Nurturing our growth through transformation

By Chris Maher, General Manager

“The spirit of co-operation which binds the [Co-op] Guild into one united whole in purpose and action, and gives to the shopping baskets of its members a great power to lift the ordinary commerce of daily existence into a movement for social betterment, is also the spirit which can regenerate the world.”
– Catherine Webb,
The Woman with the Basket

While cooperation is undoubtedly as old as humanity, the roots of cooperatives as a business ownership model trace their roots to the Rochdale Pioneers in England in 1844. Twenty-eight professional weavers worked together to establish the first successful cooperative food and general goods store. They were spurred to do so in the face of widespread adulterated foods, aggressive, unethical banking practices, and a shifting economy as the Industrial Revolution was beginning to take shape.
It is fairly easy to draw parallels between that time and this. Since the Rochdale Pioneers started their store, history has shown us that co-ops tend to be formed during times of economic and political upheaval. The first food co-ops in the United States, such as the Berkeley Co-op, came as a result of the Great Depression. Another group of co-ops appeared in the early 1970s, at the height of the Vietnam War. Not surprisingly, in 2009, shortly after the economic crash, a survey by our cooperative association showed that about 300 communities in the United States were actively trying to start a co-op. We call this ‘The Third Wave’ of co-ops. Talk about strong starts!
In the spirit of the sixth cooperative principle (, BriarPatch has worked with many of these co-ops, especially in our own area. Two of our closest relationships are with the Great Basin Food Co-op in Reno, and Placerville Natural Foods Co-op. Great Basin was formed by a group of students inspired to fortify the burgeoning local food movement in Reno with a retail store and a food hub. In Placerville, the local, independent natural foods store was put up for sale right before the crash of 2008. When it seemed that it was destined to close, the community rallied to start a co-op and purchase the store. Both of these stores continue to grow and serve their communities.
As we grow, we transform. If you are a member or shopper at Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op, hopefully you have had an opportunity to visit their beautiful new store. It opened late last year, in time for the holidays, just a short distance from their previous location. Their owners also came together to raise enough money to develop a nearby vacant lot. The new spacious location will allow them to continue to grow their support of local foods and preserve organic farming in the Central Valley.
I am excited to give you a hint of transformations to come at BriarPatch. Hopefully, you have seen the wonderful remediation and upgrade that has taken place in our landscaping. Our irrigation system has been fully converted to drip, a change that will save over 50 percent of the water previously needed annually. We have plans to install a demonstration food garden near the roundabout. In the late summer, we will begin the first phase of our own remodel, focusing on improving the center of the store and the refrigerated cases. Our goals for this work are to refresh and replace older equipment and fixtures. (Can you believe this store is 10 years old?!) We will address areas of congestion in the store, improve the overall shopping experience, and provide a first step toward maximizing our use of the site we were proud to purchase in late 2015.
When I think of strong starts, I see it as synonymous with strong growth. We start our cooperatives because we want to make a difference in our communities. Whether we speak of the transformation of the seed into a sprout or the sprout into a flower, we are seeing the product of our caring and our nurturing of what we know to be worthwhile. In the case of our food co-ops, when a community comes to nurture and support this endeavor, it takes an ordinary everyday experience like food shopping and gives it the power to change the world.
Thank you sincerely for your part in that.

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