Trinidad volunteers feeding the community – Mad River Union, August 6, 2020

Janine Volkmar

Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – “They are managing and they are proud,” Carrie Peyton-Dahlberg said, “but a little extra help would be huge.”

Peyton-Dahlberg knew that residents at mobile home parks in the Trinidad area would benefit from food deliveries and other help with errands because of her volunteer efforts during the 2016 mobile home rent control issue. Some of the residents are elderly and many are sheltering in place.

“People assume that there isn’t a need here,” she said, “but there is.” The idea and initial funding came from her and blossomed with volunteer help.

“I knew that there were offers already out there,” she explained. “I offered to do a needs survey. I didn’t have to leave my house; I just got on the phone.”

With that done, and the help of Cooperation Humboldt and the Trinidad Civic Club, volunteers Brett Shuler and Tim Haywood swung into action.

Shuler, a local caterer and musician who is active in the Trinidad Chamber of Commerce, cooks up 18 hot meals every Friday in the Civic Club’s commercial kitchen in Trinidad Town Hall. The club is donating the space, rent-free and Shuler is donating his time.

Meals are nutritious and fresh, such as chicken enchiladas, rice, and beans.

“I try to include a treat, such as brownies,” Shuler said, smiling.

Then Tim Haywood, “masked and gloved,” delivers the meals to residents of local mobile parks, a couple up on Stumptown Road, and to folks living in their vehicles. He’s checking on their well-being at the same time.

“They tell me how they’ve been,” he said.

Haywood, who lives in Trinidad, is also a stewardship assistant for the Trinidad Land Trust. He credits Cooperation Humboldt for their support at the beginning, and captains three of the group’s Team Trinidad volunteers.

“I became team captain for Trinidad, and am now the only active meal deliverer,” he said.

Oscar Mogollon of Cooperation Humboldt praised the efforts of Haywood and Shuler. “It’s really great that the community is just filled with these type of people,” he said.

Cooperation Humboldt is a group of community organizations and local institutions. They formed the Humboldt COVID-19 Community Response Coalition in March and have been facilitating food and supply efforts since. (Mad River Union June 24, 2020, p. 4)

“We just connected the dots and made sure they had enough support,” Mogollon said. “We’ve provided food and masks to them.”

More support and donations are always welcome. Currently Shuler and Haywood have a GoFund Me page for donations for food costs.: gofundme.com/f/trinidad-hot-meal-fund.

Peyton-Dahlberg would like to see a similar needs survey done of every mobile home park in the county. But she’s proud of the efforts in Trinidad. “The people who do the real work are the people who are meeting the needs,” she added.

Thanks, Brett and Tim, for making it happen.

“Local Businesses Embrace a Worker-Owned Cooperative Model They Say Could Transform the Humboldt Economy” – Lost Coast Outpost, 7/31/2020

https://lostcoastoutpost.com/2020/jul/30/shaky-economy-local-businesses-are-turning-worker/?fbclid=IwAR0H8IyYIRS4cFzi72HijF7w67pvAQiXJ20X7M699nspm4zo28RQQZO0oZk

 

Pippin the shop dog sits atop the meeting table inside Eureka Florist. | Photo by Ryan Burns.

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Finn Ferguson never really wanted to be a business owner.

“I was not a big fan of being the person in charge,” she told the Outpost in a phone conversation on Monday. But sometimes preparation meets opportunity in unexpected ways.

Ferguson and her friend Gwen Price recently took over Eureka Florist, a 90-year-old flower shop in Henderson Center. And while they’re facing some challenges familiar to all new business owners (plus a host of others caused by COVID-19), Ferguson and Price don’t plan to operate their shop like a traditional business — with a boss who hires employees to work for an hourly wage. Instead, they’ll run it as a worker-owned cooperative, meaning everyone involved will be a co-owner with an equal stake in the venture’s success or failure and an equal voice in its management.

Ferguson learned about this alternative business model via Cooperation Humboldt, a nonprofit that aims to make the local economy more equitable and sustainable through an array of community-focused endeavors, from “Little Free Pantries” that stock food for hungry residents to a skill-share network, workshops and study groups critiquing capitalism, patriarchy and white supremacy.

Last year, Ferguson and Price appeared together in Ferndale Repertory Theater’s production of Mamma Mia! Shortly after the run ended, Price started working at the flower shop. “I was working at a hair salon around the corner, and I would come visit in the afternoons,” Ferguson said.

When they learned that the shop’s 80-year-old owner planned to retire and sell the business, they started really looking at the space — 4,500 square feet, cute flower shop below and ample storage space upstairs — and imagining the possibilities. Business ownership started to seem appealing.

“Once we decided to move forward, I said I would be more comfortable if we were a worker-owned cooperative,” Ferguson said. “[Price] researched what that was and realized it was the perfect model for us.”

Other local business people have recently come to the same conclusion, thanks in part to the work of Cooperation Humboldt. Since its inception the organization has supported efforts to build worker-owned cooperatives, and recently, with help from the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives and a $25,000 COVID response grant from the Humboldt Area Foundation, Cooperation Humboldt launched a formal training program called the Worker-Owned Academy.

“When the pandemic hit, it really became clear that this area is experiencing — and will continue to experience — a pretty significant economic downturn,” said Tobin McKee, a core team member of Cooperation Humboldt. How does that relate to co-ops? “As a business model, this has demonstrated to be very resilient during downturns because risk is spread among everybody and the commitment of employees to work is higher,” McKee said. “Worker turnaround is lower and reward is higher. That buy-in and team connectedness and sense of ownership/leadership creates a more resilient business.”

These attributes have been borne out by research. A study from Rutgers University, for example, found that employee ownership boosts company productivity by four percent, shareholder returns by 2 percent and profits by 14 percent.

Earlier this month, 22 people took the inaugural course in the Worker-Owned Academy. The curriculum included a series of free introductory webinars followed by four 90-minute meetings led by McKee. Ferguson and Price were among the participants along with members of three farmers’ co-ops, a bakery, an artist’s co-op and a community health worker co-op.

“The academy is designed to familiarize people who are inspired to start worker-owned cooperatives with the process and to really give people a reality check about the amount of work and the kind of work it takes to start a business and [operate] a cooperative,” McKee said.

How do those experiences compare to launching a traditional business? “It is more work in the beginning,” he said. “You have to relearn ways of managing and learn how to work together. … The employer-employee relationship is so ingrained, it can be a challenge for employees to start thinking like owners, and for people who are used to being in power to distribute it.”

Cooperation Humboldt has also partnered with the North Coast Small Business Development Center (SBDC), which offers free consulting on practical matters such as writing a business plan, bookkeeping and obtaining a business license and insurance.

Leila Roberts, director of the North Coast SBDC, said she sees enormous potential for worker-ownership in Humboldt County. “We are thrilled to now be able to help support the start-up of new worker-owned businesses this year,” she said in a statement provided by Cooperation Humboldt. “Now more than ever is the time to support businesses where worker-owners share the risks, decisions and profits.”

Many people’s concept of co-ops begins and ends with grocery stores like the North Coast Co-op. But there are others here in Humboldt. Eureka-based janitorial company Restif Cleaning Service, for example, has been organized as a worker-owned cooperative since 1990, when founder Chris Copple sold the business to his employees.

“Working in an employee-owned cooperative provides me and our employee/owners with the opportunity to work together, democratically, to run our business,” Restif General Manager Natalie Renfer said in a statement emailed to the Outpost. “Not only do we have democratic governance but members have enhanced job security and get to share in the profits of the business based on their labor.”

Renfer said that a janitor in a comparable position in a typical company would make about $14 to $17 per hour. “At Restif, our janitorial techs are making between $18 and $24 per hour,” she said.

For Ferguson and Price, the cooperative model has been working great. “Every decision we made felt right at the moment of consensus,” Ferguson said. “Anything we waffled on, we had that moment where we would bounce ideas around until, whoa, there’s the solution right there.”

The pair brought on a third person as a holiday helper during the Valentine’s Day rush, and now, almost six months into running the business, they’re looking to expand. “She’ll be joining us in October as an owner,” Ferguson said of their Valentine’s helper. “She’s starting to participate in the decision-making process and our collaborative meetings about marketing and pricing.”

True to the ethos of Cooperation Humboldt, Ferguson and Price’s vision for Eureka Florist doesn’t stop at being a flower shop. They’ve been “doubling down on community connections,” Ferguson said — conversing with the upstart worker-owned farm cooperative in the area and sourcing as many flowers as possible from local farmers. (They already get 95 percent of them from California.)

“We’ve really enjoyed building our community connections,” Ferguson said. “We’re all about connecting to our local community, so that means community partnerships, community vendors” — they try to do as much of their shopping as possible within Henderson Center — “and when our doors were open we had a big custom table made so people could have classes and host meetings.” They’ve made their upstairs available as costume storage for local theater companies, and it’s currently serving as the “drag closet” for Club Triangle. (The local “queer dance party” has switched over to live-streamed Instagram events during the pandemic.)

When Humboldt County’s shelter-in-place order took effect, Ferguson and Price offered their building up as a distribution center for Cooperation Humboldt’s COVID-19 response efforts. They stored Cypress Grove cheese in their walk-in cooler and helped distribute it to the community.

“Anytime something comes up that’s aligned with what we can do for the community, we love to be able to say, ‘Hey, we have the space,’” Ferguson said.

For her and Price, the cooperative model not only feels like the most effective and stress-free way to run their own business; it also reflects their values and their vision for what advocates call a “solidarity economy.” The COVID-19 outbreak has forced a lot of people to rethink their work practices, and Ferguson sees this moment as a catalyst for change.

“I think there’s a lot of fear that people have right now,” she said. “Everyone has a desire to return back to normal. I don’t expect that to happen. Being able to show people other paths forward I think is a lot more exciting … because if you can look at something this other way and realize it will work better, it’s going to make the future brighter. That’s what I have taken away from both my experiences with Cooperation Humboldt and running a business this way. It feels completely different. It doesn’t have any of the fear or anxiety that previous ways of life have had. … Getting rid of that hierarchy has just really relieved a lot of stress for us.”

Cooperation Humboldt’s first Worker-Owned Academy course wrapped up a couple of weeks ago, and the next one is scheduled to start on Sept. 17. McKee said a local bakery is now in Worker-Owned Humboldt’s incubator program, preparing to make the transition to a cooperative. His organization has also been in talks with the people behind the recently shuttered SCRAP Humboldt about potentially relaunching their creative reuse center as a co-op post-pandemic.

For Ferguson and Price, being a business owner is not about being in charge or even making money — at least not as a primary goal. “For us, it turns out, business is about relationships,” Ferguson said. “Every time we’ve chosen to go local it has meant a new connection and that has always led to something better for our business.”

These personal relationships have value beyond their own flower shop, she added. “Working to create a strong local economy of connections benefits everyone in the community.”

EcoNews Feb/March 2020 – ‘Exploring Ecovillages with Cooperation Humboldt’

This article by Tamara McFarland was featured in the February/March 2020 issue of EcoNews.

Image result for ecovillageThe average size of a new house in the United States has doubled since 1960, while the average number of household members has dropped from 3.3 in 1960 to 2.6 today. As our physical footprint per-capita has risen, so too have our nation’s carbon emissions and our rates of social isolation.

One in five US residents report feeling lonely or socially isolated, and this lack of connection can have serious effects on physical health, with researchers reporting that loneliness can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. The US Department of Health & Human Services reports that “As a force in shaping our health, medical care pales in comparison with the circumstances of the communities in which we live. Few aspects of community are more powerful than is the degree of connectedness and social support for individuals.”

At Cooperation Humboldt, we understand the critical importance of human connection and interdependence, both for individual quality of life, and as an important way to transition to a sustainable and regenerative way of living with one another and in harmony with the planet. One of the ways we’re currently working to build the world we need is by incubating one or more Ecovillages in Humboldt County.

An Ecovillage is a community with the goal of becoming more socially, culturally, economically, and ecologically sustainable. e idea is to create living arrangements that have a positive, regenerative impact on the natural environment through ethical sourcing of building materials, physical construction  and design, and behavior choices.

The Ecovillages we envision will foster mutual support and meet residents’ inherent needs for autonomy and connection with the natural world. They will also provide important economic benefits to residents by empowering them to build equity if desired, and to participate in a democratic process to help make decisions on the issues that affect their lives and housing.

With support from Cooperation Humboldt, we expect that each Ecovillage will be designed by a group of potential residents who would likely coalesce around some kind of theme or shared interest – permaculture, arts/culture, folks with young kids, etc. Over time, we envision creating a local network of ecovillages, each with its own theme and culture.

Each Ecovillage will include features like renewable energy, water catchment, grey water, and edible landscapes – but beyond that, each village is likely to end up looking quite different. Some could be more urban, while others may be more rural; some villages will be made up of completely separate fully featured homes, while others will include tiny homes with larger central shared facilities (or any number of other
combinations of physical features).

Because the specifics around our first project will depend so much on who is going to live there, and what their skills and passions are, we are now in a process to convene one or more groups of folks who would actually want to live at the first Ecovillage. Cooperation Humboldt will offer resources, support, and capitalization, and we require direct participation now from future residents so that we can build this first ecovillage to fit their needs and aspirations.

If you’d like to learn more or join us in this process, please visit cooperationhumboldt.org/ecovillage.

Cooperation Humboldt Plants 20 Community Trees

Little Free Pantry - COOPERATION HUMBOLDT/FACEBOOK

Cooperation Humboldt planted 20 community fruit trees in public locations throughout Eureka and Arcata as part of the organization’s food program.

“We believe that nutritious food is a fundamental human right and our food projects aim to put that belief into practice in very tangible ways,” Tamara McFarland, who coordinates the organization’s food program, said in a press release.

Looking Upriver: Anonymous Do-gooders Work to Promote Systemic Change in Humboldt 

looking_up_river.jpg

There’s an old fable about a village near a great river, a river used for drinking water, fishing and washing. One day a fisherman noticed someone floating downstream, unable to swim to safety and yelling for help. The fisherman jumped into the river and swam toward him, eventually pulling him safely to the river bank, only to see another person floating downstream, yelling for help.

After saving the second person, more people continued to float down the river. The fisherman then had the idea to set up a post nearby with a villager on duty, ready to jump in and save anyone in peril — a sort of direct service to save people from drowning. However, this didn’t stop the people from floating down river and the villagers couldn’t save everyone.

They began to wonder where all these people were coming from and decided to go upstream to find out. After hiking upriver, they found a perilous broken bridge from which people were falling into the river. The villagers decided to fix the bridge to prevent people from falling in.

They had found a solution to a persistent problem by looking at its direct cause and fixing it.

This classic parable is often used by organizations looking at prevention in the fields of healthcare, education and law enforcement. It also served as a guiding principle for the Humboldt Area Foundation’s newly established Donor Circle Fund.

[read full article]

Little Free Pantries – Beyond Charity, to Food as a Right

(via the US Solidarity Economy Network blog)

“Along the rugged coastline of far-Northern California, activists have launched a program to tangibly demonstrate their commitment to food justice and neighborhood building. This local Little Free Pantry initiative is a project of Cooperation Humboldt, a nonprofit committed to creating a solidarity economy on California’s north coast.”

[Read entire article.]

Mad River Union Letter to the Editor: Commendation and healing

Commendation and healing

I commend the courage and leadership shown by the four Arcata City Councilmembers who voted to remove the McKinley statue from the Plaza (Opposition to City Council’s McKinley removal decision begins to emerge, Feb. 24). Though it was (and will continue to be) difficult, they have struck at least one small blow to the dominant culture of patriarchy and white supremacy that we are all living under.

I know Sofia Pereira to be one of the kindest, most thoughtful people I know, and I take offense to the tone of Michael Winkler’s letter on her behalf. Unfortunately it’s far from rare for women in positions of leadership to face this kind of condescending treatment from their male co-workers.

I assume based on what I know of Mayor Pereira that she understands the deep wounds that colonialism and racism have inflicted on our community, and that she recognizes the importance of allowing those hurts to be aired and hopefully rectified. This process is ugly and uncomfortable – but not nearly as ugly and uncomfortable as the long list of atrocities that have been perpetrated against indigenous people on these lands over the past two hundred years.

Every bit of the wealth and prosperity that we currently enjoy on this country is based on the oppression and extinction of native people and people of color. None of the land on which our homes and businesses sit would be “ours” had it not been viciously taken through the genocide of indigenous people. The wealth that has passed to us (primarily white people) generation to generation was only made possible through the murder of native people and the exploitation of slave labor. Like it or not, that is the reality of our current economic system.

In this context, Dan Hauser’s assertion that “it would be totally unfair and unreasonable to promote this effort with City funds,” would be laughable if it weren’t so sad. Has he no understanding that every dollar collected by the city for hundreds of years is tainted with the suffering of indigenous families? Apparently not.

We, as white people, have a lot of work to do. At a bare minimum, we need to learn to be OK allowing the victims of this systemic violence and exploitation to be mad. What other reaction could they possibly have to the knowledge that their parents and grandparents suffered so mercilessly in this, their home country? What other reaction should we expect in the face of the statistics showing that nearly 30 percent of Native Americans live below the poverty line, and that Native Americans are killed in police encounters at a higher rate than any other racial or ethnic group? Hopefully once we master the ability to allow space for this anger, we can move into productive conversations about how to create a future that is very, very different from our past. But we won’t get there if we continue to demonize oppressed people any time they display justifiable anger.

Removing the statue isn’t about “erasing our history”; it’s about listening to the voices of those whose lives have been the most harshly impacted by that history, and following their lead about what can be done to begin to heal these deep wounds so we can move forward

If anyone would like to watch the Feb. 21 City Council meeting in question, you can do so through Access Humboldt’s website, accesshumboldt.net; the incident around which your recent article centered begins around minute 58.

Tamara McFarland
Cooperation Humboldt Board Member
Eureka