[act-ma] Invitation to co-operate

Adam Frost adamfrost at computercareandlearning.com
Sun Mar 26 21:32:38 PDT 2017

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.

More information about the Act-MA mailing list