A ‘Delicious Idea’ for a Worker Co-op In Peterborough

Part 8 in a blog series exploring a community-based response to our criminality crisis

Curator’s note: Peterborough Dialogues welcomes Ralph Gutkin in a blog series exploring an alternative response to the criminality crisis which currently strains society financially and emotionally. His blogs will move through the depths of the concern into what can our region can do about it.

We have explored the benefits of establishing a multi-disciplinary worker co-op for former offenders in Peterborough. So, what enterprise am I suggesting for this venture? From the photo, you may know…

Why a Bakery?

  • Relative low cost to start one (there are various models for running a bakery, at least from the outset, including traditional storefront, truck, bakery cart — all of which need to be explored)
  • Product that can potentially reach any household, restaurant, store, school program, institution (Prison — just imagine the product being part of the daily food regime for the inmates of an institution — the hope and inspiration it could provide when the news of the source is communicated!)
  • ‘Intimacy of connection’ between public and co-op workers. (Beth Weaver, in her paper mentioned in Part 6 of this series, addresses this point: “Various strategies for enhancing community co-operation and support include: holding social events for workers, professionals and members of the community, which are aimed at breaking down barriers and stereotypes; developing community facing features to the co-operatives in order to be community-inclusive i.e. running a café or shop.”)

If you watched the video on KLINK Coffee’s website, Engaging the Community (scroll down to the middle of the page) which I mentioned in Part 4, you’ll get a real sense of this notion of “community facing features”. The video opens with a customer and Melissa, one of the employees, talking about their experience of the community connection. I still am impacted when I watch Melissa’s eyes light up and the smile break out on her face as she initially, proudly talks about the product line and then, at about the 2:34 mark, about the connection with the public, her joy in watching customers’ reactions on sampling the food and the importance of the job to her (“oh my gosh, it makes you feel so good…”)

Bakeries and cafés seem to be a relatively common start-up enterprise for ex-offender social enterprises including the bakery/café run by Stella’s Circle in St. John’s and the Delancey Street Foundation in San Francisco. There are several bakeries operating as co-ops within and outside of prison in Italy .

There are various examples of successful co-op bakeries including the award-winning Arizmendi Bakery in the San Francisco Bay area. It has established an association to serve as “a network, incubator, and technical assistance provider that is owned, governed, and funded by the member workplaces it creates and serves. Our primary activity is to replicate and offer continuing support to new retail bakeries based on a proven cooperative business model.” (The Replication of Arizmendi Bakery: A Model of the Democratic Worker Cooperative Movement).

A Calgary co-op bakery, The Grain Exchange, is now up and fully operating. It attributes its successful operation to the assistance/guidance of the Arizmendi Association, which included receiving recipes and functional guidance. I have been in touch with its principal who has expressed interest in providing like help to our venture.

The bakery idea inspired me from the outset. There are certainly other possibilities which could be explored. Anyone have any thoughts/suggestions?

In the concluding post, we’ll look at how this idea fits in so well with current thinking regarding community building.

Part 1 — Exploring a Community-based Response to our Criminality Crisis

Part 2 — Understanding Systemic Contributors to Crime and Recidivism 

Part 3 — Successful Reintegration Requires Community Support

Part 4 — The Rehabilitative Impact Of Social Enterprises

Part 5 — A Co-operative Approach to Reintegration

Part 6 — Worker Co-op Model Proving Supportive of Rehabilitation

Part 7 — The Resilience of and Success Markers for Worker Co-ops

Part 9 — Co-creating a Restorative Community

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4 comments

  1. Marion Little

    Great idea Ralph! I like how you`ve tied it all together here. The examples of other successful bakery initiatives are inspiring.

  2. Cheryl Lyon

    Ralph, You’ve built up the case of this project very convincingly with the posts sharing your research. With this grounding, I can’t see how your idea would not work. All the info you have provided us along the way seems to me like the evolution of previous models of re-integration of exoffenders that I have been part of – to new depths that address some of the shortcomings of past programs and ways of thinking. Go for it!

  3. Michelle Strutzenberger

    Hi Ralph, This is a fabulous idea. Another social enterprise that seems to be doing a fantastic job working with ex-offenders is Emma’s Acres with the L.I.N.C. Society in B.C.

    Warm regards,
    Michelle

  4. Ralph Gutkin

    Thank you Marion, Cheryl and to those of you who have been tweeting about this, posting links on your social media accounts and engaging in conversations about this (I am so gratified when I hear that this is happening). I have just penned the last part of this series – it will be posted shortly. This has been both an exciting/rewarding journey and a frustrating experience. It began with a seemingly serendipitous broadcast on CBC radio which fed my twin desires to do something for this population and to give back to the community. I instinctively knew from that first moment that the worker co-op was more than just a great idea. I have been blessed with the opportunity of talking to many people about this, locally and internationally, and in being supported and encouraged by many including Drs. Weaver and Findlay. This has helped me greatly in my own path of embracing community and a healthy life path. My attraction to the Dialogues was in being part of developing the restorative and vibrant community of which this proposal is an integral component. The frustration relates to the lack of funding which I remain confident will materialize.