Community can often be a word people just toss around, but when the community literally owns your business, there is no taking it lightly. Oryana Community Co-op was an idea devised on the back porch of a home in Traverse City. It came from a small group of passionate community members looking to start a buying club and have control over where their food came from. That buying club started in 1973, and is now a 10,000 square foot, $17 million-a-year business that still lives by the founding principles of quality, accountability, sustainability, and localism.
“Oryana was begun by its community and is proud to continue to carry forward that same commitment to supporting and fostering community today,” said Steve Nance, General Manager.
The commitment to community is literal. Co-ops aren’t owned by a corporation or investors, but rather owned and and given direction from the community. Just as a business is accountable to its shareholders, a co-op continually asks how it can best operate, for you.
“Our staff works for you, and they’re governed by the wants and needs of this community,” explained Stephanie Mathewson, Marketing & Communications Manager at Oryana.
Ownership at Oryana is open to everyone, and costs just $20 a year with benefits like store discounts, kickbacks, and much more. Today, over 7,000 people are invested in Oryana through ownership, and it’s one of the best way’s to have influence over the food you buy and the place you shop.
Co-ops have an obligation of transparency to the community members [investors] that visit every day. This means transparency with general business practices and with product information. At Oryana they’re committed to knowing exactly where their products come from, and how it gets to market because informed purchasing is something their shoppers expect.
Informed purchasing for an Oryana shopper also means knowing whether farmers and producers have earned a fair wage. We have hundreds of producers that live and work right alongside us in the community, and others still, that make goods across the world and also deserve fair pay. If the price of food doesn’t reflect a living wage for producers, it’s a detriment to us all. When food is cheap it often means it’s not real food, or that the farmer could be getting less than they deserve at the bottom of the supply chain.
Serving it’s customers with the food and service they expect has allowed Oryana the opportunity to grow; from a collective idea, to the thriving business it is today.
“We think our success speaks to the power of doing business the right way for all these years,” Mathewson reflected.
The right way, in this case, is following those founding principles of quality, accountability, sustainability and localism that were imagined on that back porch over forty years ago. October is National Co-op Month and it’s a chance for us to reflect on the unique way our local co-ops support and benefit our community. So, visit Oryana this month where there will be deals throughout the store and highlights on products produced by other cooperatives. While you’re there, consider what it might mean to you to become an owner, and have Oryana commit to you.
Tricia Phelps is the CEO of Taste the Local Difference. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.