Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Great Local Press for Co-Ops and CEP!

One of my favorite aspects of CEP, the Community, Environment, and Planning program at the University of Washington, was its emphasis on project-based learning. I have told many of my friends and colleagues this before, but I will reiterate: without CEP's focus on applied learning and planning education in the field, I would not have landed the job that I have or gotten nearly as much out of my UW education. By working on Evergreen Fleets for a full year as my Senior Project, I learned how project management, networking, and interdisciplinary knowledge could be brought together in real time. But of course, Evergreen Fleets was not the only amazing project to spring forth out of CEP in 2010. Many of my fellow students created incredible works in fields as diverse as bicycle commuting, education, urban gardening, co-operative business, transportation, and student activism on campus. Today's post shines a light on one of the most successful and innovative projects to come out of CEP in many years.

Last year, it seemed like the idea of forming co-ops had swept across CEP by storm and were more popular than ever as a way of putting diverse projects into action. A piece in Crosscut, the top online local news site, by UW Communications student Shane Clyburn, focuses on the efforts of CEPsters in the growth of co-ops in the Seattle area. In particular, the intersection between CEP, co-ops, and larger institutions like HFS and UW could be the way forward in promoting environmental sustainability and social justice from the ground up. The UW Student Food Co-op, founded by CEP students Matt Steele and Michelle Harvey, is mentioned as an exemplar of what is to come!
Seattle is a vibrant place for cooperative businesses. The city is home to large and successful co-ops such as REI, PCC Natural Markets, and Group Health, plus credit unions such as BECU and SMCU. The fact that the UW, the largest organization in the city, doesn’t address this at all shows a great disconnect between the institution and the city it serves.
This past weekend was the second annual SLICE conference. Standing for Strengthening Local Independent Cooperatives Everywhere, SLICE brought many to Seattle to discuss the growing cooperative movement and what should be done to strengthen existing co-ops and incubate new ones. City Council President Richard Conlin spoke briefly about Seattle’s co-op scene and voiced his support for the movement.
Students at the UW are forming a cooperative cafe to provide healthy food at an affordable price for students. They will be working with local farmers and other co-ops in the area to supply the café. The co-op will also provide an educational opportunity for its members about cooperative business models and sustainable food systems.
The UW could get behind this movement and offer classes in cooperative economics and cooperative business. The opportunities for students to find internships and develop relationships with co-ops in Seattle is tremendous. The university should take the initiative and become a leader in fostering cooperatives in Seattle and beyond.

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