Wednesday, April 30, 2014

In Our Own Words: Member Testimonial (Tracy C.)

“This is an historic moment of opportunity for the co-operative sector. With political institutions in many nations struggling to keep up with a rapidly changing world, it is essential that citizens become increasingly resourceful, enterprising and co-operative in order to face the inevitable social and environmental challenges we face as a world community.” – Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade

I am weary of big food. It deprives our bodies and corrodes our communities. Big agriculture grows mammoth amounts of inedible corn and soy that are then processed beyond recognition into dead, nutrient poor compounds marketed to us as food. Big business creates hundreds of new products like this every year in a constant effort to expand market share, to get us to eat more. Big money generated by this ongoing process drains out of our cities and towns, turning into profits for shareholders, political donations to protect corporate interests, and of course, research into more 'innovative' food products. 

Many of the people working to harvest, process, prepare and serve our food in this industry have few rights, do not make a living wage, are often made sick and injured by their work, and are treated poorly. Animals are tortured in outsized meat operations. We are fed pain and misery and injustice. This system craves growth, the only 'ethic' it knows. 

Cooperative businesses are a meaningful alternative to agribusiness and the corporate food industry. They challenge the trend toward further consolidation and the extraction of profit from local areas. They challenge the economic logic behind the production, distribution, and consumption of big food. They create democratic spaces in which we can work locally to resolve moral conflicts embedded in the global food system. Food co-ops provide healthy food, construct healthy economies, and build healthy communities. They promote food justice. They transform the food system by reviving and reinventing traditions of local, sustainable agriculture and small businesses committed to local areas.

My father, a WWII veteran and child of immigrants who grew up in the Pennsylvania countryside, planted a sizable garden in our backyard every spring. My mother cooked many of our family meals with the harvest of tomatoes, onions, parsley, peppers, beans, peas, corn, zucchini, and carrots. At the end of the season, she put up mason jars of tomatoes on shelves in the basement and used them throughout the winter months. Mom often handed one or the other of us a few dollars to buy a few dozen ears of “Joe’s Sweet Corn” from a farmer’s truck parked at the end of our road. Sometimes we supplemented with veggies from the Lasser’s front yard farm stand three houses over. Our milk and eggs were for years delivered weekly to our front door by Weik's Dairy less than a mile away. We ate apples and peaches from the trees in our yard. Mom and I picked wild blackberries to make pies and cobblers. When I went to my friend Chrissy’s house to play, we nibbled elderberries and gooseberries from the bushes in her yard. When someone died, we were nourished for days by covered dishes and baked goods delivered from neighbors, family, and friends.

Decades earlier, my father's mother kept a cow and sold milk to her neighbors. My grandfather walked door to door with his pushcart selling goods in their rural community. When I was sixteen and working my first job at a local diner, I met an older cook named Lois who positively gushed about my grandfather when she learned my last name. When Lois was a small child, she and her family looked forward to Grandpa stopping by with his cart. She told me she would never forget his kindness and willingness to accept other things in exchange when they didn’t have cash for goods. 

I have inherited a legacy of love, solidarity, and community. We all have. These food habits and cooperative relationships were not an aberration. Memories of them cannot be dismissed as sheer nostalgia or cliché. They were and are a meaningful way of life for many people. Such practices have merely been sidelined, pushed to the margins as our food system relentlessly expanded, corporatized, and globalized. No more. People are growing their own food, developing relationships with farmers, preserving food and exchanging with others. Our food co-op embraces shared power, community building, and fair food as practical and necessary strategies for the survival of our neighborhoods and families.

I did not join the Richmond Food Co-op to benefit myself with a grocery discount and a vote on the products we sell. I joined to become an active participant in our food system. I joined to connect with others who also see cooperative relationships as the way forward. I joined to keep my food dollars in my city. I joined to endorse an ethical and democratic business model in which all members have a say. I joined to contribute to ongoing changes in the local food system. I joined to pass on that legacy of love, solidarity, and community.

-Tracy Citeroni, Co-op Member/Owner

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