On Halloween morning Moorpark College students, faculty, and administrators sat around a thick wooden boardroom table to discuss the future of this community college cafeteria. For nearly six months, students have been meeting in the college library’s back rooms to plan and research the possibility of a co-op cafeteria at their school.
The first line of the Socialist Party’s platform on economics states:
“The Socialist Party stands for a fundamental transformation of the economy, focusing on production for need not profit.”
This is the main principle the co-op project members have held in mind. The platform calls for things like a 15$ minimum wage and for “worker and community ownership and control of corporations within the framework of a decentralized and democratically determined economic plan.”
Moorpark College’s co-op project seeks to learn, via direct experience, if these things are achievable, even within a capitalist society.
Gaining student support for a co-op (by collecting signatures for a petition), holding weekly public meetings, getting press coverage from the campus paper, and developing a business plan (so far very full of holes and drumming up more questions than confidences) have not been a problem; but communicating with ruthlessly “busy” business administrators and facility experts for the campus has. Which has only served to allow rumors and complaints to circulate campus, further fueling the agitated state of these collegiate suits.
This first food service ADVISORY committee made it clear to students that they are on even playing field with anyone else in the district who has a chance to come up with a strategy to replace the vending machines, which currently give Moorpark’s cafeteria a cold, mechanic atmosphere. The students are given little direction. They are directed to the district’s webpage and encouraged, in a cynical tone, to sift through that data themselves if they are really dedicated to this co-op idea.
And we are. And that is what we will do next.
Let this article serve to make it very clear that we are the only champions of our cause and that our educational institution has been explicit that if we want nutritional food (a basic human right), we must get it ourselves because our top-down, trickle-down system of governance cannot and is not willing to make that available to us, even for purchase.
This economic system fails when it can’t even sell its customers the sustenance they need to carry out any basic bodily function.
The following is an essay by Wyatt Pilcher, a Moorpark student and athlete. I believe it expresses how well this issue has permeated the lives of all students — not just socialists, not just in Ventura county, and not just in this century.
Together, They Are Stronger
Visiting the Moorpark College Cafeteria for the fifth time in three weeks, I was fed up with the lack of variety and nutrition available to our students. It was very disappointing to discover the lack of sustainability that was provided by the substandard vending machines. Being surrounded by unhealthy food led me to want to find new food service possibilities for the college. I decided to get involved by attending a meeting where I met Jen McClellan, a leading member of the college’s food committee. She suggested that food cooperative provide affordable, healthy food and cultivate a sense of ownership in the community. The word community is characterized as the feeling of fellowship with others, resulting in common attitudes, interests, and goals. I visited a successful food cooperative in Santa Barbara to get an inside look at the operation.
The Isla Vista Food Co-Op (IVFC) is located in the heart of Isla Vista by UCSB. The store was founded in 1974 by a group of UCSB sociology majors. Similar to Moorpark students today, the sociology majors desired fresh food within reach. In order to raise funds for the new store, these students went door to door proposing a natural and organic foods consumer cooperative to provide the residents of Isla Vista and neighboring communities of Santa Barbara County with reasonably priced foods, products, and services that promote a healthier lifestyle and environment. It was evident that the students were very selfless and willing to educate and feed their population with locally grown nourishment. There was an overwhelming interest, and now, the Isla Vista Food Cooperative is the hub of a cooperative community, empowering its members by providing them with products, services, and information to sustain it.
As I pulled into the compact parking lot, I read the sunny yellow letters above the small store: “Your Isla Vista Food Cooperative.”
Upon entering IVFC, the colorful fruits and vegetables to my left were the first thing to catch my eye. Even though the store was smaller than an average Trader Joe’s, I was pleasantly surprised to find that they offered everything you would expect to find at a grocery store. As I walked the five aisles of the store, it was obvious that they provided a great selection of local produce and organic items. The market is comprised of a small meat section, which is filled with free range and hormone-free meats; a variety of colorful produce from the local farms; snack stations, where customers can buy finger foods in bulk; a dairy and baked goods section catering to vegans and gluten free patrons; beauty shelves filled with natural lotions; and aisles reserved for mostly organic canned and packaged goods.
I got the feeling that higher prices should be expected from a store that offers substantial nutrition and environmentally friendly items. However, all the merchandise stocked within the walls of this healthy store is marked with a fair price.
As one of the last remnants of an anti-industrial counterculture in Isla Vista, the co-op is constantly highly praised by their customers.
Being member run is one of the strong points that co-ops hold over other companies. Since decisions about how to run the business are made by the subscribers, cooperatives often reflect a higher standard of communal responsibility than big business corporations.
Katelyn Picher, a member at IVFC, commented, “I go here because it is one of the only places in the area where I can get locally sourced, largely organic, high-quality food. I care about the environment and about what I put in my body, and so I shop there.”
I asked Melissa Cohen, the general manager of IVFC, how to become a member. She is a free-spirited, bohemian business woman who does not hide her passion for her work, and she conveys an obvious emotional connection with the store.
“Here, memberships can be purchased for 30 dollars annually until you reach the full share price of $150. The $150 will pay for your current full share investment,” she said with a smile.
The benefits of a membership include: 10 percent off coupons, 15 percent off regular-priced specialty items, weekly member advantage sales averaging $50 in savings, and access to low-cost programs.
The way Cohen explained each share contributed to the store indicated that she is really passionate about giving back to the customers: “Each share that is purchased becomes working capital for the store.” She mentioned that the co-op uses the money from memberships to buy tangible commodities that help IVFC operate more efficiently, allowing the economic gains to recirculate.
IVFC goes beyond food. They “create opportunities besides jobs, provide lessons, and improve the local economy,” Cohen stated with pride.
The economic impact that a grocery store has on its local economy is greater than just the sum of its local spending because a portion of money spent locally recirculates. “For every $1,000 a shopper spends at their local food co-op,” a posted flyer states, “$1,604 in economic activity is generated in their local economy — $239 more than if they had spent that same $1,000 at a conventional grocer.” I learned that -food coops embody principles like community, voluntary and open membership, economic involvement and cooperation.
Participation is one of the underlying factors in a cooperative business. A poster inside the store mentioned that people help the co-op accomplish its goals by shopping there, being an employee, being a vender, or even being a lender. I am impressed to see so many people who are extremely diligent in their work to improve the community not just through food, but also through awareness, education and economic stability.
The workers are all there for one reason: They all share the same desire and drive to make a difference. Together, they continue to educate the community by raising awareness about local organic and healthy food options. They are not there to get rich, in the money sense, but they are growing the capital of character and the aspiration of volunteer work.
“Our purpose as a consumer co-op,” Cohen said, “is to be a trusted source of natural and organic products and a reliable source for consumer information-driven not by profit, but by motivation for community autonomy, mutual aid, and environmental justice.”
It was obvious that the people running the store take pride in what they do . There were brochures, posters, and workers all promoting the benefits of cooperatives. I admire the unique business collaboration. Together, they own it, and they seem stronger with each other.
I believe there has never been a better time to start an empowering sustainable food co-op within Moorpark College. With knowledge to bring back to the food committee, we can make progress towards the awaited cafeteria students have been waiting for.
Before transferring to graduate school, I will not quit until my peers have fresh food within reach, just as the Isla Vista Food Cooperative has done since 1974. The students have a lot to offer the college. Hand in hand, we can bring people together to share superior food and help build the stability of the community through a co-op.