Throughout history as it has been taught to us, there have been protest movements, some theatrical, some violent, some successful at making changes, some not. We have less information about mass movements which were of a totally positive nature. The story of cooperatives, however, is one which we can look to as an example of how to achieve long-term positive change, particularly the cooperative food store movement.
Instead of picketing grocery stores selling nutritionally deficient food products, people just decided to find the growers of good, organic foods, buy their wares, and sell them at a fair price in a cheap location. Anyone was welcome to purchase the foods if they contributed a little work or a small membership fee to cover the costs.
An emphasis was placed on listening to people's needs and values and making decisions in behalf of the good of all concerned. Quite a bit of emphasis was placed on educating people about the food web - who grows what, where, when and how - and why it is important to be in harmony with nature, the real provider of everything we eat.
In my own lifetime, I have experienced everything from the 1960's hippie start-up store with its barrels of grain and guitar-playing cashiers to our present gleaming streamlined, higher-tech operations. One thing we have not lost, however is the focus on why we are doing this.
In the '60's and '70's, the co-op was, in many locations, the only place people of different appearance (clothes, hair, skin color) could casually gather and feel accepted. It was definitely a "third place,"* the one place where you could be yourself, most likely run into friends, meet interesting new people, and share a moment or several hours engaged in physical and social nourishment.
As time went on, the corporate-giant stores caught on to the trends and took steps in the direction of offering more organic and local foods and enticing customers with low-priced specials and massive advertising. But, co-ops have held their ground. Once again, during tough times, most co-operators did not organize protests or riot in the streets. They did the one good thing that may not seem as exciting, but which usually works for the long run. They focused on their people.
We, in the co-op world, have one niche to fill. The corporate giants can keep doing what they are doing. I leave complaining about them to those still needing to be engaged in such activities, and their praises will continue to be spoken by their advertising teams. So be it. Freedom of choice. I wish only to suggest that we have a place they cannot fill. And that place, that Great Third Place, is only filled by people who truly value a way of life based on cooperating with other humans, plants and animals, giving each the simple nourishment they need.
"Fresh, alive, wholesome, fair." These are not just ad words. They are ways of life that we do our best to live by. And, knowing ourselves and how, as humans, we often screw up on something, our Great Third Place gives us some space and time to sit with others and talk it over. From the little cafe seating area to the open board meetings to the right to vote for who runs the place, to the suggestion boxes, to the in-store conversations between shoppers and managers, we welcome these interactions of community.
This co-op model is working well at Bloomingfoods. What if we kept on extending it into all areas of life? What if crowds gathered to help out a farmer, clean up a city block, feed the hungry, build homes for the homeless? Yes. In Bloomington, we have already begun. Let's keep celebrating what we have and making it just a little better every day.
"They say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one."
Carol Bridges, Secretary
for the Board of Directors
*Third Place: After home and workplace, people gravitate toward a third place in which they can feel a sense of community.