After working to block a fast-food franchise from opening on the University of California Berkeley campus, students opened their own cooperative market-cafe last year.
The Berkeley Student Food Collective has in turn spawned the Cooperative Food Empowerment Directive, or CoFed, which now is working to train student leaders nationwide to set up similar cooperatively run markets at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, City College San Francisco, Humboldt State University, UC Davis, UC Santa Barbara, and the University of Washington.
The group’s five-year goal is 35 co-ops and 1,000 trained student leaders serving 700,000 students.
In Berkeley, the Student Food Collective operates out of a storefront owned by UC. Open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, it’s a grocery market and coffee shop where students can get freshly brewed fair-trade coffee along with sandwiches, eggs, produce, and other grocery items. Students who volunteer a few hours of work each week get discounts and help keep prices affordable.
Berkeley graduate Yoni Landau, CoFed’s director and cofounder, is training students to start co-op cafes on their own campuses that more or less follow the UC Berkeley model.
The campus co-ops will not only serve local, healthy and sustainably grown food but can create a sense of community, said Landau, who believes communities are strengthened when people know where their food comes from and come together to be involved in the food chain from farm to plate.
“In a way it’s a little bigger than food,” Landau said. “It’s not just changing the content of the food system, it’s actually restructuring the food system so we can have community-driven institutions.”
CoFed gives student leaders autonomy in deciding what food standards their co-ops will adopt, leaving it up to them to debate and define concepts like sustainability. The Berkeley collective follows the standards of www.realfoodchallenge.org, evaluations based on who produces the food and how it is produced, whether it is local, fair, ecologically sound and humane.
Anna Banchik is studying economics and international studies at the University of Washington and also is the director of the UW Student Food Cooperative. Banchik thinks most college campuses aren’t meeting students’ dietary needs.
“Food access for vegetarians, vegans, the gluten-free, and other individuals limited by food allergies or restrictions, is usually minimal and non-diverse, entailing that same, disappointing, cabbage wrap or pricey salad every day,” Banchik said.
In planning the UW’s co-op, which is scheduled to open this fall, her group holds biweekly meetings where student members discuss food issues and help make decisions about what the market will offer. Banchik shares Landau’s belief that food can bring a community together.
“Everyone from foodies to people interested in social justice issues come to the meetings,” Banchik said. “Food is an issue a lot of people can see eye to eye on.”
The UW students have agreed to label food to show how many miles it has been transported, Banchik said. They’ve also debated the moral and ethical implications of serving meat and non-local coffee, she said. Once the founding leaders graduate, the co-op members will vote to determine who the new leaders will be.
The UW has already agreed to provide space, rent free, in the health sciences building, and will pick up the cost of utilities. Prices will also be kept affordble because the co-op will be run entirely by volunteers, use produce from UW’s own farm, and collaborate with other nearby co-ops to buy local food in bulk, Banchik said.
Banchik sees the co-op as a way for students to learn valuable life skills, ranging from eating responsibly to bookkeeping and accounting.
“It’s a great opportunity to learn on your own instead of just going to a class,” Banchik said. “It’s valuable to start a grassroots movement on campus.”
It’s Landau’s hope that students will live out the values co-ops teach for their rest of their lives. “If we can show them an example of a community,” he said, “then after they graduate they can create the world they want to see.”