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: strongertogether.coop

(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.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Sharon Community Cafe...and Makerspace?

The latest venture we are exploring for our town center is a Makerspace. 

What's a makerspace, you ask? 

A makerspace is essentially a community center with tools. It combines equipment, community and education, providing a place where people can come together to learn new skills, share skills and tools. We're not just talking about craft classes for kids, although the STEM learning possibilities for our youth are numerous here. Makerspaces can have things like 3D printers, welding equipment, and pottery studios.

The biggest makerspace near us in MA is Artisan's Asylum in Somerville. They offer equipment, workshops and work spaces for their members. How many times have you started a creative project on your dining room table or garage, only to have to pack it all up when you need the space for its original purpose? Nothing saps my creative impulse more than having to haul bins of material out of my basement or attic. A makerspace could have areas and supplies, ready and waiting for your projects. 

Providence has AS220, which is an artist-run organization, where they "envision a just world where all people can realize their full creative potential." They offer gallery and theatre spaces, a dance studio, a print shop, fabrication and electronics labs. They have a restaurant and bar, too.

Makerspaces are popping up all over. Here's an article, published the day I'm writing this, about JaxHax, a new makerspace in Jacksonville, Florida. The Westport, CT library has a makerspace. In May, they are offering a series of Arduino board workshops.

So how does this fit into our vision of worker-owned cooperative businesses in our town? We confess that we don't know yet. But there are a dozen of us who are interested in the makerspace idea and we'd love to talk to you about it. To that end, we will be at the Green Day event, which is sponsored by Sustainable Sharon Coalition, on Saturday, May 3rd from 12pm - 4pm on High Street next to the Sharon Public Library. Look for our tent and come create with us. We'll have some projects you can try out. Chuck and I will also be sharing information about cooperative businesses, in general.

We will also host a "pop-up" makerspace on Saturday, May 17 at the Unitarian Church Rummage Sale in the town center. We are eager to learn if the community is interested in the makerspace idea. We also just like talking to people while we make stuff, so come on over and visit if you're in the area.

Frontier Co-op Buying Club
Another project we are working on is starting a Frontier Co-op buying club. Frontier is a member co-op located in Iowa. I've been part of buying clubs and food co-ops before and I really miss the savings! Buying clubs provide their members discounts when they place a large order together. The way Frontier Co-op works, when a buying club member places an order of $250 or more, the shipping is free and they get wholesale prices. Members also earn a patronage refund annually. Some of my favorite things to order from Frontier are organic spices, essential oils, teas and health/beauty products.

House of Brews

We were in Stoughton Center recently and had a chance to visit House of Brews. Leo and Sandra Fay opened the coffeehouse/tavern in July 2013. We were pleased to see that they serve Equal Exchange coffee and hot chocolate. The woman who served us said they are proud to serve high quality coffee from a locally-owned business. Supporting local producers extends to their beer offerings, as well. I wanted to plant myself on the couch in front of the gas fireplace and enjoy the cozy atmosphere, but we had work to do. We plan to visit again soon. I noted their hours: 6:30am - 11:30am and 5pm - 11pm.

What do you think of the makerspace idea? Have you been part of a buying club before? Let us hear from you.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Looking for a Co-op Near You? There's an app for that!

Hey, all you iPhone and Android users! There's a free app you should know about. It's called Cooperate USA. It helps you locate co-ops anytime, anywhere, allowing you to shop or otherwise do business cooperatively. Developed by the National Cooperative Business Association in partnership with Co-operatives UK, this app "aims to help educate Americans on how coops can be The Fix (Twitter Hashtag: #TheFix)" for the many ills in our society - unemployment, unequal distribution of wealth, food deserts, lack of affordable housing.

I just installed the app on my Android phone. Once I opened it, I was given the option to "Find Nearby Co-ops", and I was given a list of choices of the types of co-ops I could find near me. There's a button to find "Worker" coops, and of course Equal Exchange pops up since they are less than 10 miles away from me. When I hit "Agriculture", Ocean Spray Cranberries comes up, less than 20 miles away. If I hit "Financial", I have oodles of credit unions to choose from.

I can't wait to try this app when I'm away from home! Let me know what you find in your travels while using it.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Visit to Twist Bakery Cafe

Chuck and I took a field trip to Millis, MA to visit Twist Bakery Cafe. While it's not cooperatively-owned, we wanted to visit because it's a locally-owned cafe and their focus is on allergen-free foods. One of the business ideas we've had for our town center is that of a co-op bakery cafe.

Twist owner Kathryn Ernst took time out of her busy day to sit down and talk with us. As we chatted, I sipped my coffee, supplied by local roaster Karma Coffee in Sudbury, and tried to ignore the blueberry cream cheese hand pie on my plate.
Twist, which celebrated its two-year anniversary in December, offers seasonal and local foods prepared on the premises. They do not use corn syrup, artificial coloring or hydrogenated fats. They have always been gluten and peanut-free, and will be phasing out other nuts entirely this spring. Other potential allergens are noted using their color-coding chart shown here.
Twist offers catering and they are open until 5pm daily.

Kathryn chose to open her business in Millis, rather than in the nearby town where she lives because there are septic limitations in her town. A bakery uses a lot of water, she emphasized. This set off alarm bells with us, as we've heard about the septic limitations in our town center. We intend to visit our health department for the full story on this situation.

From the start Kathryn wanted to offer savory as well as sweet food items. "People can't live on sweets alone," she said. To that end, Twist bakes their own gluten-free bread and serves it with several sandwich options daily. They also have specialty meal offerings on weekends.

Kathryn enjoys the creativity involved in preparing food and seeing her vision to come to life. She made it clear that opening a business is a lot of work, and that restaurants are especially challenging. As a hands-on business owner she has worked hard to create a "third place" in the community. The people she has met along the way, and the regular customers she has gotten to know have been a real joy.

Kathryn told us about her visit to Tartine Bakery in San Francisco. After hearing so much about it and their two cookbooks, it surprised her to see how small it actually is. This made an impression on her. Check out this video about Tartine, unless you're allergic to wheat and seeing freshly baked wheat bread will make you sad!

After we thanked Kathryn for sharing her time and expertise with us, we dug into our pastries. The blueberry cream cheese hand pie was delightful, bursting with berries on top of a sweet bed of cream cheese resting inside of a flaky crust, all drizzled with icing. The lemon poppyseed muffin was light, nicely tangy with a delicate icing on top. In short, Twist's pastries would please anyone, whether one needed to avoid certain allergens or not. We bought a couple more pastries to take home. Local readers should definitely make a trip to Twist!

Twist Bakery Cafe
30 Milliston Rd.
Millis, MA 02054

Talking to Kathryn affirmed our conviction that we do not want to own this kind of business by ourselves. What we have in mind is a community-building co-operative enterprise undertaken with a committed group of people who want to share in the responsibilities of ownership and profits. AND we want to be able to get a good cup of coffee in the town center.

For more news about the co-op world, check out Chuck's blog: www.coopmatters.com

Friday, March 7, 2014

Signs of Life

While we were passing through the town center this morning, we saw a new banner hanging outside the former French Memories location. Judging from the sign, I had a feeling this was not the "farm-to-table" restaurant we'd been hearing about.

I had a chance to stop by later. There was construction happening inside, but the three men working took a break to give me the scoop on their plans. They are not the "farm to table" people who were previously going to open a restaurant on the site. Those folks must have bailed.

So who are these new guys, and what are their plans? They are Israelis from Weymouth and they intend to open Angel's Cafe on April 1st. The more talkative of the three told me they have had many residents stopping by to ask questions and give suggestions. It sounds like they will take coffee seriously and are open to input from the community. I asked if they would be kosher and the answer was sort of "no - but": they want to be open on Saturdays but will not serve pork products, nor will they have egg and cheese items on the menu. However, they will work with a customer if one wanted cheese on their egg sandwich. I don't claim to know much about keeping kosher - I'm just reporting what I was told.

Anyway, I wish Angel's Cafe many years of success and will certainly visit this spring.

You might be wondering, how does this development affect our vision for a local worker-owned cooperative cafe? I say: the fewer empty storefronts in the town center, the better. It doesn't do us much good if another cafe fails in the center. I concede that we will need to tweak our business model plans. Moving forward!

We also noticed some action happening at the old Mangia location. A couple of weeks ago, I read a "closed for construction" sign on the door, and then this morning saw this one:

It appears we have another pizza place coming to the town center. I wonder what happened to the Mangia people, and the people who took over from them? I hope they took the TVs with them when they left. 

In other news, we wanted a coffee on our way to grocery shop this morning, and found ourselves at a Starbuck's. As I've been saying here on my blog, we have very few choices in our town for coffee! 

What the heck is this doohickey in the sipping hole on the lid?! 

It's like a decorative toothpick/stirring thing. Maybe we are behind the times, not being dedicated Starbuck's drive-through customers, but this was new to us. 

And we found it STUPID. 

First of all, Chuck got it caught on the edge of his window as he was pulling his coffee off the drive-through counter, not realizing he needed extra clearance for it, and spilled coffee on his pants. Even if he hadn't made this error, why did they think he needed a stirrer? Don't the baristas stir our coffees? What if he'd ordered his coffee black, would he still get the decoration? It just seemed like a silly waste of plastic. 

Last thing to report: we will be working on our business plan this evening, brainstorming ideas with K. and B.

Let us hear from you!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Book Giveaway Winners and Film Screening Recap

We enjoyed sharing the documentary Shift Change with an enthusiastic audience last night. It might have been frigidly cold outside, but the Equal Exchange coffee was hot, as was the discussion following the film. We had great questions from members of the community, and answers from the experts in attendance, Stacey Cordeiro from Boston Center for Community Ownership and Rink Dickinson, CEO of Equal Exchange, a local worker-owned cooperative business.

Of great interest to me and our community cafe idea was the news from Rink that Equal Exchange's cafes are doing quite well. They have plans to open new grocery store-based cafes in Cleveland and Chicago. Cafes were not a direction they planned to go in, but they are meeting the demand for their products by way of the cafes in addition to their other sales avenues.

Another topic we discussed is the education many people need in order to participate fully as worker-owners. We all know how difficult it can be to be open and honest in times of conflict. If you are operating a business with a group of people in a co-op, it's important to speak your mind in a constructive way, and not everyone has the experience to do this well. Also, if you are the type of person who needs to get your way all the time, you might find working in a co-op very difficult. But as one of the worker-owners in the film said, if you work in a democratically-run operation where you share in decision-making and profits, you are not as likely to allow yourself to be pushed around by politicians and other people who might like to have power over you. The societal implications of this are huge. It has been my experience that one cannot escape the need to work with people in this world. And it has been my experience that interactions with people do not always go well. Conflict happens. If we were all trained in how to speak our truth in a constructive way, the world would be a more peaceful place.

We talked about the idea of a library/cafe model. Turns out the Watertown Public Library has one, Red Leaf Cafe. And I found this one in Auburn, Maine: The Library Cafe. I also learned that many college libraries have cafes in them, which makes sense because students need caffeine to pull all-nighters. But the library/cafe idea is a tangent because our local public library has a lack of space already.

I reiterated my desire for a "third place"where I could connect with the diverse people in my community. Many of us chose to live here for the diversity, among other things. And sometimes you just want a place to meet a friend for coffee to chat, or your book group wants to meet outside of someone's home, or you like to knit in public. We all agreed that our town center needs some revitalization.

What's next, you ask? We need to form a Steering Committee and do a Feasibility Study. Let us hear from you if you have interest or expertise to share.

Thank you to the Social Justice Committee at Unitarian Church of Sharon for sponsoring the Shift Change screening.

Congratulations to our Book Giveaway winners, Linda H. and Birgitta M. Your copies of Locavesting by Amy Cortese and Owning Our Future by Marjorie Kelly are on their way! Readers, these books inspired the community cafe idea and I encourage you all to check them out.

If you are a new reader, please subscribe using the box on the right. Your address is safe with me, I won't share it. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Worker Co-op 101

Last week we attended a workshop called Worker Co-op 101. It was presented by Stacey Cordeiro, a co-op organizer from the Boston Center for Community Ownership in partnership with the Worker-Owned and Run Cooperative Network of Greater Boston. About a dozen attendees gathered around the large kitchen table at Red Sun Press on Green Street in Jamaica Plain to listen and learn as Stacey gave us an introduction to doing business as a cooperative. Some of us were farther along in our coop journeys than others. One of the attendees was Michael Monroe from Great Sky Solar, a new employee-owned social benefit company located in Boston. 

To start off: what makes a business a coop? And is it co-op with the dash in the middle, or not, like coop? I’m going to use them interchangeably according to whether or not I feel dash-y because it seems like either is fine, as far as I can see. Perhaps someone will set me straight on this.

First, to be a co-op, it must be jointly-owned by its workers. It must also be democratically-controlled. It also operates according to the 7 Cooperative Principles which were adopted by the International Co-operative Alliance in 1995. 

What kinds of coops are there? 
There are three main kinds: Vendor (or Producer/Supplier), Worker, and Customer

Some examples of existing Vendor coops are Ocean Spray, Land O’Lakes and Florida’s Natural. In these, individual growers or producers pool together their products and share costs and profits. 

Here are a few Massachusetts-based Worker coops: Gaia Host Collective in Greenfield, Equal Exchange in West Bridgewater, and Broadway Bicycle School in Cambridge. In these businesses, the worker-owners share in the profits and have a say in how the company is run. Typically new workers come on board on a trial basis and then are voted in to become worker-owners, at which point they put in money as Member Equity. The amount can vary, but as Stacey put it, the idea is that it should be significant, but not inaccessible - like a good used-car price. 

Two Customer coop examples are REI, and Harvest Co-op Markets. Customers pay to become members and get a patronage rebate or dividend refund according to how much they purchased over time and how well the company is doing. There are also housing co-ops that fall under this category. 

There are hybrid coops, like the in-progress Dorchester Community Food Coop and the Black Star Co-op Pub and Brewery in Austin, TX. Black Star has both worker-owners and member-owners. Check out the history of how the brewery started. I found it inspirational. Road trip, anyone?

There are numerous organizations and people who are ready and willing to help folks start co-ops. The US Federation of Worker Cooperatives is the big one. They are holding their Worker Coop National Conference in Chicago at the end of May. 

Last Chance for Book Giveaway
To be entered into our drawing for a free book, subscribe to my blog in the box on the right. We’re giving away a copy of Owning Our Future by Marjorie Kelly and Locavesting by Amy Cortese to lucky subscribers. Both of these books inspired our “community cafe” idea. We’ll hold the drawing on February 28th. What’s the significance of that date? It’s when we’re screening the documentary Shift Change at the Unitarian Church of Sharon at 7pm. After the film, we’ll have a discussion with special guests Rink Dickinson, a co-founder and CEO of Equal Exchange, and Susan Sklar EE’s Interfaith and Community Sales Manager, and Stacey Cordeiro from Boston Center for Community Ownership. Join us if you’re in the area. 

Here’s Where I Make a Sales Pitch for a Local Co-op

If you are a New Englander considering solar for your home or business, I recommend contacting Great Sky Solar for a free site visit. Not only are they employee-owned, but because they are a social benefit company, or B-corp for short, they must consider society and the environment in addition to profit in their decision making process. If you tell them I sent you, I stand to earn a referral fee if you hire them. But I would have told you to contact them anyway, given their coop credentials!

I'd love to hear from you. You can use the comment box below!

Friday, February 14, 2014

I Want a Third Place, Too

My father sent me a link to an article today, Froma Harrop's Losing Our Third Places. It echoes the conversation a break-out group "village" in which I participated had at a Community Speak-Out hosted by the Sharon Pluralism Network (SPN) recently. And that is: we seek more opportunities to interact with people in our community whom we might not otherwise encounter. If you don't go to my place of worship, if your children are not going to the same school as mine, where might we meet? Where is the place where some mixing can happen? Harrop uses the term "third place" and references the sociologist who came up with the term, Ray Oldenburg. I enjoyed a YouTube video of Oldenburg explaining all the benefits "third places" provide. If you have 18 minutes to spare, I encourage you to watch it here.

While Harrop specifically mentions the elderly and telecommuters who need a break from their home office, I believe we would all benefit from having an inexpensive place where we could go frequently, some neutral territory, where no one is burdened with hosting (with the exception of those worker-owners, of course!).

I'm going to check out Ray Oldenburg's book, The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community. I just wish you could find me reading it at our local third place!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Building Community

The Sharon Pluralism Network (SPN) held an event last weekend called a Community Speak-out. The mission of SPN is “to create a positive and sustainable culture of pluralism in the town of Sharon. SPN envisions a community where people from diverse groups: live together in peace and mutual respect; feel safe and valued; retain their group identity while also being part of a larger community; learn about, interact with, and stand up for each other; and work collaboratively with the community at large for the common good.” 

“Where do I sign up?” I asked.

Approximately 60 adults from Sharon and surrounding communities attended the Speak-out which was held at the Sharon High School library. SPN’s Executive Director, Beth Hoke, along with several co-facilitators, led the group in activities to promote understanding, and explore our differences and similarities. 

I attended the event wanting to meet more people in my community and to perhaps talk about the “community cafe” idea. 

The whole group did some ice breaker exercises, then we were separated into smaller “villages”. We introduced ourselves and shared our experiences of living and/or working in Sharon. My village was blessed with a member who was born and raised in Sharon who now works on the police force. He gave us an interesting perspective on how the community has changed since the 1970s when he was growing up here. Back then the divide was perhaps more along economic lines, not so much ethnic or religious ones. We also had three Muslim members who shared how safe they feel here and how they were welcomed. I had to admit to myself that I took safety for granted when my family considered moving here. One participant brought up the challenge of welcoming a person whose cultural traditions might not mesh well with ours. We also talked about wanting more ways to interact with diverse people in our town, people we may not worship with, or whose children don’t go to our children’s school. How does one meet up with other adults if one is not a member of a religious community, nor has school-aged children? We have the town library, which is great, and the Adult Center, which has numerous events open to all adults in town, not just the elderly. And yet, we wondered if there could be something more?

Everyone who subscribes to this blog will be entered into a drawing. For what, you ask? We will be giving away a copy of Owning Our Future by Marjorie Kelly and one copy of Locavesting by Amy Cortese. Both of these books inspired the worker-owned cooperative “community cafe” idea. So please sign up in the box on the right before February 28th to be entered. (Don’t worry, we won’t share your address with anyone else!) 

What’s the significance of February 28th? It just so happens that is when we are holding a screening of a documentary. Read on!

Join us on Friday, February 28 for a screening of the documentary Shift Change at the Unitarian Church of Sharon (UCS), 4 N. Main Street, at 7pm, followed by a discussion. This film focuses on employee-owned businesses in the US, including Equal Exchange in West Bridgewater, and Mondragon, Spain. Why should you care about employee-owned businesses? They offer an alternative to “business as usual” in which few people share the profits. We believe it takes “locally owned” much further. We’re still educating ourselves on the subject, and we invite you to join us! The screening is sponsored by the Social Justice Committee of UCS, for which we are so grateful. Hope to see you there!

Do you have comments, suggestions, ideas relating to a "Sharon Community Cafe"? Let us hear from you by filling out the form below.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Sharon Community Cafe

The Sharon Community Cafe is an idea. 

You could help make it a reality. 

On Friday, February 28th, there will be a screening of the documentary Shift Change at the Unitarian Church of Sharon, 4 Main Street, at 7:00pm. If you are interested in learning more about worker-owned cooperative businesses, we invite you to attend. Following the screening, there will be a chance to meet each other and discuss the film. 

And then who knows what we could create together?

Check out the trailer for Shift Change at the bottom of this post.

If you are new to this blog, I invite you to read previous entries. But the short story is that I love the town where I live, and I want it to thrive. I want a place to connect with others in my diverse community. And I want a good cup of coffee while I do it. Not only that, I want that cup of coffee to be prepared and served by workers who own and run the business. Call me crazy, but I think this idea could totally fly here. This blog is my compilation of research into the idea begun in the fall of 2013.

We invite you to subscribe to this blog so that you will receive my blog posts hot off the press right into your inbox. 
What could be better than that, you ask? 
How about a free book? 
Everyone who subscribes before the movie screening on February 28th will be entered in our Book Giveaway contest. We will give away one copy of Locavesting by Amy Cortese and one copy of Owning Our Future: The Emerging Ownership Revolution by Marjorie Kelly. (Don't worry - your email address is safe with us. We will not share it with anyone.) These books inspired the Sharon Community Cafe idea, and provide a road map to healthy, resilient communities. So go ahead and enter your email address. We will notify the winners via email on March 1st. 

Subscribe to CO-OPTION: researching the worker cooperative model by Email

To those readers who do not live in the Sharon, MA area, we encourage you to visit the Shift Change website to find a screening near you. Or you could host one yourself! 

Please leave any comments or suggestions below. We look forward to connecting with you!