Four innovative organizations in four cities have received a combined $170,000 in catalytic grant funding from Capital Impact Partners’ 2023 Co-op Innovation Awards, which aim to increase cooperative development in communities living with low incomes and/or communities of color.
This year’s awards, issued by National Cooperative Bank and Capital Impact Partners, are funding projects such as:
● A composting company owned and staffed by formerly incarcerated individuals
● A collaborative effort to convert multi-family housing into resident-owned co-ops
● A training program for queer, trans, and BIPOC farmers
● Professional development for maternal health workers who serve historically disinvested communities
“The recipients of this year’s Co-op Innovation Awards are helping to strengthen the kinds of shared pillars — access to housing, employment, health care, and healthy foods — that help build healthy communities and generational wealth,” said Ellis Carr, president and CEO of the Momentus Capital branded family of organizations, which includes Capital Impact Partners, among others. “Capital Impact Partners was founded more than four decades ago as part of a federal effort to encourage co-op development, and supporting the co-op model continues to be one of our key sectors. In addition to these grants, we have disbursed more than $315 million in loans to support cooperative businesses since our founding.”
“Providing support to spur new co-op development is critical in helping cooperatives grow and prosper across the United States,” said Casey Fannon, president and CEO of National Cooperative Bank. “We are proud to continue our support of the Co-op Innovation Awards, which fully align with our mission and help improve the lives of our communities.”
This year, the award pool was expanded through the participation of additional sponsors Rochdale Capital, Wells Fargo, Ford & Paulekas, LLC; National Co-op Grocers; and TruStage.
Since 2015, the Co-op Innovation Awards have issued a total of $855,000 in grants. The 2023 awardees are:
● The Compost Cooperative; Greenfield, Massachusetts, $50,000
● Northwest Cooperative Development Center; Olympia, Washington, $45,000
● Rock Steady Farm; Millerton, New York, $40,000
● Birthmark Doula Collective (operating as New Orleans Breastfeeding Center); New Orleans, Louisiana, $35,000
Grants Will Help These Organizations and Their Communities
The Compost Cooperative — a worker-owned cooperative that provides ownership opportunities to formerly incarcerated individuals — is being awarded $50,000 to develop a new line of compost to increase revenue and sustainability, creating additional job opportunities.
The Compost Cooperative, which turns food waste into compost, was developed inside a county jail by incarcerated people and provides job training and ownership opportunities to formerly incarcerated individuals.
“We build living-wage jobs with and for workers facing barriers to employment,” said Revan Schendler, president of The Compost Cooperative. “Thanks to this award, more than 300 residential customers and others will receive vermicast for their home and container gardens as the co-op builds out one additional full-time job with benefits.”
Northwest Cooperative Development Center — an organization based in Washington state that supports cooperatives in that region and beyond — is being awarded $45,000. The grant will support its work alongside three other co-op development centers to design a process for buying and converting multi-family properties into resident-owned housing cooperatives.
“The Co-op Innovation Award is crucial to transforming our current co-op housing program into a scalable model for preserving more types of housing across more states in the western United States,” said Sam Green, co-executive director of Northwest Cooperative Development Center.
Rock Steady Farm — a queer- and trans-owned farm in New York rooted in social justice, food access and farmer training — is being awarded $40,000 to develop and launch an immersive paid apprenticeship program for queer and trans farmers, and farmers of color. The program, Pollinate, is for new farmers who practice or are planning to practice cooperative farming models at a scale that can support the wider community.
Rock Steady Farm sustainably grows high-quality produce and makes it available to historically marginalized communities in the Hudson Valley and New York City. The farm seeks to disrupt and address the interconnected systemic barriers for queer and trans farmers, and farmers of color, in a way that supports the prosperity of the communities they serve.
“This award will help Rock Steady Farm create the conditions for queer, trans, and BIPOC farmers to thrive, despite the structural barriers that exist for queer and trans farmers of color in the food and farm industry,” said Rock Steady Farm co-owners D. Rooney, Maggie Cheney, Kyle Ellis, and Rica Bryan. “Through our longstanding community partnerships and with this funding, we will expand our support to beginner QTBIPOC farmers who seek to establish community-centered and co-op farming ventures.”
Birthmark Doula Collective — a grassroots worker-owned cooperative focused on improving maternal health and perinatal outcomes for historically disinvested communities in New Orleans — is being awarded $35,000 to provide professional development support and education to its members.
The collective, which operates as New Orleans Breastfeeding Center, centers and uplifts the experiences of people of color, families living with low incomes, and LGBTQ families, who experience systemic inequities in maternal and reproductive health care. The organization is currently owned by seven birth workers, lactation counselors, and community health care workers, who are 75 percent Black, majority working class, or from backgrounds of poverty, and 30 percent LGBTQ.
“The award advances our efforts to embed ownership and equity within the field of birth work and reproductive justice in New Orleans,” said Steph Visco, development coordinator for Birthmark Doula Collective. “Birth workers continue to bridge growing gaps in health care provision in this country and advocate tirelessly on behalf of their communities, and we deserve sustainable employment and ownership opportunities, living wages, and liberating work environments. This award will help us strategically and intentionally harness our cooperative power, and in return enable us to share these skills with other Black-and queer-led co-ops in New Orleans.”