Marking the Co-op Movement, and 80 Years at Swarthmore

David Woo, for the Shuttle
David Woo photo
Swarthmore Food Co-op hosted last month’s Mid-Atlantic Food Cooperative Alliance summer meeting.

Swarthmore Food Cooperative, founded in 1937, hosted a summer meeting of allied food cooperatives last month. This gathering on July 22 of the Mid-Atlantic Food Cooperative Alliance brought together more than 40 people from as far south as Frederick, MD (The Common Market) and from as far north as New York City (Bushwick Food Co-op at the border of Brooklyn and Queens). Representatives of both startups and existing co-ops shared details of our work and our effort to be relevant in our communities. 

The occasion also celebrated a milestone: Swarthmore Food Co-op —founded in 1937 in a former car dealership, now in a new building at the same location in the Delaware County town’s center — is 80 years old.

MAFCA’s history was also noted, as we heard the story of how past Weavers Way Board President Nancy Weinman thought we should get the boards of neighboring co-ops together to have a party, which evolved into this alliance of cooperative enterprises looking at ways to mutually support each other. Over the years, MAFCA has conducted a conference on how to start a co-op, and heard many speakers who enlightened and challenged us. The speaker at this session, Andrew Lamas, Weavers Way member, activist and University of Pennsylvania Urban Studies professor, discussed “Co-opting the Co-op: Contradictions and Challenges of Cooperation.”

Our own co-op, with a soon-to-be third location, is one of many across the United States and Canada founded to meet the mutual needs and aspirations of our membership. Being connected to this larger community helps inform how we make decisions that not only benefit our own members but can build a larger and more resilient cooperative economy. 

We talked and listened to each other and shared those stories and passed along hopefully helpful advice to keep each of our co-ops sustainable. 

Of the hundreds of food co-ops in Swarthmore’s cohort — founded during the Great Depression — only a handful are still in operation. There is an expectation that those of us like Weavers Way, founded during the second wave of food co-op development in the late 1960s and early 1970s, have a charge to keep the couple of hundred left today in business. 

A 21st-century wave of co-op development is looking at a more secure and informed future with assets and resources dedicated to education and training of all of us who advocate and lead. Your patronage and commitment provides resources to help build the resilience of all co-ops.

Consider this your call to share your co-op experience with your circle of influence and build the co-op economy.

David Woo is a member of the Weavers Way Board of Directors and a longtime advocate for cooperatives.