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?
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 email@example.com.