Build community through shared interest

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In the midst of the economic turmoil abundant in the United States these days, it can be easy to forget that there are, in fact, many people out there working with others for mutual benefit. Though we know that 1 percent of the U.S. population controls about 40 percent of its wealth, we also must know that there are a fair few people who are not just out for themselves.

According to data from the International Cooperative Alliance, more people worldwide are members of a cooperative than own stock in publicly traded companies. At the end of 2010, the ICA reported about 800 million cooperative members worldwide, 350 million of whom were in the United States.

A cooperative is defined as a business or organization “owned and run jointly by its members, who share the profits or benefits.” Cooperatives exist in many different capacities and serve many different purposes, but the common thread is the community-oriented, member-driven attitude that emphasizes teamwork rather than individual gain.

Such cooperation may seem like a lofty goal in the modern economic world, but many local organizations have been making it work with pretty quantifiable success rates. Cooperative organizations in Reno and around the nation range from pre-schools and art galleries to housing developments and grocery stores.

One cooperative organization in Reno is the Great Basin Community Food Co-op, a workers’ collective that has been conducting business in town since 2008 and has grown to include about 3,000 members. The co-op is in the process of moving into a new building in downtown Reno, just blocks away from Wingfield Park. The new location is about 10 times larger than the co-op’s current storefront on Plumas Street. The change is necessary in order to accommodate a growing interest in buying locally and participating in grassroots organizations such as a cooperative, said Elias Dechent, a manager at the co-op’s distribution center.

“People nowadays—a lot of them—are a little bit disconnected from food, from their community,” he said. “A big thing for us to actually connect them again. The first thing is the food because that’s where our focus is, but also to build a community around the food and to get to know each other, know the farmer, know people who come to the co-op to shop.”

Members of the co-op receive various discounts and benefits, and are eligible to become volunteer member-workers, who contribute some work to the store in exchange for additional discounts. However, one of the main goals of the co-op is to make available to the general public locally grown, environmentally friendly food.

As is the nature of a co-op, the Great Basin Community Food Co-op works to create a sense of unity through its grocery service. The co-op sells food from Nevada farmers such as Lattin Farms and Home Grown Nevada. Local businesses, such as Pie-Face Pizza Co. and the Dandelion Deli buy food from the co-op.

Although participation is small in the grand scheme of things, it is truly impressive that a city like Reno can foster such a thriving back-and-forth between the unique neighboring farmers and the consumers and up-and-coming businesses located in the heart of the city.

“Besides being a normal natural food store, we support the community,” Dechent said. “The money stays in the community. … At our size, we are fairly small, and most people know each other, so it’s definitely community-building.”

Cooperatives such as this involve many elements from all around Nevada for the purpose of supporting one another in a dynamic, energetic community give some indication that there may be hope yet for us all to work through the economic downturn … together.