The Case For A Cooperative Enterprise

I see lots of people complaining about the way things are going.  Income disparity is an issue.  Corporate elites making multi million dollar bonuses while low level employees are on government aid programs.  Minimum wage is an issue.  One school of thought saying seven bucks an hour is not a living wage, another school of thought saying minimum wage jobs are not supposed to be long term positions.  The unemployment figures are down, but when the gubmint cooks the books by claiming "people are no longer looking for work" because their unemployment benefits ran out, the fact remains that no jobs were created and those folks are still unemployed.  

Youth unemployment is at record levels, and those kids won't be finding jobs easily when the immigration rate is about equal to job creation.  There's always college.  I went to Rennselaer.  Tuition this year is $45,000.  Student loans for four years will be insurmountable in the face of a bear job market.   Making a go of it without a college degree is as tough as it has ever been.  Finding a decent paying job demands skills and experience.  The problem is getting skills and experience when the jobs are few and far between.

I hear people complain about the high cost of groceries.  Over the last few years, more and more of our agricultural yield has been directed towards the production of biofuels forever linking fuel and food prices.  All the while this has been going on, the global population has kept on growing.  If the amount of farmland grew at same rate as the population we'd have a chance of maintaining balance.  Unfortunately the trend is towards declining farmland and more marginal farmland.  What's more, farmland that was once productive is being lost to soil salination, diminished nutrients, erosion, development, and in recent years, loss of irrigation water availability.  Food prices won't be coming back down.  There is some cheap food still around, but cheap food isn't good and good food isn't cheap.

There's lots of bad press about our food supply.  A chief concern is what is in the food.  The big companies will make the claim that GMOs, herbicides, fungicides, pesticides and preservatives are perfectly safe, but when I look around the evidence suggests otherwise.  When I was in school, there was only one chubby kid.  Nowadays all the kids are fat.  Growth hormones in the milk is not supposed to be a problem, but girls are not supposed to have boobs at 8 years old.  High fructose corn syrup is perfectly natural, but your son has diabetes at age 20.  The risk of cancer today is 8 TIMES what it was in 1980.  Must be the cigarettes, but the tobacco executives have assured us it is not addictive.

Can we trust a company that sells organic spinach in the produce department and Round Up over in Lawn & Garden?  Seems like a conflict of interest to sell vitamins and food supplements in one aisle, cheese puffs and pork rinds in the next.  I went shopping for oatmeal last week.  They still carry it, it's on the bottom.  Above it was a breakfast cereal that was really cookies.  Beside that was another cereal that was mostly marshmallows.  Marshmallows and cookies for breakfast.  Maybe that's why the kids are fat diabetics.  A company that sells marshmallows as breakfast cereal is simply working the system.  Super Sugar YumYums, Inc has a nationwide marketing blitz going on and the retailer is taking advantage of the promotion.  It's not about the health of your kids.  It's not about nutrition.  It's not about paying the cashier a living wage.  The big retailers are looking out for their bottom line, with little or no concern for the well being of the consumer (that's you and me), or the commodity that is the employee.  All we are is market share.  If you believe anything else, credit goes to the advertising campaign.

People are enraged at the power the big corporations have but keep spending their money on their products.  The big corporations have the power because we keep giving it to them.  People talk about wanting change but keep electing the same politicians.  Everyone wants to save the world as long as it does not cost them anything or require they give something up.  People worry about their kids' health, but keep feeding them prepackaged, highly processed crap.

I used to work for a guy by the name of Beck.  He had a first name but I think it was only used on legal documents.  Beck always said "Don't come to me with a problem unless you also have a solution, otherwise all you are doing is complaining and I don't want to hear it."  Beck was not one to suffer anyone's bullshit.  I'd approach him with a solution to a problem.  The first thing he wanted me to do is gather information to fully understand the problem.  To make the solution work, all I had to do was use the information to develop a plan.  After that, it was a matter of tweaking the plan.  

We've got all these problems, and plenty more.  As an entrepreneur, I always see problems as opportunity.  Develop a plan to solve the problem, make a business of it.  The complexity and pervasiveness of these problems are such that we won't solve them without action, and we won't get far going it alone.  Business as usual is not the answer either.  We won't solve our problems with the same thinking that got us here in the first place.

We need a plan that addresses the issues above.  Such a plan must offer opportunity to develop skills and work experience for our young people.  It must give people a chance to make a direct impact on earning potential.  We need to build a business that benefits everyone involved as well as the community.  The business needs the ability to expand, improve, and at times, alter its methods without sacrificing integrity or surrendering the values of the people.  The income generated must go to the people doing the work rather than fat cats in some distant office.  We must look out for the well being of our customers without infringing on their control of their own destiny.  We have to offer a means of getting involved to whatever degree best fits their needs, desires, and abilities.  At the same time, we have to account for situation changes which compel seperation, both voluntary and involuntary.  

This is a tall order.
The solution I've come up with is explained in the Cooperative Enterprise, Plan Outline.

I propose we form a cooperative business, food based, with the primary components being a farm, a kitchen, and a store.  This is a scope extending from seed to plate.  Food is common to all of us.  The farm brings the product at the lowest possible cost and gives us control over what is in our food.  The kitchen adds the greatest value.  The store lets us market our products as well as products from other suppliers in order to redirect our current spending to our own company.   We are the investors, the owners, the workers and the customers.  We'll want as many customers as possible, so we'll need as many people involved as possible.  With lots of people involved, the investment per person drops to affordable levels.  We are the owners, giving us control of the destiny of the company. 

We all chip in effort, and the old addage "Many Hands Make Light Work" applies, but the expected trend will be for our kids to do the work.  They stand to gain work experience by participating in the entire enterprise.  Taking on responsibility offers a head start which they won't get from flipping hamburgers or college textbooks.  In the end, the investment is not so much in a business, but in our kids' futures.

We pool the resources we each have available in order to set up a framework to which a wide array of endeavors, profitable and otherwise, can be attached.  These endeavors can be closely connected or loosely affiliated.  Some are profitable, some are altruistic, others offer savings.  All bring opportunity for personal development.  You don't have to buy anything, but you can buy all you want.  You don't have to invest, but there are ways to invest heavily.  You don't have to do any work, but if you do, you stand to earn the most.  

This plan takes a holistic approach at operating a business using the people, skills, money, and resources available.  The ability to evolve by adding projects imparts a dynamic element not found in traditional, more rigid business models.   With a couple of hundred people to make things happen, the business can go far, however, it is not written in stone that this is the only way to proceed.  Land prices, particularly in densely populated areas, may make the farm impractical.  A kitchen and store can still work, and numerous side projects can be established without a farm.  It need not be food based.  The Repurpose Project can become a diverse enterprise all by itself.  This is a framework which is flexible enough to change direction according to how the winds blow. 



Cooperative Enterprise, Plan Outline