Bikers trekking for cause stop by
Thirteen college students, mostly hailing from Amherst, Mass., constitute Co-cycle, which biked through Del Norte on Monday during their nationwide tour designed to raise support and awareness for cooperatives.
Their tour is endorsed by the United Nations International Year of Cooperatives, declared by the U.N. General Assembly to be 2012.
After a hearty breakfast served by their host, Helen Holgate, a Crescent City resident who offers travelers a place to crash via CouchSurfing.com, the Co-cyclers met with representatives of the closest things to cooperatives Del Norte has to offer.
Ron Phillips, manager of the local Saturday Farmers Market, met the crew at Back Country Bicycles on Monday morning as it made final preparations for a short day on the road, ending in Brookings.
Phillips shared how the non-profit that operates the market gives farmers and artisans an outlet to sell their goods without having to jump through regulatory hoops.
Before leaving California, Co-cycle toured Ocean Air Farms after hearing that it uses the “community supported agriculture” (CSA) model, very similar to a co-op.
Paul Madeira of Ocean Air said he’s seen a surge in interest from the community in being involved with food production, even though sales are down in a weak economy.
“Its harder this year than ever before to sell the CSA in advance,” he said. “But more and more people are interested in coming to the farm to work or visit. We are cooperatively working.”
Co-cycle welcomes a broader definition of cooperatives. Since they started their trek in San Francisco, the Co-cyclers have visited food co-ops, credit unions, farms and bike co-ops.
“It’s interesting to learn in a more hands-on way the differences between cooperatives,” said Megan Meo, the lead organizer of the trip.
Meo studies cooperatives (“cooperative entrepreneurship,” to be specific) at Hampshire College, where many of the cyclists are students.
At a conference on co-ops, Meo mused about cycling across the country and visiting co-ops in recognition of the International Year of Cooperatives.
The idea was warmly received, prompting someone to advise Meo to craft a formal proposal.
Co-cycle was born.
“I don’t think we even fully knew what we were getting ourselves into and then it just became really big, really fast,” Meo said of the pace of the project after writing the proposal. She remembers thinking: “If we wrote it down, I guess we have to figure out a way to do it now.”
The young group is partially funded by the U.N. program and also sponsored by the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives and the National Cooperative Business Association
With high-profile sponsors, the participants have been forced to quickly learn new skills to make Co-cycle meet expectations. By organizing, planning and marketing the tour, they feel like they’ve developed countless skills on how to start an organization.
“I had never written a marketing plan or a ‘memorandum of understanding,’” said Co-cycler Marleigh Higgins. “There’s all these pieces we’ve had to learn.”
Eating, sleeping and biking with 12 other people almost every day for more than three months requires healthy group dynamics, but Higgins said members of the group have come together to make the day-to-day operations flow smoothly.
“We’re creating our own little cooperative and our own community,” she said.
Co-cyclers are currently cruising north to Portland, attracted by that city’s co-op scene. Then they’ll turn east until they get back home to Amherst — the whole journey will cover more than 4,000 miles.
Three filmmakers from New York University are accompanying the riders, with the ultimate goal of creating a documentary of the adventure.
“I’m lucky to have cool friends that do cool things,” said Emma Thatcher, a filmmaker who went to high school with a few of the Co-cycle organizers. The film will catalogue the cyclists’ experiences and what they learn over the summer.
You can learn more about the Co-cycle project and follow the group’s progress at: www.co-cy