Starting an Urban Co-op with a completely different model in mind. Read tips on how to start one yourself.

For one month I am staying at the Fraser Commons Cooperative Farm in Aldergrove, BC.  This is a 20 acre organic farm which supports a market garden business, two main households and 4 cabins.  Almost everything on the land is considered the commons – equally shared amongst everyone.  Equally enjoyed and equally worked and maintained by everyone on the land no matter where you live or what work you do – the commons is very precious and appreciated by the entire group.

It was my goal to stay at a cooperative homestead to learn how a cooperative farm was run and also to experience organic farming on a relatively small scale.  The property has over 9 different beds and each bed has about 50 rows of vegetables with no more than 2 or 3 rows of the same thing together.  There are over 5 poly greenhouses and two salad shacks with washing stations, freezers and coolers.  The farm began with 10 acres and the original company ‘Glorious Organics’ has been running for about 30 years.  You can read more detail on the history of this farm through a couple of websites which I will list at the end of the article.

The house I am staying in has 5 others staying here as well as the glorious organics office.  The other house has 6 residents including two kids.  There are a number of different visitors and workers living on the land as well – I am one of them!  Everyone pays one set price to live here no matter the size, shape or location of their room – all kitchens and general living spaces are considered common shared spaces.  Some general spaces are never visited by anyone but the sole occupant of the space, like the cabins for instance.  I will be living in my VW Van and most likely I won’t wake up with someone sitting in my living room J

It is a wonderful experience to share space with others who each have their own thing going on but yet have a shared interest in the health of the land and the home. In the house I share there is someone different who cooks a meal every night.  You can sign-up to join the meal or do your own thing.  The house buys bulk grains, dairy and meat and eats vegetables off the land.  This keeps the cost of food down by quite a bit.  There are shared trips into the city to save on gas and the tools only have to be bought once. There are two carpenters who live on the land and one of them is a blacksmith as well.  There is a horticulturalist/permaculturalist specialist, a bookkeeper and a beekeeper and a chicken keeper as well.  Someone is testing bio-char, someone is building an outhouse, someone else is managing the farmer’s market work. Everyone shares their skills for the common good of the farm and garden business.  There are bees, an orchard and chickens as well.  There is lots of preserving done in the fall and all the goods are shared throughout the winter.

It seems to me, that people here understand how precious this living situation is and take care to contribute generously and to only take their fair share.  It happens naturally and what doesn’t happen naturally, there are rules and regulations to refer to when needed.

URBAN CO-OP
What lessons can we take to the city?  Why can this not happen amongst 4 to six households within walking distance to each other?  I always thought this would be a great model for sharing in the city.  People do not need to forfeit rights to their own property or become farmers or give up their day jobs. Nothing of the sort needs to happen in a successful urban co-op.   Ideally the households will be within walking distance of each other so the surrounding public space could be considered the shared commons. The ‘commons’ becomes all the public space in and around the community. A very diverse set of skills and assets within 6 households are then bartered and shared amongst each other.  Through this model we save on all resources: money, time and space.  We create a reason to visit each other, reduce our impact on the environment and introduce more diversity into our lives. Time has been saved with less shopping, making and working and once we all start caring more for our neighbors we start to take better care of the commons. Less tax money is spent on jobs that can easily be done by local residents for free.  The benefits are enormous with urban cooperatives and the risks are few.  Your co-op needs to start with some well written set of expectations and regulations.  Exit and entry into the co-op need to be considered and flexibility needs to be incorporated into any model.

If you would like to start a cooperative in your neighborhood and you are starting at the very beginning of just getting to know even one person in your neighborhood then here are some suggestions for you to follow:

  1. Get out of your house and out of your car.
  2. Walk around your neighborhood slowly. It is important that you don’t appear to be rushing off some where else.
  3. Take note of what is growing in the yards and on the balconies of your neighbor’s places.
  4. Walk around with a clip board and take notes in front of any house that looks interesting.
  5. Say hi to anyone who is outside.
  6. Do this every day or evening.
  7. Soon someone will ask you what the heck you are up to.
  8. Tell them what you like to do or have to share and list what you need from someone else.  For example: Tell them you bake sweet and savory pies and you are looking for someone in the area who grows berries and  herbs. Or tell them you have a lawnmower to share and are looking for someone who can share a weedwacker with you.
  9. It really just explodes from here.  Once you have approximately 6 households, suggest an official co-op with written regulations and expectations, etc. (as listed above).

If you know someone in your neighborhood already then sit down with some tea and discuss the possibility of sharing amongst yourselves and with others.  If you belong to a neighborhood group such as a school or church then try there as well.  Maybe you have a community garden – this is a great place to make co-op connections.

It will take some time, trial and error to get your co-op formed and working smoothly, but your efforts will be well worth it.

Fraser Commons Farm: http://blog.conservancy.bc.ca/agriculture/programs/conservation-partners-program/our-partners-lower-mainland-region/fraser-common-farm-cooperative-aldergrove/

http://www.frasercommonfarm.com/Fraser_Common_Farm/Fraser_Common_Farm_Co-op.html

Author: Jacqulynn Mulyk

 

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Mark Cogswell, a very active community member is looking to expand on his community’s garden space and he has created an event which will bring the community members together for conversation and inspiration.

One of his community members will be providing a seminar on composting.  Mark has asked if I, Jacqulynn Mulyk, will provide information on how the principles of City Repair can assist his community in developing their vision for expansion.   If you are interested in attending their event please register at: http://bowbottocommunityspaces.eventbrite.com/

Mark Cogswell started off by writing a letter to his community and it was a great invitation to participate.  I am sure Mark would be happy if you used his letter as a template to invite your community to join in on some action:

Hello Deer Parkers!
The community garden has generated many conversations and ideas about what can be done to make the church grounds more beautiful. The image of a garden is frequently used in our spiritual life and this reflects our deep connection to nature. The tremendous blossom of lush green foliage has prompted many suggestions for park benches, shrubs, and flowers. The presence of a garden reminds us of ways that we can enjoy our property and take our sense of community outside into nature.

Do you have an idea? I suspect most of us have thought, at one point or another, of some improvement that would make the church grounds more beautiful, accessible, or enjoyable. The idea of a memorial reflection garden has been put forward as a starting point. The church property is a gift that we share in our church community and I would like to establish a community vision for how we transform our property.

A community vision starts with a conversation and the conversation itself strengthens our sense of community. Over the summer, I will be looking for ways to start this conversation. If you have ideas about how you would like to use the property, please let me know. If you have something you would like to learn about gardening or landscaping, this is an opportunity to learn while surrounded by your church family. If you have a skill or passion you would like to share, this is an opportunity to share it with people who are eager to put new skills to use.

If you would like to be part of the conversation, you can contact me by email at or by phone at:

We have a wonderful resource and an opportunity to transform it into something that can enhance our community and our spiritual life.

Power of Love – building a village on a city block

This is the focus we need to take.  How do we learn to trust each other so that more resources can be shared? I have a few ideas which I will be sharing over the next few days.  In the meantime, here are a few pictures from my Portland expedition.

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Developing a Community of Practice for Civic Engagement
Thursday, May 19, 5:30 to 8:30 PM
Forest Lawn Community Centre
Event Cost: Free
The Networking Neighbourhoods/Connecting Communities program of the Calgary Centre for Global Community is creating a learning network (“Community of Practice”) of people like you who are active at the grassroots and neighbourhood level for the well being of the community. Attend this meeting to help set the parameters of this CoP so it suits your needs and interests. Invite others too.

All That We Share: Promoting Civic Engagement in Calgary
Saturday, June 4, 10 AM to 4 PM
Kahanoff Conference Centre
Event Cost $15-$30

**Special Offer: All who attend the May 19 event above, are automatically registered for June 4, for free!**
Special Guest: The Project for Public Spaces’ Jay Walljasper, author of The Great Neighbourhood Book and the newly released All That We Share: A Field Guide to the Commons. In this book, Jay discusses the commons, the things in life that belong to everyone, from water and wilderness to the internet and public spaces. Once we realize that we are all ‘commoners,’ each of us can shift our focus from ‘me’ to ‘we’ in order to better our own lives and those of others. http://www.pps.org/blog/now-available-jay-walljaspers-all-that-we-share/

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I am driving down to the Village Convergance to take part in the design course.  I am excited to feel the vibe of this infamous city and to learn how new methods can be applied to Calgary streets.  Maybe they will learn a thing or two from this Calgarian – crazier things have happened!  And this is beast I am going to drive down there with.  Let me know if you need a ride 🙂

The Village Building Convergence is a bit like a conference, a bit like a festival, and a bit like a neighborhood improvement day. Of course, it is uniquely unlike any of those events, but if you are familiar with any of these types of events, you can start to understand VBC.

During the Village Building Convergence, there are workshops and keynote speakers. Many people register to attend the entire event. There are activities from early morning until late in the night. So in some ways, it might feel similar to attending a conference.

We are like a festival in a number of ways: we celebrate public art and lavishly decorate our central venue. Also, we eat dinner together every night, and feature local bands nearly every night for dancing. There is a festival atmosphere at the central venue, and places to hang out outdoors together.

During the Village Building Convergence, a lot of work is done to directly improve spaces which the public either owns or has access to. Like a neighborhood improvement day, VBC projects make people feel more ownership of the place in which they live, and upgrade the functionality of the neighborhood in some way.

Click to this address for tickets to the evening events and for housing.  The daily building events are free to participate in.  http://vbc.cityrepair.org/ticketing

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Register for Living City Series: Placemaking Guidebook Workshop in Calgary, Alberta  on Eventbrite

City Repair explained, watch this video link. It is inspiring.