Advocacy Activities at National Co+op Grocers

National Co+op Grocers (NCG) advocates on behalf of food co-ops and their communities to further our Mission and Ends. The following guidelines are developed with input and feedback from an Advocacy Advisory Committee made up of NCG member co-op representatives. These guidelines define the scope of NCG’s advocacy activities and help inform NCG positions on public policy as well as NCG’s operational decisions. NCG influences progress in areas identified on this page by these means:

  • Providing NCG member co-ops with resources, information and access to products that increase the sustainability of their operations and benefits to their communities
  • Advocating on federal policy to Congress and federal agencies
  • Funding partner organizations that can amplify our collective impact
  • Informing consumers about the issues identified in these guidelines

The following topic areas define the scope of NCG’s advocacy activities, both ongoing and aspirational. Like any organization, NCG’s resources are not unlimited, which means NCG staff prioritize efforts in those areas where we believe NCG can have the greatest positive impact given available resources and political realities. We recognize that progress may not be achieved in all areas in any given year. NCG advocacy efforts are proactive versus reactive or performative, aiming for consistent, measured, ongoing investments of time and resources to build traction and sustain efforts on behalf of member co-ops and their communities.

NCG Supports

Cooperative Business

NCG food co-ops operate with a cooperative business model based on international cooperative principles. Cooperative principles foster a business model that is socially just, participatory and committed to fairness and equity. NCG supports the cooperative business model in these ways:

  • Working directly and through partnerships with other cooperative organizations to open new food co-ops across the country, whether individual start-ups growing through grassroots efforts, or expansion of existing food co-ops into new markets
  • Investing in cooperative supply chains; reporting co-ops’ aggregate sales of cooperatively produced products annually
  • Informing consumers about co-ops and the benefits of cooperation
  • Communicating the benefits of the cooperative business model to federal policymakers and advocating for policies that are inclusive of cooperative businesses

NCG is an active member of the National Cooperative Business Association, which advocates for all cooperatives across a variety of business sectors.

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Inclusive Economies

As cooperatives, NCG food co-ops are uniquely positioned to show leadership within our industry to support an inclusive economy. An inclusive economy creates opportunity for all people, regardless of any attribute of their identity or location of their birth, to live with dignity, to support themselves and their families and to make a contribution to their communities. We acknowledge food system workers’ rights to a safe workplace, livable wages and benefits, affordable health care, and, additionally in the case of migrant workers, decent and dignified housing. NCG supports inclusive economies in these ways:

  • Encouraging NCG member co-op adoption of the Co-op Livable Wage and Benefits model; reporting progress annually
  • Supporting fair trade initiatives, both international and domestic; facilitating access to fair trade, Regenerative Organic Certified, Food Justice Certified and Certified B Corp products through promotions, category management and merchandising support; prioritizing products that have been certified to the most rigorous possible standards
  • Supporting inclusive trade by identifying suppliers certified or classified as at least 51% owned, operated and controlled by a racially minoritized individual or group, woman or women, LGBTQIA+ individual or group, person(s) with disabilities, and or veteran(s); providing promotions, category management, and merchandising support for these suppliers; reporting co-ops’ aggregate sales from these suppliers annually*
  • Informing co-ops when it becomes known or suspected that a supplier has failed to uphold workers’ rights, so that co-ops have an opportunity to respond according to their own independent processes and policies
  • Advocating for federal policies that uphold public rights to genetic diversity of seeds and animal breeds that humans rely upon for food, including support for Indigenous and smallholders’ rights to save seeds and the means to produce food, including the right to repair equipment

NCG is a Certified B Corporation. B Corporations are required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment. Additionally, we’ve pledged to achieve a United Nations Sustainable Development Goal to increase financial support of smallholder, fair trade, and producer co-ops by 20% by 2030.

*Racially minoritized includes but is not limited to Black/African American, Brown, Latino/Latine, Hispanic, South, Southeast and East Asian, Pacific Islander, Middle Eastern and North African (MENA), Indigenous (to North America) or Multiracial. LGBTQIA+ means Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, with the plus sign signifying everything on the gender and sexuality spectrum that language can’t yet describe. Persons with disabilities is inclusive of people with physical, sensory and mental disabilities. We recognize that these terms are not inclusive of the fullness of the human experience and will likely evolve in the future.

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Racial Equity

The food system in which NCG food co-ops participate is racist – built upon stolen land and labor, and dependent upon people of the global majority** earning low wages and working in vulnerable conditions. White people use structural racism to create an environmental apartheid and economic oppression that separates people of color from land and the means to produce or purchase nourishing food. At the same time, federal funds subsidize conventional food produced using industrial methods that produce toxins and pollutants. Due to environmental racism these harmful production practices are often located in poor communities of color without the political and economic power to secure sufficient environmental protections. In addition to environmental racism, racially minoritized people contend with genocide, enslavement, redlining, and xenophobia, which in many cases have led to cultural adaptations that, among other factors rooted in systemic racism, continue to contribute to diet-related disparities and disproportionately adverse health outcomes.

NCG recognizes that racial equity is urgent and long overdue, and that we must act with intention to avoid a complicit role in the food system that food co-ops have long sought to improve. NCG supports racial equity in these ways:

  • Tracking key metrics for racial equity in co-op stores and communities; reporting progress annually
  • Providing education about ways to improve racial equity outcomes for member co-ops’ staff, members, suppliers and broader community
  • Encouraging member co-ops to make institutional changes that create a safer space for participation and shared power among racially, culturally and economically diverse groups in determining the co-op’s mission, structure, constituency, policies and practices
  • Providing DEI-related professional development at all NCG conferences for co-op staff, as well as resources and guidance for co-ops that are ready to dismantle the systems within their stores and communities that prevent a more equitable and just society
  • Reevaluating and reimagining new models for a successful co-op that prioritize food sovereignty where food apartheid exists
  • Actively contributing to the success of food co-ops led by racially minoritized and economically oppressed communities
  • Funding racial equity initiatives; prioritizing organizations led by racially minoritized people for funding and ensuring all donation recipients are making active progress on racial equity
  • Informing member co-ops about cultural appropriation and encouraging co-ops to seek out and fairly pay suppliers from the culture in which the product originated
  • Lifting up food system reforms that organizations led by racially minoritized people support, and advocating for these reforms at the federal policy level, including corrections for past discrimination and current inequities in land ownership, labor conditions, and exposure to toxins and pollutants

In 2018, NCG began work with a consultant to develop NCG staff understanding of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) concepts, which inform our advocacy for racial equity. In 2021, NCG created a full time Racial Equity and Food Justice Manager position to lead the work internally and among food co-ops. We evaluate NCG advocacy and sustainability activities, including funding decisions, federal policy advocacy, and resources developed for co-ops, to ensure they help counter white supremacist narratives. NCG commits to actively raising up minoritized voices and holding our partner organizations accountable for doing the same.

** Race is an artificial construct with real consequences. Language constantly evolves to acknowledge and correct for this. Although the term “BIPOC” (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) is used within our industry and has been the term many of us are most familiar with at NCG, we are moving away from this term as we seek to use language that better represents how people self-identify and refer to their own communities. The use of the acronym "BIPOC" has garnered criticism for perpetuating a framework that centers whiteness and reinforces a binary division between 'white' and 'non-white' groups, inadvertently promoting "othering." This term, while well-intentioned, can contribute to an essentializing narrative that oversimplifies the complex experiences of various racial and ethnic identities. The evolving nature of language calls for an ongoing review of terminologies, so we are shifting towards more inclusive and factual alternatives such as "people of the global majority” to collectively describe Black/African American, Brown, Latino/Latine, Hispanic, South, Southeast and East Asian, Pacific Islander, Middle Eastern and North African (MENA), Indigenous (to North America) or Multiracial individuals and communities.

The term people of the global majority acknowledges the diversity and richness within racially minoritized communities while avoiding the binary connotations present in "BIPOC.” Additionally, the use of "minoritized" instead of "marginalized" or "underrepresented" emphasizes that the focus is on systemic power dynamics and societal structures rather than suggesting a lack of agency. It is essential to remain sensitive to the nuances of language in order to better reflect the diverse and intricate realities of individuals and communities. We recognize that the list of racially minoritized groups named here is incomplete and imperfect; we actively seek input to expand our current understanding.

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Food Justice

NCG recognizes racism and poverty — and the federal policies that perpetuate them — as root causes of food insecurity. Additionally, people in the disability community, particularly those with intersectional identities, face higher costs of living and restricted access to food. NCG seeks to balance the alleviation of immediate suffering among those who are hungry, through support for food assistance and community pantries, while also prioritizing longer term efforts that address the root causes of food insecurity. We acknowledge all people’s rights to food sovereignty: nutritious, healthy and culturally appropriate foods produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and the right of communities to define their own food and agriculture systems. NCG works to end food insecurity and contribute to food sovereignty in these ways:

  • Tracking key metrics for food insecurity in co-op communities; reporting progress annually
  • Encouraging food co-op donations to, as well as other forms of partnership and collaboration with, community food pantries
  • Expanding and improving competitive pricing programs, such as Co+op Basics
  • Advocating for well-funded federal nutrition programs and related grants; encouraging co-op adoption of these programs
  • Assisting NCG member co-ops that encounter delays or denials of their SNAP and WIC authorization or reauthorization applications due to their co-operative business model
  • Providing member co-ops with resources and information to support translation of materials into multiple languages
  • Encouraging member co-ops to provide inclusive facilities and infrastructure, including all gender restrooms and accessible websites and media
  • Providing member co-ops with resources and information about improving accessibility and belonging for disabled, neurodiverse, immunocompromised, and chronically ill shoppers and employees
  • Funding organizations working towards long-term systemic change by addressing root causes of racism and poverty
  • Recognizing that hearing the perspectives of people with limited purchasing power is a prerequisite to meeting their needs; committing to sharing information and resources that reflect active listening to the communities we wish to serve

NCG’s ongoing support for operational excellence among NCG food co-ops is foundational to our collective ability to alleviate food insecurity. Operational excellence leads to efficiencies that allow co-ops to offer affordable prices while fairly compensating staff and suppliers. As NCG food co-ops continue to support local food and farming, and by deepening our efforts to achieve racial equity, we contribute to our communities’ food sovereignty, a powerful antidote to food insecurity. Additionally, NCG is a longtime supporter of the Food Co-op Initiative, which provides resources for people in the U.S. working to start up a food co-op that meets the needs of their community. These grassroots, ground up efforts embody the cooperative movement’s potential for food justice.

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Local Food and Farming

NCG food co-ops are anchor institutions in their communities, sourcing from local farmers, ranchers, artisans and other producers, strengthening the local economy and contributing to their communities’ food sovereignty. As humanity encounters a challenging new normal brought on by the pandemic and climate crisis, food co-ops’ longtime investments in local agriculture are providing a model for nimble, resilient local supply chains that can help communities survive, thrive and reduce the resources it takes to get fresh foods to market. NCG supports food co-ops’ commitment to local food and farming in the following ways:

  • Empowering food co-ops to focus on local supplier relationships by maintaining national purchasing contracts for core products and supplies; reporting co-ops’ aggregate sales of locally produced products annually
  • Providing resources to help co-ops build strong relationships with producers and farmers in their communities by recording and sharing institutional knowledge
  • Advocating for federal policies that invest in local agricultural development, expand local processing infrastructure, and level the playing field for small, mid-sized, and racially minoritized producers, prioritizing USDA Certified Organic producers
  • Advocating for federal policies that prioritize funding for localized meat and poultry production and processing facilities that reduce animal agriculture’s contribution to climate change and meet consumer demand for humanely produced animal products
  • Advocating for federal policies that protect competitive markets for small and mid-sized, independent farmers and retailers; advocating for regulations that avoid unintended consequences for cooperatives by informing policymakers about International Cooperative Principle Six: Cooperation Among Cooperatives (P6)
  • Collaborating with family farmer organizations whose on-the-ground experience can help inform sound federal policy and foster sustainable farming practices
  • Sharing resources and facilitating networking among co-ops to support their efforts to strengthen the local food system through local policy, planning and collaboration

NCG sponsors the National Farm to School Network (NFSN), which works to bring local food sourcing, school gardens and food and agriculture education into education settings. Like food co-ops, NFSN is committed to racial equity, advocating for federal nutrition programs and working to create robust local farming systems, while also providing kids with nutritious foods and connecting families with their local food suppliers.

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Organic Certification

Organic food and farming are a longstanding priority and passion for NCG food co-ops, many of which played a role in the establishment of the USDA National Organic Program by being vocal advocates for the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990. This federal law governs a uniquely democratic process that grants the public the opportunity to assist with the continuous improvement of organic regulations, ensuring they meet consumer expectations and earn consumer trust.

NCG values USDA Organic certification because it represents a federally regulated, transparent and regenerative food system that addresses consumer interests across a holistic range of attributes. Consumers who wish to avoid pesticides, GMOs, added hormones and antibiotics, promote animal welfare, protect the climate and foster biodiversity can look to the USDA Certified Organic seal for assurance that a product meets these standards. NCG recognizes that strong standards are foundational to the USDA Certified Organic seal’s market success. NCG supports organic production and strong standards in the following ways:

  • Tracking NCG food co-ops’ USDA Certified Organic sales; reporting progress annually
  • Facilitating access to USDA Certified Organic products through promotions and category management support
  • Providing resources that support a culture of organic integrity at food co-ops where staff understand and utilize Good Organic Retail Practices and consumers have the information they need to understand the value proposition of the USDA Certified Organic label
  • Advocating for strong organic standards by informing federal policymakers of the critical role of the National Organic Standards Board and public process in maintaining the market for organic foods; supporting consistent, strong enforcement of organic standards, domestically and internationally, and opposing policies and practices that weaken those requirements
  • Advocating for federal policies that support organic food production, including protections for organic farmers from inadvertent environmental contaminants; research to develop regionally adapted seeds and breeds well-suited to organic systems; and, organic supply chain infrastructure expansion that supports small, mid-size, and racially minoritized producers and decentralizes processing
  • Advocating for federal funding for diversified, organic farming on par with funding reserved for conventional and commodity agriculture so that organic food can be more affordable to all people while paying farmers and farmworkers fairly to produce it
  • Partnering with organizations to increase Certified Organic acres by preserving existing organic farmland, transitioning conventional acreage to organic, supporting new organic farmers, and training farmers in regenerative organic practices

NCG is a co-founder and member of the National Organic Coalition and member of the Organic Trade Association, bringing the perspective of consumer owned food co-ops to bear on national advocacy efforts to strengthen and continually improve the national organic standards.

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Climate Action

NCG acknowledges that the climate crisis is an existential threat to humankind and poses a significant risk to the food supply. NCG supports efforts to reverse global warming backed by rigorous scientific consensus, such as reducing our operations’ greenhouse gas emissions from energy use, refrigerants and wasted food. Additionally, we recognize the potential of healthy soils to store carbon through regenerative-organic methods that support soil microbiota for long-term sequestration. NCG is responding to the climate crisis in the following ways:

  • Encouraging NCG food co-ops to calculate and reduce their operations’ greenhouse gas emissions; promoting efforts to reduce food waste through operational efficiency and consumer information
  • Providing resources to member co-ops on refrigerant management and natural refrigeration to address the primary grocery greenhouse gas emission source, hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants
  • Encouraging member co-ops to adopt sustainable equipment retrofits and making recommendations for carbon footprint reduction strategies
  • Showing leadership within our supply chain to advocate for federal policy positions supported by climate scientists, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, foster regenerative-organic production practices and prepare for climate-related supply disruptions
  • Advocating for federal policy that strengthens local food systems, preserves USDA Certified Organic’s continued role as a solution to the climate crisis; supports regenerative-organic farming research and adoption; diverts organic materials from the waste stream into composting and other regenerative channels; reduces animal agriculture’s contributions to the climate crisis and, incentivizes significant reductions in the food system’s greenhouse gas emissions
  • Supporting mitigation strategies that achieve long-term, verifiable carbon sequestration, encourage ecosystem benefits, reduce net pollution, and do not perpetuate environmental racism
  • Informing consumers about the benefits of food certifications, labels and innovations that meaningfully reduce greenhouse gases
  • Targeting disaster relief and recovery efforts to the most vulnerable populations, emphasizing cooperative development and the restoration of a safe, sufficient and culturally appropriate food supply

NCG participates in the Climate Collaborative and has made commitments in the areas of policy, agriculture and food waste. We’ve pledged to achieve a United Nations Sustainable Development Goal to offset our Scope 1 [natural gas and ground travel] and 2 [electricity] carbon emissions annually through at least 2030.

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Environmental Responsibility

Food co-ops provide communities with agency over their own food and water supplies even where bias in state and local governments have led to environmental racism and neglect. NCG believes a healthy environment is a prerequisite for healthy people and a sustainable, resilient food system, and promotes efforts to improve the positive environmental impacts of the food industry. To that end, NCG encourages practices among our community of co-ops, manufacturers and distributors that support healthy, resilient systems and that regenerate natural capital. NCG supports food co-ops’ efforts to improve our environmental impact in the following ways:

  • Encouraging active co-op participation in Co+efficient, which helps member co-ops measure, analyze and improve their environmental and social impacts
  • Promoting waste reduction and encouraging alternative packaging at manufacturer and distributor level, particularly, reduction of plastics and increases in reusable packaging; working with industry partners to research and provide the most environmentally friendly options possible in NCG programs/services, including tangible items such as branded packaging
  • Informing co-ops and consumers about environmental contamination of our food supply; advocating for federal policies that strengthen environmental regulations to reduce and remediate persistent environmental contaminants in our food supply
  • Advocating for federal policies that improve animal welfare for food animals and reduce the food system’s burden on biodiversity and the environment
  • Partnering with organizations led by racially minoritized people working at the national level to reduce health disparities resulting from environmental racism

Through NCG, food co-ops have opportunities to track their progress on key environmental and social metrics by participating in Co+efficient, which helps co-ops measure, analyze and improve their impacts.

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Engaged Citizens, Vibrant Communities

As democratic, community owned grocery stores, food co-ops are uniquely well positioned to engage citizens in their communities and improve quality of life in their neighborhoods. As we overcome our own biases and reimagine community, food co-ops can contribute to cities and towns with more joyful, regenerative work opportunities, safer spaces, and life-affirming connections to our food and environment. NCG supports co-ops in engaging their communities in the following ways:

  • Empowering NCG food co-ops to direct more attention to local product sourcing, community wellness and local economic benefit by providing tools and resources that improve operational efficiency
  • Sharing data that helps co-ops understand the demographic and socioeconomic makeup of their communities; and, providing guidance to assist member co-ops in understanding and responding to their communities’ needs across demographic and socioeconomic groups
  • Advocating for and educating around product labeling that improves consumers' ability to make informed choices
  • Informing the public about food system issues through food co-ops’ national media platforms; informing co-ops and their members of opportunities to engage in public policy
  • Sharing resources that help co-ops to be leaders in civic engagement and active participants in affecting positive change in their communities
  • Continually learning, unlearning and reimagining what it means to be in community with others; courageously modeling equitable actions with a willingness to admit mistakes and make amends so that our community-owned markets can equitably serve all people

NCG food co-ops are owned by over 1.3 million people and contribute to community wellness and local economic benefit in more than 200 communities nationwide.

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Changes to Guidelines

Staff who work at an NCG member food co-op can learn more about serving on the Advocacy Advisory Committee and how to propose a change to these guidelines by logging into the NCG website.

Want to participate in food co-ops? Find a NCG member co-op near you.