Had you heard about cooperatives before you got to know A Yard & A Half Landscaping Cooperative? October is the month to spread the word about the benefits of cooperatives and celebrate the co-op movement! This month we’re celebrating National Cooperative Month along with 40,000 other cooperative businesses serving more than 120 million people nationwide.
Still not quite sure what co-ops are all about? Officially a cooperative is “an autonomous association of people united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically controlled business.” Cooperatives are guided by 7 principles and, in honor of National Coop Month, we asked some of our members how A Yard & A Half puts these principles into action.
1. Voluntary and Open Membership
Roberto Fuentes, one of our newest co-op members recently promoted to Maintenance Account Manager, explained that every worker has the opportunity to buy-in to the company and become a member after 3 years of work. At the same time, anyone at A Yard & A Half Landscaping Cooperative can decide to hold off on becoming a member; membership, which involves both additional rights and responsibilities, is completely voluntary.
2. Democratic Member Control
As a co-op member you have the right to 1 vote, just like every other member. At A Yard & A Half all of our members meet monthly to discuss ideas for improvement, as well as concerns, and to vote on major business decisions together. Additionally, each member sits on a committee to develop proposals for the board and to delve deeper into topics like finance, member education, supporting the board, and human resources. Thanks to Jim Megson, former Executive Director of the ICA group, for all your help engaging our members in our newly developed committees!
3. Member Economic Participation
Like every co-op, members of A Yard & A Half buy-in to the company, share profits equitably, and share the financial burden in hard times (so far we haven’t had to worry about this last part!). But one unique aspect of our co-op is our open book management style. “I think it’s amazing. It helps people to understand better how the business operates,” says Mario Pineda, coop member from the start and Garage Operations Manager. Even before we were a co-op, A Yard & A Half has shared our financial statements with all employees to engage them in the process of running an effective business
4. Autonomy and Independence
Koletta Kaspar, long-time Yard & A Half Horticulturist and aspiring coop member, emphasizes that what’s great about our cooperative, as with other coops, is that we’re not beholden to shareholders or outside institutions, “we’re beholden to one another”. With autonomous decision-making power comes accountability to each other and A Yard & A Half Landscaping Cooperative has been fostering an environment of caring for each other since the beginning.
5. Education, Training, and Information
“While we’ve always invested in professional education like horticulture and jobsite safety, now that we’re a co-op, we’re also learning how to make good business decisions, communicate more effectively, and participate in the cooperative movement,” says Carolyn Edsell-Veter, co-CEO and former landscape maintenance crew member. In our transition from a privately-owned company to a co-op, we’ve learned in practice that cooperative education and training is crucial to growing a worker-owned business. Carolyn says she appreciates that, “rather than leaving all of the high-level decision-making to someone with particular formal credentials, we see it as our responsibility to help members and member-candidates develop their own ability to assess how best to meet their needs through running a profitable business.”
6. Cooperation Among Cooperatives
As one of A Yard & A Half’s newest employee, Samantha Wolfe, Membership Engagement and Marketing Coordinator, says that she can really see how we’re an important part of the larger cooperative movement. This past July we sent 4 of our members to the USFCW and members have already brought their learnings from the conference into our monthly board meetings. Our work with the Greater Boston Chamber of Cooperatives has also enabled us to connect with other local co-ops at their recent co-op social, as well as work in collaboration with other co-op members, developers and city officials to promote city-wide support of new and growing cooperative entities.
7. Concern for Community
Laurie Halpin, our office manager since 2006 and co-op member since we first incorporated in 2013, appreciates that even before we incorporated as a cooperative, A Yard & A Half has demonstrated care for our community and environment. We don’t use synthetic chemicals in our landscaping and we buy our supplies locally. Laurie fondly remembered one of our annual pro-bono projects at the Children’s Room in Arlington where we installed a Healing Garden for children dealing with loss. By donating design services and labor, we bring beautiful landscapes within reach for under-resourced schools, congregations, community greenspaces, and non-profits