Food For Change is a feature-length documentary film focusing on food co-ops as a force for dynamic social and economic change in American culture. The movie tells the story of the cooperative movement in the U.S. through interviews, rare archival footage, and commentary by the filmmaker and social historians. This is the first film to examine the important historical role played by food co-ops, their pioneering quest for organic foods, and their current efforts to create regional food systems. Additionally, the film shows how the co-op movement strengthens communities where they are located, enhancing local economies and food security. The goal is to educate a wide national audience about the principles of cooperation with a focus on food.
The project began when award-winning filmmaker and co-op member Steve Alves was asked to make a film for the Franklin Community Co-op, located in Greenfield, Massachusetts. Alves uncovered many historical films and stories about the increase of cooperatives during the Great Depression — achievements which were later thwarted when consumerism and the cold war prevailed as dominant economic and social forces. Food co-ops re-emerged from the tumultuous events of the 1960s as an alternative to factory farms and corporate grocery chains.
Part One describes the conditions that led to the Great Depression: fraudulent credit schemes; the control of industries by a few large corporations; and increased wealth disparity. During the Great Depression national unemployment rose to 24 percent while employment within the co-op sector increased by 20 percent As co-ops grew they restored hope to the millions of disenfranchised citizens who began to gain some control over their lives. WWII ended unemployment and brought a return of big business monopolies which quickly regained its influential position in government and laid the groundwork for a post-war culture based on consumerism and a permanent wartime economy, effectively halting co-op growth.
Part Two portrays the re-emergence of food co-ops as an outgrowth of the 1960s Civil Rights, War on Poverty, and anti-war movements. Led by a new generation seeking healthier food and radical social change, food co-ops and buying clubs sprang up across the United States by the thousands. During this era two million family farms were driven out of business by large agri-businesses. Industrial farms grew bigger in size and smaller in number, relying on synthetic chemicals and mechanization to deliver cheap food and reap maximize profits. On the retail side supermarkets also consolidated. National chains emerged with enormous market share and economies of scale, driving smaller grocery stores out of business and out of urban neighborhoods. In this hyper-competitive environment, most co-ops did not survive. About two hundred managed to continue by pioneering the growing niche market of whole and organic foods and keeping alive cooperative values.
Part Three explores the present efforts of farmers, co-ops, and consumers to gain more control of their local economies. Farmers and co-op organizers show how they maintain their livelihoods in a system dominated by agri-businesses and giant grocery chains. The film also shows the impacts of a budding local food system created by food co-ops in the Minneapolis-St. Paul region, and the new wave of co-op growth occurring across the U.S. The final impression we hope to leave on our viewers is that co-ops not only offer a true alternative to corporate control of our food supply but also serve as vehicles for constructive social and economic change. In the last ten years there has been a resurgence of food co-ops and their mission to work together to educate members and the general public about healthy food and co-operative economies.
Seven years in the making, the film is now done. The exceptional story of cooperation is told and a new tool is ready to educate co-op staff and members about the organization they’re a part of.
Together, 128 co-operatives in thirty-six states supported Food For Change. Now we need to get the film out into the world. We’ve drafted an outreach and distribution plan that describes the audiences for Food For Change, and the resources needed to reach them.
The film will spread the concept of cooperation to many more people, and define food co-ops as unique businesses in their local food economies. To review our outreach plan and get involved with the next phase of distribution and screenings, please contact us.
“Plant a radish, get a radish, never any doubt. That’s why I love vegetables, you know what they’re about!”
~Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, The Fantastiks