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.