Food Co-ops in America

Food Co-ops in America: Communities, Consumption, and Economic Democracy

Anne Meis Knupfer
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 264
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7591/j.ctt1xx5f6
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  • Book Info
    Food Co-ops in America
    Book Description:

    In recent years, American shoppers have become more conscious of their food choices and have increasingly turned to CSAs, farmers' markets, organic foods in supermarkets, and to joining and forming new food co-ops. In fact, food co-ops have been a viable food source, as well as a means of collective and democratic ownership, for nearly 180 years.

    In Food Co-ops in America, Anne Meis Knupfer examines the economic and democratic ideals of food cooperatives. She shows readers what the histories of food co-ops can tell us about our rights as consumers, how we can practice democracy and community, and how we might do business differently. In the first history of food co-ops in the United States, Knupfer draws on newsletters, correspondence, newspaper coverage, and board meeting minutes, as well as visits to food co-ops around the country, where she listened to managers, board members, workers, and members.

    What possibilities for change-be they economic, political, environmental or social-might food co-ops offer to their members, communities, and the globalized world? Food co-ops have long advocated for consumer legislation, accurate product labeling, and environmental protection. Food co-ops have many constituents-members, workers, board members, local and even global producers-making the process of collective decision-making complex and often difficult. Even so, food co-ops offer us a viable alternative to corporate capitalism. In recent years, committed co-ops have expanded their social vision to improve access to healthy food for all by helping to establish food co-ops in poorer communities.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6771-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction: A DEMOCRATIC IMPULSE
    (pp. 1-13)

    In the past twenty years, there has been a multitude of books published about healthy foods, nutrition, food politics, and agricultural sustainability. For example, Michael Pollan has noted how many Americans eat “foodlike substances” constituted from food science, not nature; nutritionist Marion Nestle has written about the dangers of “nutritionism,” that is, the overuse of additives in foods.¹ Others have critiqued fast foods, genetically modified (GM) foods, and the inhumane practices of agribusinesses. Still others, who have grown their own foods, have chronicled and celebrated the wonders of their bountiful gardens and farms. Documentary films about farming, nutrition, and foods...

  6. 1 FOOD COOPERATIVES BEFORE THE GREAT DEPRESSION
    (pp. 14-28)

    When the Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville visited the United States in 1831, he was astonished at the number of associations formed by Americans. He stated, “I have often admired the extreme skills with which the inhabitants of the United States succeed in proposing a common object for the exertions of a great many men and in inducing them voluntarily to pursue it.”¹ Such organizing, in his estimation, provided evidence of a democratic impulse. His visit also coincided with the growth of workingmen’s associations, which established some of the first producer and consumer cooperatives. The history of food cooperatives in the...

  7. Part I. COLLECTIVE VISIONS OF THE DEPRESSION

    • 2 FOOD COOPERATIVES, 1930S–1950S
      (pp. 31-46)

      During the Great Depression, the number of cooperatives increased because of available federal funding, the need for alternative economies in a time of high unemployment, and the advocacy of many individuals and organizations. As noted by Gary Gerstle and Judith Stein, New Deal liberals—a coalition of government officials, intellectuals, middle-class activists, and labor unionists—hoped to stimulate economic growth and to “tame” unbridled capitalism.¹ By linking consumer activism to labor unions’ concerns for higher wages and increased purchasing power, New Deal liberals helped to create a “new Democratic majority.”² Through their support, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the National...

    • 3 ITHACA CONSUMER CO-OPERATIVE SOCIETY
      (pp. 47-68)

      GreenStar Co-operative Market of Ithaca celebrated its forty-year anniversary in 2011. But more than likely, most of its members did not know that it did not incorporate until 1984 because an agreement could not be reached on whether members or the council should have more power. Nor do most of its members know about GreenStar’s predecessors, Ithaca Real Food Co-op and the Ithaca Consumer Co-operative Society (ICCS). Started during the Great Depression, the ICCS was once a strong co-op in terms of membership and finances. It is now left to older residents’ memory and to the Cornell University archives. It...

    • 4 THE HYDE PARK CO-OPERATIVE SOCIETY
      (pp. 69-88)

      I, among others, was saddened to hear about the closure of the Hyde Park Co-operative Society’s (HPCS) store in 2008. I had lived in Hyde Park during the 1990s and shopped there. I remember it as being crowded and lively, with lots of conversations among customers and workers. There were shoppers from the University of Chicago, and from Hyde Park and nearby neighborhoods. One could buy both the Hyde Park Herald and the Chicago Defender, the African American newspaper published since 1907. In fact, many of its workers were African American, testimony to the co-op’s longtime commitment to integration. Even...

    • 5 HANOVER CONSUMER CO-OPERATIVE SOCIETY
      (pp. 89-105)

      I was fortunate that the Hanover Consumer Co-operative Society’s (HCCS) archives were at its oldest store. This gave me the opportunity to talk to the staff, walk around and get a sense of who the shoppers were, and ask workers questions. There were different shoppers, representing at least three generations. Although the store featured organic and natural foods, there were commercial brand names as well. I visited two of its other stores and crossed the Connecticut River into Vermont, where its fourth store later opened. Of those co-ops that started during the Great Depression, the HCCS is the second oldest...

    • 6 ADAMANT FOOD CO-OPERATIVE AND PUTNEY FOOD CO-OPERATIVE
      (pp. 106-126)

      I am driving to the oldest American food co-op in Adamant, Vermont, a village with a population of forty-eight. I cut through the Green Mountains, thick and full in this rainy summer season. Before traveling, I had tried to locate a history of the village. There was none, other than what I found on the Adamant Food Co-op website and on Wikipedia. The Wikipedia entry intrigued me. It began: “There is no true boundary to define the village, and as such there is great debate as to what constitutes residence. [Adamant is one of five hamlets, including Calais.] This is,...

  8. Part II. FOOD FOR PEOPLE OR PROFIT?

    • 7 FOOD COOPERATIVES, 1960S–1990S
      (pp. 129-140)

      Many images come to mind when thinking of the 1960s and 1970s: the Whole Earth Catalog, with instructions for building your own geodesic dome; organic gardening; hippies living off the land; the Free Speech Movement; the Vietnam War protests; the Civil Rights movement; free health clinics; psychedelic drugs and music; Caesar Chavez and the lettuce and grape boycotts; Earth Day; the Kent State killings; and flower power. There were, though, other powerful and ominous images: smog and pollution, crabgrass killers sprayed on lawns, more processed foods, the population explosion, gas rationing, oil embargos, DDT, and nuclear power plants.

      Those of...

    • 8 NORTH COAST CO-OPERATIVES IN ARCATA, EUREKA, AND FORTUNA
      (pp. 141-156)

      There is no place like far northern California. The state has close to ten million acres of old-growth virgin forests, one of the largest in the country.¹ The great amount of rainfall makes the rainforests lush, dense, and towering. The redwoods are majestic, some over one thousand years old. I am traveling along Highway 101, winding my way through the ocean side, coves, and forests to Arcata. I drive through the Avenue of the Giants, referring to stands of giant redwoods, one of its primary natural and economic resources.

      After the Gold Rush of the early 1850s, lumber companies moved...

    • 9 NEW PIONEER CO-OPERATIVE SOCIETY
      (pp. 157-174)

      Iowa City is known for the University of Iowa’s renowned Writers’ Workshop and the International Writing Program. It is considered one of the most literary places in the country; one claim is that it has more poets and fiction writers per capita than anywhere else in the United States. Its municipal policies are progressive and include a human rights ordinance that bans discrimination because of sexual orientation and gender identity. The city council encourages businesses to pay livable wages, as well as protects nearby wetlands and historical landmarks. There are bike lanes and walking trails. It is an oasis of...

    • 10 COOPERATIVES IN THE TWIN CITIES
      (pp. 175-189)

      Minnesota has historically been considered one of the county’s “greatest cooperative states.”¹ As early as 1870, there were at least forty cooperatives in Minneapolis alone. Some were started by co-opers, who were immigrants from various countries; one of their co-ops was a store that sold groceries and dry goods. By 1886, native-born white and immigrant laborers from different trades—cigar makers, printers, carpenters, laundresses, painters, and musicians—had organized co-ops as well. However, in rural areas, members of cooperatives, especially creameries, belonged to one ethnic group.² Many of these early co-ops, according to historian Steven Keillor, gave communities the opportunity...

  9. Epilogue: THE AGE OF THE “ORGANIC-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX”
    (pp. 190-204)

    It is difficult to know the exact number of food cooperatives but one estimate as of 2010 is 350 (not including buying clubs).¹ The good news is that the number of food co-ops is growing. At the 2010 Consumer Cooperative Management Association conference, participants were enthusiastic about those food cooperatives that had opened within the past year. These included Chatham Real Food Market (Chatham, New York), Eagle Rock Co-op (Eagle Rock, Idaho, now closed), Fiddleheads Natural Foods Co-op (New London, Connecticut), Fresh Connections (Algona, Iowa), Lakes Community Co-op (Stone Lake, Wisconsin), Littleton Food Co-op (Littleton, New Hampshire), Local Roots Co-op...

  10. Appendix WEBSITE SOURCES ABOUT FOOD COOPERATIVES
    (pp. 205-208)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 209-256)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 257-270)
  13. Index
    (pp. 271-274)