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Berkeley provides cheaper food options for students

Students can find cheaper natural, vegan-friendly and sustainable produce at the Berkeley Student Food collective. (Megan Svoboda)
Students can find cheaper natural, vegan-friendly and sustainable produce at the Berkeley Student Food collective. (Megan Svoboda)

In response to the rising costs of Mills College meal plans, colleges nationwide are starting their own non-profit food cooperatives. These organizations are student-run initiatives that aim to feed the community at reasonable prices as well as educate them about natural foods.

While Mills does not currently have such an option, the closest student food co-op is the University of California: Berkeley’s Student Food Collective (BSFC). This initiative is open seven days a week since its start in November 2010. It follows criteria stated by the Real Food Challenge, a nonprofit organization dedicated to encouraging youth and universities to shift to “real food.” The real food these co-ops sell are inexpensive, natural, vegetarian and locally grown food.

Products must fall into three categories: locally and community-based; fair trade and directly purchased; and ecologically sound and humane.

Berkeley Community College student Molly Rosenthal, who benefits from the proximity to campus on Bancroft Way in Downtown Berkeley, explains why she shops at the co-op.

“You can buy produce and prepared foods for cheap. [The Berkeley co-op] is my favorite place to go when I want to eat healthy,” Rosenthal said.

Fresh and seasonal foods are bought wholesale every Monday and Wednesday for the BSFC. Prices are only slightly marked up from original prices: 35 percent for produce, whereas other groceries typically charge more. Kitty Jones, on the Products and Policy committee for the co-op, said she found bunches of kale at Whole Foods for $5 each, while the co-op were selling them for $1.50 each.

Considering grocers and famers’ markets in the area, students are concerned that Mills does not have many inexpensive food options. On campus, there are a limited number of places to purchase food: Founders Commons, the book store, which sells snack items, and the Tea Shop, where many say the prices are high.

“If you don’t have points in your meal plan, it’s almost impossible to eat at the Tea Shop regularly,” Mills Junior Reina Reis said.

Cooperatives are unique from other grocery stores because the production and distribution of their food is controlled by its members. Berkeley’s co-op makes democratic decisions by a majority vote of board members and simple majority by the general membership.

Their “Manual for Student Run Food Cooperatives” contains a transparency policy in Appendix R, which was written by one of the store’s founding members, Christina Oatfield. It states that no worker should intentionally withhold information about products. These are all ways cooperatives hope to take greater social responsibility over their stores.

“Students should go into the world aware of ethical, sustainable foods and the treatment of animals,” Jones said. “We are showing students and community members how important their food services are.”

The BSFC sets specific regulations for what food they buy and sell and how they are packaged and disposed. In addition, one of the their main goals is to take responsibility over the education of employees and customers.

With a quick turnover in student workers, many members of the community pass through and hopefully become more aware of their food, agriculture and health, according to their website. Listed under their “about” section is a description of their goals for the community and environment.

“We seek to educate students about nutrition and food systems, empower new leaders, and train youth to work in and manage a sustainable business,” the BFSC website states.

Bekah Park who works at a head shop on Telegraph Avenue, takes regular trips to the BSFC, which is a few blocks away.

“The fact that people are excited and aware enough about healthy food to keep the Collective running, makes me happy to go there,” Park said.

Other than the BSFC, Jones also suggests the Berkeley Bowl and farmers markets for fresh, organic food. She says farmers markets are sometimes even cheaper than food offered at the BSFC. In addition, it is possible to put in orders and make agreements with the farmers themselves.

Another way to get food delivered directly to doorstep is with produce boxes offered by the BSFC and organizations, such as Full Belly Farm located in Capay Valley, California. After signing up, boxes of seasonal foods are sent to customers’ addresses every week.

“If something like the Berkeley Student Food Collective existed on Mills campus, or even somewhere else in the city, I would definitely go,” Reis said.

The entire “Manual for Student Run Food Cooperatives” can be found on

Berkeley Student Food Collective sells more affordable groceries for students on a budget. (Megan Svoboda)
Berkeley Student Food Collective sells more affordable groceries for students on a budget. (Megan Svoboda)