A cooperative future

Earlier this spring, a new local group started meeting, discussing and thinking about ways to apply “new economy” concepts and approaches in the Asheville area. On May 8, Co-Creating the New Economy group held its third in a series of monthly meetings, each held at EarthFare’s Westgate location. This month, the featured speaker was Thomas Beckett, founder of Ownership Appalachia and Co-Executive Director of Carolina Common Enterprise. He launched a discussion on "Democratizing the Economy through Cooperatives" (see his commentary, “Cooperatives and Community investment”). More than 30 people gathered to learn about community cooperatives and the principles that drive them. Xpress asked participants to share their thoughts, concerns and reflections on cooperatives in shaping a new economic future.

"I certainly hadn't thought about trying to promote the formation of coops as sort of a counter to corporations to help grow and sustain the local economy, and I think the idea has a lot of merit and promise to it,” said Kath Barlett, Asheville resident and traditional Chinese acupuncturist and herbalist. “But, I think there is a big elephant in the room that needs to be addressed with coops, and that if you allow everybody to join, you have a group of people with different values and agendas and motivations [who] may not be in harmony with one another."

"Coops hold a lot of promise for helping communities keep wealth local and for putting the power of self-determination back in workers' hands," said Julie Schneyer of Firestorm Cafe and Books.

"I was very inspired to think that behavioral health consumers actually can own their businesses and empower themselves, as opposed to feeling wounded, or that they can't participate in society," said Brett Sculthorp, who works in the behavioral health industry.

"When [Firestorm] launched in 2008, it felt like we were really doing something new,” said Libertie Valance, one of the original founders of the worker-owned café. “We found out later that we weren't and that there was actually a long history of people doing socially conscious cooperative projects in Asheville including Stone Soup and Blue Moon Bakery but there wasn't a lot of awareness. … What's shifted is the level of awareness, and it's really heartening to see so many events on the calendar for our local community like this one, that provide an opportunity for people to come together and talk about alternatives to the dominate economy and capitalism."

"This is extremely needed in the Asheville Area, and … Asheville is such a wonderful, open place, ripe for this kind of innovation,” said local writer and community activist Gaya Erlandson. “I really believe in community. We need to get to know our neighbors and collaborate at every level — from childcare to energy. So I think consumers coops, housing coops, and business coops are going to be much more common, and I hope it happens sooner rather than later."

Beckett's "presentation was great, coming from the Hendersonville Co-op, because I think [it] is doing quite a job financing their new project on their own,” says local resident Richard Warren. “They're not waiting for a bank, or somebody else to help them with it, they're just out there doing, trying to build a new facility."

— Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 101, or at asezakblatt@mountainx.com.

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About Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt
Aiyanna grew up on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. She was educated at The Cambridge School of Weston, Sarah Lawrence College, and Oxford University. Aiyanna lives in Asheville, North Carolina where she proudly works for Mountain Xpress, the city’s independent local newspaper.

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