Monday, April 27, 2015

There's an Acupuncture Co-op!

While discussing some of my health concerns with a friend, she mentioned that she was getting regular “community acupuncture” treatments and recommended it. I had never heard of community acupuncture, although I’d had acupuncture a couple of times in the past. It was successful in helping start my labor when I was pregnant with my first child and two weeks past my due date. I went back another time after having two miscarriages, and again when I was getting weird rashes. I liked the way I felt immediately after the treatment, but at $75 per visit, I couldn’t afford to go often. My health insurance didn’t cover it, either.

My friend said, “Community acupuncture is wicked cheap! It’s great, it’s getting me through the winter.”

What is Community Acupuncture?

I did some research and found Metrowest Community Acupuncture not too far from me in Milford, MA. I learned that they charge a sliding scale fee of $15 - $40, with a $10 paperwork fee for the first visit. I easily made an appointment via their website. The clinic is located on the second floor of a small office building (with an elevator) across from a car dealership. At my first appointment, an acupuncturist met with me briefly in the office to learn why I was seeking treatment, then invited me to head into the treatment room.

Peaceful music and the sound of a gentle water fountain greeted me as I took in the surroundings. Several recliners lined the perimeter of the softly lit room, some with people in them looking very relaxed. I chose a seat, removed my shoes and socks and got comfortable. The acupuncturist moved quietly around the room, checking on other patients before scooting over on her rolling stool to attend to me. She checked my pulse, then inserted several tiny needles in various points on my hands, lower arms, lower legs and feet. Then she left me to rest. After some amount of time, during which I’m pretty sure I fell asleep, she was back to remove the needles and sent me on my way. On subsequent visits, the acupuncturist on duty comes over, checks in with me at a whisper about how I’m feeling, feels my pulse, places the needles, then lets me rest. It varies where the needles go, according to my symptoms and the acupuncturist’s experience with different acupuncture points.

But - Needles?!

I love how I feel during and after acupuncture. The needles are very thin, and gently stimulating. I feel calm afterwards. I get relief from my symptoms, affordably and without drugs. The treatment room has a healing energy when multiple people are there at the same time. I now have a "favorite chair" in the room.

It's a Whole Network!

One day, after a treatment, I noticed a poster in the reception area, showing all the community acupuncture clinics across the United States. I took a picture and posted it on Facebook, wanting to help spread the word of this network.

After my next treatment, I noticed this poster:

People’s Organization of Community Acupuncture, a co-op! I learned that Metrowest Community Acupuncture is a member of this co-op.

I had to know more. Below the poster, the clinic has a shelf with books, and I asked to borrow Fractal: About Community Acupuncture by Lisa Rohleder.

The Back Story

I read the whole book in one night, I was so excited about it. Rohleder shares her experience after graduating from acupuncture school in 1994, starting a private part-time acupuncture practice and doing auricular acupuncture (that’s on the ears) in a drug and alcohol treatment program, which used the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association protocol. Over time, she realized that her options were to either treat private clients who could afford to pay the market rate for acupuncture, which at that time was $65, or practice in a public health setting for people who were poor enough to qualify, which meant very poor. It bothered her that there wasn’t a third option for working class folks, which is most of America. Her time doing auricular acupuncture in a group setting gave her the idea that she could treat other things besides drug and alcohol addiction in a similar way.

The idea was to make it affordable for people to get frequent treatments, which makes acupuncture more effective. And the setting would be unpretentious and comfortable, like a friend’s living room. Rohleder and her partner Skip Van Meter opened a space in their neighborhood in Portland, Oregon with 12 recliners, charged a sliding scale fee of $15 - $35, and booked appointments every 10 minutes. They called it Working Class Acupuncture, which has now grown to three locations with 20+ employees.

In 2006 Community Acupuncture Network (CAN) was created, and more community acupuncture clinics were opened around the country. They realized they had what 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus calls a “social business”, which is cause-driven rather than profit-driven. By 2010, they wanted to recognize the importance of patients’ investments in the movement, and learned that a multi-stakeholder cooperative would be an ideal structure to include consumers and workers. In 2011, the People’s Organization of Community Acupuncture (POCA) was incorporated in Oregon.

I promptly joined POCA as a patient/community member. At my next appointment, I told the acupuncturist how enthusiastic I was to learn about POCA. She suggested I talk to Steve Kingsbury, the owner of Metrowest Community Acupuncture.

Steve and I met for lunch during which I scribbled notes while he told me his story. Steve came to acupuncture as a second career. He had long been interested in Eastern religion and culture, including acupuncture, and saw an ad for the New England School of Acupuncture (NESA). He was pleased to learn that one could learn acupuncture here in New England and told himself he could pursue it after retirement, which is what he did. He attended NESA and learned about Community Acupuncture as he was finishing up the program. In 2007, he attended a workshop by Community Acupuncture of Cape Cod founder Diana Di Gioia and read Lisa Rohleder’s book The Remedy. Steve knew this was the business model for him. He opened Ashland Community Acupuncture in 2008. He got involved in CAN and participated in the online discussion boards. When POCA was created, Steve, with his MBA in Finance and 30 years of experience in corporate America, was a good fit for the role of Operational Leader for the Finance Circle. (POCA is run as a sociocracy, and you can read more about that here.) In 2014 Steve took over what is now Metrowest Community Acupuncture. He spoke of the connections he has made with his clients over time and what a pleasure it is to help people affordably improve their health.

Acupuncture has been around for at least 2,000 years. I asked Steve to explain how it works. “The needles communicate with the body,” he said. No one knows exactly how it works, but the body can heal itself when the needles communicate with it. People talk about qi (pronounced “chee”), that it’s energy, and that the needles free it up to go where it’s supposed to go. It helps all varieties of ailments, including stress, inflammation, and pain, with no negative side effects.

What is Community Acupuncture’s greatest challenge right now? The patients are there. Some clinics have waiting lists! Each year POCA surveys community acupuncture clinics and based on this data POCA believes that in 2014 over one million community acupuncture treatments were given. California is “acupuncture central” in our country, with one third of all acupuncturists living there, and both U.S. coasts have a good number of clinics. But there are many communities, particularly in the Midwest and rural areas of the country, which have no community acupuncture clinics. Steve believes every community could support a community acupuncture clinic. He says it doesn’t matter that his two clinics are only 8 miles apart. The problem is: there aren’t enough community acupuncturists. The accredited acupuncture schools turn out graduates with a lot of debt to repay. Steve told me that yearly net income for community acupuncturists vary, but it is reasonable for a community acupuncturist to expect to earn between $25,000 and $40,000 per year. Having a lot of debt would make that salary harder to live on. To address this problem, POCA created its own school, POCA Tech. Tuition is currently $5800 per year for three years. The first class of twelve students has begun the series of 30 monthly 4-day training modules in Portland, OR.

It doesn’t sound like a community acupuncture clinic will be opened in my town any time soon. Sigh.

I wondered if any community acupuncture clinics are worker-owned cooperatives.  I contacted Lisa Rohdeler to ask. She replied, “Actually, we were planning to become worker-owned, but we chose to become a 501c3 nonprofit instead, because this will make our acupuncturists (who are all heavily burdened with student debt) eligible for the public service loan forgiveness program.” She said other CA clinics are doing the same.

What can you do to support the community acupuncture movement? Join POCA. Look for a community acupuncture clinic in your area with this handy search tool and give it a try. Please do this especially if your health is in need of a boost.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

MA Co-op Tour Pioneer Valley Part 3

You don't have to go to Mondragon in Spain or Emilia Romagna in Italy to visit three worker-owned co-ops on one block.

You can go to Greenfield, MA and visit Real Pickles, Pioneer Valley Photovoltaics (PV2) and Artisan Beverage Co-op, all located on Wells Street. The Franklin County Community Development Corporation (FCCDC) is also on the block.

On our recent Pioneer Valley co-op tour, we stopped in at Real Pickles, where Annie Winkler, Production Manager, took time out from full pickle production season to show us around. She showed us the food processing area where worker-owners were busily handling fresh produce. We observed dozens of huge barrels of kimchi quietly fermenting in a storage room.  The company started in 2001 using the Food Processing Center at the FCCDC. By 2009 their products were in high demand and they had outgrown that space. They purchased and renovated a building across the street and moved in. Their neighbors, PV2, helped them go 100% solar in 2011. In an effort to remain small, independent and locally owned, and thanks to a successful community investment campaign, they were able to convert the business to a worker-owned co-operative in May 2013. I recommend reading their blog for more details about this process. We asked Annie about life as a worker-owner at Real Pickles. It's not easy processing vegetables, so they have 4-day work weeks, and not everyone chooses to work full-time. They are committed to supplying smaller, local businesses with their products while they also supply some Whole Foods stores.

After our tour, Annie took us next door to Pioneer Valley Photovoltaics and introduced us to Philippe Rigollaud, a senior designer and one of the worker-owners. Philipe hails from France and was drawn to the Pioneer Valley's resemblance of his homeland. Growing up around co-op businesses gave him the desire to start one here. In business for 12 years, the solar energy installation company didn't even feel the recession, he shared. Also remarkable is the co-op's salary ratio. The highest paid employee makes no more than 3 times the lowest paid.

We then crossed the street to check out Artisan Beverage Cooperative. They make Katalyst Kombucha, Ginger Libation and Green River Ambrosia. I remember buying Katalyst Kombucha at Whole Foods several years ago and being impressed that it was made in MA. Then I didn't see it anymore and heard Whole Foods had taken kombucha off the shelves due to the alcohol content, which is naturally inherent due to the fermentation process. Then I noticed eventually that other brands of kombucha came back to Whole Foods, but not Katalyst. Here's a story published in the midst of that tumult. Fortunately, Katalyst Kombucha is alive and well. As I reported in a previous post, they have "kombucha on tap" in several retail and restaurant locations. While vacationing in Rhode Island this summer, I came across Ginger Libation at a local liquor store. They call it "real ginger beer" and it's REAL GOOD.

The day we visited, one of the founders, Will Savitri, took a few minutes to chat with us about the decision to become a worker-owned cooperative in 2013, and about preparations to move the business to a larger space nearby. Will started out in the Franklin County Community Development Food Processing Center, as well. To me, this is further proof that every county should have one of these places for small businesses to get their start. Recently, NPR did a story about food incubators, shared spaces for people who are starting food businesses and who need access to commercial kitchen space. There's one starting up on Cape Cod.

We appreciated the opportunity to speak with several co-op business members on our MA Co-op Tour of the Pioneer Valley. Again, we recommend the Valley Alliance of Worker Cooperatives for more information about co-operatives in the area.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

MA Co-op Tour - Pioneer Valley: Part 2

Scene One:
It’s 6:30am on a weekday morning. The birds are waking you up with their song as you contemplate your morning routine. Then a rumbling begins in the distance, getting louder as it moves up your street. The familiar squeak of brakes and mechanical whir register in your brain: the garbage truck!You hear the crashing of discarded material, the plunk of your barrel hitting the ground. Noise of acceleration commences and repeats down the street.

Scene Two:
It’s 7:59am on a weekday morning. The birds are singing as you ready your mug of coffee to accompany you on the day’s adventures. You are enjoying the peace before the daily rush. But then a gas-powered motor screams as it attacks the neighbor’s leaf pile. A fleet of lawn mowing machines descend upon the green carpets in a malodorous cacophony.

Oh well. What can you do? That’s life, right? 

If you live in the Northampton, MA area, you might experience something else… 

Scene One:
It’s 6:30am. The birds are waking you up with their song. On the street you hear a bike pull up. Or maybe you don’t. Maybe you hear the lid of your trash barrel being opened and the bags inside being taken out? Later you go out and put your empty trash barrel away. 

Thanks to Pedal People, this is reality for 600 residential and 50 business customers. Pedal People is a worker-owned cooperative business offering human-powered hauling and delivery services since 2002. They have a contract with the City of Northampton to pick up the trash from the 70 public waste and recycling barrels on Main Street every day of the year.

They have a new lawn care business as well, using no harsh chemicals or loud machines.

And they do all of this on bikes. Even in the snow
Photo by Robin Barber

Chuck and I met recently with Alex Jarrett, one of Pedal People’s co-founders. Alex showed us two of the trailers they use to hitch onto their bikes for jobs. Many of their trailers are made by Bikes at Work, a company located in Iowa. But Alex says it’s not that hard, or expensive, to make one yourself.  The worker-owners of Pedal People believe in doing things more simply, and there are many benefits to this philosophy. We only met Alex, but I have a feeling all of the Pedal People are in pretty darned good shape. They also like being independent of non-renewable energy sources. 

Being a worker-owned business means that each worker has a say in how the business is run. The workers meet monthly to discuss work issues and they make decisions by consensus. If needed, they can call a 2/3 majority vote, but it has not yet come to that. There are currently 18 workers, a few of whom are apprentices. The worker-owners share in the profits of the business and decide when, how and IF they should grow the business. They can decide to focus on efficiency to increase profits, making more stops in the same timeframe and neighborhood. And/or they can expand into other areas, offer different services. Each worker-owner has a vote in these important decisions.

Not only is Alex busy with Pedal People, he is a peer advisor trained by Democracy At Work Network (DAWN), offering technical assistance to other start-up cooperative businesses, and he is on the board of Valley Alliance of Worker Co-operatives (VAWC). VAWC is working to build and strengthen the co-op economy in the Pioneer Valley. They have a co-op development fund, and collaborated with UMass Amherst and the Neighboring Food Coop Association to create an education program focused on the co-operative model. Undergraduates who complete the program receive a Certificate in Co-operative Enterprise.

Alex was a wealth of information on the co-op world and he encouraged us to visit Collective Copies in Florence and speak to Adam Trott. Collective Copies is a worker-owned, cooperatively-managed, full-service print shop in operation since 1983, now with two stores, one in Amherst and one in Florence. Adam is one of 11 worker-owners and is also on staff at VAWC.

The history of how Collective Copies got started is inspiring. In 1982, disgruntled employees of Gnomon Copies in Amherst decided to unionize. In the fall, they went on strike over poor working conditions. After six months, just when negotiations were settled, the store got an eviction notice. The workers decided to open up their own shop, owned by them and run collectively. 31 years later they are still going strong.

For those of you who would like to embark on your own MA Co-op Tour of the Pioneer Valley, start at the VAWC website. When we visited the Northampton Chamber of Commerce, this is what we were looking for - all the local co-ops highlighted in one place.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

MA Co-op Tour - Pioneer Valley: Part 1

What do you think of when someone says "co-op"? I'm guessing that many people think "food co-op", a smallish store that smells a bit funky when you walk in. One that has bulk bins of dried beans, and sells several kinds of tofu and vegan cheese.

When Chuck and I stopped in at the Northampton, MA Chamber of Commerce this week to ask about co-ops in the area, that's all the staff knew to tell us about, the local food co-op. They didn't know about any others. (We knew there were others, but we were sort of testing them to see what they'd say. More on this later.)

We began our self-directed MA Co-op Tour by visiting River Valley Market, a food co-op located at 330 N. King St. in Northampton. We drove up and said, "Whoa!"

It's pretty big! 15,000 square feet, to be exact. And check out the solar panels on the roof!

River Valley Market has over 6,600 members! It's what is called a member or consumer co-op. Anyone can join and become a member-owner by buying a member equity share, for a one-time cost of $150. You don't have to be a member to shop there, but by becoming a member, you are taking on some ownership benefits and responsibilities. You can vote in board elections, run for a seat on the board, take advantage of weekly member-owner sales, discount prices on bulk purchases, AND you are eligible for patronage dividends in profitable years. You don't have to work at the co-op. They have about 100 employees on staff who take care of daily operations. (More on that below.)

We spoke with manager Rochelle Prunty who gave us the history of the co-op. The current green store opened in 2008. Right now, about 30% of their products are locally produced or grown. They carry items that members want to buy. The market is a member of the National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA) which is a co-op of co-ops, actually. All of its members are independent food co-ops in the US. You might be familiar with the "co-op stronger together" logo if you shop at a NCGA member food co-op. That's from the NCGA's consumer-facing website:

(Someone else told us that NCGA mostly serves larger food co-ops, whereas most of the smaller ones in New England are members of the Neighboring Food Co-op Association. We are beginning to learn why there are so many organizations that serve co-ops: co-ops have different needs depending on their size, age, type and service.) 

We asked if River Valley Market has any worker-owners. It does not. We later learned that some food co-ops have workers that are unionized or working towards unionization, and that these efforts have not been entirely smooth. You might wonder, why would an employee at a member-owned food co-op want to join a union? Isn't a food co-op an idyllic place to work as it is? It sounds like employees at food co-ops run into the same kinds of issues that employees at any other grocery store come up against, and many are forming unions to help address these issues.

It turns out that the employees at River Valley Market unionized in 2012, and that management voluntarily recognized the union, as reported in a Valley Advocate article found here. So hopefully that is helping everyone benefit from the member-owned food co-op, member-owners and employees alike.

In a future post, I'd like to discuss member/consumer co-op vs. worker-owned co-op, but let's get back to our River Valley Market tour.

We noted with interest that they sell both Equal Exchange and Dean's Beans coffee. Equal Exchange is a worker-owned co-op and a leader in the fair trade movement, located in West Bridgewater, MA, and Dean's Beans is a local roaster located in Orange, MA. (Check out Chuck's video about fair trade on EE's blog here.)

Another item River Valley Market carries is Katalyst Kombucha - on tap! (I will write about our visit to Artisan Beverage Cooperative, the people who make Katalyst Kombucha, in a later post.) You pay by weight. Fresh and brilliant!

River Valley Market has a kitchen called Quarry Cafe, which makes breakfast items, including many "made without wheat" baked goods, sandwiches and hot dishes, all from scratch. They also have a catering menu.

If you live in the Northampton area, you are fortunate to have this established, beautiful food co-op in your community.

Monday, June 9, 2014

First Frontier Co-op Buying Club Order

Our first Frontier Co-op order arrived the other day. I sorted it in my living room. It was like Christmas! See that plaid bag? That's my new Blue Q Messenger Bag! It was hot over the weekend - a perfect time to try the lemonade mix which came in a silver pouch. I have some extra spices which I'm hoping to sell. I felt very industrious weighing them out into baggies and making labels for them.

We will probably wait until August before we place another order. Local readers, let me know if you're interested.

Over the weekend, Chuck attended CommonBound, New Economy Coalition's conference in Boston. He met people from all over the country and talked about his video work and our Makerspace project. (We need to have another gathering to plan our next pop-up event!) Chuck was most impressed with the workshop he attended called "Deep Social Enterprise: Maximizing Impact through Structure and Governance" led by Marjorie Kelly from The Democracy Collaborative and Janelle Orsi from the Sustainable Economies Law Center. They emphasized the importance of by-laws for organizations before they start operating.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Pop-up Makerspace

As promised, we will have a pop-up makerspace event at the Unitarian Church of Sharon's Rummage Sale on Saturday, May 17th. If you're in the area, come see us at 4 North Main St. between 9am - 1pm. Due to the forecast, we'll be indoors. Just follow the signs!

Check out the video Chuck created after the Green Day event on May 3rd!

Coops and Makerspaces - Building Community from Kingbird Content on Vimeo.