The Little Collective that Could
By Kitty Jones
The Berkeley Student Food Collective (BSFC) is a cooperatively-run, non-profit grocery store in Berkeley, California. The collective works within the local community to educate and inspire people to eat consciously, promoting community-building and environmental stewardship. Does this sound too good to be true? It gets better: all the products at the store are ethically, ecologically, and socially-sound, plus 100% vegetarian!
Merchandise at the store must fit one or more of the following categories: local, fair-trade, organic, or humane. All the produce is organic, local and sourced within 250 miles of the store. There is a strong emphasis on sustainability and non-GMO foods. Even their to-go coffee cups, in-house-made food containers, and bulk bin baggies are biodegradable. There is a fridge full of mouth-watering, convenient snacks and to-go meals, many of which are made in the store by volunteers. They carry an abundance of vegan products, with more vegan treats being added all the time. The general membership of the collective feels strongly about the value of animals’ lives and food justice, and therefore the collective does not sell meat products at all.
The collective’s revenue directly supports its mission of providing local, environmentally sustainable, ethical, and affordable food while educating about food systems and sustainable business. This includes offering a student-run Democratic Education course at UC Berkeley. Students analyze social, economic, and environmental areas related to food and agriculture systems, and explore contemporary issues and potential solutions.
BSFC also sponsors and supports community events, including vegan bake sales and dinners. In April, they put on Earth Week activities such as kombucha pong (like beer pong, but with kombucha tea in place of beer), movie screenings, meatless Monday, and fair-trade chocolate sampling.
The establishment of the collective is an intriguing story. In 2009, the fast food giant Panda Express tried to open up shop on the UC Berkeley campus. Students were angered by this and believed that the franchise did not represent the values of their community and would serve students unhealthy, unethical, and unsustainable food. They decided to take matters into their own hands. They gathered signatures and held protests until Panda Express finally gave up. The following year, the students managed to pull together $100,000 and created their own business that upheld their moral values: the BSFC. The founding of the collective also inspired the creation of the Cooperative Food Empowerment Directive (CoFED). CoFED is an organization that helps and ‘inspiregizes’ college students to start their own sustainable food co-ops. Today, the collective is doing very well financially. Members are optimistic that it will be able to expand to a bigger and better location in the future.
Starting a cooperative grocery store in your community might be an overwhelming (yet not impossible) idea. If you’re curious about starting a cooperative, do not hesitate to ask CoFED for assistance (www.cofed.coop). Alternatively, be sure to support any vegetarian cooperatives, restaurants, and businesses in your area.
The collective is open to absolutely everyone, including non-students and non-members. It is located at 2440 Bancroft Way, #102, Berkeley, CA 94704. For questions or more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call (510) 845-1985. If you live in or are visiting the Bay Area, please check out this fabulous establishment.