This year, Bike and Bite also celebrates the United Nation’s International Year of the Cooperative. Many of us love the notion of the cooperative. You may imagine a few people, probably college students, living together, sharing their food and responsibilities. Housing cooperatives are certainly prevalent, but cooperatives span the full spectrum of business. Most Minnesotans may not realize that our state has the highest number of cooperative businesses in the United States. According to the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Cooperatives’ research, over one thousand cooperatives from 16 different business sectors employ over 42,000 Minnesotans!
Why are there so many cooperatives in Minnesota? Scandinavian, German and Dutch immigrants brought the business model over from Northern Europe in the early 1800s where many cooperative businesses, particularly agricultural cooperatives, were thriving. Since, the popularity of cooperatives has grown immensely in part due to their high rate of success. An international study estimates that 64 percent of cooperatives around the world survive their first five years compared to only 32 percent of other business model types. Further, they estimate the survival rate of cooperative businesses is even higher in the American Midwest.
The cooperative business model is so successful because it brings people together to share mutually in the trials and achievements of the company. Cooperatives are member-owned, which means that members make all their business’ decisions democratically. The model allows otherwise small-scale producers to compete in markets dominated by larger non-cooperative businesses. For example, Land O’Lakes, known for its dairy products, is comprised of over 300,000 agricultural producers who together comprise the second largest cooperative business in the United States.
On Saturday morning at 10 a.m., we will bike around southern Minneapolis to visit cooperatives, restaurants and gardens alike. At each of our ten stops we will have more information about cooperatives, cooperative business principles and some history. Representatives from co-ops like The Wedge, Seward Co-op, Omega House, Organic Valley and others will be on hand to answer your questions about their experiences working and living in cooperatives. After the ride, we will toast cooperatives and other local food establishments with Surly beer, snacks, live music and games.
More information about Bike and Bite available at www.iatp.org/bikeandbite. Or watch the Bike and Bite 2012 video below: