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?
Student food cooperatives are located across the country and doing amazing work to take back our food system. We'd like to shine a light on some of the businesses as incredible models for empowerment and change! Take a few moments to read through how these student cooperators are applying cooperative principles on their campuses and growing the movement for a new economy and food justice.
We'll continue to update this post over the next month so stay tuned for updates.
Students Supporting Students
Since its founding in 1976, Earthfoods Cafe at the University of Massachusetts has grown from only a few members serving less than 50 people a day into a staff of 23 co-managers who, with their powers combined, serve more than 400 people a day. As a cafe, they provide an alternating menu of delicious local vegetarian food with produce they source from student farmers of the UMass Student Farm. Earth Foods’ ‘students supporting students’ ethic extends beyond food, too. They recently announced plans to support local student artists by turning the cafe into a working art gallery.
Behold the deliciousness of this menu, posted for the week of October 24:
Monday- Tempeh Reubens & Almond Joy Cupcakes
Tuesday- Vindaloo & Blueberry Coffee Cake
Wednesday- Eggplant Ratatouille & Zaynah's Chocolate Cake
Thursday - Mac'n'Cheese & Berry Lemon Gazpacho
Friday- Portabella Burgers
From Buying Club to Hub of Student Power
UC Santa Cruz’s Kresge Natural Foods Co-op started out in the 70s as a ‘buying club,’ a group of people who would make bulk purchases of healthy food together to mitigate costs. Today it’s a not-for-profit student owned and run grocery store and community space. Although they operate independently from the college, the co-op accepts meal plan dollars from students, as well as food stamps (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).
The co-op uses Facebook to show off the variety of available produce, and have even solicited their Facebook audience to help the team fill out historical details of the local co-op movement in their community. They are even getting into the holiday spirit by hosting a “spooktacular co-op event” this week. Organizing and hosting events is a great way to build relationships within the co-op team and the local community, which they’ve used to support other student initiatives, like a student-led resistance campaign to stop the destruction of a beloved and long-standing creative community for students known as the USCS Trailer Park.
Rad is an Understatement
Rad Dish Co-op Cafe at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA is an oasis of nutritious food within a food desert. The cafe, which opened in 2015, provides organic meals with food sourced from farms within 150 miles, all for around $5 each. The cafe also serves as a community hub hosting over 20 community-building and educational events that were attended by nearly 700 people just this year. The co-op’s events range from fun, light-hearted open-mic nights to lectures from experts on cooperative business models. Next week, Rad Dish Cafe is hosting Dr. Jeffrey Doshna, a professor at Temple University, for a discussion entitled “Cooperatives and the American Market: How the Co-op Model Improves Business in America and Makes Financial Sense.”
Rad Dish’s serious commitment to the cooperative movement has not gone unnoticed. They were recently awarded the Student Sustainability Leadership Award by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education and the Locavore Champion Award from the SustainPHL Awards.
Soaring Towards Food Access For All Students
Across all nine campuses in the University of California system, approximately one in four students skip meals in order to save money, according to a 2010 survey of undergraduates. But it wasn’t until last year that the university took on food insecurity with the opening of SOAR Food Pantry, helmed by Andrea Gutierrez. Students accessed it more than 1,000 times in its first four months, a clear indication of its importance.
Andrea’s commitment to ensuring all students have access to nutritious and affordable food led her to CoFED’s Summer Co-op Academy this year, which she attended with Teresa Gaspar and Vania Agama. In Andrea’s words, she wants to “change the mentality that hunger is a part of the college experience.” She oversees programs that expand access to the food pantry as the Food Access and Security Coordinator for UCI’s Student Outreach and Retention Center. Just a couple days ago to mark Food Day, SOAR held UC Irvine’s first free farmer’s market, which served 268 people.
Nothing Mixed about this Co-op's Success
Mixed Nuts, a student-run co-op at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA has been around since 1972, providing affordable organic food to their community. The co-op is a storefront and buyers' club enabling members of the community to buy food in bulk, and students the ability to sell homemade goods on consignment. There’s nothing mixed about the co-op’s success -- Mixed Nuts is the longest running student group of any kind on the Hampshire campus and students continue to oversee its growth and success.
They just announced longer hours -- open almost 12 hours a day during the week. They also continue to promote co-op benefits on their active social media pages, like a monthly raffle that rewards co-op customers who bring in their own container or bag. Every time customers bring in their own bag, they can enter into a monthly raffle to win a $5 gift card.
From Co-op Curious to Food Justice Leaders
The student team at Wesleyan University in Connecticut is motivated by changing people’s relationships with food from passive consumers to informed and engaged participants in the food system. Through Local Co-op (or LoCo), students can use their meal plan points to buy shares of vegetables, fruit, bread, dairy, meat, coffee, preserves, tofu, seitan, cheese and eggs. In true cooperative fashion, these shares are also available to non-students, including faculty and community members.
The LoCo team manages the logistics of making sure everyone gets their yummy and nutritious shares and they make time to organize trips to local farms they’ve partnered with. They also send some of their team to national conferences like the Real Food Challenge, where they gather with student food activists from across the country to advocate for increased access to community-based, fair, ecologically sound and humane food sources.
So, pretty amazing, right? And that's just a few of the student-teams we've worked with over the years. Stay tuned for more updates!
If you want to help CoFED support more cooperative-minded students, consider chipping in to support the Summer Co-op Academy!
Every summer, CoFED hosts a selected team of cooperative-curious students at a week-long conference where we train them in scaling cooperative, sustainable food ventures. When it’s over, students are amped and super-prepared for developing their own campus-based food cooperatives or taking an existing one to the next level. Students also develop life-long connections with fellow cooperators; because the students we work with each have enormous potential to help grow the cooperative movement at large, we consider Summer Co-op Academy one of the most important times of the year.
Support CoFED's Summer Co-op Academy here.
Presenting the Summer Institute Cohort 2016!
In her four years with CoFED, Anna Isaacs has not only witnessed CoFED's growth but has led that development with her diverse talents and keen insight. In a short interview, we asked CoFED's new Director 3 questions about the cooperative and food justice movements, and found out what keeps her up at night.
1. What life experiences are you bringing to your role as Acting Director?
I’ve been working in and developing cooperatives for 8 years. It all started when I was doing research in Venezuela, on their government’s investment in social programs and infrastructure to benefit people in poverty. A form of Participatory Budgeting had been implemented in most communities and many cooperatively-owned businesses and farming communities were being formed. While there, I worked in CECOSESOLA, a joint urban-rural association of mostly food and health care cooperatives that serve 55,000 families weekly.
Around that same time, the U.S. was experiencing a bust in Capitalism’s cycle – the Housing Market Crash of 2008. My parents were both in that industry, and back home in Kentucky, they were losing the family-owned business that my dad had been building from a young age. I had to get a job fast and so did janitorial services at my college’s dormitories. In my search for a more empowering work environment, I found a work-study job at the student-run café and, inspired by my time in Venezuela, helped transition it to a worker-collective.
America loves to talk about democracy but when it comes to the workplace, these institutions that we spend most of our waking life at in order to sustain ourselves and families, look like the opposite of democracy. The experience of working in a democratic workplace transformed and empowered me. I took pride in feeding our campus community nutritious foods and the fact that our restaurant’s purchases were helping stabilize other women, minority, and small-producer businesses in town. To me, cooperative development is a form of economic development that helps us reclaim ownership over our livelihoods, which translates to claiming ownership of our lives!
2. What social issues drive you and your work?
I think the conversation around food justice gets me fired up because it all comes down to ownership, having the ability and agency to produce and consume food. We currently exist in a food system that is basically an integrated chain of corporate powers. Rather than provide for all, it is designed to create profit for a few by exploiting many. A child growing up today has 1 in 3 chance of developing diabetes; for African American and Latino kids that’s a 1 in 2 chance.
And so food justice finds a perfect home within coops, because cooperatives are community-owned businesses that are accountable to the needs of their community and governed by them. For example, the Renaissance Community Coop in Greensboro, North Carolina is currently breaking ground to alleviate an 18-year food desert and bring good jobs, healthy living options, and community wealth to a neighborhood that struggles with obesity, diabetes, unemployment, and poverty.
Cooperatives can provide economic engines to fuel our social movements, because they organize resources and funding, so that working people can “own the change.” Jessica Gordon Nembhard explains this well when talking about how when black sharecropping communities in the south were registering to vote in the Civil Rights Era, white landowners could threaten eviction since sharecroppers didn’t own their homes and the land they were farming, which posed a real risk to one’s political involvement.
So in 1966 women sharecroppers in Alabama established Freedom Quilting Bee to sell hand-made quilts. With their generated income, they collectively bought 23 acres of land. Evicted sharecropping families could then go stay at this coop until they had recovered and were back on their feet, helping fuel their fight for civil rights.
3. How has the organization grown since you first joined? How do you envision it will grow in the next few years?
CoFED was launched as a national nonprofit 5 years ago by the group of UC Berkeley graduates who successfully kept a corporate fast food chain out of their student center, and instead created a student-run, real foods grocery store. I first joined CoFED as a worker in January 2012. At that time, we were focusing on building a collaborative resource and knowledge exchange network to address the issues of food quality and insecurity that continue to burden students on college campuses.
Since then, CoFED has created our own business development curriculum, which is used at our signature 9-day, in-person event, the Summer Institute. The curriculum received such positive reviews from students that we made it available in our online store. Farzana was our amazing first Executive Director and her vision of a racially and economically equitable world helped direct CoFED’s programs, staffing, and communications to have equity at the heart of everything we do. I have learned a ton from Farzana, and am thankful she has invested in my growth.
My vision for CoFED lies in the questions that keep me up at night: How can we eat, not from the hand that exploits our communities and extracts wealth from our very plates? How can we eat, not from the hand that oppresses our brothers and sisters? How can we eat from our own hands, linked in solidarity with workers and producers across the world? To be active participators and agent-filled owners of our food system.
I believe our community of supporters will begin to see CoFED’s impact coalesce over the next few years to 1) reach broader audiences, 2) form deeper partnerships, and ultimately 3) develop more cooperatives! We will leverage the power that colleges have as key economic institutions to divest from corporate interests, and re-invest in local economies and cooperative development. I see myself and CoFED being in service to its campus-community network, and look forward to doing transformative work together.
To get in touch with Anna, feel free to email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the words of Saqib Keval of The People’s Kitchen:
“Collectively cooking and sharing food is sanctified and celebrated community work in many cultures. With the passage of time, systems of imperialism--including capitalism and gentrification--have turned cooking into an inaccessible burden… This also restricts our ability to share cultures, space, struggles, and solidarity.”
Food not only sustains us, but brings us together and represents our shared identities, cultures, and sense of place. It is intrinsically tied to our collective experience. Because of this, we are creating a cookbook called "The Foods that Bind," which will showcase recipes submitted by YOU. Some of the recipes will be shared on social media and the cookbook will be available for free in PDF form in July!
Will you join us by sending one recipe that represents your co-op, organization, or household? There are ZERO rules or guidelines. Your recipe will be a piece of CoFED’s collective identity, made up of all of us.
To sweeten the deal, all who send a recipe will be eligible to win an old-school co-op newspaper. You can enjoy reading about the happs from co-ops in the ‘80s! There’s even the occasional handlebar mustache. Winners will be announced June 22nd!
We are excited to bring you THIS COOPERATIVE LIFE!
THIS COOPERATIVE LIFE is a special interview series that shares the deeper, textured, community-centered stories within cooperatives. CoFED’s Farzana Serang talked to incredible Bay Area individuals building community-ownership in diverse realms - food, coffee, business training, public policy, and education.
This compilation of stories is launching TODAY via the CoFED blog as a special treat for CoFED supporters, and as a thank you from Farzana as she closes her tenure as Executive Director role. Keep an eye on our social media for special releases each day! We hope you enjoy listening to these stories as much as we enjoyed capturing them.
Our first story features an interview with Keba Konte from Red Bay Coffee, based in Oakland's Fruitvale district. Red Bay Coffee’s mission is “beautiful coffees, fair relations, and delicious living.” Keba talks about his vast experience as a food entrepreneur and how Red Bay Coffee impacts those with severe barriers to employment. This episode demonstrates just how possible and profitable real, good, change can be.
Keba’s Cooperative Life Story
Our second story highlights Rani Croager, co-founder of Uptima Business Bootcamp, a network and multi-stakeholder educational cooperative dedicated to providing entrepreneurs with greater access to hands-on education, resources and community to create thriving businesses equipped for the “next economy.” Rani beautifully tells us her story and how it impacted her vision for the future of low-income communities and communities of color.
Rani’s Cooperative Life Story
Our third story features Hank Herrera, former President and CEO of the Center for Popular Research, Education & Policy (C-PREP) and current co-op farmer at Dig Deep Farms. Hank discusses his extensive work in food justice and building community resilience, and the importance of overcoming both the structural barriers and internal barriers of fear, alienation, and hopelessness.
Hank’s Cooperative Life Story
Our fourth conversation features Joe Brooks, Senior Fellow at PolicyLink, an organization that focuses attention on community-based solutions to drive local, state, and federal policy. Joe has been with PolicyLink since 1999, and has held many other key roles that promote economic security and well-being in black communities. Joe discusses his passion for and immense background in racial and social justice, and the path to collective empowerment.
Joe’s Cooperative Life Story
Saqib Keval joins us in our fifth story as co-founder of The People’s Kitchen, a collective whose goal is to “not only fill our stomachs but also nourish our souls, feed our minds, and fuel a movement.” Systemic racism and classism restricts food access, and in doing so, restricts the sharing of cultures, space, struggles, and solidarity. Saqib tells us about his experiences co-creating accessible, healthy, loving spaces for food, and why they are so important.
Saqib’s Cooperative Life Story
For our last story, we’re turning the tables. Our Cooperative Life host and outgoing CoFED Executive Director Farzana Serang is in the hot seat, interviewed by producer of the series, Faiza Farah. In this special final conversation, Farzana shares how her family background led her to becoming a fierce advocate for racial justice and food access. Farzana has been central to CoFED’s increased focus on equity, and she discusses the importance of recognizing race and class as we work on changing our food systems.
Farzana’s Cooperative Life Story
We hope you enjoy this special series!
This Cooperative Life Blog Series
Interview #6: Farzana's Audio
Farzana's Cooperative Life Story
This Cooperative Life Blog Series
Interview #5: Saqib’s Audio
Saqib’s Cooperative Life Story
This Cooperative Life Blog Series
Interview #4: Joe’s Audio
Joe Brooks' Cooperative Life Story