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Our Co-op Keeps Growing Since 1979
Natural Harvest Food Co-op started as a buying club about three years before the storefront opened. The first buying club meeting was held in June 1976. This group started with just a few families and individuals who came together because they wanted to buy nutritious whole foods at more reasonable prices than were available locally.
Eventually, this buying club grew to a point where this method of purchasing whole food products became difficult to manage and operate. The buying club decided to further co-operate by starting a retail store. This became the Natural Harvest Food Co-op in December 1979.
Natural Harvest’s original storefront at 119 Chestnut Street was a mere 600 square feet of retail space. It started with just a few bulk bins, some spices, and an upright freezer…and grew into a thriving little Food Co-op. By 1991 it became apparent that expansion was in order; ten consecutive years of double digit sales growth and the need for a better operating space fueled a big dream. Business and architectural plans were developed and through creative financing that included the IRRRB and the City of Virginia construction of our log building started in 1995. With many staff and volunteer hours, lots of hard work, in-kind donations from vendors and a “buy-a-log program” the dream became a reality.
The store moved into the newly constructed log building on the south shore of Bailey’s Lake in January 1996. Overnight, inventory went from $15,000 to $70,000; retail space basically quadrupled, and the Co-op now had a produce cooler full of organic produce too.
We have been growing in sales and ownership every year since moving into our location on Bailey’s Lake. A Deli was added into our space, serving delicious from scratch lunch specials every day, plus a cooler full of grab-n-go sandwiches, wraps, salads, dips and desserts. A major remodeling of our thriving bulk department was completed in the spring of 2013. Also that year, we installed our first POS system which makes checking out so much easier and faster. With sales approaching $2 million at the end of 2013 we were able to apply for full membership in the NCG (National Cooperative Grocers). Natural Harvest became a full member of NCG in 2014 and participates in many of the programs and services of NCG.
As a cooperative for food co-ops NCG offers services; including supply agreements, discounted group rates for business services, the Co-op Deals program for bi-monthly in-store specials and coupons, marketing and training programs. In addition the NCG provides business development assistance to co-ops to support a strong and growing co-op network – through regional networking and store improvement programs, assistance with expansions, audits, and other services. This approach allows co-ops to continue operating with local ownership while gaining some of the advantages of a unified system.
In September 2014 we were able to offer “Co-op Deals” (national promotion for NCG Co-ops) for the first time to our customers and owners.
Consumer interface with co-ops nationally can be found at www.strongertogether.coop where you can learn more about how food co-ops come together to create a better world.
We are looking forward to more growth in ownership and sales to be able to support our Ends:
- Greater Sense of Community
- Community members are better informed about cooperative principles and personal and environmental health
- People in our area have access to healthy products
- A vibrant local food economy.
What is a Co-op?
Orientation to Food Co-ops:
Cooperatively-owned businesses are an alternative economic model.
Cooperatives are member-owned, member-governed businesses that operate for the benefit of their owners according to common principles agreed upon by the international cooperative community. In co-ops, owners pool resources to bring about economic results that are unobtainable by one person alone.
Most simply put, a cooperative is a business voluntarily owned by the people who use it, and operated for the benefit of its owners.
Statement of Cooperative Identity
The International Cooperative Alliance, established in 1895, is considered to be the final authority for defining cooperatives and the principles by which they operate. The organization has made three formal statements of cooperative principles over the past 100 years in an effort to keep them relevant to the contemporary world. At its 100th anniversary meeting in September 1995 in Manchester, England, the Alliance adopted the following Statement of Cooperative Identity:
A cooperative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically controlled enterprise.
Cooperatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, cooperative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility, and caring for others.
Click below to learn more about the Cooperative Way of Doing Business