Feed Sonoma: Agricultural Cooperatives Will Help Save the World

Tim Page, co-founder of Feed Sonoma.

“Building a new world in the shell of the old.”

– IWW slogan

Co-operation will save the world, and so will co-operatives like “Feed Sonoma,” a farmer-worker owned co-op in the making said to be the first of its kind in the state of California. The California Center for Cooperative Development, which is based in Davis, has been working overtime to sell the idea of co-operatives. Tim Page, the co-founder of Feed Sonoma, calls himself “the facilitator of goodness.” He has bought into the notion of cooperation big time. A bit of a prankster as well as a fellow with bushels of business savvy, he’s performing a hell of a lot of good these days. Once a week for the past six weeks, I have purchased a $35 box with veggies and fruits from Feed Sonoma, which has been growing like crazy during the pandemic.

Like me, thousands of hungry families eager for fresh produce have signed up online for boxes filled with little gem romaine lettuce, radishes, kale, savory spinach, white turnips, spearmint, Valencia oranges and smoked salt which makes everything taste a little bit better. Customers pick up boxes at a dozen or so distribution points, from Healdsburg to the town of Sonoma and all the way to Oakland. With the arrival of summer, there will be strawberries and much more in each and every box.

During the last few weeks, sales have jumped from 90 boxes to 450 and then to 1800. The goal is 4,000. Eighty farmers participate, including Paul Wirtz who says, “Tim makes it financially feasible and leaves it up to me to decide what to grow.”

Joe Hill would join Feed Sonoma, and so would Big Bill Haywood and his brothers and sisters in the IWW.

Page, whom I have known for the past four years, wants to make the world a better place, box-by-box, by vegetable Eighty or so local farmers, from Sonoma to Petaluma and beyond are helping him, as he helps himself, along with the subscribers to FEED Sonoma, and its masked employees who fill boxes twice a week at a big (14,000 square-foot) warehouse near Penngrove. Ever since March, Page has been working 15-hour days, six days a week, and without a sales or a marketing team, though he relies on Instagram and a newsletter to inform customers. Word-of-mouth helps more than anything else.

“We’re not yet perfect,” Page tells me. “Sometimes subscribers get the wrong box and sometimes spinach gets bruised.”  “We want to feed all the people,” Page says as we sit in the shade outside the warehouse. “We don’t only want to supply elite restaurants.” Last week Solful, the Sebastopol cannabis dispensary, bought boxes for all its employees. “Sonoma is not the only beautiful place in the world with real agricultural diversity,” Page says. “There are others like it, from the Pacific Northwest to New Zealand. But Sonoma is definitely one of them. We want it to continue to be an agricultural powerhouse.”

Jonah Raskin is the author of Beat Blues, San Francisco, 1955.