Background: The First Co-op of Many
We are a group of community activists who began meeting a year ago to discuss our shared desire of starting a cooperative business (referred to as a “co-op”) in Los Angeles. We want to create a way to work, live, and contribute to the community that differs from our experiences in the hierarchical and often oppressive nonprofit industrial complex. We also want to create a space where creative, community-centered ideas can be realized, and where progressive folks can gather and exchange thoughts, goods, and services with one another.
After doing some research, we realized that there is a serious dearth of co-ops in Southern California, and that a majority of co-op resources and businesses are dominated by the white, upper- and middle-class, liberal mainstream. We decided that we want to contribute to the growth of co-ops in LA as well as help give the alternative economies movement the anti-oppressive, queer people of color context it deserves. Inspired by the Mondragon Worker Cooperative in Spain, our ultimate goal is to have a co-op of co-ops, or multiple cooperative businesses linked together under a larger cooperative structure.
With these big ideas in mind, we decided to start small with a low-investment, earth-affirming business – a worm farm cooperative. The worm, or vermicompost, farm is giving us the chance to test out our business chops and see how well we work together. It’s also in line with our aspirations of reuse and anti-consumerism – worms basically turn garbage into extremely nutrient-rich soil, which people can then use to grow food and other plants for themselves and their community. If all goes well, the worm farm will remain as a permanent installment of the larger cooperative.
Starting the Worm Farm
As we began assembling the worm farm, we wanted to see how much we could rely on community and creative reuse rather than buying materials. Initially, we salvaged two sets of drawers discarded in Frogtown, where the worm farm is located (and where two of our members live, one of which grew up in the neighborhood), to repurpose as worm bins. Then, through word of mouth, we received our first and second donations of worms. Many thanks to HyunJoo, Jennifer, and Melissa, who’s a Grow LA Victory Gardening Instructor and Master Gardener.
We then reached out to the larger gardening community in LA through the UC Cooperative Extension Gardeners Listserv, maintained by the amazing Yvonne Savio. We have since been moved by the generosity and community-mindedness of those who have donated worms and proper worm bins to our farm. Thanks to Heather and Maya in Los Feliz, Paula in Altadena, and Jane in Santa Monica.
Now, with some proper worm bins and a whole bunch of worms, we’re learning how to farm worms and produce what many gardeners call “black gold” (i.e., worm poop). We’re happy to continue accepting more donations of worms and worm bins, as the worms will hopefully reproduce and we can eventually have enough castings (worm poop) and tea (a liquid made from worm pee) to start sharing, exchanging, and/or selling to cover our modest overhead costs.
We’re still working out the details of how the worm farm co-op and the larger co-op of co-ops will operate. Some ideas we’re playing around with are community members giving us their green matter (e.g., vegetable scraps, grass clippings) and brown matter (e.g., dry leaves, paper shreddings) in exchange for some of our worm castings and tea, and partnering with businesses to collect their waste (e.g., food scraps from a restaurant) or provide them with nutrient-rich soil for their products (e.g., for a CSA‘s fruits and vegetables).
Other cooperative business ideas we’re discussing are to create an activist community space for gathering, eating and drinking, coworking, filmmaking, healing, creative reuse, childcare, manufacturing and selling organic cleaning products, roasting coffee, and maintaining kitchen tool and power tool libraries. In the future, we might throw progressive, safe-space dance parties to raise funds.
If you would like more information on our worm farm co-op or our burgeoning co-op of co-ops, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Look out for updates on this blog.
Thanks to our friends, all the farmers and gardeners in LA County, and those in the co-op movement who support us along this journey in direct and indirect ways.