Community Alternative Co-op: Early History
Written by Pat Murphy; a long-term active member of our co-op
Put most simply, Community Alternatives Co-op grew out of several movements in the early 70’s and the convictions and drive of two exceptional men.
The movement included:
Creative approaches to housing. Habitat was a key happening then.
The examination of the traditional family. Many were looking for options to living isolated in suburbia.
The growth of cooperatives, not just to provide housing but for all sorts of endeavors, from grocery stores to banks.
City-dwellers becoming interested in where their food came from and an increasing concern for food-growing lands.
A new concern for social justice, with a growing awareness of inequalities in meeting basic needs.
All of these factors came together in the minds and ambitions of two men; John Olsen and John McBride, educators, communicators and planners, they were socially concerned and rarin’ to go.
John Olsen first used the name Community Alternative in 1972. By the end of 1975, three organizations had been incorporated: Community Alternatives Society, Community Alternatives Cooperative, and Frazer Common Farm Cooperative. The society initiated and developed the two co-ops, before they had actually selected the places for them. The farm was bought in the summer of 1977, and people moved into the co-op on West 2nd in July of 1979.
Community Alternative met at first in people’s homes, then in borrowed office space and finally in their own rented office on West 7th. Many people came and went, worked through meeting after meeting, organized and took part in all kinds of events, fought through principles, structures and processes.
Some lasted through the years and others left after contributing time and effort.
Some individuals wrote that they admired what Community Alternatives was attempting but couldn’t work it into their lives. Others opposed the tone and intensity of the proceedings or the style of leadership. But in the end a strong varied group of people came out of this sustained endeavor (seven years!) and moved into the big house on West 2nd Avenue.
They were mostly middle-aged, professional individuals looking for a new way of sharing life. But there were also the necessary young students and concerned activists. Families, single parents, and just plain single people set up homes together.
We had 44 rooms and tried to fill them all. Hardly anybody on the outside thought we would last.
Community Alternatives is an organic process. It changes and develops. Its intention is not to preserve an ideal formed in the 1970’s, but to come to consensus around current needs and enthusiasms.
Several long time members are still here, especially on the Farm (another story in itself). We do find meaning in our beginnings and learn from them.