This piece was made possible as part of a grant from the Julia Child Foundation
Food cooperative or co-op models can provide communities with locally sourced, affordable, equitable, and ecologically sound food.
According to economist Jessica Gordon Nembhard from Yale University, communities often create cooperatives in response to racial and cultural inequities. As consumers and farmers reject traditional food systems, community members can pool their resources, address inequities, and develop resilience in the food system.
Food co-ops do 2.5 times more business with local farms and producers than conventional grocers and spend 19 percent of their revenue on local wages and benefits, says Cooperatives For a Better World.
“It’s very clear from day one that there isn’t someone else extracting value out of the food system in a cooperative model,” Narendra Varma, founder of Our Table Cooperative, tells Food Tank.
In recognition of National Cooperative Month, Food Tank is celebrating cooperatives working to build an equitable and resilient food system.
1. Abundance Cooperative, Rochester, United States
In Rochester, New York, just under 26 percent of residents are food insecure, according to FoodLink. Abundance Cooperative provides safe, healthy, and affordable food for the city. The co-op was the second grocery store in New York state to participate in Double Up Food Bucks, an incentive program that provides users of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) with up to US$10 in matching funds to spend on fruits and vegetables.
2. African Heritage Food Cooperative, Buffalo/Niagara Falls, United States
African Heritage Food Cooperative works to generate ownership and employment opportunities for communities within Buffalo and Niagara Falls, NY. In these cities, African American communities experience a poverty rate of 32.3 percent, compared to a poverty rate of 9.3 percent among white residents, according to Partnership for the Public Good. The African Heritage Food Co-op provides an intervention, addressing long-standing food insecurity issues. The co-op supports its community by creating markets, education, and employment opportunities.
3. Alberta Cooperative Grocery, Portland, United States
Since 2001, Alberta Cooperative Grocery’s mission has promoted affordability, community, education, diversity, and cooperation. In response to the city’s increased food insecurity, Alberta launched the Food for All program, which allows SNAP participants to receive a discount on food. Alberta also aims to strengthen regional food systems by fostering direct purchasing relationships with various local farmers. In 2018, Alberta’s annual report highlighted direct-purchase relationships with over 20 farms.
4. Amul, Gujarat, India
One of India’s largest milk brands, Amul, is a dairy cooperative based in Gujarat, India. In 1946, farmers went on strike to oppose exploitative trade practices. Amul was founded in response to these protests. Today, the co-op works to support India’s rural areas where milk comprises an essential part of many farmers’ livelihoods. Amul also works on various community-oriented initiatives, such as their Tree Plantation initiative, where they plant trees to reduce global warming. Amul was most recently awarded the World Dairy Innovation Award for its continuous commitment to growing its cooperative.
5. ASEAN Centre for the Development of Agricultural Cooperatives Board (ACEDAC), Jakarta, Indonesia
Composed of ten member countries across Asia, ACEDAC promotes the development and growth of agricultural cooperatives. ACEDAC’s main priorities are improving small farmers and fishers’ livelihoods in the region and promoting agriculture cooperatives’ concerns about environmental issues. ACEDAC supports farmers’ through hosting farmers’ weeks, workshops, conferences, and more.
6. Blue Mountains Food Co-op, Katoomba, Australia
Blue Mountains Food Co-op is a member-owned food cooperative supporting their community in Katoomba, Australia. Reimagining traditional grocery stores, Blue Mountains Food co-op promotes zero waste by allowing members to bring reusable bags, jars, and bottles while shopping. Community engagement and development are also vital to the Blue Mountains co-op, and they provide grants to organizations working on social justice issues. Blue Mountains co-op was recognized and nominated for the Organic Retailer of the Year in 2019 by the Centre for Organic Research and Education.
7. Coagricsal, Copán, Honduras
A cooperative currently operated by twenty young women, Coagricsal, is taking action to mitigate climate change and improve the livelihoods of cocoa farmers in Copán, Honduras. In response to droughts and disease-afflicted cocoa plants, this community fosters a network that prioritizes collective decision-making. Coagricsal advocates for women’s rights in the workplace, plants millions of trees to combat climate change, and fights against child labor.
8. Cooperativa de Servicios Múltiples Bananera del Atlántico (COOBANA), Panama
Initially founded to support farmworkers on Banana plantations, COOBANA has grown to over 250 members who advocate for economic and social benefits. This cooperative invests in projects to support their community, such as education, healthcare, housing, and economic development projects. They also continually work on conservation efforts, and as a part of this work, COOBANA acquired land and started a reforestation program. With this land, they hope to produce bananas in an ecologically sustainable way and provide a livelihood for their farmers and community.
9. Detroit People’s Food Cooperative, Detroit, MI
Detroit People’s Food Co-op, which is planning to launch soon, will serve Detroit’s predominantly low-income and Black, historic North End community. With its four main pillars – increasing healthy food access, education, supporting local businesses, and access to services – this co-op will serve the neighborhood’s unmet requests. The co-op is under the leadership of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network and leader Malik Yakini.
10. Isla Vista Food Cooperative, Isla Vista, United States
At the core of Isla Vista Food Cooperative’s strategic priorities is fostering an equitable and sustainable food system. More than 1 and 5 children and adults live in poverty in Isla Vista, but the cooperative is changing conventional grocery stores’ to address this issue. Through hosting events and workshops focused on sustainability, social justice, youth engagement, gardening, and more, Isla Vista Food Cooperative ensures that it is a strong pillar in their community. Isla Vista received the Oasis Award from the 2019 Grocery Food Co-op Awards for addressing food apartheid.
11. Kuapa Kokoo Cooperative, Kumasi, Ghana
Since 1993, Kuapa Kokoo Cooperative’s mission has promoted supporting its members with a direct role in the purchasing and marketing of their produce. With over 100,000 members, Kuapa Kokoo Cooperative supports farmers taking on agricultural, gender-empowering, climate change mitigating projects. In 1995, Kuapa Kokoo Cooperative made history the first organization in West Africa to obtain Fairtrade certification.
12. La Louve, Paris, France
Paris’ first participatory food coop, La Louve, rejects traditional supermarkets’ status quo. As markets become more globalized, many Paris residents report that it is increasingly difficult to find fresh and locally sourced food. As a proponent of more sustainable food systems, La Louve organizes political debates and conferences with candidates and officials to ensure that their community can access food policy-related education. La Louve has received recognition and funding from the Paris Mayor for their commitment towards a better food system.
13. Mandela Grocery Cooperative, West Oakland, United States
Prioritizing local farmers and food purveyors and emphasizing people of color (POC) entrepreneurs, Mandela Grocery Cooperative is a worker-owned and community-oriented organization. The cooperative operates as a locally-sourced grocery store in West Oakland, California. By providing free healthy cooking classes, paying homage to Black culture, encouraging youth participation, and serving affordable foods, Mandela hopes to support its community. Mandela has been recognized as Berkley Food Institutes: 20 Trailblazing Food System Reformers.
14. Manyeding Agricultural Cooperative, Manyeding, South Africa
Manyeding Agricultural Cooperative uses agriculture to support their community through employment, skills development, and economic empowerment. Manyeding prioritizes organic agriculture to sustain its people and the ecosystem. This cooperative is a part of a government intervention that seeks to increase food sovereignty and security in the Manyeding community.
15. MPP, Haiti
Mouvement Paysan de Papaye (MPP) is a movement that unites low-income farmers in Haiti and young rural workers to organize their cultural and economic prosperity. MPP’s co-op focuses on developing and producing agricultural products and creating economic opportunities to self-finance the movement. After years of foreign aid flooding the community after the 2010 earthquake, the co-op was founded after years of foreign aid, making it difficult for farmers to sell in their local markets. The co-op model offers farmers an opportunity to band together, pool resources, and decrease personal risks while developing a sustainable food system.
16. Organiclea, London, United Kingdom
Organiclea is a worker-owned cooperative working to bring about a more just and sustainable food system to London. Organiclea believes in purchasing local food and establishing just production and trading systems to ensure that food producers are getting adequate incomes. Their efforts help ensure that their community can access healthy, culturally appropriate, and sustainably produced food. Due to their dedication to fostering a better food system, Organiclea was recently awarded a US$1.5 million grant from the Mayor of London’s Good Growth Fund.
17. Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union (OCFCU), Oromia, Ethiopia
Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union (OCFCU) advocates for fair trade prices in coffee production in the hope of improving their members’ economic and social living standards. This farmer-owned cooperative’s efforts go beyond coffee production as they work to build necessary infrastructures such as schools, health posts, bridges, and more.
18. Our Table Cooperative, Oregon, United States
Our Table Cooperative creates resilience in the food system by facilitating a multi-stakeholder cooperative composed of farmworkers, regional producers, and customers. Our Table Cooperative provides farm-based education opportunities to both youth and adults. Beyond the commitment to education, Our Table Cooperative is committed to selling food grown on their farm, meeting national organic standards, and supporting their local food economy.
19. Pamilyang Filipino Farmers Agricultural Cooperative (PFFAC), Batangas, Philippines
PFFAC is composed of family farmers in the south and the north Philippines that improve their respective communities’ rural development. Agriculture education is essential to this co-op, and members are teaching family farming traditions to preserve traditional farming techniques. PFFAC is most known for hosting the annual National Conference for Small & Family Farmers, New & Beginning Farmers.
20. Rainbow Cooperative, San Francisco, United States
A pillar in the San Francisco community since 1975, Rainbow Cooperative, operates on the belief that the workplace should be democratic, and food should be just. To achieve this vision, they work to provide local, ecologically sound, and affordable food to their community. Beyond providing access to healthy food, Rainbow is committed to being a positive force in the environmental sustainability movement. Rainbow is a certified San Francisco Green Business and established an Ecology Committee to educate workers and their community and seek out methods to minimize their environmental impact.
Photo courtesy of the Bob Nichols, U.S. Department of Agriculture.