Social Justice and New Food Co-ops

Jobs and access to food are urgent needs in many communities. Two new and thought-provoking articles examine how social justice organizations are taking innovative paths to new co-op formation, including worker co-ops and community-based projects in a variety of fields.

In “An Economy Turned Upside Down,” (http://www.shareable.net/blog/an-economy-turned-upside-down), Mira Luna at “Shareable: Work and Enterprise” offers valuable examples and a useful critique of efforts ranging from Massachusetts to San Francisco and Cleveland to Austin. Most of the examples are bottom-up organizing of worker co-ops, although startup support through institutions, public policy, and grant funding often is critical. Luna’s report offers insights and sobering perspective on rebuilding a democratic economy.

A somewhat broader social justice and organizer perspective feeds an analysis by Matthew Steele in “Food Justice: Change ‘there’ by changing ‘here’,” which appeared at the STIR website (http://stirtoaction.wordpress.com/2011/08/15/food-justice-changing-there...). Steele, an activist with the new student co-op network CoFED (http://www.cofed.org) points out that social justice and food aid efforts by citizens overseas may be better applied in their own, underserved backyards in urban and rural U.S. food deserts.

His report touches more deeply on today’s food cooperatives than it first appears, for food co-ops have many challenges and unmet community needs all around them. It’s an issue of social justice and concern for community.

Adding to the above: The Cooperative Fund of New England (www.coopfund.coop) announced in August that it had received a $1 million low-interest, long-term loan from the Small Business Administration for lending to worker co-ops and producer co-ops. This marks the first time that the SBA has recognized worker cooperatives as eligible businesses. The Fund worked with the National Cooperative Business Association (www.ncba.coop) and the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives (www.usworker.coop) to secure the funding.

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