Script 4 – The co-operative begins
Maria told what had happened so far, and why she and Guillermo were proposing a community garden co-op. She told them about her trip to the market, where vegetables were plentiful but costly. There was always a demand for onions. By growing onions, the villagers would be better able to feed themselves, she said. They could take the surplus to market to trade for other vegetables. The children could then eat foods that would give them a more balanced and nutritious diet. She also told them that Cheng, an elder from the neighbouring village, had experience with co-operative gardening. He was willing to help plan the garden and teach everyone the skills they needed to tend the garden. She reported that the elders of the village were discussing allowing the co-operative to use a piece of land just outside the village. Lastly, and perhaps most important, each member would have to contribute labour and money in order to start the co-op garden.
Maria described the most important qualities of a co-operative. She emphasized that the people must take responsibility for the success of the project. Working together would not always be easy. They would have to remember the goal: to improve the quality and the amount of food available in the village and to have an excess to sell or trade for other foods. The co-op could not be a private club. It would have to be open to anyone who could contribute to the garden and benefit from it. Each member would have a say in the operation of the garden. Maria told the villagers that a co-op must be run democratically: one member, one vote. Someone must be the manager and that person would have to be the choice of the majority of the co-op members.
Guillermo asked what the people thought of the idea of the community garden. He asked the men in the gathering to allow equal time for the women to speak and share their views. “After all, they do so much of the farm labour already, and their skills will be essential to the success of the garden,” he said. The villagers were keen to get started on the garden. They wanted to control their food supplies. Several people wanted to learn the farming skills so they could apply them to their own home gardens as well. Several were concerned about the money that would be needed to buy tools and to dig and cement a well, and the time they would have to invest with no immediate benefit to themselves. Guillermo knew that people in the village were poor and could only contribute a small amount of money each month. It would take about six months to raise the money to start the garden. He suggested the members elect a bookkeeper and a manager to arrange the fundraising and plan the labour schedules for digging the garden and building the well. The bookkeeper could collect the money from each member at each group meeting and keep track of where the money went. If a member did not have any money that week, the member could contribute a hen, or eggs. The cash values of these would be entered in their account.
Maria explained that the next step was for someone in the group to nominate people for the positions of manager and bookkeeper. Nawat, an elder in the village, put up her hand, and said that Maria should be the manager because she had done all the work so far, and because everyone trusted her. Guillermo asked for a show of hands, and everyone raised their hand for Maria. “It is decided,” Guillermo said, “Maria will co-ordinate the village community garden.” With that, everyone let out a cheer that set all the village dogs to barking.
“Thank you for your vote of confidence in me,” Maria said. “I will work hard to serve the co-op. But now we need to choose someone to collect and watch the money. Who has a nomination?”
Someone in crowd yelled out that Guillermo should be the bookkeeper. “Who said that!” Guillermo said, “I must have your name for my records of this first meeting.” Karam, a young farmer, introduced himself as the speaker. “Ah, Karam,” Guillermo replied, “I thank you for the nomination, but anyone who knows me could tell you that when I add up my fingers I come up with eleven.” The crowd laughed. “I think I will have to decline your kind nomination, but I happen to know that you, Karam, are good with numbers, and I would like to nominate you for the position of bookkeeper. Let’s put this to a vote.”
Nearly everyone voted in favour of Karam as the bookkeeper. Three people thought he was too young for such a position of responsibility, but after some debate they agreed.
Maria then announced that the Community Garden Co-operative had officially begun, and asked for a show of hands of all those who wanted to join. She then asked each member to make their first payment, an equal amount that each person agreed they could afford, and called the next meeting for the following week, at the same time, to discuss their garden again.
Note: This story will be continued in the next package, Package 24.
Mary Lou Morgan, a consultant for the Canadian Co-operative Association and SUMAC Consulting, a co-operative development group.