"I attended an inspiring meeting of Latino cooperative members last weekend. Our partner organization, Community-to-Community (C2C), has developed a program to provide training and technical assistance to groups of Latinos around the state building economic cooperatives. The oldest one, Las Margaritas, is a group of Latino women who have been selling delicious homemade tamales at the Bellingham Farmers Market as well as catering delicious homemade traditional Mexican foods for gatherings in the Bellingham area. The newest one, Cesar Chavez, is a group of 26 vendors in the South Park area of Seattle who are just this summer putting together a farmers market on wheels to provide fresh produce, delicious traditional food and other market goods like earrings and t-shirts once a month to the South Park Community.
There is also a cooperative for farmers and orchardists in the upper Yakima valley, called CPOVA, and two others forming or reforming in the Whatcom county area, one to farm, another to provide landscaping services. The dozen or so cooperative members who came to this meeting were obviously committed to the idea that they can do more together than they can do separately – and have more fun doing it. Although these cooperatives are creating different kinds of businesses and they have some great resources to help them, they seem to be learning most from each other.
Rosalinda Guillen, director of C2C, has held this vision of developing cooperatives for several years and done a great deal of the groundwork for the first two cooperatives. Fernando Ortiz came to C2C with experience organizing communities in Peru who were working to build physical living and working spaces using the cooperative model. Erin Thompson has joined with the two of them to help facilitate the development. Outside partner organizations, including our organization, IWF, and Columbia Legal Services, assist with grant-writing and legal assistance for developing the new forms of organizations.
Economic cooperatives are more familiar in Latin America than they are in the US, at least in this time where we in the US are wedded to a competitive, individualistic idea of how to get ahead. These cooperatives are a way for a group of people who typically don’t have a lot of financial resources to work together, get some technical assistance and training and build their own futures. Pretty interesting to see these folks pulling themselves up by their bootstraps using a model that is relatively new to this country but more familiar to them. "
A documentary work in progress about the immigrant community in Whatcom and Skagit Counties, WA. This clip is from a section about Las Margaritas Catering Cooperative.