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Co-op History: The Night the Lights Were Lit!

The Night the Lights Were Lit!

by David J.Thompson

International Co-operative Information Centre

It was dark, damp and cold in the almost empty warehouse at 31 Toad Lane on December 21st in 1844. It was the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year; and it had been dark since 4 pm.

Today, the 21st of December is also St. Thomas's night, he who doubted the Lord. If the co-op had been formed 100 years earlier on December 21st in 1744, under the old Gregorian calendar it would have been Christmas Day. However, for the members of the newly formed Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers, the 21st of December in 1844 would not be a day of gifts or gaiety; it would be one of consternation and caution.

On that day, a small group of the Pioneers and their families watched the candles being lit to signal the opening of the store. Lanterns were hung in each of the two windows. One of the men peered outside onto the busy cobbled street. People were hurrying home from work hoping to find warmth from the winter's chill. The appointed hour to open the store was 8 pm. One by one, James Smithies took the shutters off the windows, at first hesitatingly, but by the last, proudly. With the final shutter removed, the modern co-operative movement had begun. Rochdale, England was its birthplace.

There was no cheering at that moment, only the jeering of the "doffer boys" laughing at the idea of it all. The "doffer boys" were the mischievous factory lads of the era. The shop was by their account a silly weaver's dream. Another experiment in brotherhood bound to fail. Inside the store, a few of the members gathered to give support for the first night. They filled the rooms with hope and dared only to dream of tomorrow. The store was composed of two rooms, a front room of about 400 square feet used for retail and a back room of about 700 square feet for storage and meetings.

On the almost bare counter were arranged the co-op's first items for sale: flour, oatmeal, sugar, butter and candles. The entire inventory could have been taken home in a wheelbarrow and was purchased for the equivalent of 25 dollars in those days. The board had approved the purchase of four items for sale. However, on learning that 31 Toad Lane would be rented by a co-op, the local gas company had refused to turn on the gas. As a result, the co-op added candles to its list, buying them at wholesale to either lightup the store or sell at retail.

31 Toad Lane was only a few doors away from the location of a previous co-op located at #15 Toad Lane. A number of the Pioneers had also started that co-op (1833-35) which had failed after a few years. One of the reason for the ultimate success of the Pioneers was that its members had learned from that previous failure. The three-year lease for the warehouse at #31 was $15 per year. However, the owner, Dr. Dunlap, would not rent to the co-op. One of the Pioneers, Charles Howarth, stepped forward and personally guaranteed the lease.

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2018 Board of Directors and Community Action Election Results

The election results are in! Wheatsville has two new Directors and two returning incumbent Directors. We’ve also chosen ten non-profit organizations to benefit from our Community Action program. Thanks to all of our Owners who voted and congratulations to all four of our election winners: Jason Bourgeois, Lyz Nagan, MeriJayd O'Connor, and Don Jackson.

As with any properly functioning democracy, elections are a required and critical part of the process. Most co-ops today are guided by the Seven Cooperative Principles laid out by International Co-operatives Alliance, the basic statement of which were set out by the Rochdale Pioneers in the mid-1800s. The second cooperative principle, and arguably the defining characteristic of a cooperative, is Democratic Member Control requiring cooperatives to be “democratic organizations controlled by their members—those who buy the goods or use the services of the cooperative—who actively participate in setting policies and making decisions.” For Wheatsville, this means that we depend on those Owners who are willing to give the time and energy required in order to participate in this important way.

Less than a thousand owners voted this year. There are now over 21,000 Wheatsville owners and we know we can do better! Remember, as an owner, you have a voice and every year we need to hear from you when it’s time to choose the owners you want to lead Wheatsville!

2018 Wheatsville Election Results 
BOARD OF DIRECTORS  (top 4 in blue have been elected)

Jason Bourgeois


elected for 3 year term

Lyz Nagan


elected for 3 year term

MeriJade O'Connor


elected for 3 year term

Don Jackson


elected for 3 year term
Brian Mikulencak 404 not elected
Brandon Hines 323 not elected

COMMUNITY ACTION ( the top 10 in blue have been selected)



People's Community Clinic


Meals on Wheels Central Texas


Central Texas Food Bank


Hospice Austin


Urban Roots


Austin Pets Alive!


Workers Defense Project


Sustainable Food Center


Caritas of Austin


Ecology Action 415
Save Our Springs 401
Farmshare 350
Austin Clubhouse 324
Farm 1-1 251
Colorado River Alliance 212
Austin Cooperative Business Association 195
We Viva 185

*Honey Bee Protection Agency received 577 votes, but did not meet the requirements for Community Action Groups. Caritas, the next group with the most votes will therefore be included in the 2018 Community Action Calendar schedule.

Votes received by:   
   mail 15
   email 328
   in-store 563 (Guadalupe 169, S. Lamar 394)
   Total Valid Ballots 813
   invalid ballots 9


Sweet Potato and Parsnip Latkes

Total Time: 30-40 minutes        

Servings: 12 (12 latkes)

This tasty latke variation can be enjoyed with applesauce, chipotle sour cream, horseradish sauce, smoked fish and more!


2 cups shredded sweet potatoes
1 cup shredded parsnips
3 scallions, sliced
2 eggs, beaten
1⁄3 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Vegetable oil for frying


1/2 cup light sour cream
1 cup apple, peeled and minced


Peel the sweet potato and parsnip and shred using a grater or food processor. Wrap the shredded sweet potato and parsnip in a few paper towels and squeeze to remove excess liquid.

In a large bowl, mix the sweet potato and parsnip with the scallions, eggs, flour, salt and pepper.

Heat a large iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add enough vegetable oil to cover the bottom and come up the sides at least a quarter of an inch. When the oil is hot, scoop about 1/4 cup of latke mixture into the pan and slightly flatten. Repeat until the pan is full but not crowded. Brown the latkes on each side 3-4 minutes.

Set aside on a plate lined with paper towels when done. While the latkes are cooking, stir together the sour cream and minced apple.

Serve the apple sour cream on top of the warm latkes.



Local Vendor Spotlight: Cuvée Coffee

Who started Cuvée Coffee, when and why?

Mike McKim started roasting coffee as a hobby in 1998 and immediately knew
that it was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.

What makes Cuvée Coffee different from other coffee on the market?

Cuvée Coffee pioneered the specialty coffee movement in Texas and is considered one of the best roasters in the country.

How has your business evolved?

The business has gone from a part time, garage enterprise to a coffee roastery, cold brewery and coffee bar. It has also become a place where passionate coffee people have an opportunity to build a career in the coffee industry.

Anything new being developed?

Cuvée pioneered specialty coffee in Texas, was part of the Direct Trade coffee sourcing movement and introduced the world to nitro cold brew, so it’s safe to say that the company is constantly considering what’s next.

What is your favorite thing about Wheatsville?

That you carry Cuvée Coffee, of course :)


Through diligent tasting, communication, and good old fashioned searching, Cuvée has sought out the very best in quality coffees. Beyond just the beans, we’re honored to have surrounded ourselves with grower-partners who see the same in us, and strive to be the very best.

Through open discussion, and mutually fair agreements, we ensure that the people behind our coffees are able to sustain themselves, their families, and grow their businesses. Allowing for their return year  after year, producing your favorite coffees!

With such amazing partners working alongside Cuvée, and the trust in our continued connection, growers have the confidence and assurance to improve, test, experiment, and evolve themselves to produce  unique coffees, which we proudly share unto you.


Beer, Wine & Cheese Top Five For the Holidays

Wine: La Riojana Pinot Noir Reserve

The key to pairing wine with the wide variety of foods on the holiday table is to find wines that are softer, fruity, bright and less tannic. This medium bodied Pinot Noir is packed with delicious strawberry, cherry and blueberry aromas, as well as spicy notes due to the aging in oak barrels. La Riojana has invested more than $11 million Argentinean pesos for various projects aimed at improve living conditions for its growers and workers in the Famatina Valley, a historically poor area of Argentina.

Sparkling Wine: Stellar Organics Extra Dry

Stellar Organics make some really fantastic Fair Trade wines that are certified organic and vegan friendly. This extra dry sparkling wine has grapefruit and lime on the nose. It is crisp and fresh tasting with a smooth nutty finish. Perfect for holiday gatherings as well as ringing in the New Year!

Beer: Sierra Nevada Celebration

Brewed especially for the holidays, Sierra Nevada Celebration is perfect for a festive gathering or for a cozy evening at home. Celebration is a dry-hopped, slightly strong ale that pours a beautiful rosy amber color with a nice full head. It features a big blast of Cascade, Centennial, and Chinook hops and a not-too-heavy mouthfeel. Supply is limited since this is a seasonal release so be sure to stock up while you can.

Cheese: Vermont Creamery Bonne Bouche Goat Cheese

This is a sublimely delicious aged goat cheese with a beautiful geotrichum rind that is lightly sprinkled with ash. Geotrichum is a mold/yeast that produces a distinctive wrinkled rind that looks like coral. This creamy goat cheese features layers of rich flavor and it would make an elegant addition to your Holiday Table.

Vegan Cheese: Miyoko’s Aged English Sharp Farmhouse

This vegan cheese is so good that a non vegan like me loves it! Miyoko’s is made with nuts instead of milk, but it is a real cheese that is cultured and aged just like dairy cheese. The result is a hard, aged, sharp round with complex flavors and a long finish that will continue to deepen in flavor and texture as it ages. Serve this at your holiday party for a real crowd pleaser that everyone can enjoy!


Fair Trade Gifts are Twice as Nice

What does FAIR TRADE mean?

Fair Trade certification means that the power has been put back into the hands of producers. Producers work directly with distributors to get products to market which in turn supports livable wages, families and communities.

By choosing FAIR TRADE products you are supporting businesses that encourage democratic decision-making, transparency, gender equity, and independence all over the world.

PLUS you get delicious, beautiful products that are twice as nice to give as gifts! ENJOY!

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