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Organic Planet Offers Food With a Philosophy

Over more than 40 years, the Winnipeg store now called Organic Planet has had several different names but one common mission: the distribution of food that matters.  This long journey began when a consumer co-op known as Harvest Collective opened in 1978, which ultimately declared bankruptcy in 1999 and closed its doors. A former member of the co-op then decided to purchase its assets and reopen it as a conventional business named Organza Foods, but in 2002 the building was damaged by fire and management opted not to rebuild.  A former produce manager at Harvest Collective meanwhile, had opened a similar store named Organic Planet just down the street, and made plans to renovate and move into the old Organza Foods location, but went out of business before this could be completed. A group of former employees, however, wanted to continue running the store as a worker co-op, and opened…

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Multicultural Health Brokers Cooperative Is a Co-op That Builds Community

By Kenzie Love From humble beginnings as a pilot project focused on expecting parents in Edmonton’s Chinese immigrant community, Multicultural Health Brokers Cooperative (MCHB) has grown to a worker co-operative of 100 workers serving members of all ages from 30 different ethnolinguistic communities. Yvonne Chiu, the co-op’s executive director, has been with MCHB for this entire journey, and while she acknowledges the work has been challenging, she remains convinced of its importance. “I am very proud and excited about what we’ve accomplished,” she says.  Chiu’s relationship with MCHB began as a member of Edmonton’s public health department, conducting participatory action research that led to the training of a group of women from six immigrant communities working as childbirth educators. Aware of a gap in this area with Chinese and other immigrant communities, the women had decided to try and close it by serving as brokers between the families and the…

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Wood Shop Workers’ Co-op Builds Community

Vancouver’s Wood Shop Workers’ Co-op produces a wide variety of products out of reclaimed wood, crafting everything from bed frames to kitchen tables. The unifying theme, however, is to create furniture that looks good, feels good, and does good. Incorporated in 2014, Wood Shop  emerged out of a local social enterprise incubator called Groundswell. The Wood Shop  founders came together around the idea of creating social good and were inspired to create a worker co-op, something co-founder Chris Nichols says has always been a key part of their operating philosophy. “It was very important for us at the beginning, and still is,” he says. “I think none of us were enthused about the idea of working for other people, while at the same time we wanted to create an organization that could bring more people in, and therefore grow our impact through growing our organization and doing so in a…

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Just Us! Is a Coffee Roaster With a Mission, by Kenzie Love

Just Us! Coffee Roasters Co-op began in 1995 as the brainchild of a small group of friends (hence the name “Just Us!”). The founders had little in the way of business experience or resources, but they shared an interest in owning their own business and promoting fair trade, which was still a relatively novel idea at the time.  From its humble beginnings, the co-op has grown considerably and now has three locations in Nova Scotia, while also selling its coffee, tea, chocolate, and other merchandise in Atlantic Canada Sobey’s locations and its own online store. It may not be a small-time operation anymore, but it’s remained true to its founding values, something that was key to attracting and retaining long-time member Frank Bezanson-Harris. Bezanson-Harris, who began his career with Just Us! as a barista about 16 years ago and now holds a custom-built role where he “wears many hats”, had…

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Shift Delivery Promotes Sustainability

Vancouver worker co-op Shift Delivery launched in August, 2011, with a vision of reducing the impact of goods movement and creating empowering green jobs. To all appearances, the co-op has succeeded on both counts. Shift estimates that in the five years from 2012-2017, it avoided 70 tonnes of CO2 emissions that would have arisen from conventional deliveries. And while the creation of green jobs may be a bit harder to quantify, Joel Gibbs is one of the people who’s benefited on this front. A member of the co-op for a little over two years, Gibbs had always been interested in worker co-ops but had no experience with them prior to joining Shift. The sense of responsibility and ownership of his work and the use of collective decision-making were a big part of why Gibbs became and remains a member of Shift. Looking back on his time with the co-op, he…

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DSW Co-operative Embraces Co-op Alternative for Developmental Services Work

Like many developmental services workers, Claire Maxwell faced a difficult choice when it came to breaking into the industry — working for a large, private company that would offer her little or no say in its operations, or working on her own, isolating her from others in the field and offering no external support. Neither option seemed very appealing, but there didn’t appear to be any alternatives until she and three other developmental services workers in Ottawa learned about a third option: establishing a worker co-op. “Neither is really what we were looking for, and so we were trying to get the best of both worlds, and the co-operative model seemed to fit that best,” says Maxwell, “where we could provide backup to each other but it was a very democratic business process, we could discuss how we wanted to run the business, how to provide the best quality of…

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Glitter Bean Cafe Offers Safe Space for Halifax’s Queer Community

Queer spaces are scarce in Halifax these days, and until recently, queer-owned worker co-ops were non-existent there. And then along came Glitter Bean Cafe, which while still in its infancy, has succeeded by being both. The Cafe, a member of CWCF, is the successor to predecessors at the same location that operated under the Just Us and Smiling Goat banners. When Smiling Goat was shuttered in April, 2018, it looked like the end of the road for the Cafe’s employees, until they got an appealing offer from Just Us, which still owned the building: would they be interested in reopening as a worker-owned business? Just Us’s offer of affordable low rent, plus some start-up funding from the Service Employees International Union local, convinced the store’s employees to say “yes”. “It’s something that we’d sort of joked about for years”,  says worker-owner Charlie Huntley, “because oftentimes we were in a situation…

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La Siembra Co-op Celebrates 20 Years

Article by Kenzie Love and Tom Hanlon-Wilde From its humble beginnings in the community kitchen of an Ottawa church to its current location in 10,000 square foot warehouse, La Siembra has come a long way over the past 20 years. As it marks the two decades since its founding in 1999, the co-op faces its share of challenges but also has much to celebrate. Established by three young entrepreneurs who’d worked overseas, the co-op reflected its founders’ desire for an alternative to the exploitative nature of trade on the lives of many family farmers. Inspired by the organizational structure of these farms, La Siembra decided to replicate it by incorporating as a worker co-operative, selling cocoa-based products and sugar under the Camino brand name. As there was no fair trade certification system for cocoa-based products at that time, La Siembra’s founders adopted the guidelines of the Fair Trade Foundation. In…

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London Brewing Succeeds by Emphasizing Community

For many breweries, fulfilling a goal of creating and selling great-tasting beer might be reason enough to celebrate. Not so, however, for London Brewing Co-operative. The first co-op brewery to open in Canada outside Quebec, London Brewing wanted people to enjoy its products, of course. But they also wanted to use organic and sustainable ingredients, have a democratic workplace, and operate with an eye on the triple (social, environmental, and financial) bottom line. The strategy appears to have paid off. London Brewing Co-operative has been growing steadily the past few years, and the trend looks set to continue. The co-op moved into a more spacious location in 2017, offering it increased brewing capacity and the chance to open a taproom where customers can eat and drink in comfortable pub-style surroundings. In February of 2018, London Brewing received a $92,600 grant from a joint federal/provincial initiative to support agribusinesses. The co-op…

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Fourth Pig Construction Cuts Carbon Emissions Through Green Building Techniques

Fourth Pig cofounder Matt Adams (left) In CWCF’s recently approved strategic plan, one of the priorities established was increased member engagement.  Members want to build greater connections with each other and learn from each other’s successes and challenges. That’s why we’re going to start profiling one of our member co-ops in each issue, beginning with Fourth Pig Construction. We hope these brief profiles will be engaging and informative and lift up the human side of co-ops. When Fourth Pig Construction launched in 2007, its founders were out to make a difference, both in the type of buildings they made and the type of business they established. They were going to make and renovate buildings using green building methods that would reduce carbon emissions. And they were going to be a worker co-op. “Our feeling was that if we want to build differently then we should also have an organization that’s…

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