Co-Cycle began their 2013 summer tour in early June. They started down the West coast from Seattle, winding their way down to Portland, Oregon where Michelle Weeks and Charlotte Cadieux stopped by Food For Thought at Portland State University to chat with collective members Thom Ericksn and Travis West.
“Food for Thought is a student-run, non-hierarchical collective that strives to provide affordable, vegetarian, whole foods and a socially engaged space that’s safe and inclusive to all.” mission statement, Food for Thoughts
Food for Thought was founded by three or four students as a part of the Students for Unity club. The goal of the organization was to increase the organic food options on campus. This year Food for Thought celebrated its 10th anniversary with an acknowledgement to the hardships, successes, and students that have built the collective up over the last decade.
FFT functions not as a co-op but as a collective, which guarantees that there is no hierarchical structure within the organization and that the voices of all employees are equally weighted and valued. Each decision at Food for Thought is made through consensus, a process that ensures all opinions, ideas and concerns are taken into account. Employees organize themselves into autonomous committees that handle business operations such as buying, financing, events and marketing. Within each committee consensus can be modified and members are encouraged to come to independent decisions. If the collective feels that a decisions being made by a committee should come before the entire collective a request can be made to do so, which has thus far been respected and followed through on.
Like many other student co-ops, FFT struggles with turnover and the loss of institutional memory that often accompanies such changes. This year with a record 13 out of 25 employees graduating, the collective is thinking about best practices for retaining knowledge while bringing in new members committed to good food and collective conversations. One strategy for increasing visibility is through running a coffee cart. Unlike FFT, which lives in the basement of the Student Union, the coffee cart will give them a serious above-ground presence. They’re also planning to offer more educational workshops, events, music, as well as healthy eating and cooking lessons! Members are excited about these expansions and hope to find more ways to bring the larger community into their beloved café.
When asked what is most enjoyable and exciting about working at Food for Thought, graduating seniors Thom and Travis spoke about an appreciation for collective work and an how they’ve acquired confidence as well as comfort in consensus decision making. The consensus process, “though frustrating at times it's very rewarding. Individuals learn how they communicate and learn how others communicate." Also of the utmost importance to these young men is the fact that FFT is operated solely by students. This allows them to invest in folks with little to no previous experience. “We’re able to spend the time to teach them how to be cooks, baristas and manage the café,” they told Michelle and Charlotte. These activities help provide students with job experience as well as practical knowledge about collectives, making sure employees have a wide range of skills that they can rely on when they leave school.
Through collectively run and organized bike tours, Co-cycle facilitates an experiential learning environment in which emerging leaders develop confidence and skills in collaboration, organization, and cycling. By directly interacting with cooperatives, Co-cycle strengthens co-op networks and builds awareness of and support for the cooperative movement and its capacity to catalyze social change. mission statement, Co-Cycle
This is Co-Cycle's second summer riding across the country, keeping up an important tradition that helps galvanize the cooperative movement and spread its message. Not only are these folks biking across from one coast to the other, but they're connecting co-ops and building the cooperative skills of their team members. This summer the team is stopping at a handful of student-run co-ops. Food for Thought was only the first of these organizations. The whole team is excited about the opportunity to meet with other "young" people developing the cooperative movement, and here at CoFED we're so happy and grateful to work with this years’ wonderful Co-Cycle team! We're excited to help chart their adventures and document the moments they share with comrades and friends in the student cooperative movement! Stay tuned for more stories from the student co-ops they stop at on their route.