Edith Morse, who kept track of what was available each week, took delivery, and made up orders. The group operated mostly on weekends and distributed vegetables and tree-ripened oranges and grapefruit.

After several years of growth and success, the Swarthmore Cooperative Association was officially established and Articles of Association were filed in April 1937.

Shared Values across Industries

To outsiders, co-ops offer the same products and services as corporations. However, behind the scenes, a cooperative business is entirely different than an ordinary for-profit corporation. A co-op can be big or small, for profit or non-profit. You may not realize that co-ops are all around us! You might know that REI is a co-op. They recently embraced their cooperative nature by rebranding themselves, by prominently displaying the word “co-op” in their new logo. You might also know that REI is the largest consumer cooperative in the United States. But did you know that Ocean Spray, Sunkist and True Value are all cooperatives, too?

Cooperatives are organized around seven Cooperative Principles based upon democracy, economic participation, and cooperation. While no one principle is more important than another, Principle Six (cooperation among co-operatives) is a particularly special one that directs co-ops to cooperate with each other. At the Swarthmore Co-op you will see other cooperative businesses on the shelves: Cabot, Equal Exchange, and Florida’s Natural, to name a few. This is Principle Six in practice. What happens when our general manager or our board has a question or problem to solve? We go to one of our local co-ops like Weavers Way or Mariposa for advice. There are no trade secrets here. It’s about helping each other succeed and building cooperative communities.

Worldwide, cooperatives operate in every sector of the economy, with more than 800 million members and over 100 million employees. Co-ops are important because they solve problems. Typically, cooperatives form when a group of people decide to invest equity in order to have access to goods or services that they can’t otherwise get. The purpose of the cooperative enterprise is to not to accumulate profit for investors, but to meet the goals and aspirations of its member-owners.

I get asked all the time: “What are the benefits of joining The Swarthmore Co-op?” Well, if you are looking for huge discounts, what I’m going to say might disappoint you. But to me, the benefits — knowing where my food is coming from, that I’m supporting small-farmers in their efforts towards environmental sustainability and animal welfare, and that I’m helping my neighbors earn a good living wage to support their families – far outweigh any discount that a big box store can offer me. The truth is that discounts give away earnings before they are realized, so typically in a co-op any surplus generated is reinvested in the business or returned to the member-owners based on their use of its services. (This is known as a patronage rebate, and believe me, I look forward to getting mine every year from REI!)

Stronger Together, Now as Then

The second wave of co-ops came during the 1970s counterculture revolution that brought along with it the natural foods movement and a focus on social issues. Over the years, The Swarthmore Co-op has grown and changed, moved locations and expanded. What hasn’t changed is that our co-op can still offer its member-owners access to quality food that more often than not comes from within 300 miles of the store.

In today’s society, we are programmed to look out for number one. Ownership in a cooperative allows us to create, maintain, and share the ownership of community assets and common wealth. The cooperative model offers us an economic means to meet our common needs through a democratically owned business. We have all been witness to predatory business practices in which profits come at the expense of customers, employees, or the environment. Cooperatives offer an alternative, a business model in which no one benefits at the expense of another; one that builds a community rather than drains its resources.

Today, we are the only food cooperative in Delaware County. I am so proud to celebrate our co-op’s longevity within this community. Anyone can shop at the Swarthmore Co-op, and anyone can join. A mere $300 (refundable) investment allows member-owners to promote the health and vibrancy of Swarthmore and its neighboring communities, to support a thriving local food system, and to forge meaningful connections with friends and neighbors. As we were yesterday, and will be long into the future, at the Co-op, we are stronger together.

Get to know more about Co-ops

The International Co-operative Alliance is an independent organization established to represent and serve co-operatives worldwide. In 1995, the Alliance adopted the revised Statement on the Co-operative Identity which contains the values of co-operatives, and the seven co-operative principles as described below.

Our Cooperative Values

Co-operatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.

Our Cooperative Principles

The co-operative principles are guidelines by which co-operatives put their values into practice.

1. Voluntary & Open Membership. Co-operatives are voluntary organizations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership.

2. Democratic Member Control. Co-operatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions. All members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote).

3. Member Economic Participation. Members contribute equitably to, and democratically control, the capital of their co-operative. At least part of that capital is usually the common property of the co-operative. Members allocate surpluses for any or all of the following purposes: developing their co-operative, possibly by setting up reserves, part of which at least would be indivisible; benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the co-operative; and supporting other activities approved by the membership.

4. Autonomy & Independence. Co-operatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If they enter to agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their co-operative autonomy.

5. Education, Training & Information. Co-operatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their co-operatives. They inform the general public – particularly young people and opinion leaders – about the nature and benefits of co-operation.

6. Co-operation among Co-operatives. Co-operatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the co-operative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.

7. Concern for Community. Co-operatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members.

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