Imagine a world where the customers were the owners. A world where the profits were distributed to those who shopped there. A world where you had a direct vote on the development of the businesses you patronized, and received a share of the profits at the end of each fiscal year, without the need to compete with the ultra-rich, and the financial elite.
Imagine a world where each member, regardless of their wealth, had one vote and at your shareholders meeting you were treated as an equal, instead of a person whose vote was largely irrelevant.
This is the promise Grand Forks’ premier organic grocery store, Amazing Grains, gives to its clients using the consumer co op business model.
For those of you who are fans of socialism, this is perhaps the closest you will truly get to it in a capitalist society. It exists as proof that socialist work models can exist in a capitalist society, although the reverse is universally false. After hearing about this business from a friend, I decided to do some research to see if they actually live up to their high ideals, and are indeed a legitimate role-model for the community.
As one who is usually opposed to any form of socialism, I was pleased to find out that they were actually a reasonable business. They have full time employees, who they pay a living wage. They provide a genuine sense of community for their team.
After talking on the phone with an employee, she mentioned Amazing Grains frequently has its partners interact with the employees. Whether they spend time stacking the shelves, or redoing the interior, the entire business has a can-do attitude and a passion usually unfound for low wage workers.
Additionally, they publish a monthly online article called the Garlic Press, which includes recipes and welcomes new members of the co-op into the fold.
They publish occasional reports in the Garlic Press, on both revenues and the financial standing of the co-op as a whole. They are surprisingly solvent, relying on their sales rather than the recruitment of new partners to finance the venture.
This is great news, as usually those models only work by operating at a sales loss, while recruiting more and more partners and using their one time buy into prop up the business. This creates a feeling of a scheme which Amazing Grain has thankfully avoided.
Now that we have discussed the business model, and its surprising success, there is one last thing we need to touch on, the feeling of community.
Even if Amazing Grains was running at the community loss model, they still would have my respect for the community they have nurtured. Each month, they have members of their co-op engage with everyone. Whether it be from free classes on making your own soup, to instructions on GMO’s and toothpaste, they have so many people who are willing to share knowledge to benefit the entirety of the co-op free of charge.
They are also incredibly welcoming to other communities wishing to blend with the co-op. Whether it’s featuring local artists on their walls or reaching out to provide unused food to the local church, they are a pillar of the community even if they don’t formally acknowledge the principles of socialism.
Amazing Grains is a truly unique and interesting asset to our town, taking a unique business model which rejects conventional wisdom and making it work for them and their hundreds of owners.
Dave Owen is a staff writer for The Dakota Student. He can be reached at [email protected]