West Coast Food Co-op Network Meets

Historical Essay

by John Curl, Part Seven of an excerpt from a longer essay “Food for People, Not for Profit: The Attack on the Bay Area People’s Food System and the Minneapolis Co-op War: Crisis in the Food Revolution of the 1970s”


Workers at the Cooperating Warehouse loading dock, c. 1976.

During the last weekend in September of 1975, food co-op and collective groups from the West Coast and beyond held their first meeting as a network in a conference of about a hundred people at a campground in the Sonoma County wilderness. Attending were San Francisco Common Operating Warehouse, Veritable Vegetable, and Red Star; Seattle Workers Brigade and Community Produce; Portland People’s Warehouse; Eugene’s Starflower; Santa Rosa’s Country People’s Warehouse, Arcata Co-op, Fresno Co-op, Southern California Cooperating Community, Vancouver’s Fed-Up Co-op, Tucson People’s Warehouse, and from Wisconsin and Michigan, Madison’s North Farm Intra-Community Cooperative and Ann Arbor People’s Food Co-op/Wherehouse.(61)

They set up an extensive agenda, but apparently actually spent a lot of the time socializing. “There were a lot of things to discuss: who we are, racism, sexism, who to sell to, community education, private ownership vs. socialism, childcare, insurance, bookkeeping, and more.” They began several projects: working out collective trucking arrangements; collective buying and bargaining, a regular newsletter, a regular conference, and a study project. “We came away with a revitalized sense that what we are doing in San Francisco is being done by many groups of people all over the country. We began the process of working together. It is the beginning of a West Coast cooperative food network with collective strength to unify our struggle to provide food for people.” The food, of course “was luxurious by campground standards.”

The next conference took place a few months later, over the weekend of January 30, 1976, at the Arcata Co-op.(62) From San Francisco came SFCW, Veritable Vegetable, Red Star, Flour Power, Noe Valley, and Left Wing Poultry. Joining them were Seattle Workers’ Brigade, CC Grains and Bakery; Food Front Olympia; Portland Area Food System and Community Warehouse; Starflower; Country Peoples’ Warehouse; Southern California Cooperating Communities; Tucson Peoples Warehouse; San Diego Co-op; Fresno’s Our Store; Sierra Food Coop; Santa Cruz Bakery; Monte Rio Community Food Store; Davis Coop Newsletter; Free Spirit Press; Chico Food Store; Truckaderos; Willow Creek Store; Vancouver’s Fed-Up, and Minneapolis People’s Warehouse. There were also people there from two Midwestern groups, Greater Illinois People’s Co-op (GIPC) in Chicago, and Trung Brokers, an independent collective set up by a group of Midwest warehouses (including GIPC), to coordinate their purchasing and trucking.

The question of profit was a major debate at the conference. What is profit and how should cooperatives and collectives deal with it? Is being nonprofit or anti-profit one of their basic principles? Should they do business with profit making businesses? Where should they draw lines? SFCW was strongly against selling to “profit makers,” while Seattle Workers Brigade was strongly for it.

Like the Sonoma County conference, Arcata turned out to be a pretty laid-back affair. “[C]heese, bread, treats from the bakery and beer and wine appeared. Cindy found us all places to crash. One brother traveled miles with his guitar to warm us up with old songs from the I.W.W. struggles. Dandelion from Tucson courageously takes on the task of chairing the mass meetings. Agenda up for grabs. Land for people, new stores and clubs, cheese buying—Kris posted four time slots to lead discussion on the Twin Cities split. . . . Broke into four groups to discuss ‘who to sell to?’ Kris tries to get support for PW [Minneapolis Peoples Warehouse] resolution [but] we polarize. Frustrations beginning to show. Still no clear basis for unity. We did agree that one major concern at the next conference will be our understanding of class and class struggle. Next conference should also have equal space for warehouses and stores. Time for a few hugs and goodbyes as we collectively fall apart for long rides home.”(63)

The most controversial issue at the conference was the struggle taking place among the food co-ops in Minnesota. It was deeply relevant to the San Francisco People’s Food System, since they did exchanges. Minneapolis People’s Warehouse had sent a representative to the conference asking for support in their struggle against DANCe, a new warehouse that a breakaway competing group had formed. The conference declined to get involved. But several weeks later SFCW unilaterally decided to jump in, threw their support to MPW, and boycotted DANCe.

A Co-op Organization poster promoted by the SFCW read as follows:


1. To be a weapon in the struggle against the monopolistic profit structure of the food industry.
2. To help alleviate the high cost of living by selling food at low prices.
3. To educate the unemployed and the working masses on the politics of food: that is, the interconnectedness of:
A. working class low wages
B. high cost of living
C. billions of hungry and starving people in the world
D. farmers forced into bankruptcy
E. huge profits for monopoly capitalists.


Cooperation and mutual help in relations of production bring out all positive aspects of the individual’s personality.

1. In contrast, the existing order of social oppression and economic exploitation brings out the negative aspects of human relationships.
2. Human labor produces capital, surplus value, and profit. Wealth is based on labor.
3. Labor, unpaid labor of thousands of people, built the coops, therefore a concerted effort must be maintained to STOP and ELIMINATE all trends to privately own coops.
4. Mutual help in relations of production and volunteer labor are the cornerstone of the coop movement. Upon this cornerstone thousands of coops will be built and will prevail because this cornerstone is the working masses.

When the SFCW letter was later distributed to other collectives in the People’s Food System, many were angry that the Warehouse would decide something so important without the consensus of the Food System or a vote of the Representative Body. An open meeting on the subject was held but finished inconclusively. Until it was settled, SFCW decided to yield to pressure and temporarily stopped serving as a staging area for any Midwest loads. Another PFS open meeting was called for April 4 to discuss the organizational structure of the San Francisco People’s Food System and their relationship to Minneapolis.

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