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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DFC Ends #4:
Staff who are valued, educated and motivated

The Davis Food Co-op exists to serve as a community store and gathering place for current and future owners, so they have:
A thriving cooperatively owned business,
Access to healthful, local and high-quality food,
A store that makes environmental sustainability a priority and,
Staff who are valued, educated and motivated.

The last but definitely not least piece of our Ends Statement is “staff who are valued, educated and motivated”. This is done in various ways throughout the store. This starts by aligning with cooperative principle #7, concern for the community. Our full-time staff has the option to get great medical, dental, and optical vision. These plans are outlined in our board packet for Oct 2020, which will be posted on our Board of Directors page in November. Along with benefits, we plan financially for minimum wage increases and give everyone a raise to prevent wage compression. 

Each department has regular huddles to ensure staff is informed on department updates. You may have even heard the Deli chanting at the end of a huddle in the mornings! We also have store-wide huddles twice a week with at least one representative from each department. We hold them outside to ensure social distancing is being followed. Throughout the staff rooms in the store, we also post a bi-weekly newsletter, loaded with department updates, new staff, education topics, Green Team updates, and acknowledgments from fellow staff. 

We have been revamping our new and existing staff training. You may see front-end staff with a “training” badge on. We want to ensure that our cashiers feel valued, appreciated, confident and have the right tools to give their best to the shoppers and Owners. Our Marketing department has been working hard turning many of our previously in-person training into videos. This ensures that our staff is being trained and educated while following necessary Covid guidelines and precautions. 

Besides training, we encourage staff to attend Teaching Kitchen classes and assist in videos on our social media feed. Our staff is very talented. We have plant wizzes, painters, cartoonists, nutritionists, musicians, and dancers. We currently have art by Rayvyn from our Wellness department and earrings by Olivia from our Produce department for sale in-store! 

We engage with raffles to win prizes and gift cards. We enter into external competitions, like the Palm Done Right video competition, with staff as the actors and dancers. And this past week you have probably seen staff dressed up for Halloween. We are holding a staff competition for the best individual costume and best group costume. Keep an eye on our social media for our costumes!

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DFC Ends #3:
A store that makes environmental sustainability a priority

The Davis Food Co-op exists to serve as a community store and gathering place for current and future owners, so they have:
A thriving cooperatively owned business,
Access to healthful, local and high-quality food,
A store that makes environmental sustainability a priority and,
Staff who are valued, educated and motivated.

One of the founding principles of third wave co-ops in the 60s and 70s (US!) was environmental sustainability, and we have tried hard to keep to those principles. In 2017 we had our landscaping redone with all native and drought-tolerant plants. In 2019 we opted-up with Valley Clean Energy and now run the store on 100% renewable energy. 

The Strategic Plan provides overall vision and guidance for making the Davis Food Co-op a “Model for Environmental Sustainability”. The Board and General Manager are working together to make changes in the store that follow the Five-Year Strategic Plan. 

One of the commonly overlooked sustainable aspects of the Co-op and your shopping habits lies in our Produce department. Our produce is primarily organic and we prioritize local farms. Buying local means that the food traveled less, which means less gasoline, travel, and probably packaging. Buying organic means that the farmland that grew your food did not use pesticides or herbicides that have negative effects on the ecosystem.

A renewed piece of the Co-op’s sustainability efforts is the Green Team. This team has been reunited by new and existing staff to be at the forefront of change in the Co-op for the better. They led the waste diversion and sustainability training that staff attends yearly, and they organize the monthly diversion competitions between departments.

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DFC Ends #2:
Access to healthful, local and high-quality food

The Davis Food Co-op exists to serve as a community store and gathering place for current and future owners, so they have:
A thriving cooperatively owned business,
Access to healthful, local and high-quality food,
A store that makes environmental sustainability a priority and,
Staff who are valued, educated and motivated.

When the Davis Food Co-op started as a buying club of 10 households in 1972, they had a vision of changing the food system in the City of Davis to make the bountiful healthy and local foods in our region more accessible. Every decision that has been made from that point on has been done so to ensure that DFC is always providing its Owners and customers with the best available food that stay true to that vision.

Co-ops are the foundation of the natural foods industry as we know it today and DFC has consistently been focused on reamining the premiere grocery store for natural foods in Davis. Our Produce department is filled with primarily organic produce and we always prioritize bringing it in from local farms. Buying local produce ensures freshness and a high quality product for Owners and customers that are focused on purchasing healthy foods. Local produce is also more healthy for the planet as a whole since the food traveled less, which means less gas and packaging used during the process of getting on to our shelves. The prevalance of organic goods also means that you can be sure that the farm that grew the food did so without harmful pesticides.

Aside from just the Produce department, the whole store effort that DFC has taken to stock local goods has resulted in a current lineup of 447 local vendors that operate within 100 miles of the store. We make every effort to promote these products in store with “local” signage, promotions and social media highlights. As a locally owned business itself, DFC will always look to work with as many other local businesses as possible, especially those that are also providing high quality and healthful foods!

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DFC Ends #1:
A thriving cooperatively owned business

Building on top of the Cooperative Principles that all co-ops abide by, the Davis Food Co-op decided to create an Ends Statement which is a statement about the purpose of an organization, why it exists (rather than what it does) and how it does things. Ends statements are about the benefit or results of an organization’s work, who the beneficiaries are, and what it’s worth to produce those benefits.

The DFC Ends Statement identifies its purpose and shows how they will accomplish that purpose through four key characteristics. We will be exploring all four characteristics in individual blogs with this being the first of the four. The Ends statement is as follows:

The Davis Food Co-op exists to serve as a community store and gathering place for current and future owners, so they have:
A thriving cooperatively owned business,
Access to healthful, local and high-quality food,
A store that makes environmental sustainability a priority and,
Staff who are valued, educated and motivated.

As we explored in our blogs about the Cooperative Principles, Ownership is a key part of cooperatively owned businesses as it is ultimately the Owners that dictate the direction of the business and their needs are always the number one priority. The Davis Food Co-op has made its purpose to revolve around the idea that it is both a store and gathering place for the community of Davis. It is available and exists both for current Owners and those in the community who have yet to invest in the Co-op. As the first goal states, we do this so that the aforementioned community can have a thriving cooperatively owned business.

So why is it important to have a thriving cooperatively owned business? Well, similarly to what we discussed in the third cooperative principle, a thriving co-op ultimately benefits those same Owners who invest and shop at the Co-op. Greater product selection, more resources for worthy community causes, events, store upgrades, discounts and patronage refunds are some of the most important results of a thriving business. However, it should be noted that the goal is not just to be a thriving business from a financial perspective, but a thriving cooperatively owned business that also succeeds in remaining true to the cooperative principles.

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