Sovereign eats

Co-ops fight to make healthy foods as affordable as fast ones

UC Davis student Kase Wheatley hopes to make veggies as cheap as drive-through fare.

UC Davis student Kase Wheatley hopes to make veggies as cheap as drive-through fare.


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Like many great stories, this one began on the way home from a fraternity party.

UC Davis student Kase Wheatley needed a ride after a late night out; he says he was “essentially hitchhiking.” The woman who ultimately gave him a lift lived at Davis’ on-campus cooperative-living community.

The drive home planted a seed, and Wheatley visited the community soon after, where he again met the woman who’d given him a ride. She said: “Well, since you owe me a favor, why don’t you go this workshop about the Cooperative Food Empowerment Directive,” or Co-Fed.

Wheatley did attend—and was enlightened by CoFed director Yoni Landau.

“Once you find out how messed up the food industry is,” Wheatley explained, “you really want to change it.”

Taking action, the second-year sustainable agriculture and food systems major is now working as a part of Co-Fed to create a food co-op on the UC Davis campus. The hope is to establish a place where students can change the contents of what they eat and create sustainable food systems.

This means, basically, that they want to bring healthier foods to campus at price points comparable to local fast food, accomplishing this through volunteer labor, subsidized rent, grant capital and other factors.

“There is a lot of passion right now on college campuses for real food,” said Landau, who founded Co-Fed last year with fellow students from UC Berkeley. “Students see that our food system isn’t sustainable. It’s not healthy for our bodies and it’s not good for local communities.”

Co-Fed acts as a game plan to create models of co-ops on campuses throughout the country. The growth has already been impressive, jumping from pilot training with six West Coast campuses last year to 20 across the nation this year.

Enosh Baker, CoFed Northern California regional director and a graduate of UC Davis, said that it will take anywhere from $100,000 to $200,000 to implement the co-op on campus. He said there are currently some 100 students on the project’s email list. The group plans to host a fundraising event on April 29 in Davis, featuring notable speakers and good food.

Baker also said that an effort is underway to bring in funds through a green-initiative student referendum at UC Davis. He explained that the Berkeley Student Food Collective, though not a product of Co-Fed, received $91,000 through a similar referendum.

“Davis claims to be the flagship of sustainability of agriculture and the food system,” Baker said. “There is a lot of academic work being done in this realm. But especially for undergrads, they’re not getting any experiential learning to do with food systems or agricultural.

“This is an opportunity for Davis to really put its money where its mouth is. This project is entirely planned out, managed and operated by students.”

The Davis Food Co-op, according to both Wheatley and Baker, has been incredibly supportive of their movement.

Wheatley also says that it’s time for UC Davis to become food sovereign, especially because of its location in Yolo County, a soil-rich agricultural heaven.

“We’re definitely trying our best here,” Wheatley said. “We have some very devoted people. Sometimes I get overloaded and think, ‘Whoa, is this even possible?’

“But when I see how many people show up for our meetings, it’s really inspiring.”