As a young college graduate with your whole career ahead of you, the world is your oyster.
Luke Stodola decided his world would revolve around food that was organic, locally grown and cooperatively produced.
The Rochester Institute of Technology grad, along with a few friends, started Small World Food, a worker-owned cooperative, in 2007 by baking whole-grain breads in a restaurant during its off-hours and selling the loaves at farmers markets.
Today, Small World not only has expanded its bakery offerings to include granola and desserts but also offers local organic flours, hot sauce and fermented and pickled vegetable products. This summer it launches the area’s first-ever ice cream community-supported agriculture program.
To make room for more fermented and gluten-free products and to have its own retail location, the collective in the past few weeks dismantled the bakery it built several years ago inside a South Plymouth Avenue rental home (where some of its worker-owners lived) and moved to a much larger venue at 90 Canal St. in the Susan B. Anthony neighborhood. (Brewster Gordon & Co., a wholesale grocery distributor, was the original occupant. Now the building is used for artists’ studios, offices and apartments.) Bakery production and sales are taking a short hiatus while Small World finishes remodeling, though products will still be available at farmers markets and select retail locations (see breakout box). Small World Food’s retail shop is expected to open in early July.
“It’s a game changer,” says Allie Push, who joins Stodola, Ruth Blackwell and Ken Sato as one of the four current worker-owners of Small World. Four interns also help with various aspects of production, logistics and marketing.
To help raise funds for a large walk-in cooler and sink, Small World used the social fundraising site Kickstarter, which requires solicitors to reach their target goal to receive the funding. Small World met its $2,500 goal in three days. By the end of the campaign, 800 pledges had been made for a total of about $5,800. The extra money will be used to buy equipment for more gluten-free products and to get started on a pocket park and brick pathway that will lead to the artisan food purveyor’s hard-to-find retail entrance, located near the back of the building.
Axel Kairies of Rochester makes a point of buying Small World bread every Saturday at the Rochester Public Market. He’s just as enamored with the company’s sauerkraut, kimchi and miso.
“When they first appeared at the market, they just seemed like a bunch of hippies,” says Kairies. “I did not know much about their set-up. They have not only survived but grown, and that is good to see.”
"The economic collapse has effected millions of people in the critical areas of housing and jobs. It's no longer a secret that many are rediscovering the tried and true tradition of democratic worker cooperatives. "Democracy 24/7 : Living & Working Coop" talks to some great people who are members of both worker and housing cooperatives; housing and jobs that are owned and democratically run by the people who live/work there."
Richard Wolff, Professor of Economics Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst promotes his book: Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism with the Democracy at Work project (...not to be confused with the Democracy at Work Network.)
Jai Jai Noire's long-awaited This Way Out: a Guide to Starting a Worker Cooperative is out! The 2-DVD set is available from the Mighty Small Films website for about $30, including shipping. One of the best parts about the project is that it is made up of interviews with many vibrant worker cooperative owners who are blazing a path with their successful businesses. The sneak peak promo shows worker-owners from Design Action, Electic Embers, Arizmendi, Heartwood, Box Dog Bikes, Biofuel Oasis, Quilted, Co-Soap, and others. A project like this only seems to come a long once per decade, so it is worth checking out. Meanwhile an impressive collection of source videos are available free on Jai Jai's youtube channel.
Very soon we'll be notifying hundreds of supporters about the new 6 minute preview for Shift Change: Putting Democracy to Work, about worker owned enterprises in North America and in Mondragon, Spain. But before that happens, we'd like to invite you to be among the first to see the new preview. It's our way of saying thanks for helping to make this project possible with your valuable ideas.Please take a look at the preview by clicking the thumbnail below or by visiting our page on Vimeo. We welcome your comments and feedback.
At a time when many are disillusioned with big banks, big business, and growing inequity in our country, employee ownership offers a real solution for workers and communities. Shift Change will help publicize these efforts--and encourage more--during the United Nation's-declared International Year of the Cooperative, 2012. Already, people are contacting us, eager to screen Shift Change in their cities!
P.S. Stay tuned for announcement of our Kickstarter campaign, which will launch soon to raise much-needed funds for the film's completion and distribution. We hope you'll forward that notice to interested friends and to organizational newsletters and websites.
Once Again Nut Butter is a 100% employee-owned, democratic ESOP that produces peanut, almond, and cashew butters, honey, and a variety of other products from the town of Nunda in Western New York.Once Again has been democratically operated for 35 years, has 30 employee-owners,and had revenues of $14 million in 2007.The company operates on a 1 member, 1 vote sytem, distributes profit shares equally to all owners, and has a 3.5 to 1 compensation ratio of highest to lowest paid employees.
Thecooperative will install, own, and maintain the panels that they install and sell the generated power to the host institutions.As a for profit business they are entitled to government solar incentives that non-profit universities and hospitals cannot receive.Because solar installation is not a year-round business in the Ohio, the cooperative diversified with a weatherization program for the colder months in order to create full-time jobs.
CEO Steve Kiel, who says he is like an employee of the cooperative's 20 worker-owners, explains his goals include structured wealth creation for the workers' long term economic security. A share of the company's surplus is allocated to the workers but retained in the company, capitalizing the business while creating long-term individual savings.
For the film LA COMMUNE we travel back in time to 1871. A journalist for Versailles Television broadcasts a soothing and official view of events while a Commune television is set up to provide the perspectives of the Paris rebels. On a stage-like set, more than 200 actors interpret characters of the Commune, especially the Popincourt neighborhood in the XIth arrondissement. They voice their own thoughts and feelings concerning the social and political reforms. The telling of this story rests primarily on depicting the people of the Commune, and those who suppressed them.
Deliberately, this film is an attempt to challenge existing notions of documentary film, as well as the notions of 'neutrality' and 'objectivity' so beloved by the mass media today. The film is not intended as an apologia on behalf of the Paris Commune. But at the same time, it attempts to show that the Paris Commune, for all its human frailty, its internal conflicts and its blundering, was an event of major importance, not least because of the way in which its leading reformers tried to work with social process, by a direct involvement with the community and its needs."
A video by Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland explains the Greater University Circle's "anchor strategy" that initiated the creation of the Evergreen Cooperatives.Below is a presentation from Evergreen outlining the ideas further.
JUAN GONZALEZ: I want to ask you—2012 was declared recently by the United Nations to be the year of co-operatives. Can you speak to alternative democratic models that might be brought into play and might have some impact on where the economies of the U.S. and Europe are heading?
RICHARD WOLFF: Yeah. I think that we’re going to see a lot of interest, because of the U.N., but for many other reasons. This is a system that isn’t working, the traditional enterprise that we have in the United States. Shareholders, usually a few that own the bulk of the shares, select a board of directors, 15 to 20 people who make all the decisions. They’ve made those decisions—where to invest, how to invest, what to do with the profits. And here we are with the results: high unemployment, economies in collapse, bailouts needed almost on a regular basis. I think more and more people are beginning to recognize we need fundamental change.
And one of the models of an alternative would be a different way to organize a store, an office, a factory. And instead of a top-down, conventional, shareholder-driven entity, why not bring, as we say—and in your program, in particular, it would be appropriate—why not bring some democracy to the enterprise? Why not try to let the people in each enterprise make these decisions democratically and collectively, both within their enterprise and with the communities that are interdependent with these enterprises? Let’s start from that.
And, you know, think a minute with me. If the workers themselves made the decision, would they move the factory out of the country as quickly as we see capitalist enterprises do? I don’t think so. Would they use dangerous technologies that are toxic? Not likely, because they live with it, and so do their children, right there. The decision isn’t made by a board of directors thousands of miles away. And would they use the profits in a more socially useful way that benefits everybody? Well, they are everybody. That’s what democracy means. And I think we would see a lot less speculation, a lot less of the problems that have gotten us to the impasse now, if we were open enough as a society to look at alternative ways of organizing our business and make our commitment to democracy mean something, not just in the communities where we live, but in the workplaces where we spend most of our adult lives.