Community Funding for Gaia Gardens: Buying the Farm!

By Poki Piottin

For the past 3 years, Gaia Gardens, a nonprofit, one-acre, certified organic urban farm has been providing an important community garden experience for people in Santa Fe. The Gaia Gardens property is now threatened with foreclosure and we are attempting to buy the property through a short sale. To preserve this unique piece of land, continue our educational mission and provide affordable housing for future generations, we have created the Mil Abrazos (One Thousand Hugs) Community Land Trust, a nonprofit, to purchase the farm property.

We believe that lasting ecological health and social well-being are kindled in reconnecting to the Earth and reclaiming our food sovereignty.  Our concern for the planet inspired us not only to farm, but also to facilitate learning opportunities related to urban farming, encouraging schoolchildren to participate, supporting community gardening, and nudging our city to embrace the deeper meanings of sustainability. In recognition of our efforts, we have won awards for Best Recycler (Santa Fe Green Chamber of Commerce) and Best Sustainable Food System (Sustainable Santa Fe Commission).

In order to raise capital to purchase the farm property, we have launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign that will run through November 4, 2014. Please help by going to www.indiegogo.com/projects/mil-abrazos-community-land-trust and make a donation to keep this farm in our community for generations to come.

For more information about Gaia Gardens, please visit www.gaiagardens.blogspot.com

 

Westside Birthday Bash!

B-day

The Westside celebrated its first birthday this past weekend! We grilled on the patio, enjoyed live music from some great bands, saw some awesome costumes for the costume contest, and ate delicious birthday cake!

A year ago, La Montanita proudly opened the doors of its new location, bringing thirty new living wage jobs and organic, local food to Albuquerque’s Westside. The Co-op works to develop community wealth by keeping things local. La Montanita’s presence on the Westside continues to be a sign of a strong and growing local economy, representing the community’s commitment to keeping New Mexican dollars in New Mexico.

Thank you to those who came to celebrate with us! We had a great time and hope that you did, too. Scroll through the slideshow by clicking on a picture in the gallery below to see all the fun!

New Mexico Health Connections: The Co-op Model Works for Health Insurance, Too

Health Care (NMHC)

By Lydia T. Ashanin

No one likes insurance very much. We need it if we drive a car or own a house, and the Affordable Care Act now requires us to have health insurance. One of the many changes the ACA brought to our healthcare system is a new insurance company model—one that focuses on keeping people well instead of waiting until they get sick. This new model is a Co-op health plan.

New Mexico Health Connections (NMHC) Co-op is New Mexico’s only nonprofit, consumer operated and oriented (cooperative) health plan. As new entrant in the marketplace, NMHC Co-op is a change agent, bringing innovation and creativity to the health insurance industry, which is traditionally staid and risk-averse. NMHC Co-op breaks the old paradigm through its commitment to well-care instead of sick-care, its prioritization of people over profits, and its ethical commitments to members, provider partners, and communities.

Any profits NMHC Co-op makes must be reinvested into benefits and programs to help improve the healthcare members receive. We are a lean, start-up health plan, which enables us to work closely with contracted providers to coordinate members’ care and lower their overall healthcare costs. And our members can travel anywhere within the U.S. and get care if they need it.

NMHC Co-op puts its members first by striving to improve their access to healthcare. We offer our members:

  • A $0 copay for generic medications for nine common chronic conditions.
  • A $0 copay for most generic behavioral health medications.
  • A $0 copay for the first three behavioral health visits for most plans.
  • A $0 copay for the first three primary care visits (starting in 2015).

Co-op health plans differ from commercial health plans in two significant ways. The first is the co-op model itself, which emphasizes a strong consumer focus as a primary value. NMHC Co-op is overseen by a Board of Directors, of whom 51 percent or more must be elected from the pool of NMHC members. This gives our members a voice and ensures that NMHC will stay focused on what is best for them.

The second difference is that Co-op health plans are truly nonprofit, mission-driven rather than shareholder profit-driven. While some other New Mexico health plans can legitimately claim a not-for-profit IRS status, their business model is distinctly profit-oriented. Any money these health plans save through member care goes to fund new buildings or executive bonuses. NMHC is required to return all income that exceeds expenses to its members in the form of increased member benefits or lower premiums. NMHC must therefore always reinvest in its members. Furthermore, because NMHC Co-op is a New Mexico-domiciled health plan, its money stays in New Mexico, whether through payments to healthcare providers or profits reinvested in member benefits.

The 2014 theme for National Co-op Month is “The Co-op Connection. How Does Your Co-op Connect?” At NMHC we connect with you to help keep you well, and with our partners to help keep our community healthy and vibrant.

Our Deepest Gratitude: Annual Membership Gathering Thanks

By Robin Seydel

During this time of year our thoughts turn to Thanksgiving celebrations and all the things for which we are grateful. In these meditations I feel incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to work with our incredibly supportive cooperative community to make the world a better place.

I know that I speak for all of us here at the Co-op in this expression of heartfelt thanks to all of you who came out to enjoy our Annual Membership Gatherings in both Santa Fe and Albuquerque. It was wonderful to see so many of you turn out to participate in our community dialogues on the democratization of wealth and the role that co-ops can play in creating a more just and sustainable economy.

Our esteemed guest speaker, Gar Alperovitz, is much in demand and we are tremendously honored that he chose to come back to New Mexico and share his time, extensive knowledge and inspirational leadership with us. Two of my favorite concepts put forth by Gar are “involvement culture” and “evolutionary reconstruction.” When tied together, they create an “involvement culture for the evolutionary reconstruction of our communities,” providing a clear understanding of what we are both grateful for and are trying to do. Here at La Montanita, we continue to be dedicated to the concepts of a just and fair cooperative economic democracy. Your support of these gatherings made it clear to us that this commitment is a reflection of the values and the desires of the communities we seek to serve.

The gatherings, both in Santa Fe and Albuquerque were a truly community endeavor and it was a great pleasure to partner with a variety of organizations around the state to make it happen.

A special thanks goes out to Marianne Dickenson, a dedicated “new economy” activist for her organizing efforts, We are People Here and the Unitarian Universalist Church of Santa Fe for their support and co-sponsorship of the Santa Fe event. In Albuquerque, it was a great pleasure to work with Amy Liota and Chef Michael Giese of the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center and the many generous food producers and suppliers who donated food for our FREE community dinner.

Please see the list below and when shopping we hope you will support all these fine food producers. Also, please check out the pictures from this event below or on our Facebook page!

It is a great pleasure to serve you, our fantastic community; you make everything the Co-op does possible.

With love and thanks on behalf of everyone at La Montanita Co-op,

Robin Seydel

Membership and Community Development Coordinator

**Special Thanks to the following businesses and individuals who helped supply the food for our FREE community dinner: When you see these products on Coop shelves, please support these generous people and businesses.

  • Chocolate Cartel/Van Rixel Brothers
  • Co-op Distribution Center
  • Food For Life Products
  • Navajo Agricultural Products Inc.
  • Organic Valley Cooperative
  • Pitman Farms, Mary’s Organic Chicken
  • Sweet Grass Beef Cooperative
  • Tamaya Blue of Santa Ana Pueblo
  • United Natural Foods Inc.
  • Veritable Vegetable

Back To the Future: Cooperatives for Ecological Regeneration

Picture1

By Courtney White

Cooperative Behavior

“Food for People, Not for Profit”—as with many co-ops that started up in the late 60s and early 70s, this was the original slogan of La Montañita Food Cooperative, which was founded in Albuquerque in 1976 with three hundred member families. According to Robin Seydel, a co-op staff person since 1985, it was very much a “hippie” establishment in the beginning, dedicated to gaining access to food that was “off-limits” at the time, including organics, whole grains and macrobiotics. The co-op also threw early jabs at the industrial food system by offering workshops on food irradiation, GMOs and the links between pesticides and cancer. Its counterculture spirit even extended to its organizational structure. By setting up as a member-owned cooperative association, it defined itself as an alternative to the corporate model of soulless profit making.

Co-ops for Ecological Regeneration

Fast forward nearly forty years and what was once counterculture is now mainstream, which is good news for all of us!   Today, La Montañita has over 17,000 member households, employs nearly 300 people, manages six stores in three cities, operates a regional food distribution hub and is an active member of the National Cooperative Grocers Association, in which over 140 food co-ops have a combined annual sales of more than $1.5 billion and over one million consumer-owners.

This good news begs a question: could other kinds of regenerative activities considered economically off-limits today—such as building soil carbon or restoring damaged ecosystems or feeding large numbers of people sustainably—follow a similar trajectory? Perhaps cooperatives are the ticket to getting this important work accomplished as well. What about a restoration cooperative!

It’s not a pipe dream. Cooperatives are all around us, including worker-owned manufacturing co-ops, depositor-owned credit unions and agricultural marketing co-ops. Overall, there are nearly 30,000 cooperatives in the United States, accounting for two million jobs and $500 billion in annual revenues. IRS-recognized categories include 1) consumer cooperatives, which are owned by the people who buy their products or use their services—REI is the nation’s largest example; 2) producer cooperatives, set up so that farmers and others can sell their products under one label—Organic Valley, for instance; 3) purchasing cooperatives, for businesses working together in order to be competitive with national chains—like the members of the National Cooperative Grocers Association; and 4) worker cooperatives, which are owned and run by employees—a good example is the Mondragon Corporation in the Basque region of Spain (See the extensive article on Mondragon in the September 2014 Coop Connection News at www.lamontanita.coop)

The consumer cooperative category is by far the largest in the United States, and the movement as a whole is gaining momentum. Recent research suggests why: the broad and diverse benefits created by co-ops make them resilient in a crisis. Credit unions, for example, survived the Great Recession of 2008 relatively unscathed because they viewed rampant mortgage speculation as contrary to the interests of their members. Consumer cooperatives mostly focus on the essentials necessary to a healthy society: food, water, electricity, insurance and finance. Their primary mission is to provide public services, not to act as engines for wealth accumulation. This public service orientation is why it is not such a big leap to extend the cooperative model to ecological restoration and carbon sequestration.

Like nonprofits, cooperatives are a legally sanctioned form of private ownership in service of the public good. While they are profit making, they are not profit maximizing. This sets cooperatives squarely against the corporate model of doing business, whose overriding goal is to turn a small pile of money into a larger pile of money (to paraphrase Wendell Berry).

In contrast, cooperatives see money as a means to an end: creating an economy that supports rather than diminishes the greater public good.

“The cooperative economy is helping to reawaken an ancient wisdom about living together in community, something largely lost in the spread of capitalism,” writes Marjorie Kelly, an author and advocate for cooperatives. Cooperatives represent a need that “arises from an unexpected place—not from government action, or protests in the streets, but from within the structure of our economy itself. Not from the leadership of a charismatic individual, but from the longing in many hearts, the genius of many minds, the effort of many hands to build what we know, instinctively, we need.”

Counterculture indeed!

There are many other reasons to support the cooperative model. La Montañita pays a living wage—and did so before living wages became popular—and it provides an excellent benefits package. Its food hub, the Co-op Distribution Center, serves several hundred local producers in a 300 mile radius around Albuquerque. It is farmer- and rancher-friendly, sending them the important message that they can count on the Co-op to be there. Which explains the unofficial motto of the cooperative movement: “We were local before local was cool.”

Cooperatives are cool. And important to our future!

Come to the Quivira Coalition Conference, BACK TO THE FUTURE for more on ecological restoration. Register at www.quiviracoalition.org