Radical Roots? Food Revolution? What's in a title?

Have you ever started a band and been part of one of those long brainstorming sessions in search of a name? There are so many considerations: What images will the name evoke? Will it communicate the sound and the attitude of your music? Has anyone else used it? Does it make a good acronym? How many umlauts should you use?

Well, if you've been here before, or just read some of the blog posts below, you'll have notice that the title of our documentary has changed from RADICAL ROOTS: REVOLUTIONS OF THE TWIN CITIES FOOD CO-OPS to FOOD REVOLUTION: CLASS, CULTS & CO-OPS. We changed the name to emphasize the relevance of our story to people outside of the Twin Cities, to bring up the idea of class as an area of controversy in the food movement, and to intrigue people with the prensence of a shadowy cult, which is how many of the people we interviewed described the Cooperative Organization (including several ex-members). Also, the official name of the workers' organization that runs the Seward Cafe is the Radical Roots Collective, so we'd rather not tread on their territory.

FOOD REVOLUTION, on the other hand, potentially treads on the territory of English uber-chef Jamie Oliver as well as these guys. While probably not a copyright problem, it may cause confusion and upset not only a man with a worldwide fanbase but a man named Ocean, which is an awesome name. So stay tuned to find out if this name sticks or if the super-perfecto name floats down from heaven at some point.

In the meantime, we are in the midst of transcribing interviews and doing a lot of the business end of the documentary process. Soon we will be increasing our social media presence in preparation for a Kickstarter push, so be sure to click on our Facebook and Twitter buttons to get yourself connected.



"Greetings Food Freaks!"


“Greeting to Food Freaks of Amerika from the funny-looking, counter-culture, over emotional, righteous, right-on, anti-intellectual, Maoist oriented food dealers of the North Country.”

- Dean Zimmerman, “Food Conspiracy in the North Country,” Changes, July-August 1972


Yep, that's the earliest piece of writing that we have found in the Minnesota Historical Society from the always-quotable Dean Zimmerman, the first person we interviewed for our doc Radical Roots: Revolutions of the Twin Cities Food Co-ops. He was writing in an anti-war magazine, giving advice to others in the nascent food movement in its earliest days:

This letter is in response to requests from people all over the country (country in this context means Amerika not to be confused with a similar word which means: a place where trees, grass and wild animals are more commonly seen than are cars, buildings, and pavement) who have been asking 'What the hell are youse guys doing up there in Minneapolis?' When this author was given the impossible task of responding to such a simple-minded question, the first draft of the response was, 'Getting food to folks, stayin stoned and diggin in.'


Despite this flippant opening, Dean does go on to describe the founding of North Country Co-op and the other earliest co-ops as well as the People's Warehouse, also giving a brief description of how things are run. It's a fascinating look at the co-ops in their embryonic phase, when their goals where both more modest ("Gettin food to folks, stayin stoned and diggin in") and more ambitious (being part of a revolution that was both personal and political) than they are today.


Keep coming back for more gems like this, and, if you're in the Twin Cities, come on down to the Trylon on Thursday night to see our treaser trailer as well as Shift Change.


It's Happening! SHIFT CHANGE screening launches campaing for RADICAL ROOTS, our documentary about the TC food co-ops

Yes, we are back, and with exciting news! Work on our documentary about the tumultous early history of the Twin Cities co-ops (and its implications for food activists today) is underway. We (Erik Esse and Hilary Johnson) have teamed up with director Deacon Warner and animators John Akre and Beth Peloff for the project, tentatively titled Radical Roots: Revolutions of the Twin Cities Food Co-ops. We will launch an awareness and participation campaign for the film on April 11 at 7:00 at the Trylon microcinema with a screening of Shift Change, a new documentary about the exciting movement of worker cooperatives creating good jobs in the US and Spain. We will also show a teaser trailer for Radical Roots featuring co-op super-activist and former Minneapolis city councilman Dean Zimmerman. Tickets can be found here. Please join us! Also, if you have any, stories, photos, printed materials or (fingers crossed) film from the co-ops movement in the 1970s, please contact us at


About Shift Change:

At a time when many are disillusioned with big banks, big business, and growing inequity in the United States, employee ownership offers real solutions for workers and communities. Shift Change visits thriving cooperative businesses in the U.S. and Spain; sharing on-the-ground experiences, lessons, and observations from the worker-owners on the front lines of the new economy.

Shift Change filmmakers Melissa Young and Mark Dworkin visited the world's oldest and largest network of worker cooperatives in Mondragon—in the Basque Country of Spain —where 60% of local residents are employee-owners. With high job security and competitive salaries, the Basque Country boasts half the unemployment rate of the rest of Spain, and the Mondragon Corporation is the country's 10th largest. 

Here in the U.S.—where a long decline in manufacturing and a brutal economic crisis have led to millions of Americans being thrown out of work—many are looking to Mondragon as a model. Worker-owned businesses are on the rise, with hundreds of coops in the U.S. today, representing thousands of individual worker/owners. 

Shift Change highlights businesses that empower immigrant cleaners in California, install solar power in inner city Cleveland, and manufacture robots in Wisconsin.  The film conveys the promise that these businesses offer to reinvent our failing economy, provide a pathway to long term stability, and nurture a more egalitarian way of life.


Granola and Car Bombs: The Twin Cities Co-op Wars

If you live in the Twin Cities, you may know that we have more food co-ops with more members than anywhere else in the country.  But you may not have heard of the sometimes violent struggle that waged over what those co-ops show be, and how they fit in to the larger struggle for a better world. Are they for the counter-culture of the working class? Are they anarchist, Marxist or not political at all? Is white sugar poison or the food of the proletariat? Check out this radio documentary from KFAI and AMPERS:

In this documentary, producer Maria Almli interviews those who were there. Learn how the co-op wars began--when a secretive group in support of Marxist principles began retooling operations for the newly emerging hippie grocery stores--and how members found themselves in the midst of a car bombing and violent takeovers.

Craig Cox also wrote a very interesting book on the struggle, Storefront Revolution. We at The Cooperative Society are in the beginning stages of creating a documentary movie about the Co-op Wars and its resonance for people in the co-op and food justice movements today. While some of the manifestations are very different, we are still asking ourselves some of the same questions about class and race, activism and commerce, and the nature of healthy food. Stay tuned for more news on this exciting project!


Why Close Your Business on Cesar Chavez Day?

Photo from the Wikimedia Commons, Joel LevineWorker-owned Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco was closed on March 30th for Cesar Chavez Day.  I knew about this because I follow them on Twitter, and thought it was a nice, if quixotic, gesture.  But Rainbow cheesemonger Gordon Edgar (author of Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge) explained the significance in a recent (short) post on his blog, and I really liked what he said:

"It’s important to remember, as a 'foodie revolution' takes place, who does the majority of the hard work, at least in states like California, to bring food to the table."

A few years back, when I worked at Seward Co-op in their previous location, we had a customer call us up on Easter to find out if we were open.  Then he berated the customer service person as being godless or unchristian or something to that effect because we didn't close for Easter.  Some people care why you close your business.

So nice job, Rainbow Grocery!