Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2013

Document Type



Environmental Studies

First Advisor

Prof. Nancy Billica

Second Advisor

Prof. Dale Miller

Third Advisor

Dr. Carol Conzelman


The United Nations deemed 2012 the ‘International Year of Cooperatives.’ A cooperative (co-op) is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet a common social or cultural need. They are member owned, economically democratic businesses used as vehicles to build community. Co-ops take on many forms depending on the needs of a group of individuals. There are many sectors of cooperatives; in the United States specifically there has been a large prevalence of consumer based grocery (food) cooperatives starting in the early twentieth century. First influenced by the Great epression in the 1930s and then again towards the 1970s at a time of social revolution, they have proved to be quite successful. This sustainable business model has generated more than $250 billion dollars in annual revenue with 150 million members of cooperatives (some belonging to multiple) in the United States. Now with growing economic instability and increasing food insecurity in the United States, the newest wave of food cooperatives is emerging. With it, there is almost 100 years of cooperative literature available to assist new co-op founders. However, cooperatives today are not facing entirely similar issues as previous ones. What can be learned from the literature, successful development models, and advice from food existing cooperatives, to aid in the development of food cooperatives today in the United States? Food co-ops provide a way for entrepreneurial individuals to meet the needs of and provide valuable services to their communities. This paper is an analysis of food cooperatives in the United States, including their history and current operational information. I propose that by identifying key variables to classify food cooperatives into four distinct categories, there is more clarity and structural support during initial development stages. Each cooperative’s mission may be identical or vastly different, but furthering the food cooperative movement is not only deepening a community’s connection with food it is promoting democracy, health, and overall long-term well-being for its members.