Growing community through a food co-op: Michelle Lopez-Dohrn at TEDxOjai

all right I want to thank Dannette Wallace and Lisa Berman for inviting me in supporting me and allowing me to share this vision of the Ojai food co-op that we have my name is Michelle Dorn and I grew up here in the valley when I turned 18 and graduated I wanted to go out and see the big world I got I went to college got my degree in zoology and botany and became a wildlife biologist I surveyed for endangered species throughout Southern California I was living in LA the concrete jungle and seeing global warming climate change the effects of overpopulation that were happening in the habitat and seeing animals going extinct before my eyes doing surveys in the valley I got married I had a daughter and I still lived in LA for about four years until it kind of came to this decision that I needed to get out and and I lost my sense of self and my connection with humans and humanity and the land and so I brought my daughter back where the only place that I knew growing up I had that connection and I wanted to be able to have her have that connection as well so we came back to Ojai and I was embraced by the community by my friends that I'd known for over 30 years and my the the community just opened up my yoga instructors embraced me I had women that were elders in this community that came to me and embraced me and wanted to help me and give me advice and support and also the Chumash tribe family here came and embraced me as well I have Native American roots and Spanish and Mexican too and so it was really very humbling to be embraced by the community on so many levels I started taking an interest in food fairly quickly and got into a CSA which is a Community Supported Agriculture you become a shareholder in the farm and he is able to not have to worry about where his money's coming he can use his expenses for operating the farm and every week we would get a bountiful of local organic produce an excess and abundance I had to out of necessity out of survival and sheer guilt that I had so much food available and I didn't want it to go to waste that I then started to learn how to can and preserve and ferment and compost and get chickens and garden and do all these things and I started having parties and dinners and potlucks and workshops and people coming into my home and everyone's like talking about food over food and having deep philosophical discussions and really deep concerns about the access of food and and how food travels and where it comes from and my biggest thing was why should I have the access to this kind of food you know it's plentiful it's affordable and if you learn a simple couple of techniques how to preserve your food and can it anybody can do it so I didn't want to hold on to that information I wanted to be able to spread the word about it and how easy it can be so one night we were having a gentleman over who showed how to make empanadas with local produce and he goes Michelle have you heard about food co-ops I go food co-ops what's a food co-op I've never even heard of a food co-op and being the true scientist that I was I went and researched the heck out of coops and was just amazed to see what was going on so that's the valley and that's the that's the farm and the CSA that's my ferment and I go a little crazy sometimes and so I went and I researched and I went to coops already-existing in Southern California and I attended national co-op conferences and talked to national co-op leaders and and then I took it out to the streets to to Ojai people and I asked him I did this informal survey what do you know what a co-op is have you ever been to one what do you think if we had one here in the valley and I did a wide variety of people that I asked from teachers to families to spiritual healers to pastors people high in the community leadership I went to environmental our nonprofit eco there's resources and talk to them and gathered their support and all around I just got this overwhelming yes we need to have one here or why don't we have one here already so I said all right so we got a group together and we have a steering committee and we put together well I shared what I was learning about and what got me so interested in the co-ops to begin with was that it had these great principles behind it and it had a co-op values and co-op values is about self-help self responsibility equality equity and solidarity and there and my favorite out of all of these is ultimately the concern for community but when I saw these for the first time voluntary and open membership anyone can join Democratic member controlled so that means one vote everybody has one vote and one share that's it member economic participation so the more that you participate in the coop the more you can get back through dividends and so forth at the end of the year that cops have their own autonomy and independence II in the business world they make their own decisions the the members of a co-op decide they set print they set the policies of the coop and they are the major decision makers of the coop you can decide however way you want to run the coop if you want to run it with the board of directors which most of them do but some of them like the people's co-op started in the 60s and now have a collective management which means anybody who's in the staff gets to manage the color the coop they know what's going on they know what the people want they're having those close interactions so they're the ones who manage the coop which is there's so many possibilities of how to go there and then there's cooperation among cooperatives so we have coops throughout the nation and everyone is supporting one another and it's great feeling but also what coops try to do in their own communities is to cooperate with other small businesses like what's not us against you it's like it's all of us together and let's help one another so yeah another one okay and it's to me like it just got so disenchanted with democracy and and how it was going and everything that was going on in the politics and what we see in the media and when I read these I was like wow I mean isn't that what the spirit of democracy should be about and that the coops are doing that they're a perfect role model for human cooperation and I just I really value those those things so when we got together and we started talking with friends and family and and started having our steering committee it kind of came up with this vision what we see the Ojai food co-op to be and it's be a place where it's a community hub where people can come together feel like they're part of something bigger than themselves and to see things that are actively being in progress like how they can do their own sustainable futures whether we have permaculture demonstration gardens and we have gray water and solar panel being used you know there's things that go beyond if you want to incorporate the coop model we you can do health insurance coops you can do car rental coops you can do credit union coops I mean the possibilities are infinite and it really depends on what are what our community wants to build so our vision is also to have a certified kitchen where if you have a cooking license you can come in your co-op member you want to make some jam or granola and you sell it to the coop and it kind of helps to subsidize the your your income and so this is kind of revitalizing our economy as we see it making it more local or lower our distribution costs and ultimately lower our carbon footprint if we're sourcing as local as possible that is our vision is to go at least 50% local and that means everything from you know lotions and soaps and and you know not just food so so right now we're at the stage we have our steering committee we are a project of Ojai green coalition we have their full support and we're so grateful for that they've really been behind us we had we share very similar missions and so they have taken us on and we're not a non-profit because coops are for-profit but they're not for profit maximizing they're for profit sustaining which means they want to play pay their employees fairly give them fair wages and treat them well and be able to stock food on their shelves for that so we're going into a feasibility test and we're hoping to ask for donations right now and you can donate and do a tax deduction for the first six months and so that we can do a feasibility test we'll pick about three or four locations in Ojai and see what is the most viable and what is going to serve the needs of our community and then we'll have a be able to run a business plan and then start doing our membership drive where we ask our community to invest in the community owned co-op thank you everybody you

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