Students on the rise: "let's get CoFed"

May 19, 2010

Think of the last time you saw something that pissed you off enough to do something amazing about it.  Maybe it was a long grocery line or a bumper sticker for the Tea Party, or maybe it takes a humanitarian crisis like Haiti to really get your adrenaline going.

For me, it was orange chicken. 

A year ago, I found out that UC Berkeley's first national fast food chain, a Panda Express, was slated to open its doors adjacent to the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement. Like Slow Food in reaction to a McDonald's next to the Spanish Steps in Rome, we rose to the occasion.

We dredged up some surprising details (all Panda's menu items except steamed rice are over 50% fat; even their steamed veggies are cooked in meat) and drew hundreds of students to protest. We also gave the administration something they could say yes to: we raised over $100,000 for a student-run café and sustainability hub.  The administration eventually rejected the chain, and the Berkeley Student Food Collective was born.

Now, this summer, the Cooperative Food Empowerment Directive (CoFed) will train student leaders on campuses around Northern California to create local, organic, community-run cafes on their campuses.  Imagine students hosting fermentation workshops and panels of local food movement leaders in the same space that they and their friends buy an affordable, organic salad and fair trade coffee for lunch (check out the lovely Sprouts Cafe in Vancouver or the raucous Maryland Food Collective).

CoFed is:

  • A best-practices business plan to create a financially sustainable platform forfood movement organizing - a community-run cafe.
  • A support network of food system stakeholders, thought-leaders and student activists dedicated to a more cooperative food system. CoFed is has formed alliances with these organizations:  Slow Money, Slow Food on Campus, Real Food Challenge, FeelGood, Food Coop 500, California Students for Sustainability Coalition, The Food Alliance, United Farm Workers, Veritable Vegetable, The California Center for Cooperative Development, Hazon, Thanksgiving Coffee
  • An intensive, peer-based training: June 15-20th, CoFed will host an intensive boot camp in Northern California, bringing together students from all around the West Coast.  Participants will be mentored by local farmers and chefs, create a plan for their campus food co-op, and build their project teams.

Why do we need student leadership?

During college, students are searching for powerful learning experiences and vibrant communities as well as cementing the habits and values that will guide them for their adult lives. By supporting real student leadership towards sustainability, universities can be centers for cultural change, allowing urgently needed systematic shifts to ripple out through newly trained leaders. 

In the next two years, CoFed will create a network of self-sustaining hubs for, train hundreds of new leaders to advocate and organize towards, and allow thousands of students to participate in a just and sustainable food system.

It's time to put cooperative communities right at the center of the struggle for fair and sustainable food.  Our fight is greater than cleaning polluted water streams or mitigating climate change, our real challenge is to restructure the values that underpin our social, political and economic institutions - to move our culture's focus from fast to slow, from markets to places, from commodities to people.  To do this, we're going to need a vision that includes everyone, we're going to need to start training a lot of new leaders and we're going to need a lot of well thought out plans.