The Daily Californian Online

Student Food Co-Op Plan Moves Forward

By Heather Ross
Contributing Writer
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Category: News > University > Student Communities

While many may question the wisdom of opening a business in the midst of an economic recession, a group of UC Berkeley students are hopeful that they will have a niche on campus.

Members of the Berkeley Student Food Cooperative have been busy in recent months searching for a location for a food collective that would offer low-cost deli foods and organic produce. The cooperative has already raised an estimated $250,000 from campus grants and private donations and is slated to open its doors this summer.

UC Berkeley senior Alli Reed, who is the fundraising coordinator for the cooperative, said the effort has made great strides since last spring.

"Funding is a difficult thing because we have so much money to raise," Reed said. "At the same time, fundraising hasn't been as hard as it intellectually should be. Students really love this idea."

Members of the collective held a sold-out Harvest Gala on Nov. 20, which raised nearly $22,000.

"Even though our gala tickets were a minimum of $50, we had a lot of students there who were willing to give whatever they had," said ASUC Senator Christina Oatfield, who is an organizer for the cooperative. "There's a lot of support for our mission."

Among commercial locations under consideration for the cooperative is a space on Lower Sproul Plaza next to Naia Lounge, which would require the approval of the ASUC Store Operations Board.

But organizers must first convince the board that they will be able to generate enough revenue to afford rent for the space, which is substantially higher than potential locations off-campus.

"A quick-serve space, like those in the Bear's Lair Food Court, is a more prime location and may be a little out of their budget," said Nish Rajan, chair of the ASUC Store Operations Board.

According to Oatfield, organizers originally sought to buy out Naia's lease but were ultimately unsuccessful in the effort. Many of those involved in the cooperative opposed last year's proposed partnership between the gelateria and fast food chain Panda Express that was ultimately voted down by the store operations board.

According to many involved in the organization of the cooperative, the unsuccessful effort to bring Panda Express to campus spurred the formation of the cooperative.

"The notion of a fast food chain coming on campus catalyzed us to make a change," recent UC Berkeley graduate and former Panda Express protest leader Yonatan Landau said. "We saw that we had the power not only to stop it, but with all of the resources that we'd gathered to stop it, we had the ability to make something new."

Landau added that students will hold all managerial positions in the food cooperative and volunteer members will have voting rights in major decisions made by the collective, such as where it is located and whether or not to contract with any controversial suppliers.

"I really want students to feel like they're the owners," he said.

The cooperative will employ two full-time, professional staff members, several part-time, paid student employees and numerous volunteers who will receive a small discount on purchases at the collective.

Volunteer hours will largely go toward planning community outreach and education programs, Oatfield said. Students will organize workshops, volunteer at local farms that supply the food cooperative and work with partner organizations such as People's Grocery and The Cooperative Grocery in Emeryville.

In addition to keeping with Real Food Challenge guidelines for "community-based, fair, ecologically sound, and humane" food, the cooperative exists as a labor of love for Reed, Oatfield, Landau and others as they work to raise the remaining $110,000 and convince potential landlords that the business will succeed.

"I've been very impressed with their leadership," Rajan said. "I have no doubt with the motivated leadership they have they'll be able to pull it off."

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