From Housing to Health Care, 7 Co-ops That Are Changing Our Economy
By Claudia Rowe / yesmagazine.org

1. Green Worker Cooperative’s Co-op Academy?, The Bronx, N.Y.

Ideas for co-ops may flourish, but few people understand exactly how to make theirs real. The Co-op Academy is providing answers. Founded four years ago by Omar Freilla (who recently made Ebony magazine’s list of the Power 100), the academy runs 16-week courses that offer intensive mentoring, legal and financial advice, and help designing logos and websites.
Run by the South Bronx-based Green Worker Cooperative, the academy guides up to four teams per session through the startup process and has graduated four organizations now thriving in New York City. These include Caracol Interpreters, which is raising the bar on interpreter wages, and Concrete Green, which focuses on environmentally sound landscaping. Six more co-ops are in the pipeline.

“I’m amazed at how little knowledge and information is out there for the average person about how co-ops function and how to start one,” says Janvieve Williams Comrie, whose mother-owned cooperative Ginger Moon also came out of the program.

“That’s one thing the Co-op Academy really provides, the hands-on know-how.” Even money for tuition ($1,500 per team) gets the treatment. Freilla is adamant that teams fundraise to cover that cost—even if they can foot the bill themselves. “By fundraising for the registration fee, you are promoting the vision for your cooperative, gaining supporters, and creating a buzz before the program even starts,” he says. “That is just the kind of support that will propel your business forward, and while you’re doing it you’ll be getting an early opportunity to see just how well you and your teammates work together.”

Red Clouds Collective photo by Paul Dunn

Photo by Paul Dunn.

2. Red Clouds Collective?, Portland, Ore.

They shared an active, outdoorsy lifestyle in the Pacific Northwest. They shared a talent for creative work. It seemed logical for the group of friends to leave their corporate jobs to form Red Clouds Collective, a Portland manufacturer of handcrafted canvas and leather gear. The worker-owner cooperative pools the talents of a variety of artists and allows them to make a living as craftsmen beyond what any of them could do individually. A percentage pay system benefits the original designer, the assembler, and the collective. After one year, business is great. What’s popular? theGOODbook™, a leather wallet/iphone case/sketchbook all in one. From left, Owen Johnson, Seth Neefus, Jason Thomas Brown, and Casey Neefus in their garage-turned-factory.

Seward Cafe photo by Paul Dunn

Photo by Paul Dunn.

3. Seward Community Cafe?, Minneapolis

It’s one thing to run a successful cooperative business, and quite another to lend a hand to the competition. But that’s exactly what the Seward Cafe in Minneapolis did, loaning $10,000 to Hard Times Cafe when the nearby worker-run restaurant was struggling through an extended closure due to repairs. “They’re like our little sister,” says Nils Collins, a worker at Seward, which is the oldest collectively run restaurant in the country. “We can’t function in an environment where everything is corporate-owned. It’s a lot more effective to have mutual support and solidarity.” The two businesses often help each other with tax-form preparation and even food delivery. “We call it a friendly rivalry,” said Hard Times’ bookkeeper Rozina Doss. “A worker-run business has its own set of difficulties, so our relationship is just a recognition that other people have the same commitment that we do to changing the way work is done.”

Like what you’re reading? YES! is nonprofit and relies on reader support.
Click here to chip in $5 or more to help us keep the inspiration coming.

4. Patient/Physician Co-ops?, Houston

Don McCormick, a former health insurance executive, opened a free, charity-funded clinic to better understand the problems in health care and stumbled onto something that surprised him: Uninsured people were willing to pay a nominal monthly fee—like $18—if it guaranteed access to medical care. Then McCormick learned that doctors actually earned more by billing patients directly—even at those nominal fees—than they did by going through Medicare, Medicaid, or HMOs. With that realization, McCormick founded the Houston-based Patient/Physician Cooperative in 2005, which now has 60 participating clinics. Members of PPC function as a group, which allows them to purchase health care at affordable prices. There are no co-payments or qualifications for those with pre-existing conditions, and the model has since spread to North Carolina and Portland, Ore. “This turned into a very practical solution,” McCormick says, “and it’s better than what anyone else is proposing.”

5. Community Food Forest?, Providence, R.I.

The new plantings at Roger Williams Park hover around three feet tall. But in a few years, they’ll sprout leafy greens and medicinal herbs. All will be available to harvest for free, along with wild mushrooms, tubers, and fiber. The edible forestry project, which broke ground in April 2012, is a partnership between the University of Rhode Island Master Gardeners and city officials at Roger Williams Park. The location is no accident. More than 83 percent of nearby residents live in a USDA-declared food desert, with little access to supermarkets selling fresh produce. But in years to come, the edible forest, which sits adjacent to a community garden, will provide nuts, mulch, fruit, and fuel. Similar projects are popping up in other urban areas. The Beacon Hill Food Forest in Seattle—funded in part with a $20,000 grant from the city’s Department of Urban Neighborhoods—is the largest edible forest on public land in the nation.

Quimper Mercantile photo courtesy of Quimper Mercantile

Photo courtesy of Quimper Mercantile.

6. Community-Owned Mercantile, Port Townsend, Wash.

“We live here, work here, invest here. We just want to buy some socks here,” reads the motto of Quimper Mercantile in Port Townsend, Wash. After the town’s general store closed in 2011, residents of this out-of-the-way town found themselves with few nearby options for buying basic goods, and they weren’t interested in inviting Wal-Mart to move in. Their solution? A dozen activists and business owners raised $50,000, formed a corporation, and began selling shares to friends and neighbors. To date, 1,008 folks have invested—a hundred-dollar share at a time—$570,000, and Quimper Mercantile opened for business in October 2012. When the bankroll reaches $950,000 investors can start trading their shares. “We’re a for-profit venture, not a co-op,” says Peter Quinn, CEO. “So it’s essentially buying stock in a startup, with all the usual possibilities and risks.” At this fledgling stage, participation is motivated less by profit-seeking than community-building. “A much more altruistic purpose,” Quinn says.

Cooperative Land photo by Ben Guss

Photo by Ben Guss.

7. Buying land as a cooperative, ?Duvall, Wash.

Mobile homes provide a source of long-term, low-income housing but, vulnerable to rate increases or eviction, it’s hardly stable. Last year, in Duvall, Wash., 24 mobile-home dwellers joined to create a cooperative and purchase their trailer park. Final price: $1.18 million. That sounds pretty steep, but Ben Guss, a facilitator with the Northwest Cooperative Development Center, linked the residents to funding through ROC USA Capital, which has made loans to 125 such communities across the country. For the Duvall project, ROC partnered with the Washington State Housing Finance Commission, and now for $475 a month—just $15 more than they were paying before—each member of the newly-named Duvall Riverside Village Co-op is an owner. “It’s great to change from having Damocles’ Sword in the air that you know can fall,” said Stewart Davidson, who lives there and serves as board president. “When I pass, my wife can live here and not be worried about having a knock on the door with someone saying, ‘Here’s your notice, you’re out.’”


Claudie Rowe wrote this article for How Cooperatives Are Driving the New Economy, the Spring 2013 issue of YES! Magazine. Claudia has been an award-winning social issues journalist for more than 20 years. Her work has appeared in Mother Jones, The New York Times, The Seattle Times, and The Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Interested?

  • 6 Ways to Fuel the Cooperative Takeover
    From now on, the global mantra for filling market gaps is going to be, “There’s a co-op for that.” But co-ops need customers, money, and training. How do we shift from business as usual to the work of cooperation?
3.5 ·
1
What's Next
Trending Today
Have You Heard of The Great Forgetting? It Happened 10,000 Years Ago & Completely Affects Your Life
Daniel Quinn · 19,242 views today · (Excerpted from the book, The Story of B) With every audience and every individual, I have to begin by making them see that the cultural self-awareness we inherit from our...
A Hauntingly Beautiful Short Film About Life and Death
5 min · 12,501 views today · The Life of Death is a touching handdrawn animation about the day Death fell in love with Life.
The Myth of Positivity: Why Your Pain Holds a Mighty Purpose
umair haque · 12,437 views today · Of all the great myths of contemporary life, one of the most toxic is positivity. It says: there are negative and positive emotions, and only the positive ones are worth...
10 Stunning Images from the Wildlife Photographer of the Year People's Choice Award
Natural History Museum · 11,260 views today · These incredible images are a selection from of the 25 shortlisted by The Natural History Museum for the People's Choice Award from this year's Wildlife Photographer of the...
Seven Must-Have Skills for the 21st Century
Tommy Lehe · 5,047 views today · We live in a world that moves faster than we do. Trying to keep up can be an overwhelming task that at times feels hopeless, like we are falling further and further behind—but...
Forget Air Force One, Pentagon Wastes Billions and Billions Every Month
Nadia Prupis · 4,653 views today · President-elect Donald Trump's focus on single Boeing contract ignores enormous waste of bloated Pentagon budget
Stunning Summary of US Imperialism and Native Resistance... on MSNBC!
4 min · 2,485 views today · On The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC, Lawrence explains why a protest by Native Americans in North Dakota reminds us of the history American always tries to forget.
The Most Powerful Algorithm in the World
Joe Brewer · 2,414 views today · After the insanity of the U.S. election, a lot of people are blaming Facebook for its algorithms that parse us into ideological bubbles and spread “fake news” and other kinds...
DREAM: A Spoken Word Meditation For When Life Is Kicking Your Ass
4 min · 1,719 views today · If life is kicking your ass and the general un-coolness of everybody on planet erf is making you want to off yourself, TALK to someone: 800-273-8255 (national suicide...
Amanda Abbington Introduces iAnimal - 42 Days in the Life of Chickens
4 min · 1,323 views today · Shot undercover in British factory farms and slaughterhouses, this immersive 360° video gives you a birds-eye view of what happens to chicken from farm to plate.
The Other Way of Knowing
Lilian Na’ia Alessa · 1,322 views today · Western science and Indigenous worldviews are often seen as incompatible, with the Indigenous view usually being far less valued by society at large. But an inside look at...
Standing Rock Wisdom: How Sacred, Nonviolent Activism Has the Power to Succeed
Charles Eisenstein · 1,252 views today · I am told by Native American friends active at Standing Rock that the elders are counseling the Water Protectors to undertake each action prayerfully and to stay off the...
How a White Supremacist Became a Civil Rights Activist
Araz Hachadourian · 1,103 views today · The story of a KKK leader’s transformation shows us that we need not live forever with the kind of violence we saw in Charleston this month.
Dear Activists, Maybe It's Time to Admit That We've Got It All Wrong
Mickey Z. · 1,024 views today · “The first step in the revolution is eye contact.” - Alicen Grey
Sean Carroll - The Meaning of Life
7 min · 961 views today · The world keeps happening in accordance with its rules; it's up to us to make sense of it and give it value. Sean Carroll Music: Moby - God Moving Over the Face of the Waters
What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic
Asam Ahmad · 933 views today · Call-out culture refers to the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 886 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Veterans at Standing Rock Ask Forgiveness for War Crimes Against Tribal Nations
Jen Hayden · 851 views today · Jon Eagle Sr., Tribal Historic Preservation Officer at Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has reported something wholly unexpected happened at the Standing Rock Reservation today. The...
Solar is Already Producing More Energy Than Oil, Says Major Scientific Review
Nafeez Ahmed · 813 views today · And is twice as powerful than previously thought
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 768 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
From Housing to Health Care, 7 Co-ops That Are Changing Our Economy