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 -- Decolonization

Our latest #UnlearningWithCoFED is about decolonization.

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.

So, what is decolonization? Let’s start by sharing some definitions of colonization:

  • the action or process of settling among and establishing control over the indigenous people of an area.
  • the action of appropriating a place or domain for one's own use.
  • a process by which a central system of power dominates the surrounding land and its components.
  • and/or, as defined in Indian Country Today, “In the context of Indigenous Peoples, colonization has come to mean any kind of external control, and it is used as an expression for the subordination of Indian peoples and their rights since early contact with Europeans. In North America, colonization took the task of subordinating Indigenous Peoples to the political power of Christian European kings. In Spanish colonies, with the appearance of the colonists, the land was immediately considered under the control of the colonizing nations.” [1]

Let's explore how co-ops can serve decolonization, how they haven’t, and decolonization’s larger and fundamental role in the solidarity economy movement in North America. Further, we want to name that decolonization is complex, and its visibility has been built up by generations of indigenous thought, existence, resistance, and activism. To be clear, CoFED’s staff - writing from the positions of both settlers (both white and POC) and mixed settler/Native (POC) -- are not authorities on decolonization. We intend this to be one of many places to think about decolonization’s centrality to economic and racial justice and by no means an end-all-be-all. We also acknowledge that how one approaches decolonization depends on their position and implication in colonization; it will look different for white folx, different POC communities, and native folx, here and globally. 

Some History

For time immemorial, indigenous people lived on Turtle Island -- the original aboriginal name for North America according to some tribes. As documented by a Native scholar and activist, below is a ‘pre-contact’ map of roughly 590 First Nations by their indigenous names, instead of the names given by Europeans.

-Source: Aaron CarapellaSource: Aaron Carapella

Turtle Island was given the name "North America" by a German cartographer after an Italian colonial explorer, Amerigo Vespucci, in 1538. Subsequently, the territories known today as the “United States of America” and "Canada" are the result of invasion and colonization first by European settlers and then by "American" and "Canadian" settlers over a period of centuries. By the close of what U.S. colonizers refer to as the “Indian Wars” in the late 19th century, fewer than 238,000 indigenous people remained, a sharp decline from the estimated 5 million to 15 million living in North America when Columbus landed on various Caribbean islands in 1492 [2]. Today, 5.2 million people in the U.S. identify as Native, and there are 567 federally recognized tribes [2,3].

Co-ops & Decolonization

What do co-ops have to do with decolonization? Consider the fact that 98% of privately-owned land in the U.S. is owned by white settlers of European descent [4]. Or that cooperative business models were used by early colonizers in the U.S. and Canada as a way to claim ownership over land and displace indigenous people, as mentioned in Grassroots Economic Organizing’s webinar: Decolonizing Our Solidarity Economy [5]. 

And if you want to decolonize? For starters, “decolonization” is not a metaphor,' and "those in the dominant society are being asked to avoid using “decolonization” to refer to ideas or actions that do not hold indigenous resistance, sovereignty, land restoration, and other repatriations at the center" [6]. Cooperative economics is sometimes presented as a new or recent movement (it’s not), completely removed from the historical and ongoing reality of indigenous resistance to the colonial and capitalist states we inhabit. For example, as a movement, we often use vague language such as "the commons" or "community-owned wealth" without acknowledging or disrupting how our cooperative strategies, businesses, or organizations might be materially reinforcing colonial relationships to land and people. Furthermore, when we talk about "cooperative economics" or build an "alternative," "new," or  "solidarity" economy -- without centering indigenous sovereignty -- we diminish the possibility of decolonizing.

Speaking specifically to the relationship between co-ops and decolonization, Jarrett Martineau, an indigenous scholar, says, “if you are talking about cooperative economics, you are not talking about representatives of the state having policy development discussions, but about the relationships between people who live on the same land base. So these lands have [been] usurped and stolen, a foundational point, but today we have a situation where people are living on and sharing these lands, accessing the same water, so we need to look at questions around the ways that all the people who are actually here, living on these lands, can together build alternatives that are more sustainable...Before we start getting to broader cooperative economic systems, we need to figure out the actual terms of living together first, that includes a discussion about economics, but we can’t just [supplant] one system over another without looking to indigenous histories...We can’t individually emancipate ourselves from a capitalist system on either side of this colonial equation.”

Source: Canadian Dimension


To unlearn further about decolonization and co-ops, please read or view the resources below:

1. Webinar -- Decolonizing Our Solidarity Economy from Grassroots Economic Collective

2. Huffington Post -- ‘It’s About Taking Back What’s Ours’: Native Women Reclaim Land, Plot By Plot Fighting against colonization and now gentrification in the Bay Area

3. New York Times -- A Conversation with Native Americans on Race

4. Canadian Dimension -- Cooperatives on Stolen Land? (An interview with a Native person explicitly about co-ops and decolonization in Canada, also talks about pre-colonial models of cooperation that are not "co-ops")


As you engage with the suggested content above, consider the following questions:

1. What tribal land does your co-op, campus, and/or house occupy? What do you know about the tribes who existed there before colonization? What tribes are still active near you?

2. How do we lose as a #solidarityeconomy movement when we leave out decolonization? What do we gain as people committed to economic and racial justice by learning from Indigenous leaders on decolonization?

3. What is one specific way that co-ops can serve decolonization? How could your co-op (real or imagined) implement this practice?

P.S. -- want some extra reading on decolonization? Check out this essay, 'Decolonization is not a Metaphor' [pdf], by Eve Tuck, K. Wayne Yang. 




Apps Due 4/6 for Racial Justice Fellowship & Summer Co-op Academy

What's your wildest dream for advancing anti-oppression and community ownership in the U.S. food system? Build it with our Racial Justice Fellowship and/or skills you’ll learn from our week-long Summer Co-op Academy.

Apply by Friday, April 6th for the:

Our movements for economic and racial justice need your passion and skills! We’re guessing you became part of CoFED's community because you believe that the type of social change needed right now is not going to come from mainstream political institutions or rich, famous people with accumulated power and wealth. You know it’s gotta come from the grassroots… from our communities, collaborating under the leadership of those most directly impacted by the injustices of capitalism, racism, and systemic oppression. And who says you gotta be an activist? You don’t need to be "Twitter famous," win at co-op trivia, or have pre-established 'credibility' on co-ops or food justice to apply. You just need a vision for a better community. Your vision, big or small, is enough validation to apply :)

Alright, but why community-owned food and cooperatives?

  • In 2015, colleges spent over $16 billion dollars on food. Most of that money went into the pockets of mega-corporations that exploit workers, communities, and living ecosystems.
  • Just three corporations control 90 percent of dining service contracts at colleges and universities.
  • In 2015, they pulled in a total of $3.74 billion in profits while 1 in 5 students experienced food insecurity. Community-owned food systems, however, have been a stronghold of community empowerment, self-determination, and economic resiliency. Usually formed in response to a lack of quality food or reasonable prices for such food, CoFED co-ops promote health, wealth, and dignity for all those involved in the food system.

Down to take your next step in the food justice movement? Learn more about our programs and apply by
Friday, April 6th for the:


Be a CoFED Racial Justice Fellow!

If you are age 18-30 years old (non-students and students alike can apply), this 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. 

Fellowship Projects may be completed anywhere in the US or tribal territories within 10 weeks in the summer of 2018. Project start and end dates are up to the Fellow. Although Fellows may choose to do so, CoFED does not require or expect Fellows to work 8 hours/day for 10 weeks on the project or to use this Fellowship to replace full-time work.

We invite applicants to propose or share Fellowship Projects that advance anti-oppression and community ownership in the food system in the US.


Projects do *not* need to be new or currently non-existing. If you're already working on a project that meets the vision of thisfellowship, please feel free to share this project with us. All forms of expression are welcome, and there is no one “type” of project we are looking for.

To build a community-owned food system, it’ll take everyone with each of our unique gifts and talents. We need folx who can bring people together and folx who can balance budgets, folx who can dream big and folx who can sweat the small details.

We need creatives, artists, healers, storytellers, strategists, researchers, entrepreneurs and more to make magic. That’s why we operate from a place of love for people and are looking to support Fellows to express who they are through their Fellowship Projects. For example, if you’re a photographer, you might propose taking photos for a worker-led food justice campaign; if you’re a chef, you might propose hosting weekly dinners where you and your guests cook with ingredients grown by local farmers of color.

Fellowship Award

Fellows receive:

  • $5,000 living stipend
  • Full scholarship to Summer Co-op Academy* (worth an estimated $2,000) that includes:
    • Transportation to and from Academy location
    • All housing, food, and transportation during the Academy
  •  Leadership coaching
  • (un)Learning and political education
  • Technical assistance
  • Networking opportunities

The project stipend will be paid in 4 installments over the project period.

*CoFED’s Summer Co-op Academy (SCA) is a weeklong cooperative business boot camp for collective liberation and transformation. Fellows must be available to attend SCA, July 27 - August 2, 2018. At SCA, Fellows are invited to share their projects, connect with other members of the SCA, and also learn/teach business tools and concepts, including the business model canvas.

Application Process (Deadline to Apply is March 30th)

To apply, please answer the questions below in a Word document no more than 2 pages long. The Word document should include your name and contact information clearly stated at the top. Email your application with subject line “Racial Justice Fellowship” to We do accept supplemental information if you feel so inclined, but it is certainly not necessary. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out! 

  1. Who are you? What do you want us to know when reviewing your application? If you prefer, you can answer this question in any medium, for example, poems, photos or links to videos, music, websites, dances or other things you’ve created. 200 words max.
  2. Why do you want to be a CoFED Racial Justice Fellow? 300 words max.
  3. What is your experience with food co-ops, cooperative economics or solidarity economies? 300 words max.
  4. Please describe your proposed Fellowship Project. How would your project impact racial justice and community ownership in the food system? 300 words max.
  5. What does racial justice and community ownership in the food system mean to you? 300 words max.
  6. What resources (outside of financial assistance) can CoFED provide to you? 300 words max.
  7. How would this fellowship help you build and practice transformative leadership? 200 words max

Learn more about the Racial Justice Fellowship program, including last year's fellows, here. 



Have 10 Minutes For Our Survey?

You are a valued member of our CoFED community. We need your input to craft a new strategic vision for CoFED, one that builds on our values around equity and inclusion as we forefront racial, economic, and gender justice at the core of cooperative development.

Do you have a few minutes to complete our survey?

Since 2011, we have developed 12 new cooperative projects, trained over 500 students on over 60 campuses, and cultivated a community of nearly 4,000 supporters. 

Currently, CoFED is evolving to better reflect the leadership, vision, and needs of young people of color and poor people. Because our capitalist food system is racist and patriarchal, with roots in colonization here in the U.S. and abroad, we are engaging in a deep and ongoing process of decolonization, reflecting on difficult questions of what collective liberation looks like and how we will get there, and imagining new possibilities for how we relate to land, food, ourselves, and each other. This evolution is ongoing, dynamic, and includes you!

As a member of CoFED's community, your responses will go a long way in helping us in this organizational journey. Please take a few minutes to complete the survey here. 


Apply for Summer Co-op Academy 2018!

Applications for CoFED's Summer Co-op Academy are now open -- the deadline to apply is April 6, 2018. Summer Co-op Academy(SCA) is a cooperative business bootcamp for collective liberation and transformation. Open to all youth ages 18-30, SCA provides actionable assistance to folks looking to bring generative and cooperative food sources to their communities. Participants will build power with other young people who are divesting from extractive economies and reinvesting in local, democratic, and equitable food solutions that benefit people and the planet. Our unique curriculum is tailored to each cohort, emphasizing the anti-oppressive frameworks and economic equity necessary for truly liberatory cooperative development.

Sound interesting? Last year’s cohort thought so as well: 

“I loved hearing the stories & power of all these amazing folx, and just having the space to connect and grow with each other.” -- 2017 SCA participant
“It was a little painful, but it left me with a lot to be grateful for.” -- 2017 SCA participant
“Incredible. Unforgettable. Transformative. Powerful.” -- 2017 SCA participant
sca_2017.jpgCoFED's 2017 SCA cohort!

The ideals of food sovereignty, anti-oppression and sustainability are nothing without our communities to uphold them. As our movements continue to rise, and we do the hard work of self-reflection, CoFED offers a hub of learning (and unlearning), a place to gather the tools our people need to thrive. Whether you need help with a cooperative business plan, anti-oppression trainings for your co-op, or 10 tons of vibranium for the revolution, we’re here to help.

Learn more about the Summer Co-op Academy, scholarships, and application details here. 



Let's Win $5000 on #GivingTuesday

Happy #GivingTuesday! If all of us pitch in together in the next 24 hours to give $5000, we'll win an additional $5000 matching grant for food justice and co-ops! There's never been a better time to give! 

Every dollar counts, and you can easily maximize the impact of your dollars by becoming a monthly donor. Make a recurring gift today and your total yearly gift amount (not the monthly dollar amount) will be matched! For example, a gift of $10 monthly will earn us $120 towards our $5000 goal. But you have to give today! Will you invest in a more joyful, just and sustainable food system by becoming a monthly donor right now? 

Yes, I'll become a monthly donor right now! I want us to WIN.



Why Food Justice Requires Unlearning Thanksgiving

For a taste of our #Unlearning emails and to unlearn Thanksgiving, a food-filled holiday that hides the racist and colonial history of US food culture and our food system behind a false origin story of Native-settler mutual cooperation and gratitude, check out this video featuring 6 Native American girls:

If you're peeved that the US is still celebrating Thanksgiving, the most food-centric holiday in dominant US culture, here's what you can do:

Share this post with 5 friends so they can sign up for CoFED's newsletter and join the food justice & co-op movement!

When your friends join CoFED, they'll receive the opportunities and resources they need to transform the way we grow, share and eat food -- same as you:
  • Exclusive access to our #UnlearningWithCoFED emails, where we question and learn together how co-ops fit into the larger visions of food, racial, economic, gender and climate justice
  • Updates about unique CoFED opportunities, including jobs, internships and our Summer Co-op Academy
  • Carefully curated stories about food, food justice, and co-ops (NEW and coming in 2018!)

When you pass along this email and share knowledge, you plant the seeds for solidarity and grow our power to affect systemic change. Right now, our email list is 1,100 people strong! LET'S MAKE IT 2,200 STRONG! We can do this! If everyone reading this email helped just 1 friend sign up and join the movement, we'd hit our goal in a couple of hours.

If we reach 2,200 friends in 2 days or by Nov 23 at noon EST, we'll celebrate with a special #CoFEDFriendsgiving #UnlearningWithCoFED Facebook shout out on to everyone* who forwarded this email.  Be a pal and invite your friends to join you in growing the food justice and co-op movement!



Growing Through Concrete: A Summer of Food & Fellowship


My CoFED Racial Justice Fellowship has been an incredible learning experience. Considering the sheer ridiculousness of the current state of the US and the World, I could not think of a more important time to be centering this work. To center food justice in our work is to center all justice; environmental, racial, sociocultural, economic; whoever we are and whatever we do, we all need to eat, and all need to eat well.

20264967_1502481263161743_4823370289706455725_n.jpg   20246124_1502481219828414_8143945763172907678_n.jpg

This summer marked the beginning of a two-fold journey; on a personal and political level, I learned the importance (and the difficulty) of putting your money where your mouth is. For all my love of urban foraging and horizontal, non-hierarchal learning, in the past 23 years I had never once truly attempted to teach myself the skills I was hoping to gain over the course of these 10 weeks.  I had read the books and the articles, had the proper role models, and knew all the right words to say, but too much of my personal shit got in the way of putting theory into practice. From mental health crises and emotional abuse to a jam-packed academic schedule, to helping my friends through their shit and refusing to healthily prioritize myself, I never felt I had the time. My life has been a series of reactions, of following through on plans others have made for me and doing my best to roll with the punches and refusing to take a stand for myself, up until graduation day of 2016. Having followed through on the preconceived plan of “poor brown kid makes it to private top tier college and graduates in 4 years”, I really had no clue what to do with myself. I had “made it”; albeit as a Theatre major, but still. I had made it. There was no plan for after.


The Politics of Being Uprooted

       My name is Dorian, and I've been working as an activist and ally of the food justice movement since I first started working at the Maryland Food Collective, which is a modest sandwich shop and coffee spot on a university campus. When I first began my work there, I didn't understand the politics around the food that we purchase, cook, and consume. I came to my local food co-op because, like many college students (both undergrad and post-grad), I was in search of a way to earn resources that I could use to sustain myself, and because I needed to be fed.

       When I was growing up, my passion for cooking (and for food itself) was almost as large as my hunger for new stories to process and tell. I spent my free time spinning stories in crudely made booklets of printer paper and staples, trying to create space for histories sprouted in my mind’s eye. I created  physical subjects from cloth and thread, formed stories of revival and revolution for spaces I hadn’t entered into yet yet, and imagined worlds outside my reach. As I entered organizing spaces in my late teens and early twenties, I clutched my rolling imagination for better ways of working together and coexisting as tightly as I held my own lived experiences as a person of color.


When Immigrants Are Under Attack, What Do We Do?

Let's be clear. An attack on DACAmented youth is a cruel attack on all immigrant families. Having arrived in the US as a child, even with the privilege of "having papers," I know that being a young immigrant often means being your family's interpreter, their lifeline to mainstream society, the person who has to negotiate everything from basic cable to basic human rights. 

Last Tuesday, when the Trump administration announced the end of DACA (Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals), a program that protected 800,000 immigrant youth from deportation and allowed them to work in the US, the administration also challenged Congress "to address immigration reform in a way that puts hardworking citizens of our country first." The truth, however, is that the US immigration system is racist and has always put (white and wealthy) citizens first. From the first immigration law passed by Congress (the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882) to today's Dream Act (which has not been passed yet), the overwhelmingly white political and economic elite have attempted to draw divide-and-conquer lines to maintain a racialized class hierarchy. 

As an organization that seeks to build new culture and a new economy by supporting young people to develop food co-ops, we stand strong for immigrant justice. We reject the racialized divide-and-conquer narratives that pit citizens against immigrants, "legal" immigrants against "illegal" immigrants, and childhood arrivals "who committed no crime” against their parents who made "poor choices". Now more than ever, we must cooperate for our collective liberation. 

In a capitalist system that seeks to reduce immigrant families to paper -- the ones we own and the ones we make -- co-ops are surprisingly one of the few ways that undocumented immigrants can earn a dignified living. Yet, our racist immigration system forces DACAmented students seeking to learn about food co-ops to choose between risking their safety to travel and attend CoFED's Summer Co-op Academy and staying home. With DACA protections phasing out and immigration reform unlikely to deliver justice for all 11 million undocumented immigrants under this current administration, the co-op movement -- our best chance at self-determination and economic democracy -- is set up to fail. Immigrants, many undocumented, literally build and feed AmericaWe simply cannot build a new economy when the people who built and continue to build this country -- immigrants, Black folx, indigenous peoples, people of color, and poor people -- are living under a police state that criminalizes us for daring to be a part of US society and contributing to our country's successes.

So when immigrants are under attack, what do we do?

Stand up! Fight back! Call Congress to pass permanent protection for all immigrants. 


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