Meet the 2017 Summer Co-op Academy cohort in their own words! Below they explain a bit about what they've been up to with their co-op or their ideas on getting one started.
The theme of Kreyoleyez is founded on 'return of the roots' because our ancestors left us the blueprint for what we need to do to heal our communities and rebuild them. We envision opening marketplaces and farmer's markets focused on health conscious lifestyles, mutually beneficial partnerships, the power of the collective, unity, and holistic healing approach.
Our team is committed to racial and economic equity. The R’Garden and R’Pantry were spaces initiated by students of color on campus who saw the need around food security. We continue to center these spaces on students of color. By providing students with food and fresh produce, we help alleviate the struggle for a moment in time. Our hopes are to create a sustainable food coop with more access to fresh produce and nutritious foods so that students find community, are well nourished, and connect with one another.
The Moon Children Co-op
The Moon Children Co-op grew out of the leadership of Enlylh and from the revolutionary organizing body Atlanta University Consortium (AUC) Shut It Down, where some of our team met. Although the neighborhood where Moon Children is based is rich in culture and history, due to racist policies and economic underdevelopment, this area is a predominantly black/low-income food swamp/apartheid. Grocery stores, markets, and fresh food vendors are scarce, but fast food chains can be found on every block.
We want to attend the Summer Co-op Academy because we are passionate about encouraging food intimacy in our neighborhood and building community!
Student Food Collective
We are interested in the clear connection between food and well-being and how it is affected by almost all factors in a person's life: ethnicity, education, occupation, etc. We also engage much with college students' particular vulnerabilities regarding food insecurity, which greatly affects performance in academics and life.
We want to meet people who approach cooperative practices in ways different from ours in order to expand, further engage, and get to know more about how the issues of food insecurity and praxis of food justice vary across the country. Most of all, we want to attend the Summer Co-op Academy to contribute to the dialogue around food co-ops and imagine alternative economies on a grander scale.
We would like to attend the Summer Co-op Academy in order to increase our knowledge of the cooperative model and learn business and management skills that can allow us to implement our vision for a Macalester Co-op. Additionally, we would love the opportunity to collaborate with other college students that share our similar values, and our commitment to healthy sustainable food, as well as the goal of expanding this personal commitment to fulfill the needs of the community. Lastly, we are interested in attending the Summer Co-op Academy in order to learn ways in which we can put our anti-racist mission at the core of our work on this project.
Loaded Ladle and the Dalhousie Student Union Market
We want to learn about more ways that we can collaborate between the Loaded Ladle and the Dalhouse Student Union Market, two student run coops/businesses on campus. We also want to know how to make coops more sustainable within the economically oppressive (as well as racist and ageist) institutional structures of the status quo. Both the DSU Market and the Loaded Ladle lift each other up and both organizations seek to help the student community in alleviating food insecurity.
Maryland Food Collective
We want to learn more about co-ops other than our own and we want to learn how to better actualize the radical political feeling that created our co-op.
As a co-op, we have a few capabilities that individual people do not have; we can provide food, we can provide a public space, we can connect with a large base of people, etc. We would like to use all of these things to provide resources and support for people who could use them. We would love to collaborate with other cooperatives and collectives on how the Maryland Food Collective can continue to better the ideas that are working and correct those that are hindrances.
People's Market and Earth Foods Cafe
Attending the Summer Co-op Academy is an incredible opportunity to learn more about food coops, how they’re run successfully and how to establish a stronger sense of solidarity among co-mangers and the student businesses at Umass. We want to actively decolonize our practices not just in how we get our food, but within our hiring and democratic processes as well. As our student business network is starting the process of possibly incubating either a new student business or expanding the People's Market into a more traditional food co-op, the SCA would provide invaluable insight, experience, and guidance in making that endeavor come to fruition.
These co-ops don't have names yet, but these cooperators are actively thinking about how to turn their ideas for co-ops into reality.
Together, we've been growing vegetables and the next step is to develop a student co-op so young students can begin to get involved. Most campus food is not focused on real food, we plan to make our co-op the fun learning co-op. We have worked with different groups of urban farmers and discussed co-op and long term employment. We would like to come learn more about co-ops because we feel co-ops will be a way of the future.
In the economy, I think that more of the families are low-income families and they are the ones that need more help. Having them know and giving them information to help themselves; it's good for each other. I commit myself to bringing information from the Summer Co-op Academy to my community and letting our people know that whatever it takes it will be good.
Read more about CoFED's 2017 Racial Justice Fellows here.
Huge thanks again to all of this year's Summer Co-op Academy Sponsors!
Support CoFED with a contribution here!
Without a doubt, CoFED's Racial Justice Fellows represent not only the future of our community but also the future of the cooperative movement.
This year's Fellows, chosen from a competitive pool of 45 applicants across the US, embody the vision, values and spirit of our Racial Justice Fellowship, the only Fellowship there is for young people of color to deepen their leadership for racial justice and community-ownership in the food system. They exist and create in ways that only they can, radical acts in a world where simply being oneself is a dangerous project. And with the deep courage to bring communities together for collective liberation, they infinitely expand the possibilities for a safe, sustainable, and socially just world.
Dorian Blue (they/them) has worked as an ally in the food justice movement and a co-owner of the Maryland Food Collective since June 2015. During their time at the Maryland Food Collective, they have studied the power of food co-ops and collective power in communities. As a Racial Justice Fellow, Dorian Blue is cultivating a documentary titled “Through Word of Mouth,” which will integrate community interviews and collective narratives into a future resource for cooperatives, collectives, and radical start-ups. In response to the growing fascism and aggressive racism permeating social spaces, Dorian Blue hopes to unite fellow cooperative leaders and young activists in the fight for racial justice. Feel free to reach out to them at Dorian@cofed.org.
Dominique (he/his, they/them) describes themselves as an ethnically eclectic queer from Compton, whose first and last love is food. But as someone who grew up food unstable, it has also been one of the largest stressors in life. They have spent their life searching for ways to live that intrinsically connect to the ways they want to eat: communal, cultural, loving and sustainable. Dominique recently graduated from Oberlin College and moved to Baltimore, Maryland to work at Red Emma's Bookstore Coffeehouse, a worker-owned cooperative. After learning and building with that community, they moved to Everyman Theatre, where they work as a Development Assistant, helping to bring relevant, accessible and incredible theatre to communities historically denied access to the art form. For the Fellowship, they are conducting a 6-week urban food justice intensive, aimed specifically at queer people of color. The intensive will encompass a multitude of skill shares, workshops, field trips and discussions, lead by local activists, healers, farmers and teachers. Feel free to reach out to them at Dominique@cofed.org.
We asked Dorian Blue and Dominique a few questions about inspiration and social justice, and they asked each other a question of their own. Check out their powerful responses below:
Q: Which movements inspire you the most?
Dorian Blue: As a student of literature, and as a Black activist, I am inspired by the Black Arts Movement, which was a movement started by artists and poets in response to the Black Power Movement. The Black Arts Movement moves me because of the way that the artist of the movement utilized lyric, melody, poetry, and their own passion to articulate their unique experiences. The Black Arts Movement gave a lyrical voice to the unspoken for, and gracefully expressed a need for recognition and change within the system. While the militant approach of the Black Power Movement had its own power and place in Black liberation, the Black Arts Movement engaged initiated a powerful call-and-response between artists and activists within the movement. When I think about the Black Arts Movement, and its connection to the Black Power Movement, I think about the ways that we can weave powerful narratives around our activism, and create a network between our on-the-ground action and the art that is built in response.
I’m motivated daily by the movement for LGBT Rights, but I’m most inspired by the Stonewall Riots that were the beginning of that movement. I’ve been considering the power in the legacy passed down from the Black trans women who fought for transgender rights, and to end the oppression of the LGBT community. In the 1960s, members of the LGBT community were engaged in a constant fight for the normalization of their identities. Police frequently raided gay bars, invaded the safe space that community members had set up in these LGBT spaces, and targeted LGBT members for arrest and assault. The Stonewall Riots had their place in the LGBT Rights movement, as other rebellions have had their place in movements before ours. When I think about the Stonewall Riots, the LGBT Rights Movement that was intertwined with those riots, the Black Power Movement, and the Black Arts Movement that was a response to the Black Power Movement, I consider the ways in which our own movement can create a lasting change for our nation and for our communities, the ways that we can engage art and activism in a resounding call-and-response, and the most effective ways that we can fight for racial and economic justice today.
Dominique: I generally find that I gravitate more towards movements that are quite intersectional; the multiplicities of my identities (queer, Black, non-binary, etc) are rarely cohesively included in any movement, so the ones that do so stand out. The occasions that allow me to put my entire self on display are the movements that I lend my energy to, and those have been primarily Black Lives Matter and the current fight for Indigenous rights and water sovereignty. As two racial groups with a very complex history with themselves and each other, I have seen all the ways that space is being given to queer folks embodying a number of different identities, including two-spirit and non-binary folks. I’ve also seen the ways that activism is being made more accessible to disabled and neuroatypical folks, as well as the honor and respect with which these movements endeavor to treat both elders and youth. It is so hard to define a group of folks to fight for; that’s not how oppression works. However, the willingness to bring in and envelop all the folks on the fringes of their own people; the folks who have felt forgotten by movements past; this willingness is what inspires me.
Q: Who is someone who has impacted your approach to leadership?
Dominique: My Auntie Gina has probably had the biggest impact on the ways I endeavor to lead. As an elementary school teacher, no one knows the issues of corralling a group quite like her. Folks don’t perform well unless they are personally and specifically engaged, and she is an expert in tailoring her engagement technique to each and every one of her students. In that same way, I as a leader have learned how to revamp, reinterpret and relay my goals in a myriad of ways to showcase their relevancy to all of my collaborators, not just the most like-minded of them. I want to lead folks who are enthusiastically participating in this movement; the best way to do that is to show people exactly how they, specifically, are benefitted by/connected to the movement and the work being done.
Dorian Blue: My friend and fellow organizer, Jim Nolan, has shown me a lot about how to lead through his facilitation in collective spaces, quick thinking in organizing meetings, and a constant action towards creating new connections and new change. In my time organizing with him in activist spaces, I’ve learned that leadership is often about facilitating community, rather than demanding or directing. While working alongside him in collective spaces, I have found that leadership means stepping back and letting other people speak, nodding as you listen, and then prompting a discussion that leads to the discovery of an equitable solution. While partnering with Jim, I have learned the difference between order and bureaucracy, and that owning power does not equate to a right to dictatorship.
Q: What are your superpowers?
Dorian Blue: In my free time, I create erasure poetry, which is poetry made from words that are already present, whether it be on a page in a book or from any other source. As an art form, it inspires me to get creative about where I see new stories, and how I can piece them together. When working with histories and narratives as a researcher and as an organizer, finding meaning in those narratives requires a respect for the linearity and original meaning within those stories. However, as an erasure poet, erasure and augmentation of the text functions as a creative way to subvert the power imbued in normative texts.
I also like to think about erasure poetry in terms of how we find and build poetry (and other forms of art) from the narratives and histories in our communities. Through we learn the histories of countries and wars from the bias of schoolbooks, we learn about our family’s lineage and history from oral stories and anecdotes. As a person of color with a large extended family, I also know from experience how difficult it is to find stories about histories that have been lost in time, emigration, and language. In our families, and in our neighborhoods, how do we build new understanding from our discarded histories? I like to think that I have a superpower in finding new stories inside of old ones.
Dominique: Superpowers include a near-endless abundance of empathy and a plethora of scathing comments to deploy, both in my everyday life and in the movements I am a part of. Combined, they make me a pretty powerful support person; my abilities allow me provide comfort, sympathy and an actively listening ear, without cutting folks too much slack for the problematic things they engage in. Providing both criticism and comfort is extremely difficult, and often leads to folks either resenting folks for their candor or dismissing criticisms due to their emotional nature. However, a healthy dose of pragmatism, approachability and straight-up directness allows me to circumnavigate both of those pitfalls, and engage with folks on a level that most cannot.
Dominique asked Dorian Blue, "What food reminds you of home and why?"
Growing up vegetarian, my family meals put a large emphasis on tofu in all forms. Growing up, I ate tofu pan-seared and spiced, curried in coconut milk, crumbled with chopped green peppers as a breakfast scramble, and stuffed into whole wheat pitas. When I began working in the kitchen at the Maryland Food Co-op, I learned more about the politics, health, and production of tofu. In a Maker’s workshop last November, I learned the ways in which tofu could be made from raw materials. While cooking hot specials for the Co-op, we learned together how to make it stretch; through trial and experience, we learned how to make tofu dishes that were wholesome, tasty, protein-filled, nourishing. To me, tofu represents nourishment, but it also presents its history of production: unlike soybeans, tofu does not sprout from the ground as an edible product. Tofu requires hands to produce it, and arms to transport it, and therefore it carries its own politics. I also think about its versatility, and the may ways one can manipulate tofu to be nourishing and filling. Though many things in my life have changed since the years of my early childhood, tofu continues to remind me of home, while simultaneously reminding me how humans, too, can be versatile.
Dorian Blue asked Dominque, "What story inspires you to take action"?
I recently got to visit the office of The Real News Network, and speak with former Black Panther Party member Eddie Conway; it truly was one of the most important moments in my activist life at the moment. Eddie told us his story; how he was left in prison for 44 years, spending his time organizing and educating himself from the inside, then was released and immediately continued his work; rejoining the movement and joining the Real News Network. I told him I was tired; that I knew I had not fought long enough to deserve the feeling, but there it was. I asked him, as an active radical organizer, how he stayed energized and hopeful. He looked at me, very matter of fact, and told me he spent the first 6 months out of prison volunteering with kids in South Baltimore, showing them how to grow food in the abandoned apartments and warehouses littering their neighborhoods, before joining the Real News Network and continuing his liberation work. “Once you get woke, you stay woke. You can’t forget; there’s no fallin’ asleep again.” Those are words that I strive to remember for the rest of my life. They remind me that this is a responsibility that we cannot abandon. You cannot just be woke; you have to stay that way.
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Dominique and Dorian Blue will be attending CoFED's Summer Co-op Academy in July. Be sure to follow CoFED on Facebook and Twitter to get the latest on how their projects are coming along!
We are reaching out to the CoFED community for your support in recruiting a Director of Development/Co-Director. Do you love what CoFED does and want to see us level up? Want to help us grow our work and organizational capacity? We need you! Please join in the effort to share this announcement with family, friends, and colleagues who would be interested and qualified for the position.
CoFED has a deep belief in the power of young people to build a multiracial, multiclass, multicultural movement committed to creating alternatives to a racist and extractive food system that does not serve us as people or the planet. By building food co-ops, our communities can nourish, heal, and provide jobs and livelihoods for ourselves. In the process, which we believe must be led by those most directly impacted by injustice, we evolve towards collective liberation. If you’ve been following our work this past year, you’ll know that we’ve been working on exciting projects and accomplished much:
Launched our inaugural Racial Justice Fellowship program, which centers and invests in youth leadership of frontline communities.
Received unprecedented interest in our Summer Co-op Academy, with applications from California to Canada to Congo.
Published our #UnlearningWithCoFED monthly email series, where we’ve been questioning and learning together how co-ops fit into the larger visions of food, racial, economic, gender and climate justice.
Watched several campus co-ops start or scale - shout out to Best Food Forward at Ohio State and the Student Food Collective at UC-Los Angeles!
And right around the corner, look out for the release of the Co-op Cultivator Course, a semester-long online academic course.
Help us power this growth and find the best person to join the CoFED team! Please share this job description with your community! The deadline to apply is June 5th.
See full job description below or download the PDF.
Welcome to the 4th edition of the #UnlearningWithCoFED series! This time around, we're focusing on class and classism as a way to ground before the national immigrants' strike on Monday (May Day or International Worker's Day).
As you're reading the information below, also be thinking about how you can best support A Day Without Immigrants on Monday.
As a reminder for the new readers, here's how we define unlearning: a continuous process of questioning what and how we've been taught so that we can learn other ways of knowing, doing, and being that serve our collective liberation and help us dismantle all forms of oppression. Through our monthly #Unlearning posts, we'll be questioning and (un)learning together how co-ops relate to the larger visions of food, racial, economic, gender and climate justice.
CoFED is invested in co-ops as a way to radically redistribute wealth. That’s why we believe we cannot talk about co-ops and community-owned wealth without directly addressing class -- systemically and personally. Class isn’t just about money, although access to money is a big part of it. Class Action defines "class" as relative social rank in terms of income, wealth, education, status and/or power. By definition, then, class privilege includes the intangible and tangible unearned advantages that come with “higher class status.”
- Intergenerational wealth and educational privilege (your parents and grandparents and so on have advanced degrees and upper-class jobs)
- Personal or family contacts with employers Speaking with the same dialect/accent as people with institutional power
- Sharing the same social norms and culture of those with power and resources
- Secure, safe, and stable housing
- Good health care throughout childhood
- A college degree and no student debt
- Access to inherited money
- Citizenship or documented status
This “class privilege” x-ray from Resource Generation helps break it down:
Most Americans, regardless of their net wealth, incorrectly identify as “middle-class.” As a result, we wildly underestimate how bad wealth inequality actually is. Capitalism, classism, and massive racialized wealth inequality thrive in a culture that doesn’t talk openly about class or money, especially our personal and familial histories with money, class privilege, and where our families currently fall on the economic spectrum.
A first step to unlearning classism, and the related myths of capitalism, starts with openly talking about our class backgrounds. Two-thirds of CoFED staff grew up in families who fluctuated between the bottom 20% and 40% of US income distribution and are the first in their families to receive a college degree.
- Where does your family and/or your personal income put you on the economic spectrum? For example, a salary of $120,000 puts you or a household in the top 20% of the economy. You can figure out where you and your family land with this calculator. Has that changed over time?
- If your family is in the top 20% or so of the economy, how does your family talk about the history of success and wealth in your family? (Does your family employ people? If so, what kind of business practices, including wages and benefits does your family provide? Did you grow up with the support of domestic labor, like in-home caretakers?)
One persistent myth within U.S. society is how education enables economic mobility; this is related to the narrative of "personal responsibility" -- that if you haven't 'bothered to get a degree,' among other myths of meritocracy, you 'deserve' to be poor or all that stands between someone and economic security is a series of personal choices. By knowing more about our family's history as it relates to access to money and wealth, we can point out how systemic structures have helped lift up or challenge our families. For example, white families have had access to welfare, mortgages, and loans that have generated immense intergenerational wealth. Those same economic boosts have been and are systemically denied to people of color and their families. In fact, today's "white middle class" was created by racially exclusive welfare programs.
These welfare programs, combined with the first major wealth extraction in the U.S. through the enslavement of Africans and the genocide of Native people, have produced today's 'racial wealth gap.' A new report on the asset value of whiteness shows how education doesn't reverse this gap; the median white adult who attended college has 7.2 times more wealth than their Black counterparts and 3.9 times more wealth than their Latinx counterparts. Unfortunately, the myth that a college degree alone is the ticket to economic security is pushed hard on young people, especially young people of color. However, a college degree does come with serious privileges, as many jobs won't even consider applicants without a Bachelor's and many people, even with loans and scholarships, cannot afford to pay for college tuition.
For Native Americans and Asian Americans, who were conspicuously left out of the above study and whose data is often uncollected, the story is no less unjust.
- Even when Native Americans are similar to whites in terms of education level, state of residence, age, sex and so on, their odds of being employed are 31 percent lower than those of their equally qualified white counterparts.As a result, the unemployment rate among Native Americans is nearly twice that among whites (14.6% vs. 7.7%), and in 2010, Native Americans’ median wealth was equal to a mere 8.7% of the median wealth for all US persons.
- On the flipside, Asian Americans are often held up as the “model minority” counterexample to the racial wealth gap by pointing to their average or median incomes. However, wealth inequality among Asian Americans is greater than among whites. This means that wealthy Asians have more wealth than wealthy whites, but poor Asians are also poorer than poor whites. In other words, class can both reinforce racial inequalities and be reinforced within racial groups.
One of the most effective ways those of us who love co-ops can challenge both class and race-based wealth inequality is to stand strong for workers’ rights! In fact, unlearning classism includes questioning why conversations about food co-ops seldom mention the 20 million workers in the food system, many of whom are underpaid and underemployed people of color and immigrants. It also includes showing up for movements that center and are led by workers from working-class and poor backgrounds -- and following their lead.
THIS MONDAY -- May 1st, also known as May Day or International Worker’s Day, hundreds of thousands of poor and working-class people, led by immigrant communities, will go on strike all across the country.
Join the strike to make it clear that this country cannot function without workers and immigrants, especially those who are poor and/or working class.
The CoFED office will be closed on May 1st in honor of the national immigrants’ strike. Please let us know if you or your co-op will be participating in the strike as well! We hope to see you in the streets (if you’re able) or on social media! If you’re tweeting or posting on Facebook, tag us #UnlearningWithCoFED so we can cooperate among co-ops to stand in solidarity with working-class and poor immigrants everywhere.
Sign up to receive monthly #UnlearningWithCoFED emails sent to your inbox here: http://www.cofed.coop/about
Previous #UnlearningWithCoFED posts can be found here.
A few months ago, Hnin W. Hnin, CoFED's Co-Director, joined other co-op leaders for a discussion hosted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on the role of young people in the co-op movement.
You can check out that entire recorded discussion here. Enter your email and info at the link to access the webinar.
- Hnin W. Hnin, Cooperative Food Empowerment Directive, New York
- Morgan Crawford, North American Students of Cooperation, New York
- Jesus Lucero, USA Cooperative Youth Council, Minnesota
Cooperative history is rich with diversity spanning race, economic background, gender, and business sectors. The movement has largely focused on gaining customers and credibility within the broader world to be recognized as a legitimate business having long-standing social impacts. However, as we've advanced forward, we've largely forgotten to look back.
This webinar seeks to provide context and stories about one group that has been left behind in the conversation: the youth.
After our initial overview, we will explore the journey of three young cooperators and their work advancing the coop youth movement across the U.S. This discussion will serve as the end of a series of webinars discussing various aspects of the cooperative movement as we begin to look towards our future and those that will be serving in leadership capabilities across boards, sectors, and organizations.
Check out the recorded discussion here.
Synergy Airwaves is a new podcast series about the social justice movement. MD Spicer-Sitzes and Cathy Spicer-Sitzes, its cohosts and producers, recently invited Hnin W. Hnin, CoFED's Co-Director and mastermind behind the Summer Co-op Academy and Racial Justice Fellowship, to join them for a conversation about the food justice movement and co-ops!
Listen to the podcast here.
Hnin shares some of the thinking and motivation that went into developing curriculum for this year's Co-op Academy and Racial Justice Fellowship programs and provides a lot of insight into her experiences working to advance food justice. She shares how her background as a working class immigrant grounds her commitment to food and racial justice and the cooperative movement and what she believes the student food cooperative movement is capable of in moving social justice forward in this political moment. Give it a listen here.
For some great details about the Summer Co-op Academy (formerly known as the "Summer Institute"), fast forward to minute 23:00 to hear Hnin break down what's in store for those who attend it this year!
Learn more about the Summer Co-op Academy or Racial Justice Fellowship here.
We are so excited to share with you the Summer Co-op Academy and our first-ever Racial Justice Fellowship! The deadline to apply for both is March 15; please share with everyone who you think might be interested. Apply here for the Summer Co-op Academy and apply here for the Racial Justice Fellowship.
Why Summer Co-op Academy?
You have a right to quality education that supports you to become your best self, unlearn systems of oppression, and to build a new economy that empowers you and your community. CoFED Summer Co-op Academy (SCA) is a cooperative business boot camp that promotes education for transformation and liberation. It is a week-long, life-changing experience where college students like you can learn more about decolonizing our food system and building student food co-ops with a triple bottom line of food sovereignty, sustainability and social justice.
At SCA, you'll meet other social justice warriors who are interested in student food co-ops: what they are, why they're important, and how you can build one to grow your community's wealth, power, and access to fresh, affordable food. More details and application info here.
Why the Racial Justice Fellowship?
If you are age 18-30 (non-students and students alike can apply), t
his Fellowship can make your life easier by providing you with a $5,000 summer stipend to start or continue your work in advancing racial justice and community ownership in the food system; it respects the fact that no one should have to choose between resourcing their lives and working towards their own and collective liberation.
As a Fellow, you will be supported to transform the food system in whichever way feels most true to you and your community- through photography, art, poetry, cooperative development, cooking, research, and so on. Being a Fellow also earns you a full-ride scholarship to Summer Co-op Academy, where you'll join a powerful cohort of other young people who share your social justice values. More details and application info here.
Trust me, as an immigrant child of parents who idolized the “model minority” narrative, I didn’t expect to deeply resonate with social justice or cooperative models when I got to college. I even study pre-med (very traditional) at Evergreen State College (very non-traditional). But after joining the Flaming Eggplant Cafe - our campus’ only student food co-op - in Spring 2015, I can’t stop wishing everyone would be part of the cooperative movement. The Flaming Eggplant Cafe, or “The Eggplant” as our campus community calls it, is part of CoFED, a national network and training program that seeks to catalyze student food co-op development for racial and economic justice.
When I first got hired at The Eggplant to work front-of-house as a barista, server and cashier, I knew very little about cooperatives and collectives. Now I can say I’ve met Dr. Jessica Gordon-Nembhard, initiated Annual Reports as a member of the Outreach Committee, and fed a few of the inspirational farmworkers from Familias Unidas por la Justicia as part of the Catering and Events team. I can tell you that there is never a dull work assignment since sometimes many projects overlap with other positions!
There’s also fun events you get to attend. Last year, I had the pleasure of attending the 2016 NASCO Institute on Cooperative Resilience in Ann Arbor, Michigan (pictured at right). I learned a lot, and my experience pushed me to critically reflect on ways to make cooperative learning and work more accessible and palatable to communities aside from those that traditionally only have access to them through the privilege of being able to experience ‘alternative’ job situations such as a barista at a student-run collective cafe, facilitating group meetings or organizing for the organic farm. I had only been able to attend through the Low Income Scholarship.
Speaking from my own observations and experiences in various cooperative spaces and at The Flaming Eggplant Cafe, here are 10 things I’ve learned about co-ops and social justice:
1. Intentions Are Everything, But So Are Actions.
Intention versus impact is a hard rule to live by as it is more fluid than anything but in cooperative settings where work gets done solely through action, you start to realize there is no other truer idea.
Things get done through action, an idea may catalyse and inspire but action is always the real producer. Someone may say they mean to work on the Outreach binder but the real benefit is not the words but the finished product - something everyone can tangibly benefit from.
2. The Movement is Diverse.
No one model works the best. No collectivist idea works the best. One size does not fit all. Cooperatives are built to meet the needs of their community in whatever context they exist; some may have similar structures but they are inherently different because of their community, location, and values. For example, CECOSESOLA in Venezuela is a very large network of cooperatives with ferias, or markets, serving around 55,000 families. Their model has been copied in other countries but a key reason that they fail is simply a difference in culture. Same as with business models. It’s important that as individuals, we really value various perspectives and opinions as it breathes creative discussion and divergent thinking within these cooperative spaces - and creativity is the core of adaptability that sustains cooperatives and their work.
It’s important that as individuals, we really value various perspectives and opinions as it breathes creative discussion and divergent thinking within these cooperative spaces - and creativity is the core of adaptability that sustains cooperatives and their work.
3. Maybe Actually Step Back.
Progress doesn't always come in the external forms that we're used to, like direct action, continued assistance nor material building (for example, crowdfunding or reposting of updates or consistent volunteering). Sometimes progress for the movement and our work is internal; it's us taking a step back when necessary. Sometimes progress for the movement and our work can be within us, stepping back when it’s necessary.
It’s important to not have your ego develop an unhealthy possession over any work within a collective, nor does it mean letting others do all the work. Step back means you’ve come to a point where you can think critically about your positionality and know when you are needed and when you are not. For example, although I am the most experienced person on Outreach does not mean I have to facilitate or lead everything. The times I would’ve used my experience and knowledge would’ve hindered a new hire from gaining or practicing theirs.
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Speak Up But Don’t Be Afraid to Be Challenged Either.
It’s important that cooperatives foster environments where members feel free to speak up on whatever they want, though I’m noticing that there is too much focus on the emphasis of speaking out, but no real discussion on what happens after you’re heard. This starts to become the rocky territory on the problematic “freedom of speech” that often excuses problematic ideas. Freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from accountability or responsibility. Don’t be afraid to speak up, but you better make sure you know what you’re actually saying.
5. The Individual Struggle In The Collective Struggle.
I say this specifically for those of us living in the complicated multi-identity individualistic culture that is American culture: you will encounter moments when either you or an individual is at odds with the cooperative. There is no answer I can give but only that in this work you need to be prepared to pick and choose your battles and to think critically about yourself as an individual to this movement and what that means. To work cooperatively is inherently in opposition to Capitalism, as the system is built on the rampant hoarding of capital (most common is money) and endless privatization. With that said, if we through cooperative work challenged our ideas of private property, ownership, power, and autonomy in ourselves, our friends, our community, and our world - what would change?
6. Literally Make Space.
At the last co-op conference I attended, a white man was in an anti-oppression workshop that I was in as well. The issue that was plaguing him and his co-op was the lack of diversity. How he couldn't figure out how to get more people of color, queer folks, Muslims and other marginalized identities in his housing cooperative. Maybe he didn't think that the space he held could’ve actually been for the people he wanted there. Maybe it really was as simple as literally just giving someone the spot - as white supremacy culture has always prioritized white people without a second thought. Maybe not giving, but projecting the idea that there was no problem or issue of them taking it in the first place - as white supremacy so effortlessly tells white people that they can see themselves in anything, truly anything.
7. Forwarding Social Justice Can Be/Is Messy, But We’re Already Doing It.
Sometimes I see the forwarding of social justice as painting a picture. The white canvas can represent a world inherently built to be continued the way it is, shaped by discriminatory systems and maintained by problematic status quos. Sometimes in this work, we get written off as idealists who get burned out over our anxiety to build this perfect world, to see the final masterpiece in all its completion. In reality, each stroke is absolutely integral to the final piece, even if it will be covered or mixed by another stroke or color. Paintings are not simple colors with static methodologies, they are complicated and dynamic with layers upon layers of work done over time.
8. Movements are GLUTTONOUS with Time.
Movements are on their own schedule, even if people work so hard for them to happen now. This means movements will grow without you or me. Many folks at the conference talked about wanting the cooperative movement to grow but its already growing - case in point is you even thinking about it! The trees our ancestors planted are fed by us and with good care, the next generation will benefit from a bigger bounty of its fruits than we already have a small taste of. The beauty of student-run cafes is that there will always be students to feed and students who want to work at The Eggplant to feed them.
9. Every Person Matters in a Cooperative.
99 is not the same as 100. Capitalism would have you believe people are disposable but that’s simply not true. Everyone, with all the complex facets of their identity, has immeasurable capabilities that can be harnessed and challenged, deepening benefits of the work being done. The future will not be a homogenous tune; it will be of people contributing their own song and it will be a marvelous symphony.
10. MONEY IS NOT THE ONLY VALUE!
Cooperatives have seriously changed what values are for me: both what my values are, how I reflect them, and what I even consider to be values. If the anti-oppression work we do is centered around making monetary-equity, how are we any different from the capitalists we challenge? Yes, it’s important to get paid but low-pay labor I’ve done at the cafe has also benefitted me in ways that can't be tracked by bookkeeping. Through working at the Cafe, I can see the educational, environmental, personal and community value it has that simply cannot be explained on paper or summarized with a financial report.
I never thought my work at the Eggplant would take me to where I am today in this movement. Although I’ve only been with The Flaming Eggplant Cafe for a year and a half, I’ve learned so much about cooperatives and the cooperative movement.
In a world and culture disconnected from nature and from each other, the cooperative model and framework is one of the truest forms of collaborative resistance and change.
What’s amazing about the world of cooperatives is that it is exceptionally simple, yet divergent and adaptable - qualities that are important in facilitating the actions and change we need in order to shape the equitable and sustainable world we want and deserve.
With all that said, connect with your local cooperative! Ask questions, and make sure to ask a lot. ;)
Note from CoFED: Members of the Flaming Eggplant Cafe have previously participated in CoFED's Summer Co-op Academy, which is accepting applications now through March 15, 2017. CoFED Summer Co-op Academy (SCA) is a cooperative business boot camp that promotes education for transformation and liberation. It is a week-long, life-changing experience where college students like you can learn more about decolonizing our food system and building student food co-ops with a triple bottom line of food sovereignty, sustainability and social justice.
Contrary to popular imagination, college is "the real world," and students have a right to real food sovereignty.
In 2015, colleges spent over $16 billion on food. Most of that real money went into the pockets of real global mega-corporations that exploit real workers, communities, and living ecosystems. The Big Three - Compass Group, Aramark and Sodexo - which dominate and control 90 percent of dining services at colleges and universities, pulled in a total of $3.74 billion in profits. Meanwhile, an estimated 1 in 5 students experienced food insecurity. When colleges uphold the consolidation of corporate power in a food system that institutionalizes race, class and gender-based gaps in both food worker wages and ownership of food-producing, wealth-creating assets such as land, they only serve to perpetuate the social injustices in society at large.
The reality is that today's college students are not who you might think they are, and they're facing issues far more serious than homework. Of the 17.3 million students enrolled in college in 2014, nearly 36 percent were students of color. Moreover, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, 29 percent of students nationwide have household incomes below $20,000, 79 percent work full or part-time in addition to taking classes, and 35 percent are parents or have dependents (17 percent are single parents). A full 13 percent experience a form of homelessness, presenting yet another barrier to closing the growing gaps in 4-year college completion rates between the top income quartile (99%) and bottom income quartile (21%) and between white (43%) or Asian (63%) students and Black (21%), Hispanic (16%), or Native (15%) students. These disparities in college completion rates have long lasting impacts on earning potential and thus individual as well as community wealth accumulation, or lack thereof. And with a collective debt of $1.35 trillion, where is all the money that could've and should've gone to community-owned food, housing and education solutions?
We are talking about an entire generation of young people struggling to take back control of their food, their lives, and their futures -- and indeed the future of the world. Unprotected by the myth of a college "bubble", working-class students and students of color are impacted first and worst by the economic and ecological crises created by a food system and society fundamentally rooted in a racist logic of capitalism and colonialism; that's where CoFED comes in. CoFED is a national alliance and training program for campus-based food cooperatives and we are providing students with the tools to self-organize for food sovereignty, economic democracy, and collective liberation.
CoFED's work builds community and supports a new generation of food sovereignty leaders, especially young folx from the frontlines and the margins, to take back the power and wealth corporations have stolen from communities everywhere.
We measure our success by how many campus food co-ops we help to launch (7 since 2011!) and also how deeply we practice love and an understanding that community-owned food solutions, like worker-owned restaurants and cooperative grocery stores, offer the most transformative possibilities when they directly address the roots causes of inequality: white supremacy, colonialism, capitalism, heteropatriarchy, and so on. We are learning, unlearning and evolving every day, following the leadership of groups like the Renaissance Community Co-op (Greensboro, NC), NuWater Co-op (Houston, TX), and Mandela Foods Cooperative (Oakland, CA).
Want to help CoFED continue to dig up root causes and plant more seeds for food sovereignty, sustainability and social justice? Support our work here.
Below are the top highlights from our work in 2016:
Why should you give to CoFED this year?