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Davis, California

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Student group to bring food cooperative to campus

A student group called the Flatland Food Collective is attempting to bring locally-grown, organic food to campus.

Flatland Food Collective is one of many student groups nationwide that is striving to bring food cooperatives to college campuses, said Kase Wheatley, co-founder of Flatland Food Collective and sophomore sustainable agriculture and food systems major.

Currently, there are food co-ops at Auburn University and George Washington University, and the UC Davis group is hoping to be just as successful.

“[UC Davis] is in a good position: we’re close to farmers, have access to local food, and we’re in a sustainability research area,” Wheatley said. “There’s an incredible amount of support from the community.”

Flatland Food Collective is sponsored by Cooperative Food Empowerment Directive (CoFed), a national nonprofit organization that provides resources for groups on college campuses to start food co-ops. Currently, UC Santa Barbara; Humboldt State University; University of Washington; Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo; and City College of San Francisco also have student groups sponsored by CoFed.

CoFed was founded after students at UC Berkeley prevented the administration from bringing a Panda Express into the César E. Chávez Student Center, said Willee Roberts, senior international relations major and intern for CoFed. The students decided to offer a food cooperative as an alternative, and CoFed was founded to provide other college campuses with the resources to start up their own co-ops.

Initially, the UC Davis student group will run a peddle-powered seasonal smoothie cart that they hope to start up in Fall 2011. Local farmers will donate the fruit for the smoothies.

Because CoFed sponsors it, the group is exempt from paying for its start-up business costs out of its own pocket, Roberts said. They can essentially start up the smoothie cart with no costs.

“CoFed is our nonprofit fiscal sponsor, and we have the ability to jump through every loophole possible because we’re both a nonprofit and a student group,” he said. “All of the start up costs for a normal business are taken care of for us. We can get things donated to us tax deductible, we can get our catering permit for free and we can get our EHS [Environmental Health and Safety] inspections for free.”

After generating enough revenue, the team is looking to bring the café directly on campus, at which point they will no longer be a nonprofit. While they have not spoken closely with anyone in the administration, Wheatley said they are looking into a location at the Old Cowell Student Health Center, the Memorial Union, the student farms or the Domes 2.0 – if it gets built.

Brett Burns, executive director of auxiliary enterprises, said in an e-mail interview that he would welcome a discussion with the student group to see if this program could be viable at UC Davis.

The café would also serve as a music venue and feature art from the art department.

Ultimately, the group’s long-term goal is to have its own market garden. It also would like to have local home brewers sell their beer at the café.

Wheatley noted that the community-based factor is just as important as the sustainability and food quality. Also, the café will have clear distinctions from the ASUCD Coffee House, he said.

“The reason why the CoHo isn’t what we’re striving for is – sure they serve food at a decent price – but we’re really trying to aim for real food, food that’s socially equitable, economically viable and environmentally friendly,” he said. “The CoHo only sources 21 to 22 percent of real food as defined by the Real Food Challenge.”

Flatland Food Collective pays CoFed $500 annually in exchange for their sponsorship, Roberts said. CoFed also provides board of consultant cabinets that includes lawyers and people with MBAs, particularly those who have worked in cooperative business. The board has weekly office hours to provide tips, help with troubleshooting and to discuss a business model.

Currently, all of the volunteers are getting units for their work through the Education for Sustainable Living Program (ESLP). The team is hoping to start a class on how to run a cooperative.

Ultimately, the student group hopes to support CoFed so that more food cooperatives will be present on campuses nationwide, Wheatley said.

“It’s very important to get this started in Davis, but it’s also important to spread this across the nation,” he said. “We just had a fundraiser and donated half of the money to CoFed … When I leave here, I want to be able to visit some of the other cooperatives that are getting started.”

Wheatley said that there is a design contest for the logo for Flatland Food Collective, which lasts until June 1. All submissions should be sent to enlara@ucdavis.edu.

MARTHA GEORGIS can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.

Correction – May 19, 2011: In the above article, multiple incorrect statements were made. It states
that there are student food co-ops at Auburn and George Washington University.
Actually, the food co-op at George Washington is starting, but it hasn’t been
established yet. It also states that all the Flatland Food Collective
volunteers are getting units through the Education for a Sustainable Living
Program. Actually, only the students currently working on the pedal-powered
smoothie cart are getting units. Willee Roberts, intern for CoFed, is quoted saying
that the Collective is exempt from paying for its start-up costs out of its own
pocket. Roberts also said the Collective is currently a nonprofit. According to
CoFed Northern California Director Enosh Baker, Roberts was misinformed. Baker
said the students are not exempt from paying startup costs and that the
Collective is not a non-profit itself. Rather, it is under CoFed’s non-profit
umbrella. Baker also said the group of students have spoken with administrators on campus. The Aggie regrets these errors.


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