[act-ma] 3-31 @ 6 PM at Spontaneous Celebration, Harvest Co-op Member Summit

R. Wayne Clark rwayneclark at igc.org
Thu Mar 30 04:45:04 PDT 2017


Comrades,

 

I have written to you before about the political struggle at Harvest Co-op.  Last October, I circulated "An Open Letter to the Left Community on the future of the Revolution", although I admit its circulation was not wide. [If you would like a copy of this short missive, please send me an email request.]  In this Letter, I explained the historic juncture for co-ops in general and Harvest in particular that is occurring right now.

 

This coming Friday evening (2017-Mar-31) @ 6 PM, at Spontaneous Celebration (45 Danforth St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130, Phone: 617-524-6373), some Members of Harvest Co-op will be holding a Member Summit to plan a strategy for turning Harvest into a real co-op, with Member Involvement and Participation, with Member Empowerment as its core value.

 

Right now, Harvest Co-op is dominated by a management-centered approach to co-ops, in which “professional” Management is all that is needed to run the co-op efficiently and Members just get in the way; so, their input should be ignored.  In this approach to operation of a co-op, Management lords over not only the Members, but also over the Workers.  Unfortunately (or, fortunately, depending on how you look at it), this Management approach is failing and Harvest Co-op Market is losing significant money daily.

 

The Harvest Real Co-op Initiative (Harvest_RCI) is attempting to turn Harvest into a Member-centered co-op, where the purpose of management is to deliver what Members want and not the other way around.  In this approach, Members are Empowered to participate actively (or, as actively as they want) in making their own food choices and in becoming involved in the operation of the co-op, which they own.  If we can change Harvest to emphasize Member Empowerment, then we may be able to turn around these losses and save Harvest as a co-op.

 

I would like to remind activists that historically, co-ops have been a source of strength and of many different types of support for the left in its struggle against rule by the 1%.  Unfortunately, this has not been true of Harvest Co-op in a while.  We need to return the co-op movement to its historical role by returning Harvest to being a Real Co-op.

 

Please come plan the revolt.

 

Co-operatively, Wayne.

 

 

-----Original Message-----

From: Act-MA [mailto:act-ma-bounces at act-ma.org] On Behalf Of Adam Frost

Sent: Monday, March 27, 2017 00:33

To: act-ma at act-ma.org

Subject: [act-ma] Invitation to co-operate

 

Invitation to co-operate

 

Dear Friends,

 

The following are some thoughts and an invitation about our local Boston food co-operative, Harvest Co-operative Food Markets.  But it is also a meditation on what makes our community healthy, and a brief memoir about what I’ve learned as a member of a co-operative, and how that learning has woven into my efforts to be a computer helper, business co-ordinator/owner and educator.  I hope you’ll find it interesting, and I hope it will encourage all of us to find ways to be part of the co-operative movement.

 

I lived for many years in New Haven, Connecticut, and then found myself commuting on Amtrak to Boston to visit my girlfriend Nina. One day, we were walking by a non-descript, large building—it had formerly been a tire warehouse—and Nina said, “I think you would like this place”.  It was the Boston Food Co-op, which twenty-five years ago was thriving in Allston, occupying a building our co-op owned entirely—we were even collecting rent from the Mazda repair place next door.

 

The Boston Food Co-op had a large community room that hosted yoga classes, films – delightfully called “Cinema Coöp”. the umlaut emphasizing how European and sophisticated we were—and a weekly Sunday brunch attended by dozens of members from all walks of life.  We had a large member work program that allowed folks with lower incomes to afford organic and natural foods—if you worked 2 and half hours a week, you got a 24% discount.

 

As with many other food co-ops across the country, the co-opy parts were gradually dismantled by leadership and consultants who placed the emphasis on being a food store first and a community center third or fourth. The member work program was shut down, and with it the discount many of us needed. We sold the building and rented in JP, giving up the community room, bathroom, and virtually all community activities, since there was no room for them. When a new store was opened in Forest Hills, it too had no community space and no member activities to speak of.

 

Now, in 2017, with a radical conservative administration in Washington, and disruptive and often regressive economic institutions dominating our economy, the Harvest Food Co-op is getting ready to close its doors as it faces another year of huge losses.  Why is the co-op doing so badly?  Many on the board and the co-op’s consultants blame competition from the many other stores selling organic and natural foods. This is an accurate diagnosis as far as it goes, but it mixes up the cause of the disease with the symptom.  People aren’t shopping at the co-op because they are not committed to it and involved in it—in so many ways, it is not a co-operative place.

 

The essence of a co-operative place is where each person who comes in is welcomed not just for her shopping dollar, but for her mind, her interests, her desire to collaborate with other people. And the rewards of this kind of organization are huge. I’ll just mention one of them, which affected my life and my job. When I first became a member of the food co-op, I had just moved to Boston, knew few people, and had no business connections. I was starting my computer helping business in this new city. To make money while I gradually built up my practice, I did gardening in the summers. I posted a note on the board outside the Allston store offering my gardening services (“The Quiet Gardner—lawns and gardens gently tended, hand tools used only”).  A member saw it, liked the vibe, and told a friend, who hired me. It turned out my new customer also ran a non-profit organization, which became my one of my first Boston computer customers.

 

I had posted flyers about my computer business all over, but my gardening flyer at the co-op achieved much more than dozens of flyers in places without a trusting and connected community. This just a tiny example of the way a co-op can bring a community together and let us help each other.

 

I would love it if we can build these kind of co-operatives in Boston.

Would you like to start with this failing co-operative, to rebuild it and re-create it together?  I think it will bring us joy and profit to do so.

 

Email me if you’d like to join our online efforts (adamfrost at computerCareandLearning.com), come join us at a planning meeting at Spontaneous Celebrations, Friday March 31st at 6 pm, or call me at

617-325-9526 to talk about how you can get involved in a way that enlarges and strengthens your life and work.

_______________________________________________

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