A Consolidated History of the IV Food Co-op

In February of 1970, the Isla Vista branch of the Bank of America was burned to the ground. This action followed a series of protests at UCSB that underscored the overwhelming discontent of many students regarding bureaucratic and unilateral decisions made by the administration at the University, and ultimately created an alarming sense of disempowerment among some of the student population. The protests and sit-ins that were organized as a response to the issues at hand were discounted amongst the University’s administration, and rather than being met with respect and dignity, the protesters were met with police officers and tear gas. Disenchantment and futility were thusly reinterpreted into violence and rioting, and Isla Vista became the location for the war. The Bank of America became a symbol for a population disillusioned by the overarching capitalism and corporatism that seeped into all avenues of existence between the University and the United States of America. And they burned it down. The riots that engulfed Isla Vista into an anarchistic frenzy over the following months saw the streets of the seaside town tainted with the blood of violence and murder, and the death of a community that once was a beacon of hope for the dawning of an Age of Aquarius.

And then there was rebirth.

As leaves fell from the trees in the Autumn of 1970, community members and student activists began to reclaim the streets of Isla Vista. And somewhere, a group of people decided that the best “F-U” they could give the corporate system was by never buying their food from “the man” again. And thus, the Whole Wheat Buying Club was born.

Isla Vista was divided into 6 cells of operation, broken down geographically by the streets in the town. Every cell had an organizer, who was charged with distributing order guides to each household involved. To become involved, a household merely had to contribute $5.00 in “equity” to the Buying Club (collateral for supplies and storage), and stay on top of submitting and receiving their order. At the height of the Whole Wheat Buying Club, over 450 households were meeting in Anis q’Oyo Park every Saturday, staggered by the location of their cell, receiving and breaking down 50lb wheels of cheese, hundreds of pounds of potatoes, loaves of bread, all necessary foodstuffs to get their families and friends through another week of living outside the confine of the corporate food chain.

And then, in an ironic turn of events, a local student activist decided that he wanted to start a storefront food co-op in Isla Vista, as an independent study project in the UCSB Sociology Department. Many of the original organizers of the Buying Club found appeasement with the thought of a fully operational store, where people could shop at their leisure rather than in a confined and appointed time, while still supporting a community-owned and operated non-for-profit anti-corporate venture. After capturing a $13,000 loan from the Legislative Directors of the Associated Students at UCSB, the project was deemed successful, and in January of 1972, the Isla Vista Füd Co-op was open for business.

The supporters of the cellular, guerilla-style of food distribution that the Buying Club appealed to were less inclined to favor the more permanent setup that a fully operational storefront co-op provided, and ran the Buying Club for a while after the Füd Co-op was open for business. Once the success of the Co-op became apparent, and most households had switched their equity into the storefront shop, organizers ultimately decided to dissolve the Buyer’s Club so that more energy could be placed in the day-to-day operations of the Co-op.

36 years later, the IV Food Co-op is one of the last remaining community resources created in the aftermath of the riots of the 1970’s. While the operations within the store have changed as the business has grown, the Co-op remains dedicated to the perseverance of a different way to buy groceries and produce, where the customer is the owner, and will always have a much larger voice than merely the amount of money in their bank account. Whether it’s the Produce Manager receiving a delivery from one of the thirty local farmers the Co-op supports, or community artists organizing shows to be played on the Co-op patio, or even a place where KCSB will take priority over commercial radio any day, there’s something to be said for the little funky Food Co-op that most thought would fade away as the hippies grew up and moved away.

There’s something to be said for what can happen when you decide to start a locally owned and community grown revolution.