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Arizmendi Bakery and Pizzeria is part of a local, national, and global movement of autonomous, jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprises. The United Nations has proclaimed the year 2012 to be the International Year of the Cooperatives: “Co-operative Enterprises Build a Better World.” Cooperatives are present in nearly every conceivable sector of business activity, including agriculture, fisheries, consumer and financial services (like credit unions), housing, and ‘producer/worker’ coops like the Arizmendi bakeries and the Cheeseboard. Coops are also active in other sectors and activities such as child care, health services, philharmonics, utilities and transport.
To learn more about cooperative values and principles, how they work, where to find coops near you, or how to join or start a coop, check out the resources below.
I have learned that there are many types of cooperatives and that cooperativism is far more common in the US than I previously imagined. Consumer cooperatives allow customers to purchase or work for membership in order to receive benefits. A housing cooperative may be a home in which work is divided equally and resources pooled, or it may be as large as Co-op City, New York– home to 55,000 people who manage their own schools, newspapers and emergency services. Credit unions are owned by their members, who may be workers or members of the community. Most agricultural companies in the US are members of service cooperatives, which may share storage, equipment and transportation. Utility cooperatives supply the majority of water, power and telephone service to rural areas; their profits are poured directly back into infrastructure or refunded to consumers. Employment cooperatives help individuals start their own businesses utilizing a collective framework that provides secure income during the initial phase. Artists, performers and organizers often utilize collectivism. Member cooperative businesses take an infinite variety of forms, some synthesizing with non-profit or LLC models, including industrial manufacturing plants, day care centers, book stores, entertainment venues, web design companies and, of course, bakeries to name a few. To me it seems clear that no economy, society or infrastructure could survive without mutual aid; its existence and success within such a variety of contexts would seem to prove its vitality and necessity.
A major part of being a cooperative member is simply cooperating. When I was a child, I learned to share, play with my peers and respect the boundaries of others. However, as an adult, I also learned to survive in different environments. I worked as a baker and pastry chef at non-cooperative bakeries and restaurants starting at the age of seventeen. I learned a lot about baking technique, but I also learned that division of labor often engenders resentment amongst workers, profit on part of an often superfluous manager is dehumanizing, and hierarchy creates stagnation, frustration and quick staff turnover. I learned to tough out rough situations, emotionally divest myself from work which was often taken for granted, and ignore it or fight back when I was insulted or demeaned.
Ten years later, I am treated with egalitarianism, participate in making major decisions and share equally in both work and profit– what a relief and joy! Being rather independent by nature, one challenge I have encountered is learning to ask for help now that I am at liberty to do so. I feel that asking for assistance and input is an integral part of learning, accountability and self-care, however it sometimes doesn’t even occur to me to do so. I think this may be a common experience for those new to being collective members, although each individual surely encounters their own difficulties. I sincerely wish it was a universal experience, available to all who want to cooperate. For me, working at Arizmendi Bakery and Pizzeria has been profoundly satisfying and life-altering. Participating in collectives, whether they are businesses, artistic endeavors, homes or community organizations, is an experience I’d wholeheartedly recommend -Sara Chavanne, Baker