November 9, 2015

The rise of black co-ops

Jessica Gordon, Popular Resistance - There’s a growing interest in Black co-op farming. Black people doing urban farming or working on food security issues are now starting either co-op farms or co-op food outlets, connecting rural and urban farming, for example in Detroit, Oakland, Boston, New York City, Washington, DC, and Jackson.  In addition, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives has been in existence since the late 1960s, supporting rural farmers and marketing co-ops, housing co-ops, and rural co-op development, as well as Black land retention. 

There also seems to be a growth right now in secondary-level co-ops, which are co-ops of groups of producers-owners that help them buy goods, process, distribute and market together. They use the co-op to back them up, as a place to market their goods or do their accounting, and share most of the costs of doing business. An example of a collective marketplace and secondary-level co-op is Ujamaa Women’s Collective, in Pittsburgh. They are a group of entrepreneurial Black women that make cosmetics, food, and sewn goods.  None of the women alone could afford a storefront or a kiosk even, but together as a co-op they were able to buy a permanent space where they each sell their goods, advertise together, and practice collective business development and management.

Another group, Us Lifting Us in Atlanta, is working to create and collectively own a co-op marketplace mall and an interlocking system of co-ops in the Black community.

My research reveals a continuous thread of cooperative activity and development among African-Americans over the past two centuries, because of both need and strategy. It often happens in the face of economic and political challenges and sabotage. Black cooperators have been working together, studying together, sharing resources, creating good jobs, providing affordable goods and services, developing leaders, and building economic solidarity. They have developed successful models of every kind of co-op, from farming to catering, food production grocery retail, sewing and quilting, nursing and health care, journalism, film, music production, construction, energy and utilities, education, and financial and credit cooperatives. These co-ops have often been a tool toward the elimination of economic exploitation and the transition to a new economic and social order.

No comments: