The Resurgence of Co-ops
By Crystal Wakoa
Don’t like how your food is produced, packaged or priced? Form your own food co-op! That’s exactly what people do when the status quo no longer meets their needs.
The first modern co-op was formed during the Industrial Revolution in Rochdale, England. British citizens, sick and tired of giving their scant earnings to company stores to buy essential foods, banded together to create a cooperatively owned store organized around a set of operating principles still used by co-ops today. Principles such as democratic member control, voluntary and open membership, and concern for community are what makes New Leaf Market different from other grocery stores, even those selling organic products.
Co-ops burst on the scene during times of economic, social and political turmoil. The 1960’s and 1970’s saw the last great wave of co-op formation, as hippies and back-to-the-land folk formed hundreds of co-ops across the country in order to gain more wholesome foods delivered in a more egalitarian manner. The great majority of these co-ops went under during the economic boom of the 1980’s and 1990’s. But those that made it through that time are stronger and more robust than ever. New Leaf Market is a shining example.
Our current decade is shaping up to be the next wave of co-op resurgence. Despite the economic instability of many households, and the fact that historically co-ops have emerged during periods of economic hardship, the current wave of co-op resurgence is not driven by a public outcry for cheaper food. Quite the opposite, in fact, people are beginning to equate cheap food with corporate-produced, genetically modified, pesticide-filled, nutrient-poor food. Movies like “Food, Inc.” and books like Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, are changing people’s food consciousness.
And although the organic label, ever under siege, is of paramount importance, it’s not just about organic any longer. It’s about sustainability. It’s about locally produced goods. Knowing the farmer that tended the chickens that laid the eggs you’re about to feed your family for breakfast increases the chances that those eggs are salmonella-free. With almost weekly stories of people dying from eating such common foods as spinach, peanuts, beef and eggs, people are rightly concerned about food safety.
As the act of sitting down to dinner becomes ever riskier to one’s health, farmers’ markets, food buying clubs, and food co-ops will continue to proliferate. The Food Co-op Initiative, an organization that helps co-ops get started, predicts that the number of food co-ops will nearly double in the next decade.
We have evidence of this trend right here in Tallahassee! Bread & Roses opened its doors one year ago in Railroad Square. Responding to the need for a co-op in the southwest part of Tallahassee and a desire for strong member control, Bread & Roses is 100 percent member run and organized. By the time you’re reading this, they hope to be in their new location on Railroad Avenue next to All Saints Café.
One of the cooperative principles developed by the group of British citizens during the Industrial Revolution was “cooperation among cooperatives.” It is in that 150-year old spirit of cooperation that we welcome Bread & Roses to Tallahassee and wish for their success.