Today, co-ops play an important part in key corners of Maine’s economy. We see the highest potential in six sectors: 1) food, 2) affordable housing, 3) preservation of legacy businesses, 4) forest products, 5) tourism, and 6) craft manufacturing.
With food, dairy co-ops have long been central to that industry. Members of the 21 lobster co-ops pull in over a quarter of the state’s overall catch.2 Co-ops have long played a role in providing processing and distribution infrastructure for food producers. Worker-owned farms, such as New Roots Farm in Lewiston formed by Somali immigrants, can help new farmers more easily start their operations and own their own land by pooling capital and expertise. Meanwhile, as much as 400,000 acres of farmland in Maine will soon change hands (Maine Farmland Trust, 2016) largely due to the age of farmland owners. Co-ops can help preserve these working lands.
Second, many Maine communities face significant housing challenges. Raise-Op Housing Cooperative in Lewiston has purchased some of the community’s large stock of apartment buildings and brought homeownership back to the downtown neighborhoods. In the process, residents are sharing ownership, gaining access to affordable housing, renovating deteriorating buildings, and developing connections among themselves and with the broader community. RaiseOp members range from very low to middle-income families, and include veterans, immigrants, small business owners, single parents, and senior citizens.