My Cooperative Food Experience

My first exposure to cooperative culture was participating in a Canadian young adult program called Katimavik. Katimavik (which means “gathering together” in the Inuktitut language) was created to develop youth and foster civic engagement through community service. We lived in communal houses with 10 to 20 other young volunteers from across Canada and served for nine months in three different communities. Our first community was Wolfville, Nova Scotia where 20 of us lived in a rambling farmhouse, between commercial pig and chicken barns, overlooking the picturesque Bay of Fundy’s extensive red mud flats.

For most of us, Katimavik was a gap year between high school and whatever was next. Those not fluent in both of Canada’s official languages (the majority) awkwardly attempted to communicate. We tried to live well together with the counsel of coordinators who were only a few years older than ourselves.

Planning, preparing, and eating meals were central to our communal life. The expectation was that we’d eat a healthy diet on a very low budget. Despite our limited experience with cooking, we learned to bake our own bread and prepare meals from scratch. We immersed ourselves in a slow-food diet using Laurel’s Kitchen, Diet for a Small Planet, Moosewood Cookbook, and the Tassajara Bread Book for guidance.

Our Katimavik group belonged to the food co-op in Wolfville, a charming store with bulk food items in wooden bins with hand written signs, organic baked goods, local produce, honey, eggs, dairy, meat, and maple syrup. We did not frequent the store since most of our food was purchased in bulk from the co-op and delivered to us. However, members of the co-op hosted us in their homes, organized our community service projects, invited us to celebrations, contra dances, and into their lives. These people understood that production, distribution, and consumption of food were crucial to the well being of our planet. They were an idealistic, opinionated group of individuals choosing an alternative to the competitive culture that dominates mainstream society. In retrospect, I suppose they were matured east coast hippies. All I knew at the time was that I wanted to emulate them.

Almost 40 years has past since I was in Katimavik. During that time, the globalization of food production has been accompanied by increased wealth disparities within and amongst countries, more fast food, and escalating rates of obesity. Most North Americans are increasingly disconnected from food production.

Over the years, I’ve belonged to numerous food cooperatives. During university in Peterborough, Ontario, the co-op required volunteer service to be a member. At the intentional farming community I lived at near Scottsville, VA, Mountain Warehouse Cooperative delivered large quantities of rice, flour, dried beans, oil, and other staples of our diet. When I moved to Richmond in 1989, I joined Fair Share on Main Street. Fair Share closed in the early 1990’s, ending 20 years of incarnations of food co-ops in Richmond. These co-ops were community focused organizations which were instrumental in teaching cooperative culture, including providing training in consensus building.

foodco-opWhen I heard about the Richmond Food Co-op, I joined. It is a member owned full service grocery store focused on local, sustainable, and affordable food. The Co-op will be opening summer of 2017 at 1200 Westover Hills Boulevard. It currently has greater than 1000 members. Each member has to opportunity to participate in the governance process.

Ben Kusterer, the Membership Outreach Coordinator, describes the co-op as: “Made up of a community of engaged and active people working together, the Co-op is poised to create a brighter food future for Richmond. The Richmond Food Co-op will be a 100% locally owned, 100% locally governed grocery store focused 100% on supporting our local farmers, economy and community; not to mention increasing affordability of good food through a member/owner model”.

Like Richmond Cohousing, the Richmond Food Co-op is striving to make a cultural shift from competition to cooperation. I hope we will serve our members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together and learning from each other. In my heart and mind, a food co-op is central to creating the sustainable community we desire. For more information about Richmond Food co-op, visit their website or email

Growing, buying, and eating sustainable and local food is very near to the cohousing mission and members of Richmond Cohousing are excited to live in a city with such vibrant and innovative food choices! 
We often feel that no cohousing event is complete without food and sharing in community meals is a staple of cooperative living. Thanks to Kathryn for sharing her own experience with the cooperative food scene.

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