Canada's 150 - Canada's Emerging Co-operators Campaign
In the Spirit of Canada's 150th, tell us your co-op story in 150 words!
Check out some of the inspirational stories that have been submitted below!
Kerr Smith, Facilitator, Trainer & Curriculum Designer, Gay Lea Foods - and award-winning creator of the All4Each High School Curriculum program!
To this day I look back and shake my head in disbelief. I was 30 years old, and hadn’t taken a business course in my life - let alone had the faintest clue as to what a co-operative, or credit union was. Yet for some crazy reason, I knew I had to leave my ultra-secure elementary teaching job to apply for this mysterious position at a small not-for-profit called the On Co-op. Fortune favours the bold, they say. Perhaps this is heightened for those both bold & bald, as somehow, I fell backwards into this most meaningful, fulfilling work, and inspiring sector. Cut to last week, where in the span of 3 days, I passionately presented a “Co-ops 101” workshops to 400 co-op “newbies” – adding to tally of 10,000+ Ontarian students we’ve presented to with the All 4 Each program. How lucky I feel to have found my “Why”.
Stephen Bell, Former Education Intern and CYL Program Director with On Co-op
I entered the amazing world of co-ops through an internship with the Ontario Co-operative Association straight out of my bachelor studies, and I’ve been a proud co-operator ever since! The purpose of the internship was to educate the public all about co-ops and help schools incorporate co-operative business lessons into their everyday classes (All4Each). The funny part is, I can admit now not being entirely sure what a co-op was during my interview! This lack of awareness of the co-op model has always motivated me to get the word out any chance I can, because to me the co-operative principles seem not only to be an intuitive and more sustainable way to do business, but also exactly what society needs these days. Last year, I also had the inspiring opportunity to work with some of Ontario’s brightest teenage Co-operative Young Leaders which gave me confidence in what the future holds!
Sarah Jensen, Co-op Housing Resident and CYL Participant
I can barely remember a time when I wasn’t part of a co-op, since I’ve been living in Castlegreen Housing Co-operative for most of my life. I’ve always been raised with co-operative values in mind; my mom taught me the importance “concern for the community” and even before moving to Castlegreen I was joining her at volunteer initiatives. She was my first of many inspirations on the co-operative path. Castlegreen has brought me some amazing opportunities: running a community garden, chairing two committees, attending On Co-op’s incredible CYL program and subsequently working with On Co-op NWO, and becoming the youngest person ever elected to Castlegreen’s Board of Directors. It’s the people who are co-operatives’ backbone, and so many people in my community inspire me to work harder for my love of co-operatives. It’s my hope that my continued work with co-operatives across Ontario will inspire other youths to get involved.
Russ Christianson, Co-op Developer and Founding President of the Aron Theatre Co-op
Where I grew up in Alberta, I was surrounded by co-ops and credit unions: Alberta Wheat Pool, Battle River Credit Union, Co-op grocery store, and the farm supply co-op. When I moved to Ontario, I became a member of Karma Food Co-op and I took my first co-op job with the Ontario Federation of Food Co-ops and Clubs (food for people, not for profit). Over the past thirty-five years, I have helped over two hundred co-ops start-up, and most of them continue because of dedication of the members. In Campbellford Ontario, we saved our little gem of a theatre by organizing a not-for-profit co-op and going digital. Thousands of other cinema across North America closed. It’s power of co-operation. Our Co-op was recently awarded the Chamber of Commerce’s Chair Award for having a “significant positive impact on the community.” And, as part of our tri-bottom line, we are installing a green roof this year.
Julia Buchan: QC and Regulatory Compliance Officer at the Ontario Natural Food Co-op
My Co-op story begins when I was just a kid, with memories of helping my mom sort Buying Club orders purchased from the Ontario Natural Food Co-op (ONFC). Fast forward to today and I’ve been employed at ONFC for the past five years! My interest in the co-operative movement really began while studying International Development. I was encouraged by the democratic functioning of co-operatives, their focus on the triple bottom line, and their ability to improve socio-economic conditions around the world. Soon after graduating from university I was fortunate to land an internship administered by On Co-op in the Co-op housing sector. Following my internship, I began to work for On Co-op directly, assisting with the Co-operative Young Leaders (CYL) program and beyond. The co-operative sector’s passionate people and diverse businesses, with their focus on filling a need (as opposed to the pockets of shareholders), continues to inspire me. Co-ops have enriched my life and the lives of countless others around the world. Now more than ever, this business model simply makes sense and I’m so happy to have found it.
Matthew Piggott, Member Services Manager, Community CarShare
The first time I ever really learned about co-ops was when I got my first job after university. But I jumped right in and have learned so much and have enjoyed it ever since. My career in co-operative carsharing started out as an internship through On Co-op, then a contract position, then a full time job, and now full time with paid benefits. Who knows what will come next! Co-operative organizations mean so much to me. They are a way for communities to come together and create a business that will live beyond their founders. It is a way for democracy and fair voting to be expressed through your economic choices. They are an inspiring "third way" of organizing that allow us to move away from the economic dictatorship of capitalism, and the democratic dictatorship of communism. Frankly, they are a way for my generation to be able to build meaningful employment that pays a living wage. 2017 is Canada's 150th birthday, but let's not forget that it is at least the 248th birthday of the co-operative movement! Two very important milestones worth celebrating.
One hundred plus years; the evolution of FS ag co-ops in Ontario
In 1914, farm leaders agreed to unite Ontario farmers under one organization which became The United Farmers Co-operative Company (UFCC). The co-operative’s first commercial venture was successful in purchasing twine from Ireland breaking a monopoly that controlled the supply of binder-twine to farmers. Later UFCC bought coal, fencing materials and fertilizer and in 1927, it established a grain marketing pool based on the model of prairie wheat pools. In the 30’s, extensive educational programs were developed and the Ontario Chamber of Agriculture, now known as the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) was formed. In 1948 member ownership was re-structured and United Co-operatives of Ontario (UCO) was created. Over the next few decades, UCO contributed much to the growth of the agriculture co-operative movement in the province. In 1994, UCO’s assets were purchased by a U.S. based co-operative, GROWMARK, Inc. And today, 103 years later, this co-operatively-connected agriculture network still thrives.
Alex Shave, Social Media Strategist, Ten Thousand Villages Canada
Out of university, my passion was local food. When I saw how ONFC was able to build a distribution network that worked for, and listened to, producers, processors, small businesses and consumers, it hit me that co-ops were a way to change much more than how we buy food. My first job, an internship with the Ontario Co-operative Association (On Co-op), was a chance to jump head first into the deep end of the movement. By luck, I worked with On Co-op during the International Year of the Co-op, and pull together the stories and passion of the people in the Ontario movement into a commemorative magazine. The values of the movement have stuck with me as I’ve continued my career. Today, I work for Ten Thousand Villages, a fair trade importer-retailer, helping makers in co-ops around the world bring their stories and products to Canadians.
Eddie Sauvé, Masters Student & Passionate CYL Advocate!
My co-op story began as a fourteen-year old in the Co-opertive Young Leaders program. As a young person who always wanted an answer for the amount of injustice in the media, co-operatives were a refreshing example of fairness, democracy and social consciousness that I wanted to see in the world. Getting the opportunity to travel to Ghana during the International Year of Co-operatives in 2012 allowed me to see the impact of co-operatives in another part of the world and further inspired me to seek opportunities at credit unions, co-operatives and CYL to make a difference in my own community. To me co-operatives are an opportunity to have more control over the things that matter most in our lives, while also being a tool to help build a better world for everyone. I enjoy continuing to be a part of the CYL program that inspires more youth each year, like I was.
Paul Danyluk, Co-operative Community Builder, Creative Thinker and Learning Specialist
Co-ops continue to make my life better. As the child of a single parent on a fixed income, a housing co-op meant a comfortable, safe, and affordable home. As a career transitioning young adult, an internship with On Co-op meant new skills and exposure to a vibrant community of ethical businesses. That internship lead me to a job in learning and development in the credit union system, a job that combines my interests in education and co-ops! Shopping at Karma Co-op and serving on its board reinforces the people power of co-operation and constantly reminds me that organized and dedicated people can build a better world. Being in the co-op sector has opened opportunities I wouldn’t have imagined and has introduced me to people doing incredible things close to home and around the world.
Lisa Furfaro, CYL Program Co-ordinator, On Co-op
My co-op chronical is about being in the wrong place at the right time. The quick version reads like this…I got my heart broken and quit my unfulfilling job as an undervalued employee. I couldn’t pay rent, was offered a job in the co-op sector, and obliged. The job training educated me on the co-op principles, explained ethical business practices and empowered me to make values-based decisions on what is best for my community, people, and the planet. A better way to business? Collaborating over competing? It all sounded amazing, so I started living what I had learned. Eager for an opportunity to educate, I facilitated through On Co-op’s Co-operative Young Leaders program (shout out to CYL!) Inspired, I vowed to step up and share this movement with the world! Today, I return the favour through co-ordinating the CYL program and working with young leaders to think forward and live co-operatively.
Matt Thompson, Communications Manager, The Canadian CED Network
My first real introduction to co-operatives was in 2007/2008 through an internship program managed by the Ontario Co-operative Association where I was placed with the Canadian Community Economic Development Network (CCEDNet). To me co-ops are part of the original ‘sharing economy’. Through co-ops workers can share ownership, producers can share the means of production, and consumers can share the risk and responsibility of supply chain management. Democracy is a fundamental Canadian value and yet we don’t hardly apply our democratic principles to our economy. Co-ops are a shining example of what our economy could look like if we did. While CCEDNet is not a co-op many of our members are and many of our values align with the 7 co-op principles. What is innovative about CCEDNet is that we are actively connecting co-ops with others that are creating economic alternatives rooted in local knowledge and led by community members. Our national conference, EconoUs2017, is an excellent forum for achieving this.
I discovered co-ops when the Ontario Co-operative Association hired me, saving me from a string of unpaid internships and seven-day work weeks. Their dedication to ethical business was clear to me from the beginning, not just from their co-op principles, but because of the clear dedication they had to offering a high-quality, paid (above minimum-wage) internship program.
When I was nearing the end of my contract, they continued to support me by directing me to the Canadian Co-operative Association to participate in their internship program (furthering my career, but also giving me the opportunity to see what co-ops can accomplish internationally). When I returned, I used the co-op model to develop a seasonal, youth-led, farming co-op to provide unemployed youth with summer jobs - and my brother started a worker co-op (a board game cafe) that employs more than five people year-round, some of which are full-time.
While it might seem like it, I'm not telling this story to self-promote. The point of this story is that for me, my fellow interns, the youth employed by the farm, my brother, and his employees, co-ops contributed to our income during economic hardship and high rates of youth unemployment - and I think the world could use a little more of that.
Peter Cameron, Co-op Development Manager, On Co-op and LIfelong Co-op Advocate
My mom was part of the Hamilton Teachers CU and she signed me up as a youngin’. At university I learned about the various injustices of our economic system and in particular the impact on our environment from people like David Suzuki and Ralph Nader. The book “Limits to Growth” was published in 1972 and sparked incredible controversy among my generation. But we asked was there an economic system that would still allow for jobs and responsible sustainable growth? Of course the Co-op system was the answer and it was there all around us but just not promoted and in fact repressed by the capitalist elite. As I learned more about the potential of co-ops I worked with others to start a food co-op, housing co-op and then managed to get a job developing worker co-ops. That led to my present job with On Co-op and I haven’t looked back!
Jennifer Ross, Member Relations Manager, On Co-op
Co-operatives were not on my radar until I applied for a job with the Ontario Co-operative Association almost 8 years ago. I frantically prepared for my interview by asking my Dad if he knew what a co-op was, and to my surprise, not only did he know what they were, but he had once been the president of Ag Energy! He brought me up to speed on why co-ops exist and how they impact their members and their communities, and once I was armed with all that co-op knowledge, I aced the interview and got the job! Since that day, I have been immersed in all things co-operative and never looked back. Co-operation brings out the best in people and allows them to come together for the greater good. The diversity of our membership and all their great work inspires me to share their stories and inspire others.
Audrey Aczel, Communications & Event Manager, On Co-op
Like many others, I came upon co-operatives purely by accident when looking to reintegrate myself into the workforce after a long hiatus to focus on my family. All I knew was that I wanted to work for an organization that could provide me with a strong work-life balance, and to feel good about the work I was doing. More than ten years after being hired by On Co-op, I still come to work every day looking forward to making my own contribution to the important work that we do, in helping educate, advocate, engage and develop co-operatives across the province. I can honestly say that I feel blessed to be a part of a value-system that puts people before profit, and to be surrounded by passionate, caring and committed individuals that together, make the co-operative movement as great and strong as it is.