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Cleveland Co-ops Talk Community Ownership in Woodhill

Posted August 15, 2023 in Articles

Co-op members, neighbors, and visitors to Cleveland gathered at Fairhill Partners on Saturday, Aug. 12 for the Woodhill Community Co-op Conference, a day of workshops and discussions about community ownership.

With funding from the Saint Luke’s Foundation, the Woodhill Community Co-op put on the conference to teach residents about cooperatives and build community among co-ops in Cleveland. Ticket and T-shirt sales from the conference went toward the Woodhill Community Co-op’s startup costs for opening a community-owned laundromat, gathering space, and cafe in the Buckeye-Woodhill neighborhood.

A co-op is owned by a group of people who make business decisions together and share profits. Speakers at the event included local co-ops like the Central Kinsman Wellness Collective, Little Africa Food Collaborative, Rust Belt Riders, Cleveland Solar Co-op, Ohio City Bicycle Co-op, and Evergreen Cooperatives, as well as co-op incubator Cleveland Owns and community organizations and campaigns like New Era Cleveland and the People’s Budget Cleveland. Cooperation Jackson, a network of co-ops based in Jackson, Mississippi, gave the keynote presentation.

Discussions at the event focused on residents taking power into their own hands and building wealth through cooperatives rather than having to rely on existing systems. That means “not (being) given our seat, but (taking) our seat at the table” through community ownership, said Craig Ickler, a Cleveland Owns energy democracy organizer who’s working with the Cleveland Solar co-op.

The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland led a session on how a co-op becomes a legal entity and creating co-op bylaws. In a workshop with the Woodhill Community Co-op and the Central Kinsman Wellness Collective, co-op members and partners came up with discussion questions and participated in breakout conversations. Other sessions focused on co-op governance, worker-owned cooperatives, and rethinking power structures.

The sessions that took place in the auditorium were livestreamed on YouTube. You can watch the recording of those sessions here.

During a panel featuring local co-ops, a livestream viewer asked the panel of Cleveland co-ops what other types of co-ops they would like to see in Cleveland. Little Africa Food Collaborative executive director Mikki Smith said she would like to see a day care cooperative. An audience member responded that a 24-hour day care co-op is coming to the North Broadway neighborhood. (The Land reached out to University Settlement, which is leading the effort, and executive director Earl Pike said it’s too early in the process to share more details. Stay tuned for more updates. You can contact adam81king@gmail.com with questions.)

Collaboration among co-ops

Several speakers and audience members mentioned a need for collaboration among co-ops, including coordinating event schedules and joining together on grant proposals to meet the needs of the community.

Austreeia Everson, executive director of a community organization called New Era Cleveland, suggested co-ops and community organizations use a group communication app called BAND to make it easier to align schedules and work together.

“We have so many individual organizations here … doing amazing work,” said Smith of Little Africa Food Collaborative. “If we could align our calendars and we could sync and make sure that we’re not overtopping each other on events, and we’re there at each and every one of each others’ events, that is collective marketing. We don’t have to up each other. We just go and support each other.”

Zainab Pixler, the local food systems strategies coordinator with the Cleveland Department of Public Health, heard about the conference from a friend. She’s also involved with the Central Kinsman Wellness Collective and decided to attend the event to learn more about cooperatives in Cleveland and how the wellness collective can work with them.

“When I think about food and where food comes from and how food gets to people, there’s too much power sitting at the top of systems rather than throughout the community,” Pixler said. “And so I think bringing cooperative models into communities and having folks actually say what’s important to them (and) have means to their own … means of production and means of retail and all of that – being able to own it – is really important and brings all the wealth and health back into the community as well.”

How to stay connected and get involved

After the conference, many conference attendees headed to an after-party hosted by Cleveland Owns at the Academy Tavern on Larchmere Blvd. The co-ops and community organizations also shared ways to stay involved in the coming weeks and months.

Every Sunday beginning at 8 a.m., the Little Africa Food Collaborative gathers at Village Family Farms at 1662 Crawford Road to grow and harvest food from their growing program. “We definitely need hands. We need feet on the ground. And that’s every Sunday,” Smith, the co-op’s executive director, said during the Cleveland co-ops panel.

The Central Kinsman Wellness Collective is holding “Paint, Craft & Meditate in the Garden,” a free family event on Sunday, Aug. 27 from 1-5 p.m. at 3535 Central Ave.

On September 27 from 6-8 p.m., Cleveland Owns is hosting Co-op Circle, focusing on topics like the Cleveland Co-op Fund, which provides co-ops with loans that don’t have to be repaid until the co-op has enough profits to pay them back. Cleveland Owns manages the fund, which is part of Seed Commons, a national network of non-extractive loan funds.

The Cleveland Cooperative Fund recently gave its first series of loans: nearly $500,000 in loans to Rust Belt Riders, a worker-owned co-op that presented at several sessions at the conference.

Cleveland Owns also plans to launch a Cleveland co-op newsletter this fall. Email bogdan@clevelandowns.coop for more information about the Co-op Circle event and upcoming newsletter. The co-op incubator is accepting applications for a 10-week course called “Economics for Emancipation.” The course will begin in October.

In January 2024, a 15-week co-op incubator program called Co-op U will open applications. Cleveland Owns hosts the program in partnership with Co-op Cincy and Co-op Dayton. Follow @cleveland_owns on Instagram for updates.

See a list of the participating organizations’ upcoming events and initiatives on page 29 of the conference program guide.

Jonathan Welle, executive director of Cleveland Owns, said that the conference was “step one” of what’s needed to build a stronger cooperative movement in Cleveland. “This is a beautiful moment. I’ve been doing co-ops in Cleveland for four years, and this has never happened,” he said.

Original Article by The Land: https://bit.ly/48496CZ

Original Article: http://bit.ly/48496CZ

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