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“It was a nice surprise to get in the mail,” Valerie said to me.

“Did you get one, too?” I asked.She was holding the Tidal Creek Patronage Refund check.

“I did, and you’re right, it was a nice surprise.”

Tidal Creek, our local co-operative food market, is member owned. Anyone can buy a share for $30 a year. Though it’s not mandatory to share in the ownership to shop at the co-op, it does have its perks. Among them: the year-end Patronage Refund.

Since it is cooperatively owned, instead of the profits from the store disappearing to a corporate office in another state—or an owner’s off-shore account—the money stays here and is distributed among the owners in this community. A couple of weeks ago we got letters in the mail outlining “the numbers.” This is what mine looked like:

• Your eligible 2009-2010 purchases: $1,950.49
• Your share of the distribution: $7.77
• Your patronage retained by the co-op: $31.08
• Your total patronage allocation: $38.85

Valerie pointed out that she didn’t realized she had spent nearly $1,300 at the co-op this year, but it was nice to see it in one specific sum. “You know, I go in there and buy food I want, need and enjoy quite frankly; but I hadn’t realized it was that. It’s kind of nice to know that.”

The letter explained that the Patronage retained by the co-op will be reinvested in the store to “reduce outside debt, new equipment, building repairs, improved services, and to fund long term development plans.” Like any small business model, money must be reinvested to make it grow.

The vouchers for each owner’s patronage refund can be redeemed for cash or put toward a purchase at the checkout counter. Valerie and I are both planning to redeem ours in food purchases rather than cash.

“Basically I have been refunded two bottles of milk,” I said to Valerie. She looked at my voucher. “Yeah, I think you are right—well, I hope you enjoy your milk.”
“I will,” I said. “I don’t want to sound like a complainer, but almost two grand and less than $10 seems a bit small.” OK, so I was embarrassed I said that out loud.
“No,” Valerie replied. “I know what you mean. I almost wish they had donated it to charity. But if that was a double digit number, I probably wouldn’t feel that way.”
For the record, Tidal Creek does donate a lot of money to local charities. Last year over $5,000 was donated to over 60 local charities.

Personally, though the dollar amount was not what I expected, I feel that my relationship with Tidal Creek and my feeling of “ownership” is strengthened. I do feel more invested in the long term growth of the company, now that I see what percentage of my money is being spent. Also, from a Live Local standpoint, to actually be one of the owners who gets money and spends it back in this community is a pretty wonderful feeling. Tidal Creek has spent $190,000 on food from local farms. Knowing that my shopping decisions helped make that possible is thrilling.

My two New Year’s resolutions are to eat more local food and to give up my credit card. My investment in Tidal Creek will help me accomplish the first one.

“The Promise of Peanuts: A real life fairy tale about a man, a village, and the promise that bound them together.” Available at www.OldBooksonFrontSt.com; all profits go to Full Belly Project (www.Fullbellyproject.org).

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