The Noah Project

Rebuilding a sustainable world.


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East Side Freedom Library On-Line Launch of “Grocery Activism”

Video premiere on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

Craig Upright will join East Side Freedom Library’s Peter Rachleff in conversation on Thursday, June 4 at 7:00 p.m. for the launch of his new book, Grocery Activism: The Radical History of Food Cooperatives in Minnesota. The event is part of the Ramsey County Historical Society’s History Revealed series and can be accessed from the ESFL Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/EastSideFreedomLibrary/.

Grocery Activism looks back to the 1970s, when the mission of cooperative grocery stores shifted from political activism to the promotion of natural and organic foods. The story of the fraught relationship of these new-wave organizations to the organic food industry, it is an instructive case study in the history of activists intervening in capitalist markets to promote social change.

“Grocery Activism fills a gaping hole in the literature on food activism, and it’s one that my students often ask about: the radical origins of food cooperatives. Readers shocked by Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods may well feel nostalgic for the cramped spaces and dusty bins of the 1970s food cooperatives that are the focus of this book.” —Julie Guthman, author of Agrarian Dreams: The Paradox of Organic Farming in California

“In the 1970s, the organic food movement needed to reach consumers, and food co-ops needed a reason to exist. Grasping the relationship between a social movement and an organizational form is not easy, but Grocery Activism achieves its aims in a clear, informative way. This book will interest anyone who wants to understand how local action can produce new and unexpected forms of market structure.” —Kieran Healy, Duke University

Read more about the book here: https://www.upress.umn.edu/book-divi…/books/grocery-activism.

THURSDAY AT 7:00 PMGrocery Activism Virtual Launch Event with Craig UprightTune in to watch live


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The Transvida Cooperative

This article on the RioOnWatch site really caught my attention. It shows how even the poorest communities can benefit by forming a cooperative.

Cooperativa Transvida Promotes Recycling and Environmental Awareness

In 2011, then engaged in various projects through her church, Oliveira saw a group of residents picking through trash in the community in search of recyclable material. Looking for a way to help them, she ended up proposing: “Guys, don’t you want to form a cooperative?”

In the beginning, nobody knew anything. We only knew how to separate the trash and assess the value of the different types of material,” says Rozeno. “In fact, the only things we were missing were organization and administration.” Thanks to Oliveira’s volunteer-help in developing the administrative side of the organization, the Transvida Recycling Cooperative was able to begin its journey, with four volunteers and about 20 trash collectors.

…despite it being a tiring job, “people are learning how to sort waste, learning how to take care of the environment.” Residents talk to one another about the positive results of the cooperative’s work, and “this is opening minds in our community,” concludes Rozena. So, in addition to bringing in income for trash collectors and their families, Transvida promotes environmental awareness, especially in relation to waste treatment within the community.


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The Cooperative Movement

Although this article is about the case for establishing energy cooperatives in rural Pakistan, it has a lot of great information about cooperatives in general. Mr. Ali was kind enough to give me permission to post his article in full. You can read more of his articles at The News.

 February 1, 2020

The cooperative movement was founded when people felt that they were not getting a fair deal in terms of products’ or services’ availability or pricing. Long before communism, in 1761, the Fenwick Weaver Society was formed to sell discounted oatmeal to local workers.

The most visible examples today are fair price shops run by students and labour unions – both of which do not exist in Pakistan, though. There are consumers’ and producers’ cooperatives and credit unions. There are workers’ cooperatives to manage and share businesses etc. There are building and housing societies which promote affordable housing. Sometimes, governments encourage the formation of cooperatives to be able to distribute and develop land for housing, the likes of which have been a success example in Pakistan. Keeping in view the extractive role of middlemen in agriculture, it appears that cooperatives in agriculture may improve the lives of farmers and boost the agriculture sector. However, our focus in this space is on the possible role of cooperatives in the utility/energy sector.

There are three million cooperatives in the world serving more than one billion members and employing 12.6 million persons. All cooperatives combined have a turnover of $2.9 trillion; assets of $19.5 trillion; half of the world cooperatives are in the agri/grocery sector; and two-third cooperatives are located in Asia. The dominant sectors are banking, insurance, agriculture, grocery, education, health, housing, utilities and workers. There are 1714 cooperatives in the utility sector. Robobank of The Netherlands and Agricole France are two major cooperatives engaged in banking in Europe. Amul and IFFCO in India have a large presence in the milk and fertilizer sectors.

By 1936 in the US, 90 percent of urban areas had electricity and 90 percent of rural areas had no electricity. The Rural Electrification Act of 1936 allowed establishing electric cooperatives to provide electricity in rural areas which hitherto did not have electricity .Later on telephone and water services were added. The 1936 Act allowed groups of people to buy or generate and distribute electricity in their communities and areas. Long-term loans (35 years) at low interest rates were provided.

Cooperatives played a great role in improving rural life in the US. At present, there are 900 electric cooperatives, spread over 47 states and serving 40 million people. Electrical cooperatives in the US have a market share of 12 percent serving 19 million customers. The median number of customers per cooperative is 13000 vs 400,000 for normal utilities. The initial cooperative size was much smaller.

We may require much smaller cooperatives. For identical reasons, some other countries in Europe and Asia have also adopted cooperatives in rural areas; Spain and the Philippines are noteworthy in this respect. In India, Microgrids are being organized for rural electrification, although not under cooperative framework. It does provide a technical model, however.

Rural areas in Pakistan stand at a comparable situation of 1936 of America. Overall access to electricity in Pakistan is 67 percent. Twenty percent of the urban population has access to gas, while the rural population has no piped gas. Many rural areas have the physical and organizational, if not financial, resources to generate their own electricity (solar, wind and small hydro) and biogas resources. Their scale, volume and distance do not allow the organized main utility sector to serve them. They can organize small and micro grids, install biogas plants and lay gas pipes to distribute biogas produced out of crop and animal waste. Some may already be doing it. Cooperatives are great organizational instruments to organize people on a self-help basis.

Why cooperatives? Off grid areas, both in gas and electricity, remain un-serviced and may remain so for quite a while. Eighty percent people are off network in case of gas. Neither utilities nor NGOs would be able to mobilize local resources. It would also be expensive. There are abundant opportunities to install solar-based systems. Not much activity is visible in that respect. Biogas resources are abundant. Pakistan is an agricultural country with a large cattle population and milk production. Enthusiasm, autonomy, participation and organization seem to be lacking; these may be provided by cooperatives. Cooperatives are more stable and sustainable than a private corporation.

Energy cooperatives ala USA may be of great help. First of all, the licensing and legal lacunae may be removed by awarding licensing exemptions (or dilutions) to cooperatives, and soft financial resources may be funnelled through them. Cooperatives may be organized on the democratic principles of one-member, one-vote and may thus be saved from exploitation by the local powerful. Cooperatives may or may not be non-profit, depending on the local circumstances. Rates may be approved by local governments or administration in case of profit seeking cooperatives. Government funds may also be diverted through non-profit cooperatives.

It is quite conceivable that these cooperatives may develop the technical and organizational capabilities to install solar panels, local grid, and water pump thru supplier’s market channels. Otherwise district administrations or development organization bodies like the NRSP/RSPN may be able to assist. Similarly, gas supplies and crop and animal waste resources are widely and freely available in most areas. Individual biogas plants have been installed, even in very small numbers as compared to the regional numbers. Community biogas plants are not there, except for some politicized and expensive LPG-Air-Mix Plants which have been found highly unsustainable. Community biogas plants are much more affordable as these are built by the community based on local raw material resources.

A cooperative framework is required not only for financial reasons but also for operational and management purposes. While electricity networks may not require much of an O&M effort, biogas would require considerable O&M cooperation from waste collection to running the biogas plant. Biogas need and potential is very high. Only 20 percent of the population has access to gas under the existing utility based gas system. If 10 percent of the population gets biogas under the proposed scheme, it may not be a bad idea. And, it would be perpetual and sustainable, while conventional gas fields tend to expire within a decade.

Are cooperatives for the poor? That is a difficult question. Pakistan’s energy sector, both electricity and gas, are subsidized by government and cross subsidies. The poor pay Rs5.0 per unit as against Rs25 by the rich, and similarly for gas. On the other hand, cooperatives would not be burdened by the high T&D losses, leakages and over-heads etc and may be able to offer electricity at an average price of Rs10 per unit or lower – based on solar and other renewables. It may also have tax exemption. Similar is the case of gas.

Cooperatives may be able to mobilize cheaper biogas. However, it would be difficult to cater for the low price regime for the poor. Some kind of subsidy, in cash or kind, in addition to no-taxation would be required. Existing utilities may offer only high cost difficult areas out of their franchise areas. Small cooperatives (100-500 members) appear to be more feasible than the larger ones on the lines of the US. A pilot project scheme is recommended which may provide a firm basis to evolve the requisite policy.

The writer is a former member of the Energy Planning Commission and author of ‘Pakistan’s Energy Issues: Success and Challenges’.

Syed Akhtar Ali


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Coop Helps Improve Environment

Some of you may have already heard of Fertile Ground out of Oklahoma. I feel like I’ve come across that name before. In any case the company came up in my news feed when an Oklahoma City station aired a segment about them. It seems the company that had been contracted by three local cities to recycle their waste announced they would no longer be accepting glass.

Fertile Ground Cooperative stepped in to see what they could do.

As an environmental co-op, Fertile Ground worked to cut out that corporate middleman.

“We were able to find a solution where we can immediately start recycling glass, right here in Oklahoma, with an Oklahoma-based company,” Singer said.

I found the idea of an environmental co-op intriguing and went to their website to learn more about Fertile Ground. Not only was the business established to improve and protect the social and natural environment, but they structured their organization as a cooperative toward that goal.

WHY are we a WORKER COOPERATIVE?

A worker cooperative is a values-driven business that puts worker and community benefit at the core of its purpose. The central characteristics are that workers own the business and participate in its financial success on the basis of their labor contribution to the co-op, and that workers have representation on and vote for the board of directors, adhering to the principle of one worker, one vote.

Worker-Owners enjoy work because they have control over the conditions of their labor.  Because worker-coops are locally owned, workers don’t pollute their own backyards, they are more inclined to pay themselves fairly, take care of their safety, and contribute to the local economy.  Worker co-ops are also more productive than traditional workplaces because workers have greater buy-in and receive a portion of the surplus (profit).

We love worker co-ops because they can be a tool to empower people who are locked out of the mainstream economy.  Checkout institute.coop for more info about worker co-ops!


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Documenting the most Striking and Inspiring Cooperatives in Five Continents

They say the best way to learn is to teach.  It couldn’t be more true.  Writing a blog post is the process of condensing a lot of information into an easily digestible form.  As a result, I’m learning right along with my readers.  Here’s something I didn’t know:

Cooperatives are not a marginal phenomenon:

  • More than 12% of humanity is part of any of the 3 million cooperatives in the world!
  • The Top 300 cooperatives and mutuals report a total turnover of 2,1 trillion USD, according to the World Co-operative Monitor (2017).
  • Cooperatives contribute to the sustainable economic growth and stable, quality employment, employing 280 million people across the globe, in other words, 10% of the world’s employed population.

You might also be interested to know the Italian researcher Sara Vicari and filmmaker Andrea Mancori, have set a goal of visiting and documenting, in a series of short films, some of the most striking and inspiring cooperatives from different economic sectors in five continents.  They started the aroundtheworld.coop project in January.  You can get more detailed information about the project on their blog,

All the videos will be made available on ICA’s youtube channel


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Are you interested in starting a coop?

From the large amount of material coming into my feed daily, it appears more and more grassroots organizations are springing up around the country dedicated to building a robust cooperative sector.  United States Federation of Worker Cooperatives is just such an organization.

The USFWC was founded in 2004 when a core of worker co-op members came together with co-op developers, scholars, community organizers, and supporters from the broader co-op sector to strengthen worker co-ops through a national, sector-specific organization. Building on growing momentum, this founding event brought together worker co-op practitioners from the existing Western Worker Co-op Conference and the Eastern Conference for Workplace Democracy, as well as key players in Midwest and Southern states, to galvanize and support rising interest in the worker co-op business model.

This is a great organization if you want to learn more about cooperatives or are interested in starting a coop. They have many resources available including a Co-op movement study guide.


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Women’s Day Special

The World Fair Trade Organization is celebrating Women’s History Month with a series of podcasts featuring Fair Trade Enterprises started and run by women.

Allison Havens founded Yabal Handicrafts in Guatemala to keep alive indigenous weaving techniques and create livelihoods for local women. Today, the women producers are becoming the main income earners in their family and challenging gender norms. Her story unpacks what it means to truly prioritize local producers over increasing profits – getting to the heart of what makes an enterprise mission-led.

 

Bethlehem founded Entoto Beth in Ethiopia as a social enterprise. Today, her enterprise gives opportunities for 200 women in marginalized communities. She upcycles bullet-casings and has adopted Fair Trade to create jewelry and bags for global markets.