By Royce Gustafson
Photos by Patrick Kouba and Royce Gustafson
How do cooperatives make the World a better place? That question is the focus of Co-cycle 2012, a group of college students from Amherst, MA who are bringing awareness to “The International Year of Cooperatives” as declared by the United Nations. They decided the best way to raise awareness was a biking trip across America. Coming from the West by way of Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN, La Crosse, WI and then locally through Westby, the students visited in Viroqua on Aug. 4, 2012 for the Viroqua Food Co-op (VFC) sponsored “Co-cycle Rally”.
|People who came to VFC on Saturday might have heard of the event or, if not, stopped by the tents out of curiosity. Bjorn Bergman, who heads up the Food Co-op’s Promotion and Education efforts, said a conscious effort was made to schedule the event at one the busiest times of the week. General Manager Jan Rasikas and Bergman represented the Food Co-op while Patrick Kouba, VFC’s graphic assistant, took photographs.|
State Senator Jennifer Schilling of the 32nd District visited during the earlier portion of the event and media was also present. WKBT 8 La Crosse interviewed Megan Meo, one of Co-cycle’s founders, and the segment aired on Saturday evening (see WKBT website for broadcast). WDRT 91.9 “Driftless Radio” conducted an interview with Co-cyclists Riko Fluchel and Katrina Ceguera.
|While traditional and independent media interests captured the rally, Co-cycle has a documentary film crew of NYU students accompanying them on their trip. Emma Thatcher is directing the documentary “To The Moon” which chronicles Co-cycle’s journey. Engin Karabagli, the filmographer, was a constant presence throughout the location as he interviewed members from Driftless Region cooperatives who were at the tables.|
The cooperatives represented were:
- Center Point Counseling Services Cooperative
The first mental health cooperative in the Nation
- Fifth Season Cooperative
Dedicated to building a local food system in the 7-Rivers Region
- Kickapoo Woods Cooperative
Sustainable forestry services for Kickapoo Valley and surrounding watersheds
- Vernon Communications Cooperative
Providing local telecommunications and promoting local economic development
- Wisconsin Grass-fed Beef Cooperative
Committed to local production of high quality, sustainably raised beef for Wisconsin
- Threshold Care Circle Cooperative
Educates individuals and families to care for their dead at home, empowering them to carry out a family-directed funeral, with or without the services of a funeral director.
|The Wisconsin Grass-fed Beef Cooperative donated 50 pounds of organic beef for the day. VFC Deli Manager Sean Kelley was present to put his culinary finesse to work at the grill. The burgers were a success: Kelley and others produced a continual stream of food for rally-goers. A portion of the burger sales was donated to Co-cycle, ultimately raising $284 for the cyclers as they continue their journey across the country. Even after the late morning sunshine had turned to clouds and then rain, the precipitation didn’t halt the event. Cyclists, cooperative members and other attendees pitched tent siding to protect the tables. The weather did provide a more reflective mood as the student cyclists summarized what they had learned thus far on their voyage. Several students mentioned the contrast between the open expanses of the American West and increase of communities East of the Mississippi. Some said were looking forward to reaching their ultimate goal – New York City – where they will bring what they’ve learned to a symposium on cooperatives.||
After the rally ended Jan Rasikas took the cyclists on a tour of the Co-op. That evening a private dinner was held at the Rooted Spoon in Viroqua from 5 to 8 p.m. Representatives from various cooperatives gave presentations and Co-cycle members shared information about their tour.
To learn more about Co-cycle 2012 (and donate needed items for their trip) visit their website at http://www.co-cycle.coop/. You can also receive updates on Co-cycle’s progress by following them on Facebook and Twitter.