The History of Worker Cooperatives

Worker Cooperatives

Even though there is no universally accepted definition of a Workers’ Cooperative, they can be considered to be businesses that make a product or offer a service to sell for profit where the workers are members or worker-owners. Worker-owners work in the business, govern it and manage it. Unlike with conventional firms, ownership and decision-making power of a worker cooperative should be vested solely with the worker-owners and ultimate authority rests with the worker-owners as a whole. Worker-owners control the resources of the cooperative and the work process, such as wages or hours of work.

The Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution played a significant role in the creation and development of worker cooperatives in several ways. While the Industrial Revolution brought about significant changes in the nature of work and employment, it also created the conditions that led workers to seek alternatives like cooperatives.

As factory workers endured grueling hours, meager wages, and unsafe workplaces, they began to demand better treatment and collectively organize for improved labor rights.

Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers

The Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers, founded in 1844, was an early consumers’ co-operative, and one of the first to pay a patronage dividend, forming the basis for the modern co-operative movement. Although other co-operatives preceded it, the Rochdale Pioneers Co-operative became the prototype for societies in Great Britain. The Rochdale Pioneers are most famous for designing the Rochdale Principles, a set of principles of co-operation, which provide the foundation for the principles on which co-ops around the world operate to this day.

The 7 Cooperative Principles

The Rochdale Principles are a set of ideals for the operation of cooperatives. They were first set out in 1844 by the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers in Rochdale, England, and have formed the basis for the principles on which co-operatives around the world continue to operate. The implications of the Rochdale Principles are a focus of study in co-operative economics.

The original Rochdale Principles were officially adopted by the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) in 1937 as the Rochdale Principles of Co-operation. Updated versions of the principles were adopted by the ICA in 1966 as the Co-operative Principles and in 1995 as part of the Statement on the Co-operative Identity.

  •  Voluntary and Open Membership
  • Democratic Member Control
  • Member Economic Participation
  • Autonomy and Independence
  • Education, Training & Information
  • Cooperation Among Cooperatives
  • Concern for Community

“Building a cooperative economy is one small step on the journey to reclaiming the wealth we all collectively create.”

Movement of Worker Cooperatives within the United States

Worker Cooperatives gained significant momentum in the 1960s and 1970s, driven by by social and cultural upheaval, with movements for civil rights, women’s rights, and anti-war activism. This climate of social change extended to economic and workplace issues, leading to an increased interest in alternative economic models, including worker cooperatives.

Benefits of worker Cooperatives

 

Employee ownership can improve company performance, increase firm stability, increase survival rates and reduce layoffs during a crisis. Workers at cooperatives tend to report higher levels of involvement in their tasks, more positive evaluations of supervisors and greater fairness in their perception of the amount of wages they received and methods of payment.

Comparison between For-Profit Corporations

VS

Worker Cooperatives

For-Profit Corporations Worker Cooperatives
Purpose

To earn profit for owners, to increase the value of shares.

To maximize net and real worth of all owners.

Organization

Organized and controlled by investors

Incorporated under relevant incorporation laws – varies by country

Except for closely held companies anyone may buy stock

Stock may be traded in the public market

Organized and controlled by worker-members

Incorporated under relevant incorporation laws – varies by country

Only worker-members may own stock, one share per member

No public sale of stock

Ownership

Stockholders

Worker members

Control

By Investors

Policies set by stockholders or board of directors.

Voting on basis of shares held

Proxy voting permitted

By worker-members

Policy set by directors elected by worker-members, or by assembly of worker-members

One person, one vote

Sources of Capital

Investors, banks, pension funds, the public

From profitable subsidiaries or by retaining all or part of the profits

By members or by lenders who have no equity or vote

From net earnings, a portion of which are set aside for reinvestment

Ditribution of Net Margin

To stockholders on the basis of the number of shares owned

To members after funds are set aside for reserves and allocated to a collective account

Captial Dividends

No limit, amount set by owner or Board of Directors

Limited to an interest-like percentage set by policy

Operating Practices

Owners or managers order production schedules and set wages and hours, sometimes with union participation

Working conditions determined by labor law and collective bargaining.

Workers set production schedules either through elected boards and appointed managers or directly through assemblies

Working conditions determined by labor law and assembly of worker-members, or internal dialogue between members and managers.

 

As of 2023, there are at least 

465 worker cooperatives in the U.S. with 6,454 workers. 

Here’s a list of a Worker Co-op products and services from across the country.

 

Find a Worker Co-op near you here 

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Students Can Live their Values and Transform their Community

In a world where corporate giants dictate our choices, where every dollar we spend seems to feed into a system that values profit over people, it’s easy to feel like just another cog in the machine as you make your purchases. This feeling may become most prevalent with our most frequent purchases, food and groceries. But what if your grocery store was more than an obligatory stop? What if it could be a statement of your values, a contribution to your community, and a step towards a more equitable and sustainable world?

Let us welcome to the Davis Food Co-op, a grocery store that’s about so much more than just food.

As a college student, you’re not just learning, you’re actively shaping your world. Every decision you make, from your field of study to where you shop, is a reflection of your values and the future you want to create. Are you passionate about environmental sustainability? We prioritize local, organic produce and work hard to minimize waste. Concerned about workers’ rights? We’re committed to fair wages and good working conditions, both for our own employees and for the employees of our vendors. Want to support your local economy? We source seasonally from local farmers and producers whenever possible and carry products from over 500 local brands in store. The Co-op is made of a group of individuals who believe in the power of collective action, who care about fostering a sustainable food system, supporting local farmers, and promoting healthy, ethical choices. We are your neighbors. We are the people you see every time you go for a walk, a bike ride or a trip to the farmers market early on a Saturday morning. We are your community.

When you walk into the Davis Food Co-op, you’re not walking into a sterile, impersonal supermarket. You’re walking into a community hub.

You’re likely to see familiar faces, maybe even friends. You’ll find staff who are more than just employees – they’re individuals who care about their work, their community, and their world.

But the sense of community goes beyond the walls of our store. As a co-op, we’re deeply connected to our local community. We host events and classes, fostering connections and shared learning.

We give back to our community, supporting local causes and initiatives. And most importantly, we listen to the feedback of our customers, most of whom are Member-Owners who not only shop with us, but also own a piece of our business.

Anyone can shop at the Davis Food Co-op but joining as a Member-Owner means you’re not just talking about these ideals, you’re living them. Being an Owner means that you are making a small investment ($15 to start) to be extended rights, responsibilities, and influence to thrive as part of our store and community. You gain access to a myriad of extra promotions and programs, access to issued dividends, and the right to help choose the direction of the cooperative. You can vote, attend meetings, serve on the Board of Directors, track all of your purchases online, and much more. As part of the Co-op, you have an even greater say in our practices and policies. You can help us decide what products we stock, what initiatives we support, and how we can better serve our community. You become part of a cooperative that values transparency and mutual respect. Unlike traditional grocery stores, our goal isn’t to maximize profits. Our goal is to use our profit to serve our Members and our community in the ways that they best see fit. And since we understand that not everyone can stay in Davis long-term, we offer the ability to Member-Owners to be refunded their investment at any time, no questions asked.

Let’s take a moment to contrast this with your typical corporate grocery store. When you shop at one of these stores, your money goes towards lining the pockets of distant shareholders. Your choices are dictated by what will maximize their profits, not what’s best for everyone as a whole. The products on the shelves are there because they’re cheap to produce and yield high profit margins, not because they’re good for your health or the environment. The workers you see in the store are often paid minimum wage, with little regard for their well-being or job satisfaction. In these stores, you’re not a valued member of a community, you’re a consumer. Your value is measured in dollars, your voice is systematically silenced through purposefully inept and complex bureaucracy. There your values are only considered while planning their exploitation, and your community is slowly drained.

Now, imagine a different kind of grocery store. Imagine a store where your voice matters, where your values are reflected in the products on the shelves, where your money goes towards supporting your local store and community rather than distant shareholders. Imagine a store where your value is intrinsic to you for simply being. That’s the Davis Food Co-op. When you join us, you’re not just joining a grocery store. You’re joining a community. You’re working towards creating a better, more sustainable world. So, if you’re ready to keep moving forward, to align your actions with your values, we invite you to join us. Join the Davis Food Co-op, and let’s make a difference together.

For more information on how to become a Member-Owner, visit https://davisfood.coop/ownership-info/

or the Customer Service Desk in store.

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Co-ops Keep Democracy Alive

Our society should work for everyone

This should not be as lofty of a goal as it is made out to be. And yet, this simple idea must work through a web of institutional failures that we are tasked with undoing and fixing in order to become a reality. This work requires, among many other aspects, a firm commitment to democracy on both a national and local level.

A strong democratic society ensures that all voices are heard, resources are allocated equitably and decisions are made in the best interest of the entire community instead of just a select few. The ways in which a community can uphold democracy are extensive. Quality education and information sharing, political representation that reflects the identity of the community, and open public forums that encourage healthy debate are a few of the examples that may come to mind first. In addition, (and we may be biased on this) one of the most effective ways for a community to practice democracy is through the building and sustaining of local cooperatives. 

Cooperatives (aka co-ops) are community-owned and operated groups and businesses that are democratic by nature. Whether they are a consumer, producer, agricultural, worker, housing, or any other type of co-op, their democratic processes prioritize shared decision-making which ultimately creates a more equitable distribution of resources. By giving Members/Owners a say in how the business or group is run, cooperatives ensure that the community’s needs are met in a way that benefits everyone in the collective.

Consumer grocery co-ops (like us!), in particular, can play a significant role in keeping communities democratic. These stores not only provide access to fresh, local, and healthy food, they operate under a cooperative model that give Owners a say in how the business is run, ensuring that it always serves the needs of the community. This means that a grocery co-op can be more than just a grocery store; it can be a pillar in their city that makes decisions around philanthropy, sustainable practices, inclusion, and more that help define the community in a way that traditional corporations often cannot, or will not.

As a community-owned store that started as a buying club in 1972, the Davis Food Co-op is proud to play a significant role in promoting democracy and equity throughout our organization as well as in the City of Davis and Yolo County at large. We believe that democracy is an essential part of establishing a just and equitable society and we know that process begins in our own community. By giving our Owners the ability to vote and run for our Board of Directors, we ensure that the entire community’s needs are addressed in the business decisions that we make. By promoting shared decision-making and a commitment to the greater good, our co-op can continue to build a future where our community works to serve everyone and can hopefully inspire others to strive for more control over their resources and decision-making as well.

As of the posting of this blog on 5/11/23, we are currently in the process of our Annual Elections. From now until 5/20/23, Davis Food Co-op Owners have the opportunity to vote online for three new Board Members as well as four new Round Up at the Register recipients. To sweeten the deal even more this year, we will be raffling off a $100 gift card to a lucky Owner simply for voting. For more information, visit our Elections page here.

Not yet an Owner but want to learn how you can become one? Visit us in store at the Customer Service Desk or at our Ownership page here.

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Co-op Board Members Make a Difference

As a member of the Davis Food Co-op, have you ever stopped to consider the role that the board of directors plays in ensuring the success and sustainability of the organization? ​

The board serves as the governing body, responsible for setting the vision and direction of the Co-op, ensuring it remains true to its values and mission. Think of the board as the roots of a great tree. They provide stability while carefully guiding the path its growth will follow, keeping the Co-op grounded and simultaneously reaching ever higher.

Being a member of the Cooperative’s board of directors is about more than just fulfilling a leadership role. It’s a chance to make a positive impact on your community and be a part of something bigger than yourself. It’s an opportunity to use your skills and experiences to support the values and goals of the Co-op, and to work with others who share your commitment to making a difference.

Serving on the board also offers personal growth opportunities. You’ll have the chance to develop valuable skills such as business acumen, management experience, financial literacy, strategic thinking, and teamwork. And as a thank you for your efforts, Co-op board members receive a 16.5% discount on all their purchases at the store!

So, what does it take to be a member of the Co-op’s board of directors? First and foremost, it requires a commitment to the values and goals outlined in the Co-op’s Ends Statement. Board directors volunteer their time and energy for a term of three years, dedicating approximately 15-20 hours per month to meetings, committees, and other Co-op-related activities. This includes attending monthly board meetings, serving on at least one committee or task force, and participating in the annual ownership meeting and retreat.

In addition to these regular commitments, board directors are also expected to participate in board training and other workshops, conferences, and Co-op events throughout the year. They should also be prepared to read and respond to email correspondence, as well as learn about the co-op movement and Policy Governance decision-making. Board directors are active and engaged members of the Co-op, and most importantly they are willing to listen to and represent the needs and concerns of the Co-op’s members.

If you’re interested in making a positive difference in your community and being a part of something bigger than yourself, serving on the board of directors at the Davis Food Co-op may be the perfect opportunity. It requires a commitment to the co-op’s values and mission, as well as a willingness to devote time and energy to meetings, committees, and other co-op-related activities. But the rewards – both personal and for the community – are well worth it!

To run for the Board of Directors in this year’s Election, you must first declare your candidacy by filling out a Declaration of Candidacy Form here between 1/1/23 – 1/31/23.

You can also learn more about this years Elections Calendar and the Board of Directors here

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A Brief History of our Grocery Co-op Neighbors

October is Co-op Month and Cooperation Among Cooperatives is Cooperative Principle #6 (that sentence is a mouthful). The year 2022 is also the 50th Anniversary of the formation of the buying club that eventually became the Davis Food Co-op. Since we have already explored 50 Changes over the past 50 Years of our Co-op and have Looking Back: A Davis Food Co-op History (1972-1984) available for your viewing pleasure, we wanted to take this opportunity to let you know a little bit more about our local grocery co-op neighbors in the Greater Sacramento region! You may find yourselves in any one of these cities from time-to-time and when you do, we definitely encourage you to check them out.

Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op

Our cooperative cousins across the Causeway (another mouthful) started in a very similar fashion to the DFC. Also started as a buying club in 1972, they first opened a storefront of primarily bulk foods at 16th and P Streets in downtown Sacramento. They officially incorporated in 1973 as the Sacramento Natural Foods Cooperative and from there, a Board of Directors was elected and the first paid employee was hired. 

(Side note: An important distinction for co-ops to make is when they crossover from being a buying club to an actual incorporated cooperative. While we got our start as a buying club in 1972 and claim that as our foundation for our 50th Anniversary, our official incorporation process did not begin until 1977 and was not completed until 1981. Other co-ops, like SNFC, instead choose to mark the start of their incorporation as an officially recognized cooperative as their anniversary date. Like with all things co-op, this is the beauty of differences between each one!)

The SNFC spent 43 years at multiple locations in Sacramento before moving to its current location at 28th and R streets in Midtown Sacramento in 2016. As a natural foods store, they are known for their standards that products must abide by to hit their shelves. This includes, among other criteria

  • Unprocessed foods such as 100% organic produce, whole grains, nuts, and beans.
  • Products that are minimally refined or processed.
  • Foods that meet the needs of special diets such as wheat-free, sugar-free, dairy-free, salt-free, gluten-free and vegan.
  • Animal products that are raised or produced in a humane manner, using sustainable methods; for example, through free range rearing and by organic standards

BriarPatch Food Co-op

Another 70s baby in the Greater Sacramento region is BriarPatch Food Co-op in Grass Valley. Their first retail store opened in 1976 when their early founders restructured their buying club to look more like co-ops they had seen in the Bay Area at the time (their name even came from a former co-op in Menlo Park!). Like most co-ops at the time (including ours), the store was open only to Members who were required to volunteer time working at the store as well. 

After three location moves and a steady increase of sales and Membership over the years, BriarPatch opened its current location in 2007 off the Sierra College roundabout. BriarPatch has since released a 2025 Sustainability Goals Plan to achieve 100% renewable energy and 100% of food waste diverted from landfills by 2025. They are also in the process of opening up a second location in Auburn!

Placerville Food Co-op

The newest kid on the co-op block in our region is Placerville Food Co-op. Unlike the others in this blog that started as buying clubs in the 70s, PFC’s story began much more recently in 2008 when their planning process began. It took only three years for that planning to become reality with the store opening to the public in October 2011. Since then, they have surpassed 2,000 Owners of their co-op and they are continuing to grow! With that growth has come the need for some renovations at the store. PFC is looking to complete these renovations with some help from their community and the co-op community as a whole. If you find it within your means, they are asking for donations here.

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Co-ops are Climate Change Leaders

Since 1880, Earth’s temperature has risen by 0.14° Fahrenheit per decade, increasing to more than twice that (0.32° F) per decade since 1981. Each of us sees and feels the effects of climate change nearly every day with BIPOC, low income, and migrant communities feeling the effects more deeply. Co-ops offer a path forward. The cooperative business model, a solution that is tried and tested, addresses climate change while also confronting inequality, advancing democracy, building resilient economies, and confronting poverty.

Since it’s Co-op Month, we’d like to explore ways in which co-ops are climate leaders and how our co-op addresses environmental sustainability.

WHY Co-ops?

We’re not just bragging; co-ops are special. At the most basic level, cooperative businesses serve the needs of their Owners, whatever those needs might be, rather than delivering profit to investors. All cooperatives follow the 7 Cooperative Principles which serve as the model’s code of ethics. Let’s look at how these Principles affect the fight against climate change.

 

1. Voluntary and open membership
  • Effective climate change mitigation will only be achieved by complementary and collective action. Cooperative businesses are collective endeavors (the DFC is owned by more than 8,000 people!) with a lot of experience driving collective action. 
4. Autonomy and independence
  • Co-ops answer to their Owners, not to CEOs in boardrooms thousands of miles away. With the ability to make and execute decisions in store, co-ops can and do implement meaningful climate solutions. 
5. Education, training and information
  • Cooperatives have well developed information sharing channels among staff, their communities, and with other co-ops.
  • Many co-ops have a staff position or department specifically for Community Outreach, Education, or Sustainability 
7. Concern for community
  • According to this principle, all co-ops care about the wellbeing of the people, land, air, water, and animals in their communities. 
  • Co-ops stay rooted in their communities through good times and bad, offering strength and stability. 

Co-ops know how to plan for the long term

Cooperative businesses have no requirement for delivering short-term profits other than remaining commercially viable, which allows them to better plan for the long term. Co-ops are more likely to consider intergenerational solutions to climate change. 

Co-ops are the most resilient form of enterprise 

Co-ops survive, often finding creative solutions, when other businesses would simply close. As a result they are more stable businesses in communities. Stability and resilience will be key in communities increasingly affected by extreme weather. Similarly, co-ops establish their own supply chains which further insulate their communities from market shocks.

What does this look like at the Davis Food Co-op?

“The production, transportation, sale and consumption of food are significant contributors to global climate change and the degradation of our collective land, air, and water resources. For this reason, it is incumbent upon DFC to become a local leader in sustainability and environmental stewardship.” – Davis Food Co-op Strategic Plan

As laid out by the Co-op’s Board of Directors in the Strategic Plan, Strategic Priority #5 is “Be a Model for Environmental Sustainability.” Together our Board and General Manager work to implement changes in store to meet these priorities. Here are just a few ways the Strategic Plan made the co-op more sustainable. 

Energy
  • The Co-op uses 100% renewable energy from Valley Clean Energy
  • The most recent store remodel (2018) saw the installation of energy efficient coolers and other equipment
Water
  • Drought tolerant native landscaping around the store and Teaching Kitchen
  • Drip irrigation systems prevent water loss and runoff
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
  • 21% of items on our shelves are made by 378 local vendors (within 100 miles of the Co-op)
  • Our Buyers favor local products partly because the carbon footprint from these items is smaller
  • The Co-op incentivizes staff to bike or walk to work
Plastic
  • Our Buyers increasingly pay attention to product packaging to reduce single use plastic in the store
  • The Co-op’s Bulk, Produce, Wellness, and Dairy Departments offer hundreds of items free of plastic packaging
  • When supplies are available, we package Deli food in compostable containers
  • In 2019 we conducted an internal review of plastic use in the Meat Department and found pre-packaging meat significantly cut down on glove use so we started pre-packing most of our meat ultimately keeping more plastic out of the landfill
  • Participate in Plastic Free July providing education for staff and shoppers all month
Organic Waste
  • Learn about our extensive Food Rescue program here
Landfill Waste
  • We divert as much from the landfill as possible by making 4 waste streams available to shoppers and staff at all times
  • Educate staff and shoppers on waste sorting through signage and events
Recycling
  • We work with Recology, Terracycle, and others to offer personal care product recycling and battery recycling to everyone
  • Cardboard boxes in good shape get put in the Box Bin for anyone to use for shopping, moving, etc.

In addition to baking sustainability into our co-op’s Strategic Plan, Ends, and Principles, our staff, owners and shoppers are, let’s say, deeply passionate about the survival of the planet. 

The DFC will continue to implement changes which make the store and our community more sustainable. 

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Staff Resources at the Co-op

Cooperative Principle #5 is Education, Training, and Information. Meaning that the Davis Food Co-op is responsible for educating, training, and informing our owners, shoppers, and staff on related matters inside and outside the store.

In today’s blog, we will be discussing some of the many resources we have available for all staff at the Co-op to strengthen their knowledge.

 

Online Human Resource Portal

Through our online portal, we can assign staff newsletters, department specific newsletters, and staff specific trainings as a convenient way to communicate store operations updates and other forms of education to all staff members.

 

Co+op U

Through NCG (National Cooperative Grocers), there are provided trainings intended to enhance the skills, knowledge, and learning ability of co-op employees. In this online learning management system, co-op staff can learn best practices for a wide variety of content areas, including de-escalation of difficult situations with customers, supervisory skills, understanding financial statements, marketing, etc.

 

 

 

Books

We have a mini library in the co-op’s staff break room, ranging from recipe books, books about Cooperatives (beyond food co-ops), the Agriculture Industry, etc.

Right now some Co-op staff have been reading Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies by Seth M. Holmes which exposes the structural violence inherent in the migrant labor system in the United States and the need for Farm Worker justice now. ⁠

Guides

We educate and inform our staff and through pamphlets on seasonal produce, how to store your produce, biking guides, and many more. (These guides are also provided for owners/customers, placed throughout the Co-op).

Read about the other Cooperative Principles here.

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A Very Short History of BIPOC Cooperation in the US

The cooperative business model offers communities a highly effective way to meet their needs for goods and services while prioritizing people over profit. And in 2021, you can find cooperatives in nearly all sectors of the U.S. economy. Increases in consolidation across many industries along with changes in the marketplace in recent decades present competitive and economic challenges for many businesses and consumers. In response to these challenges, economic cooperation is on the rise. According to a 2020 report by the Democracy at Work Institute and the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives, worker cooperatives have seen 35.7% net growth since 2013. That same report found that a majority (56.8%) of worker-owners are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). BIPOC communities in the United States have a rich history of cooperation, a history often left out of narratives about the cooperative movement. To celebrate Co-op Month, we’re sharing some of that history. 

Cooperation is nothing new. Early human societies practiced cooperation as a means to increase the group’s chances of survival. Pooling resources led to more successful hunts and harvests. In fact, early agriculture relied on mutual aid among farmers to defend land, harvest crops, build barns, and share equipment. These early forms of informal cooperation, really of working together, laid the foundation for the cooperative business model which took shape in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Then and now, cooperation is a means to survival, and this is especially true for BIPOC communities in the United States.

According to Dr. Jessica Gordon Nemhard in her book, Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice, Black folks have utilized cooperation since the first Africans arrived as indentured servants in the early 17th century. By the late 18th century, Black people were pooling their money to pay for land, burials, elderly care, childcare, and even freedom for one another through mutual aid societies. Mutual insurance companies, buying clubs, and collective farming are other examples of early Black corporativism. 

Women often founded and ran Black cooperative efforts. As men left to join the Union Army, Black women in South Carolina took to the Gullah/Geechee Sea Islands in the Combahee River region to grow cotton on abandoned farms. These women formed an intentional community which collectively farmed the area throughout the war and several years after. Eventually, hundreds of women farmed the colony, securing food, shelter, and income for themselves and their families.

The 1880s saw a steep increase in formal cooperative efforts among the nation’s Black communities. When the Southern Farmers’ Alliance refused to admit Black farmers except in separate chapters, Black farmers started the Colored Farmers’ National Alliance and Co-operative Union which had more than one million members by 1891. The Union stressed mutual aid as well as political participation. Its members also started many new co-ops, often short lived, but vital in training activists and leaders, improving lives, and leading to more new co-ops.

Pictured above: Wedge Community Food Co-op, Minneapolis

These Black co-ops siphoned money away from white-owned businesses, which was met with retaliation, often violent, from white community members. But cooperation has always been about survival. In the face of racism and active sabotage, cooperation offers Black communities a way to improve each other’s lives in very real ways. “Cooperation is a powerful tool against discrimination,” says Gordon Nemhard. It is during the oppressive and violent Jim Crow era that many Black-owned consumer co-ops were established. Grocery stores, gas stations, credit unions, insurance co-ops, housing co-ops and other formal cooperative efforts offered Black U.S. Americans a means to survival, community, and resiliency. 

Not surprisingly, North America’s Indigenous communities have been practicing cooperation for thousands of years. Indigenous cooperation efforts include communal hunting and keeping water sources clean and grazing lands accessible for nomadic groups. These informal cooperative efforts led to formal ones including credit unions, rural electric and telephone co-ops, and mutual insurance co-ops. “Cooperatives are a logical fit with tribal communities. There are shared, common values within the memberships of both tribal and cooperative communities,” says Pamela Standing, Executive Director of the Minnesota Indigenous Business Alliance and of the Cherokee Nation. These formal cooperative efforts are valuable in aiding community development among some of the country’s most remote and marginalized communities. 

Latinx co-ops have grown significantly in recent years, but have long been influential in the cooperative movement in the US. Prospera in Oakland and Green Worker Cooperatives in the Bronx have trained generations of activists and strongly influenced models of cooperation throughout the country. Although the Latinx community is made up of folks from many different countries and cultures, examples of cooperation can be found throughout their history. The Zapatistas of Mexico, worker take-overs of businesses in Argentina, and fair trade coffee cooperatives in Nicaragua are just a few examples. According to a report funded by the Cooperative Education Fund, 31 US states have at least one Latinx co-op. Latinx co-ops show significant diversity across industries, membership types, and regions. According to a 2009 report by the International Labour Organization, cooperatives are particularly strong during times of economic crisis. Communities with a wide range of cooperative businesses (worker co-ops, credit unions, consumer food co-ops, housing co-ops, etc.) are therefore better protected from economic shocks. 

It is from these cooperative traditions, among others, that the Davis Food Co-op was formed. When 10 Davis households started a buying club in 1972 they sought to bring their community greater access to natural foods without having to support the corporations that dominated the grocery industry. It is with deep gratitude and respect that we look back on our cooperating forebears, many of whom were women and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. We remain firmly grounded in this truth as we look forward to the growth of the cooperative movement in our community and across the globe. 

Resources

National Co-op Grocers (https://www.grocery.coop/food-coops/history-of-co-ops)

Collective Courage: A Short History of Black Co-operatives in America (https://provender.org/a-short-history-of-black-co-operatives-in-america-african-american-cooperation-for-change/)

For Native American communities, a “new” business model builds on a culture of cooperation (https://ncbaclusa.coop/blog/for-native-american-communities-a-new-business-model-builds-on-a-culture-of-cooperation/)

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