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Creating the Wisconsin People's Grocery Food Cooperative

Bill Winfield writes about the learning process when opening The People's Grocery food cooperative in Madison, Wisconsin.

| July/August 1970

  • Food cooperative produce
    The inside story of birthing a co-op store in Madison Wisconsin.
    Photo by Fotolia/Cosma

  • Food cooperative produce

One of the first of the new food cooperatives was organized in Madison, Wisconsin. Here's how they did it and what they learned. Originally published in Vocations for Social Change. 

When we first started the Mifflin Street Community Co-op, our subtitle, "The People's Grocery", was more of a riff than a statement of our intentions. Now that such terms have gained concrete meaning with people's parks sprouting up, this title has become more descriptive of what the store actually is. Although the grocery is a co-op in structure, its relation to the community that has developed around it has made it a possible model for starting other community controlled services.

I guess it was the closing of the old corner grocery last fall that catalyzed our thinking by providing an ideal location for a community store in a student area. From the original excitement of having our own food store, we moved on to conceive of a cooperative that would both be owned and run by the community and serve as a focus for organizing the people around larger issues.

Creating a Food Cooperative

The Mifflin Street neighborhood was a typical student apartment area with no real concept of itself as a community with its own economic and political problems. Though most of our time has been spent building and running the store itself, I think its total effect on the area has been profound in catalyzing some kind of community identity and consciousness.

The original idea of the store moved very rapidly from talk to action. We, fortunately, had several people out of school who had some experience with eating and housing co-ops on the University of Wisconsin campus and who could put full time into the project.

We got through the first step of incorporation by working with a movement lawyer who volunteered his help free of charge. Once we were legal as a "cooperative corporation" under Wisconsin law (Wisconsin has a special law just for co-ops), we were in position to sign a lease and raise money without any personal liability on the part of the organizers.

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