Support DBCFSN Co-op Grocery Store
By Malik Yakini
Special to the Michigan Citizen
Let me be clear. I am anti-capitalism. It is a system that is by nature exploitive and unsustainable. The answers to many of the social problems we face lie in capitalism giving way to a more equitable system of distributing resources that upholds the dignity of all human beings and respects nature.
In the meantime, we are faced with the dilemma of how to develop our communities within a system that favors the rich, is racist, sexist and destroys the earth.
Within this current system, the best option for building collective community ownership and empowerment is co-operatives. Co-ops can take many forms including credit unions, sellers’ co-ops, producers’ co-ops, worker/owner co-ops and consumer co-ops.
The Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (DBCFSN) is working diligently to open a consumer food co-op store, within the next 24 months, as a way of providing access to healthy food options for Detroiters. The development of that co-op grocery store is guided in part by a feasibility study that was completed last year.
The DBCFSN co-op will sell produce, frozen foods, meats and fish, dairy products, canned and packaged foods and household items. We envision a deli/café, community meeting spaces and an incubator kitchen. The co-op will purchase from local growers and food producers, will be green and sustainable, and will be led by African Americans. It will operate from a social justice frame, and will seek to empower Detroiters.
Here’s how consumer co-ops work. Let’s take a common product that most people use like toilet paper. Instead of each family buying a couple of four packs of toilet paper each week at retail prices, co-ops aggregate the buying power of multiple members to buy enough toilet paper to be able to purchase it at the wholesale price that retail stores pay. Through buying collectively, co-ops allow consumers to see a savings.
The great thing about co-ops is that the members are the owners. The member-owners elect a board of directors and have the opportunity to participate in setting policies. At the end of the year, if the co-op has been profitable, members can decide to pay themselves a share of the profits, to invest the profits in the co-op’s development, to donate money to a worthy community cause or some combination of those three options.
Co-ops stand in sharp contrast to the wealth extraction strategies that characterize many of the retail businesses in our community. As in colonial times when European countries viewed the people they colonized as markets, on which they could dump cheap goods, many stores in our communities view us only as a market, a source of profit. And neither provide employment for the people in the neighborhoods in which they operate, or circulate profits to empower and make improvements in those neighborhoods.
It is an act of affirming our humanity to declare, through our actions, that we are not merely a market. Co-ops allow us more control over our collective destiny. Instead of being saddled with exploitive economic relationships, we meet our own needs and use our buying power to build strong healthy communities.
As we engage in the process of planning and seeking financing to open the co-op grocery store, you can help us build toward that goal by joining the Ujamaa Food-Co-op Buying Club. The buying club is an interim step that allows members to purchase a wide variety of healthy food options including frozen foods, bulk beans and grains, oils, supplements, and household items. At this time, membership is free.
DBCFSN will hold a series of 12 community engagement sessions beginning this fall to make Detroiters aware of the concept of food co-ops generally, the plans for DBCFSN’s co-op specifically and to sign up member/owners for the co-op grocery store.
Contact DBCFSN to join the Ujamaa Food Buying Club by e-mailing us at coop@detroitblackfood security.org or by calling 313.345.3663.
Malik Yakini is the Executive Director of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network and a member of the Detroit Food Policy Council.