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How a conscious community can bring together the roots of economy and ecology.

Hello Roots Radicals Community!

Last week we explored Food Literacy or the way food connects us to others -social, ecological and economic systems, together with the editor -and fermentation fanatic- Rebeca Perez and her project “Concordia”. The soulful lesson that this encounter left was the power of a “Peaceful Resistance”, which is consciously inserting pauses in an otherwise accelerated system -either in the production of food or books. This concept stuck with me and opened up my curiosity about other modes of resistance among the current unsustainable food-production chain. 

As consumers we are a crucial community inside the food economical market, we raise the demand for certain crops or decrease the production of some products. Nevertheless, every time we go to the supermarket the sense of community disappears, and we buy our food as individuals, unconsciously following patterns that we pick-up from publicity and trends. Today, supermarkets are not only hyper-branded consumption places where the agricultural value of food products is invisible, these are also profit-driven chains that support the fast and excessive production of food,  to the extreme of generating huge amounts of food waste. In other words, for supermarkets, we are merely consumers and the value of food is measured in its profit.

Supermarket store in USA. Photo: Unsplash

Although the current industrialized food production chain breaks up the relationship between economy and ecology, these two concepts share the same root. Both stem from the Greek word Oikos, which means home: while the economy is the management of it,  ecology is the study of it. Whereas this home is geographically different for you and me, there is one that we all share and is the Planet Earth. Then why have we -humans throughout history- created such individualistic, harmful and unrooted economical structures around our food ecologies? And how we can disturb this “normality” of our food consumption?

Exploring this concern with our dear co-director Monica Kisic, she told me that back in her days at the startup Singa business lab in Kreuzberg, her first goal with Roots Radicals was to disturb the idea of food business as usual. “Planet over profit” is the vision that carries our team forward in each challenging step to become a circular economy and zero-waste food business that empowers a community of conscious consumers. Through each paperwork and logistic to establish a food company in Berlin, Monica tells me:

“When we are faced with challenging decisions, for us (the Roots Radicals co-owners) there are two main questions that we answer to get us through: what makes us happy and why are we doing what we are doing? Like this, we don’t lose our north: reconnecting and empower people through good food, plus the creativity of working with food to inspire sustainable change. This doesn’t mean that we are not a business, but rather that we don’t forget to make the right decisions to balance both ecological and economical values of food.”

Roots Radicals Friday’s at the Markhalle Neun, 2020. Photo: Roots Radicals

As we started this blog-space with you, we knew that food was a powerful root to bring us closer as a community -coowners, creatives and consumers- transforming the idea of a business from company to companions. The cooperation between individuals that eat in the same city – or urban eaters, as I’ve been calling us – can transform consumption patterns and alternate the unsustainable food systems. This bottom-up power is not a utopia, is an actual economical system supported by grass-roots movements and circular business. 

“Understanding our food business as a grass-roots idea, give us a different perspective of success. Having a vision that accompanies each learning process, then success is marked by every step in the way. There is not a big goal at the end, the goal is always within. And this is a challenge for anyone that is doing a business that wants to create new sustainable values. This means sustainability for the planet as well as for the people inside and outside your company. It is important to know where do you want your limits to be so you can thrive in profit while being environmentally conscious.”

As part of the Berlin thriving ecosystem Roots Radicals and SuperCoop have been together since their start-up beginning, and continue to hold hands as they participate in the Impact Hub Berlin – Feeding the City. “Is not longer what more should I do to grow? is rather how can we grow together in a sustainable a joyful process?” commented Monica.  While working to shift from a profit-driven to a value-driven business, they also believe that an empowered community of eaters can take sustainable actions on their own plates. Encouraged by this collaboration, and very curious about knowing more about the food-cooperative model, last Friday we invited Eugénie Wateau, a French Business developer and crucial member of the SuperCoop Berlin, to our IGTV-Rooted Lives #4.

“What is really interesting in this model is that it is made to be sustainable from a business point of view -but with a different mindset. In the case of the SuperCoop the members of the cooperative, which are also the costumers, are co-owners of the supermarket. Meaning that they can decide on the products, but moreover, where does the profit go. This is completely different from a classic capitalistic model where we as costumers don’t have any power. At the SuperCoop, we want to be honest about how much of this profit is going to the producers or to rent the place, as a co-owner you have access to all this information and the power to decide upon this processes.”

Working together: the founding members of Super Coop Berlin Photo: Markthalle Neun

Cooperative models have a long economical history, but around forty years ago the Food Cooperative of Park Slope, in New York, disturbed the idea of a sustainable market -both economically and ecologically. How? Different from a private or public supermarket chain, Food Cooperatives (or food-coop) are markets co-owned and co-design by the consumers. The products are selected in cooperation with local producers or fair-trade companies, while the logistic and functional activities are democratically distributed among the consumers. By investing time once a month and contributing with a small shared-fee, the consumer has a vote and access to fresh and organic products for their original value -no extra costs or inflated prices for a higher profit. After the success of this model in Paris, with La Louve, the SuperCoop adopted it to test the collaborative attitude and hunger for change of the Berlin Community. Eugénie shared with us her insides as part of the executive board of this movement:

“In order to be a co-owner you buy a share, which is basically a small portion of the cooperative, that ensures your vote and gives space for your voice at the coop general assembly (or what in german we call generalversammlung), which could happen once a year or more often. This is how we ensure that decisions are made democratically and based on dialogue, that is also something not always easy since there are different points of view. The beauty of a cooperative is to find a balance together, and decide which group within the assembly can tackle a specific topic. It’s not only a matter of the decision-making process but rather how do we decide according to different logistics of the market. With a clear consensus, it’s easier to take decisions and actions in a more agile and inclusive way.”

While adopting this economical model, we have the chance to understand the power of empathy and community building around food as an economical value. But we also need to take a step further from our comfort zone, to not only cooperate but compromise with the change, which implies caring about the impact of our individual consumption on our community. Food is political if we understand that the decisions we make about what and how we eat could harm or benefit others. When the bio logo becomes a marketing strategy, the industrialized food systems and the supermarket chains sell us the idea of choosing our food, among an always available but anonymous variety of products. In a food-coop all members, as co-owners and consumers, have the power and responsibility to understand the value of the food sourcing process as a means to create both community and revenue. In the SuperCoop as much as you decide and benefit, you also have to share and work for others -3 hours a month to be precise. This participatory dynamic renovates a sense of belonging in a food consumption space, something radically different from the typically isolated shopping spree of our everyday. 

SuperCoop Berlin, cooperative and democratic processes with the consumers and co-owners, 2021. Photos: SuperCoop

“One of the key guidelines for choosing a product, beyond the locally sourced, is to be inclusive. But what does it mean? We believe that we want to be a movement and empower the maximum amount of people in order to go in one direction: consuming more sustainably and have a transparent understanding of food value. Then if we are too strict with some guidelines then we are excluding people from the beginning that may not share, for example, a vegan diet. Although this is something that we should aim for in the future, we don’t want to restrict participation based on different types of diets or cultural backgrounds. We believe in motivating the consumer to change an unsuitable consumption on its own, rather than choosing for them. If they have enough information and access to good products -which means quality and fair price- something that the Supercoop will provide, I’m sure that they will do it at some point.”

Through all the complexity and careful actions that this movement reunites, Eugénie underlined that the most valuable thing she learns is to work in cooperation. It May sound obvious to some of you, but the fact is that our contemporary “competitive chip” pushes us to claim ownership of any idea, even while working on a team. A cooperative is strong as its participants learn to open up to the circularity and solidarity of ideas, much similar to the open-source movement for IT. “It’s about adding our brains,” says Eugénie “it’s about how together we can find the best solution”. You could still be unique and develop your own ways of living while fostering change and empower others, which includes admitting when you need help to move forward. 

These are the cooperative values that Roots Radicals and the SuperCoop share: the power of disturb with empathy. That’s why we have taken upon the task of creating spaces of discussion and exchange with you, guest-reader, both through this online community blog and the IG-lives. In this post, beyond sharing other ways of doing a sustainable business, I wanted to portray humans -just like you and me- creating value and ecological awareness through collaboration. Remember that at the root of economy and ecology is home, let’s take care of this planet while we set our diverse tables with care and solidarity. 

"Through cooperation, participation and transparency, consumers can actively shape our food system." SuperCoop Berlin motto.
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