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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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2019 Election Results

The election results are in! Wheatsville has two new Directors and two returning incumbent Directors. We’ve also chosen eleven 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: Melissa Sledge, Megan McDonald, Rose Marie Klee, and Brandon Hines. New board members will be seated at the January board meeting, Tuesday, January 29 at 3101 Guadalupe.

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 Cooperatives 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 to participate in this important way.

897 owners voted this year. There are now over 23,000 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!


Local Vendor Spotlight: Matr Boomie

What is your origin story? Who started the business and why?

In 2006, Manish Gupta embarked on a journey to create opportunities for marginalized artisans in India to realize their creative, economic, and leadership potential. Through grassroots efforts with a team in India, he and his wife, Ruchi, found master artisans and created workshops to transform unskilled men and women into skilled artisans. We gathered a team in Austin, Texas to create modern product designs inspired from traditional Indian art forms. Today, the little company launched in our Austin apartment is a leading wholesale and retail company in the ethical, sustainable, fair trade market. In 2018, Matr Boomie was awarded the People & Planet Award from Green America. This award is given to small businesses who show dedication to a green economy and worker empowerment.

What makes your products unique? Why should someone buy them?

Matr Boomie makes products that beautifully pair modern design with handmade art forms. We have a design team in Austin that creates and selects designs that are relevant for the market. The designs are then handcrafted by artisans in rural India using traditional art forms that have been passed down through generations. We prefer to work with marginalized groups like women, minorities, and rural artisans so they can have fair access to trade opportunities and fair wages.

Are your products fair trade?

Our products are all fair trade. Many of our products are made from sustainable and responsibly-sourced resources, and several of our products are made from recycled or upcycled material such as cotton, sari, or metal. As part of our mission to create a world that’s more compassionate, kind and connected, Matr Boomie goes beyond fair wages. We also invest in development projects, healthcare, education, skills training, loan programs, and scholarships for women, minorities, and people with special needs. 
Purchases of Matr Boomie’s exclusive products sustain jobs for people throughout India who have been handcrafting artisanal goods for generations. We partner with women’s groups, minorities, people with special needs, urban slums and isolated rural communities to empower artisans through dignified, sustainable employment. Above all, we value:

  • Safe work conditions
  • Education
  • The confidence and well-being of our artisan partners
  • No child labor

What are your most popular products and why?

  1. Jewelry – handmade, unique, India-inspired styles that are affordable, lightweight, and colorful
  2. Bells – handcrafted bells made from recycled tin that are hand-tuned and have a distinct sound that is unlike most bells
  3. Puzzle Boxes – handcarved wood boxes in fun designs that are a puzzle and a small storage space in one

Do you have a special tagline or slogan?

Made by hand. Made with love. Made for good.

How many staff members do you have?

28 – 14 in Austin; 14 in India

Where are your items sold?

Matr Boomie products are sold in fair trade and boutique stores nationwide as well as in several popular online stores, museums, and zoos.

FaceBook @MatrBoomie — Followers: 3,536
Twitter @MatrBoomie — Followers: 4,037
Instagram @MatrBoomie — Followers: 1,977


Specialty 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: Deer Creek the Fawn Mellow Cheddar!

This slightly sweet and mild traditional Cheddar is handcrafted from wholesome rBST-free milk from , Sheboygan Wisconsin. The Fawn has a sweet nuttiness, yet is full and complex with a rich lingering finish! This delicious cheese has won many awards including the International Cheese Awards 2017 Gold Winner for Best USA Mature Cheddar. Pair with Chardonnay, Rose, or a nice porter beer. Perfect for a holiday cheese tray!

Vegan Cheese: Miyoko’s Double Cream Garlic Herb Vegan Cheese Wheel

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 just like dairy cheese. This vegan cheese wheel is creamy and savory with a buttery richness that makes it perfect on crackers or melted in your favorite holiday dishes. Put in you thanksgiving mashed potatoes for next level flavor!


Fair Trade - Give the Gift that Gives Twice

If thinking globally and shopping locally is kinda your thing then consider picking up a Fair Trade gift or few at Wheatsville this holiday season. When you choose Fair Trade you are giving more than just a gift- by choosing FAIR TRADE products you are supporting businesses that encourage democratic decision-making, transparency, gender equity, and independence all over the world. It’s also a way to give gifts guilt-free; the knit hat you buy might warm a head but it will also warm your heart knowing that your purchase supports a mission to end injustice in the world. This holiday season you can be twice as nice by choosing any or all of these awesome brands we’re proud to partner with. Here’s a few:


Classic Latkes for Hanukkah

Hanukkah is a commemoration of the revolt of the Maccabees, during which the oil that the soldiers used to light their reclaimed temple lasted for eight days, though it should only have burned for one. Thus, it is traditional to eat oil-fried foods during the Hanukkah season. One of the most beloved are potato latkes. These savory pancakes were originally made with ricotta cheese—it wasn’t until potatoes were widely planted in Eastern and Central Europe during the 1500s that latkes evolved to the crispy potato cakes that are now so beloved!

Latkes taste their very best when made fresh and eaten immediately, but you can make them ahead and freeze them for up to two weeks. Slightly underfry the latkes, then cool and freeze in a single layer (once frozen, they can be put into freezer bags or wrapped in foil). Reheat them in a 375°F oven for about 15 to 20 minutes, flipping once. Sour cream and applesauce are traditional accompaniments. This recipe is easily double or even quadrupled if you are cooking for a crowd.

Classic Potato Latkes

Makes about 3 dozen
Adapted from the New York Times

1 pound russet potatoes, scrubbed
1 large onion
2 large eggs
½ cup matzo meal or flour
2 tsp. coarse kosher salt,
plus additional fine salt for sprinkling
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Neutral oil such as canola or safflower for frying

Using a coarse shredding disk on a food processor or the largest holes on a box grater, grate potatoes and onions. Transfer mixture to a clean kitchen towel and squeeze and wring out as much moisture as possible, or you can use a salad spinner. Quickly transfer potato onion mixture to a large bowl and mix in eggs, matzo meal, and salt and pepper.

Heat a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat and add about ¼ inch of oil. The oil is hot enough when a drop of batter sizzles immediately when dropped into the pan. Working in batches, drop batter by heaping tablespoons into the oil, then use a spatula to flatten and shape the batter into discs. Don’t crowd the latkes too much or the oil temperature will drop, making them greasy. When the edges of the latkes look brown and crispy (about 5 minutes), flip them and cook for another 5 minutes. Transfer the latkes to a tray covered with paper towels or brown paper bags to drain; sprinkle lightly with salt. Repeat with remaining batter.

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