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April / May 2005

Making More Co-ops: Eatonville and beyond

On January 27, a new food co-op opened its doors in Washington. After more than a decade with no natural foods store, Eatonville saw the opening of the Mountain Community Cooperative’s storefront, after two years as a buying club. The store has been warmly received by the community; during its first month of operation, 20 people joined, bringing the total membership to 118 in a town of about 2,000 residents.

The opening of Mountain Community Cooperative was also significant for the Olympia Food Co-op, marking the first big success in our new co-op development effort. For the Eatonville project, OFC staff worked with the Northwest Cooperative Development Center to provide grant funded technical assistance. Six OFC staff members have provided assistance, includ ing nearly a dozen store visits over most of a year. These visits have ranged from sitting in on a board meeting to being on hand for the new store’s entire first week of business.

Eatonville now joins Olympia as having the only food co-ops between Seattle and Port land. But that may soon change: OFC has received inquiries from Vancouver, Onalaska, Tacoma, Buckley and Bremer ton about how we can help get co-ops started in those communities. Of these groups, Vancouver is furthest along in the development process; the group already has a buying club, a website and is currently working on its bylaws. Because the project is within both Washington state and the Portland metropolitan area, we are exploring ways of collaborating with People’s Food Co-op of Portland in order to best use our collective resources.

We are not only providing support for the creation of food co-ops; in 2002 we worked with the staff of Sound Builders’ ReSource (who have since regrouped as Olympia Salvage) on setting up democratic management. In 2001, we helped start TULIP Co-operative Credit Union. OFC staff have also recently met with the striking workers at Pizza Time. This group is interested in starting their own worker-owned pizzeria and is currently exploring their options for capitalizing the project and beginning development of a business plan.

OFC has also created a staff Co-op Support Coordinator to work on these and other projects. Judging from the recent spike of interest in cooperatives in Olympia and elsewhere, it may not be possible to provide intensive support for everyone who wants their own co-op. But this coordinator will consider the various projects and help create assistance proposals.

In this time of economic insecurity and downright scary politics, cooperatives provide a chance for people to democratically take care of their own needs and create the foundation of a just society. And the more that cooperatives can cooperate with each other, the more effective we can be in transforming our economy. Hopefully OFC’s efforts to provide support for new cooperatives can be an example of how we can build that transformation.

By Andrew McLeod, Staff

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