Co-op Bonanza: Beet Generation

mug_monizThere are a lot of maps in my house, including a world map (it’s upside down), a bike path map of Davis and a map showing the location of pinnipeds worldwide. But there’s one map that’s missing. I see it as one of those flight maps that has the curvy lines all over it connecting all the cooperatives worldwide, nationwide and statewide.

Davis cooperatives hosted a west coast cooperative conference called WestCo last weekend, and co-opers showed up from more places than I expected including Berkeley, Santa Barbara and Eugene, Ore. I’d never considered that co-ops existed in Oregon, then all of a sudden, there were Oregon co-opers staying in my house. It was great. I felt the unspoken, immediate bond of the co-oper because something about being offered “vegan breakfast biscuit things” out of a recycled yogurt container by a stranger warms the heart. Though we were all strangers, everyone helped each other out unasked. It was like having a huge extended family that showed up and started making delicious beet salad and beet pancakes and gluten-free beet brownies.

Not only did we eat a lot of food together, it feels like we all learned from each other. Because of the way the Davis cooperatives came together to organize the event, I learned about my immediate community and my extended community. I saw the beautiful gardens of Sunwise Co-op, met people from J Street Co-op and Cornucopia Co-op and saw campus groups such as Project Compost as well.

Outside of the workshops, where I learned about cool things like herbal remedies, we talked about differences and similarities between our co-ops. There were a lot of similarities (meetings, flannels and the constant struggle to do dishes) but there were also a lot of differences (size of houses, meeting/house management and quality of free-box finds). These conversations led to discussions about cooperative values and how we could put our newfound knowledge to use.

This illustrates something I love about living in a co-op: we’re constantly trying to improve. The community I’m a part of discussed, following the conference, the seven cooperative principles that we apply to our community as much as possible: voluntary and open membership; democratic member control; member economic participation; autonomous and independent community; education, training and information; cooperation among cooperatives; and concern for community. The last two are my favorite and, since learning about these principles, I’ve seen them everywhere.

Cooperation among cooperatives happens somewhat subconsciously, from my perspective. We shop/work at the Davis Food Co-op, have community dinners and get together for events like WestCo that bring together more communities than just the ones in Davis.

Concern for community encompasses the incredible support I see in these cooperative communities. Cooperatives are kind of like an onion — but overlapping onions. Like a bunch of onions did a sort of rat king thing. A co-op is the smallest onion ring, then there are other co-op rings, then community rings like Project Compost, the Eco-garden, the Student Farm and the Whole Earth Festival. The skin of the onion is like spreading what I’ve learned from a co-op lifestyle to the rest of my life — I pick up random trash I see, communicate as well as I can, compulsively compost, use reusable dishes at the CoHo … and these aren’t explicitly co-op things! I know plenty of people who aren’t co-opers and do these things.

This shows me something really neat. My co-op is a collection of wonderful, considerate people that have similar values and goals, and that extends to other co-ops and communities and spaces and people, regardless of whether or not they identify as a co-op(er). There are loads of like-minded people scattered along the west coast, as I learned from WestCo, which suggests that they’re also scattered across this country and others. It’s like everyone came from one beet that was then grated into the salad of life! Okay, that simile’s a stretch, and a bit vegan-cheesy, but I think you see what I’m grating — I mean, getting — at.

Make cringe-inducing puns and get really excited about them with ISABEL MONIZ at irmoniz@ucdavis.edu.

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