Food, Coops, Capitalism

Last week, I travelled to Portland, Oregon to give a keynote presentation to the Consumer Coop Management Association—CCMA. My first experience with cooperatives had been in 1983 when I worked as a manager for the Stockton Farmers’ Market Coop. Long before the rise of the food movement, we used to sell fresh produce to the Berkeley Coop’s supermarkets. This allowed a small group of struggling farmers to sell a lot of good food to a big group of affluent consumers. But that was long ago. I needed to study up to face 500 experts in coop management. When I did background research, I was struck by the obvious: Capitalism and food coops emerged together. The first known food cooperative, the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers, was formed in 1844 by a small group of craftspeople who had been de-skilled by England’s great textile factories in the thick of the Industrial Revolution.
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