Maine, often referred to as the Pine Tree State, is known for its rugged coastline, pristine wilderness and resilient communities. It’s a place where cooperation isn’t just a value; it’s a way of life. In a state characterized by small towns and a spirit of caring, the power of cooperation is a driving force behind progress, resilience and community strength.

Mystic Desire is loaded up at the wharf before heading out for the day at Tenants Harbor Fisherman’s Co-op in 2016. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer, File

Though we celebrate the cooperative spirit throughout the year, October is extra special with its designation as National Cooperative Month. This is when we have an opportunity to join in the celebration of cooperatives and highlight Maine’s cooperative power.

This year’s theme, Co-Ops Build Economic Power, could not be more appropriate. As businesses face inflation and supply chain challenges, cooperatives provide stability and opportunity, which helps our economy and our community. As employees question their role in the economy, cooperatives are creating dignified, empowering jobs with paths to ownership and wealth-building. As communities tire of rhetoric, cooperatives are creating the meaningful diversity and equity at the heart of an inclusive economy.

Cooperatives play a substantial role in Maine’s economy across various sectors, proudly led by the industry I have spent nearly two-thirds of my life working in and being a part of, the credit union industry. Maine has a significant presence of credit unions, which are member-owned financial cooperatives. Credit unions offer financial services to individuals and small businesses, promoting financial inclusion and providing an alternative to traditional banks. In fact, Maine is the fifth strongest credit union state in the country, based on the percentage of population that belong to a credit union. Collectively, nearly 55% of the state’s population are credit union members. At Town & Country, we appreciate that 40,000 of the state’s credit union members have chosen to be part of our credit union as a member-owner.

Some of the state’s other vibrant cooperatives include housing, agriculture, fisheries and utilities. Maine has a strong agricultural sector, and cooperatives such as the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and various agricultural marketing cooperatives have helped support and sustain local farms. These cooperatives often enable small-scale farmers to access larger markets and provide consumers with locally produced, sustainable food. Fishing cooperatives have been critical in Maine’s lobster and seafood industries. These co-ops allow fishermen to pool resources for marketing, distribution and conservation efforts. They’ve helped maintain the sustainability of the lobster industry while providing economic stability for coastal communities. Housing cooperatives provide affordable housing options for Maine residents. These co-ops are often governed collectively by their residents, offering a sense of ownership and community.

Cooperatives typically prioritize local sourcing and community engagement. This can have a positive economic impact by supporting local suppliers, creating jobs and keeping money circulating within the community. In Maine, we have a long history of our communities coming together in times of adversity. Whether it’s responding to natural disasters like severe winter storms or providing support during economic downturns, the people of Maine understand that cooperation is the key to resilience. Neighbors help neighbors, and community organizations offer vital support systems.

The formation of cooperatives is often a response to a need. Whether it be access and local control over financial services and local food or helping to solve housing and health care costs, Maine’s willingness to embrace cooperatives is reflective of a deep commitment to nourishing innovation, fostering creativity and cultivating a way of life. As we celebrate National Cooperative Month, take a moment to look around your community and celebrate a cooperative that shares your values. Remember, when you are part of a cooperative, you are on the frontlines rather than the sidelines, a perspective that never gets old.

In a world often marked by division, Maine stands as a shining example of the power of cooperation. It’s a reminder that when people come together, they can overcome challenges, protect the environment, support local economies and build stronger, more resilient communities. The lesson from Maine is clear: Cooperation isn’t just a choice – it’s a path to a brighter future.

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