Food cooperatives have been a stronghold of community empowerment, self-determination, and economic resiliency for centuries. Usually formed in response to a lack of quality food or reasonable prices for such food, co-ops take back the power of production and distribution and strive to lift up their local food systems. Because of the one-size-fits-all approach to dining that many colleges and universities take, campuses are becoming an increasingly common site for co-ops to form. Organizing cooperative food businesses allows students to define how and what they eat, gain valuable business experience, and engage with their communities in solidarity.
However, as enterprises that strive for democratic control, co-ops are known to take a fair amount of effort to organize and operate successfully. For students, balancing course loads, jobs, obligations and self-care, there's little time to allot elsewhere. This academic course is designed to give students the time and resources needed to devote to the development of a community-owned enterprise. By gaining academic credit, students will be able to give 10-15 hours a week for an entire semester, an average of 150 hours, to co-op education and development!
Understand the vibrant history and continuing relevance of cooperatives in building equitable economies
Understand the basic theories and principles of economic and social development, with a focus on food justice
Be able to synthesize the effects of globalization, sustainability, and systematic oppression at global and local scales
Be equipped with specific strategies, tools, and resources for the launching or expansion of their own co-op on their campus or in their community
Create a business plan for their co-op, including financial plans, marketing initiatives, and organizational and governance improvements
This course has combined a number of teaching strategies to create a truly well-rounded curriculum. We have incorporated content covering the theory and philosophy related to the cooperative movement (social economy, post-capitalist structures, and food systems policy, etc.) with concrete actionable lesson plans to help students start up or scale up their business. These theory readings are interspersed with practice-based weeks throughout the semester, giving students the chance to directly apply what they have learned to their own project. Rooted in self-motivation and experiential learning, this course is unique in its synthesizing of the fundamentals of economics and food studies with a step-by-step timeline for developing a cooperative business.
In order to provide relevant resources to students at any stage of co-op development, portions of this coursework are divided into two tracks: one for students in the startup stage of their business (Track A), and another for students looking to strengthen their foundations and scale up their co-op (Track B). The final product of the course will be a completed formal business plan. For startups, having a formal business plan is the key to securing funding and community support, and beginning to gain serious traction towards having a brick and mortar business. For scale-ups, critically reflecting on your progress and planning for the future will help to ensure your co-op can sustain itself, even after founders graduate and move on to new endeavors. If your co-op already has a business plan, use this curriculum to update your existing business plan.
It is highly recommended that more than one student from a co-op or student group take this course simultaneously. Many of the activities and assignments are group oriented and are intended to be completed by more than one person. If it is not possible for multiple students to take the course during the same semester, it is suggested that the student organize a regular time to meet with other members of their co-op or student group to discuss the materials and work on larger projects, such as the marketing plan and startup budget.
Registering + Getting Academic Credit
Universities and colleges offer many ways for students to gain academic credit for independently directed courses. Consult with your program’s advising office to see what your options are. Most schools offer “independent study” courses that require a faculty advisor's support, or you may be able to register this course as an internship or "field study" with CoFED. The course is designed to be eligible for 3 undergraduate elective credits, graded on a pass/fail rubric. The syllabus and letter from supporting professors around the country are provided below to support you in getting credits awarded:
- Letter of Support
CoFED staff will get in touch with you to start the course as soon as you register below. The workbook costs $50, and for an additional $50, you will have access to the online course portal, which provides all readings compiled in one place. If you choose to not access the online portal, you will need to work with your school librarian to access the syllabus' readings through your college's subscriptions to academic journals and inter-library loan services.
Communication and Evaluation
Student(s) are required to have a faculty member's support at their university. The student will meet with this advisor regularly, according to the requirements of the course they are registered in. Student(s) will meet via phone or video chat with a CoFED staff member on a monthly basis. At these meetings, the student will update their contact on their progress. Additionally, the student will be able to contact CoFED with questions at any point during the semester.
Upon completion of the course, the student will submit their workbook and business plan to CoFED staff and the faculty advisor for evaluation and approval to understand if the learning objectives were met.