CoFED inspiregizes future food co-op leaders across North America. We support students with training and tools, and connect them with peers, mentors, and allies in a solidarity network.

#UnlearningWithCoFED -- Reimagining Co-ops

Children are being separated from their parents at the Mexico-U.S. border and kept in cages. The U.S. Supreme Court's Janus decision against union dues is a fatal blow to one of the last remaining mechanisms working-class communities have against unscrupulous employers. Although the State violence implemented by this administration is repugnant and overwhelming, it isn’t new. It is a consequence of the growing power of unchecked white supremacist capitalism that puts money at all costs before humans, animals, and the planet.

At CoFED, we believe that co-ops are both an ancient and visionary way to create new realities and challenge the systemic injustices of a corrupt, colonial, and capitalist State. Especially during what feels like moments of heightened violence and despair, we hope to create space to be energized by all the ways we are already taking care of each other, other creatures, and our planet.

That's why for this #UnlearningWithCoFED post, we’re bringing it back to the basics. What makes a food co-op a co-op?

As a reminder, 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 #UnlearningWithCoFED emails, we’ll be questioning and learning together how co-ops fit into the larger visions of food, racial, economic, gender and climate justice.

First, a basic definition of a co-op: a farm, business, or other organization that is owned and run jointly by its members, who share the profits or benefits. And a food co-op? If a friend or family member asked you to explain what a 'food co-op' is, you might say something like "a natural foods grocery store" or a "health food store" that is jointly owned by its members. You wouldn't be wrong. For many people, a food co-op is a brick-and-mortar natural foods store, emphasis on the store. But what if we could imagine a different type of food co-op? What if we could envision co-ops that feed people and generate community wealth outside of a traditional brick-and-mortar model? If we unlearn our ideas of what a food co-op is and what it should look like, how might we create more space for other cooperative strategies that nourish us and build community wealth and sovereignty right now?

Although many food co-ops have had lasting success with retail spaces and ownership of land and buildings, we must remember that the purpose of a food co-op is not to own retail space. Moreover, a brick-and-mortar grocery co-op is not the only liberatory way to feed our communities. If we only recognize and support natural foods stores, often disproportionately benefiting white and wealthy communities, as "real co-ops," we are limiting not only our imagination but also our impact. Given rising fascism in the U.S., we must resist the idea that there is only one way to build a food co-op. And we must be clear about the central role that creativity plays in building the solidarity economy. When we embrace creativity and affirm the various ways our communities are already taking care of one another and building shared wealth, we invite more people -- whether they have access to a food retail space or not -- to see themselves as part of a co-op, as cooperators. It is the simple but significant difference between spreading the "Co-op model" (with a capital "C") and building a people's movement for a cooperative, solidarity economy (with a lowercase "c").

Here are some examples of creative co-ops literally thinking outside the box:

1. YES! Magazine: No Price Tags: These Neighbors Built Their Own Economy Without Money

2. YES! Magazine: The Platform Co-op Is Coming for Uber

3. Shareable: How Electricity Cooperatives in the US are Paving the Way for a Renewable Future

As you ponder the above articles and issues raised in this #UnlearningWithCoFED email, keep these questions in mind: 

  • What is one way you are practicing food justice and solidarity with your community right now? How might you reimagine these practices as a co-op?

  • How can you preserve the idea of a food co-op but unlearn its traditional business model?

  • How might the dominance of the internet and the decline of retail create new principles for food co-ops?

  • Are co-ops a sanctuary from capitalism or a foundation to something beyond capitalism? What does that mean?

What other examples of creative co-ops can you think of?

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