Creating an Ecovillage Co-op

As described elsewhere on this site, we have embraced a new approach to creating ecovillages in New Jersey, a cooperative proposal being led by a group of longtime activists and experts called the Ecovillagers Alliance. This post provides some of the key background documents on the Alliance, and invites your participation in founding the “mother” Ecovillagers Cooperative that will in turn give rise to, and nurture, the local community co-ops that will be started in each region.

Ecovillagers introduction video:

Ecovillagers Co-op organization summary:

Community Land Cooperative investment and cash flows guide:

Ecovillagers statement on gentrification:

Brooke Loving Bagwell, a member of the Alliance, writes:

I am reaching out on behalf of the Ecovillagers Alliance (EVA) to express my excitement to be working alongside you as we center around how to create equitable and inclusionary cooperative communities. 

This work takes courage– to reflect on the history of cooperatives and intentional communities, to think critically about the systems of exploitation they have sought to break or have perpetuated, and to share our own intentions for taking part. Holistic and just systems depend on awareness around many differences of need and experience, so let’s challenge ourselves to extend grace to those around us, and to ourselves, and let’s seek curiosity more than conviction.

The history and benefits of cooperatives appear to be well-kept secrets in today’s “market capitalism.” The first “mutual aid” societies began in Great Britain in the mid-1800s, and the principles laid down then spurred the development of cooperatives in many nations and communities. But there have also been concerted efforts to suppress the cooperative movement, with private corporations viewing it as a threat to their control of mass consumption and the commercial market. What we need is a new resurgence of this sustainable, self-help, and mutual benefit model in the highly unstable and inequitable economy we have today.

This begins, as Brooke points out, with individuals collaborating to understand more about how cooperatives work. We are currently creating teams or “study circles” to engage with the foundational elements that are necessary to make cooperatives successful; we have four such circles already, and are happy to establish others as people step forward to express an interest in becoming part of this movement.

The Alliance — which itself uses Sociocracy or Dynamic Governance as its decision-making model — has begun the development of a curriculum to provide prospective co-op members with the background they need to set up the cooperative structure, currently anticipated to be launched at a founding conference in January.

Our first reading will be the Introduction and Part 1, Chapter 1 of the book Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice by Dr. Jessica Gordon Nembhard.

“Why this book?” Dr. Nembhard’s research sheds light on how cooperative economic development has been used to build community wealth and democracy outside of the dominant exploitation-based system. This book provides the historical context of WHY we want to create shared-equity, cooperatively-owned communities, and a good organizational survey of HOW.

A sample of the book is available for FREE as a Google eBook; if you want to purchase the Kindle or hard copy versionclick here to purchase Dr.Nembhard’s book on Amazon. [Note that there are some pages missing in the preview, so you may wish to purchase the full version.]

Here is a summary of the book:

In Collective Courage, Jessica Gordon Nembhard chronicles African American cooperative business ownership and its place in the movements for Black civil rights and economic equality. 

Not since W. E. B. Du Bois’s 1907 Economic Co-operation Among Negro Americans has there been a full-length, nationwide study of African American cooperatives. 

Collective Courage extends that story into the twenty-first century. 

Many of the players are well known in the history of the African American experience: Du Bois, A. Philip Randolph and the Ladies Auxiliary to the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, Nannie Helen Burroughs, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Jo Baker, George Schuyler and the Young Negroes’ Co-operative League, the Nation of Islam, and the Black Panther Party. 

Adding the cooperative movement to Black history results in a retelling of the African American experience, with an increased understanding of African American collective economic agency and grassroots economic organizing. 

To tell the story, Gordon Nembhard uses a variety of newspapers, period magazines, and journals; co-ops’ articles of incorporation, minutes from annual meetings, newsletters, budgets, and income statements; and scholarly books, memoirs, and biographies.

These sources reveal the achievements and challenges of Black co-ops, collective economic action, and social entrepreneurship. 

Gordon Nembhard finds that African Americans, as well as other people of color and low-income people, have benefitted greatly from cooperative ownership and democratic economic participation throughout the nation’s history.

Brooke has also suggested several reflection questions related to the book, which give a flavor for what the study circles will be discussing:

Below are some reflection questions for Collective Courage. These questions are not meant to test people on if they have read, but instead, intend to provoke deep reflection about our collective approach to cooperative development.

1. In Chapter 1, on page 39, Dr. Nembhard talks about “organized Negro societies,” which were largely founded in paternalistic relationships between White-benefactor managers and Black residents. These arrangements trained Blacks to adjust to and integrate into White society; they did not change White attitudes or push the surrounding culture away from inequity and exploitation. What would it take for communities to be truly transformational in the direction of equity and integrity?

2. Is it possible for people historically privileged by the dominant culture to participate in alternative economies without reproducing historic exploitation? If yes, how must we do it? 

3. How could cooperative models be applied to neighborhoods?

For more information or to participate, please contact Victoria Zelin at or 908-507-3150.

This entry was posted in Community, Cooperatives, CRCS, Dynamic Governance, Ecovillage, Ecovillagers, Organization, Sociocracy. Bookmark the permalink.

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