Journal of the Indiana Academy of the Social Sciences

Document Type



Of the variety of alternative grocery stores that offer natural, organic, local, and health foods in the United States, food co-ops are one of the more unique business models for alternative foods. Unlike traditional retailers, they are collectively owned and democratically operated. Prices tend to be higher in co-ops because they carry high-quality foods that are generally fresh, locally sourced, or artisanal in nature. What motivates people to join co-ops and spend more money for their membership and foods compared to other stores? This article provides ethnographic and interview data with member-owners at a relatively new co-op in South Bend, Indiana. Eighteen students enrolled in an Undergraduate Qualitative Research Methods class in the spring semester of 2017 spent two months as participant observers at a co-op and collaboratively conducted 45 semistructured interviews with its member-owners. Several noneconomic issues factored prominently in the member-owners’ decisions to invest in the co-op. The majority viewed their decision to join the co-op and shop there out of a sense of responsibility for the economy and environment in their region, and to participate in and strengthen the community.