Co-op Quilt

You may have noticed that we have a large quilt hanging up in the store on the north wall. This quilt is part of a long-standing tradition starting more than 15 years ago. These quilts are made by volunteers and auctioned off to support the Howard Bowers fund. They travel around the country to raise awareness about Co-ops. You can read more about the original quilt below.

Background on the Bower’s Quilt

Courtesy of the NCBA

 The original Bowers Quilt, and the subsequent quilts that followed, were created to be auctioned off at the annual CCMA conference to raise money for the Howard Bowers Fund. Co-ops that win a quilt auction have the privilege of displaying that quilt throughout the year until the next CCMA, where it is returned to be re-auctioned. There are now a total of five quilts in circulation, and since the first quilt was made in 1999, the quilts have raised at total of $250,672 (through June 2015).

The Howard Bowers Fund for Consumer Cooperatives was established by the Hyde Park Consumer Society in memory of its long-time General Manager, Howard Bowers.  The fund’s purposes are to promote and develop consumer-owned food cooperatives and consumer cooperative education, to encourage and train people to pursue careers in the management of consumer-owned food cooperatives, and to provide education programs for staff, board, and managers of consumer cooperatives.  The fund is managed by the Cooperative Development Foundation and has an advisory board made up of food and consumer co-op leaders who advise CDF staff on the fund’s purposes, activities, fundraising, and grants.

Below is an article describing the creation of the original Bowers quilt.

Co-op Quilt:  Our Movement's Living History

by Patricia Cumbie

Ann Hoyt never envisioned that the stash of co-op t-shirts languishing in her dresser drawer had the potential to raise thousands of dollars, or be a catalyst for cooperation around the country.  As a director of the Urban Cooperative Initiative in Madison, WI she'd acquired quite a few of them on her travels around the country.

In the spring of 1997 Hoyt was searching for something to auction as a co-op education fundraiser.  The Howard Bowers Fund had been in existence for 5 years and her fundraising methods were getting "tired" Hoyt explained.  Someone suggested she make a quilt out of all the co-op t-shirts she'd gathered over the years, and auction that at the annual Consumer Co-op Managers Conference (CCMA).

"I didn't have time to sew, and I lack design sense," said Hoyt.  Undaunted, she enlisted the help of a few women she knew.  Anne Hopkins, a quilter who is manager of Good Food Co-op in Lexington, KY flew in to Madison, where Hoyt lives, to sew the quilt.  The quilt's designer is Anya Firszt, general manager of Willy St. Co-op in Madison.  The three of them spent four days sewing and putting it together.

"It was a wonderful experience.  We laughed, told co-op stories.  My husband fed us and a few friends stopped by to help," said Hoyt.  However, they did not totally complete the quilt those four days.  Keiko Sakuma-Neubauer from Kokua Country Foods Co-op in Honolulu hemmed the binding, finishing the quilt the night before the first auction in 1999.

Naturally, this quilt bearing the t-shirt logos of 54 co-ops caused a sensation the night it was unveiled.  From the reaction of the crowd, the quilt's creators knew they had a piece of living history that had to be shared.  "We knew this would be a nice thing to share, not kept in some stale lobby somewhere," said Anya Firszt. Auctioning the quilt for the privilege of displaying it, has given rise to the quilt traveling the country, shown at a number of food co-ops along the way.

"When I watch people look at the quilt, they look carefully to see what is in it, what they remember about co-ops.  I have stories for each of those t-shirts," Hoyt said.  One particular square on that quilt came about as a suggestion from Hoyt.  She had visited the Brattleboro Food Co-op in Vermont and saw a huge mobile of origami Peace Cranes they had erected one year.  "I was astounded, it was beautiful, marvelous," Hoyt said.  She suggested they make a t-shirt to commemorate the art.  They did, and it's on the quilt in the lower right-hand corner.

The quilt also has its own ironic legend.  "I've had so many people ask me, 'Anya, how could you work on the quilt and not even have your own store in it?" said Firszt.  Willy St. Co-op was not left out for long though, as two more "co-op quilts" were added to the auction and co-op circuit when Davis Food Co-op made one and then Hyde Park Co-op made a quilt in honor of the 70th Anniversary of their beginning in 1932. 

In four years, the quilts have raised a total of nearly $38,000 for the Howard Bowers Fund, a co-op education endowment. They have also become an object of pride within the new-wave cooperative movement.

The Howard Bowers Fund was established by the Hyde Park Cooperative Society in 1991 to honor the commitment and achievements of Howard Bowers, their late general manager.  Howard Bowers dedicated his life to the consumer cooperative movement.  In his five-decade career, he worked for cooperatives throughout the Midwest, including the Chippewa Indian Consumers Co-op in South Dakota, the West Bank Co-op in Minnesota, and the Eau Clair Consumer Cooperative in Wisconsin.  In 1983 he began work as General Manager of Hyde Park during a time of fiscal difficulty.  During his tenure Hyde Park was profitable, built up a large reserve, and gave substantial patronage refunds to its members. 

 Mr. Bowers also served on the board of the Cooperative Development Foundation and the National Cooperative Business Association.  He was in great part responsible for the revival of the Cooperative Management Association, which he helped build into the organization for all consumer-owned food cooperatives.