Maryland Food Collective

Maryland Food Collective, popularly known as The Co-op, was a worker-owned collective at the University of Maryland.[2][4] The organization was founded in 1975 under a cooperative business structure with the goal of providing nutritious food.[1] It operated under the motto, "Food for people, not for profit".[2]

Maryland Food Collective
IndustryFood service
FoundedCollege Park, Maryland, U.S. (August 1975 (1975-08))[1]
FounderMatt Mayer[1]
Number of locations
Area served
University of Maryland
ProductsSandwiches, Vegan food, Vegetarian food, Gluten-free food, Organic food, Local food
ServicesCatering, Take-out[2]
Number of employees
17 worker-owners, many more volunteers[1][3]

The student business was recognized as historically significant by the Smithsonian,[5] with two of its posters currently being showcased in the National Museum of American History's Voting With Your Fork exhibit[6] about alternative food systems, such as co-ops, that Americans have used as political tools to promote social, economic, environmental, and food justice.[7]


In the early 1970s, the University of Maryland failed in its attempts to create a food co-op, a book co-op, and a music co-op. However, a group of students did not give up. The began a "guerrilla sandwich line" campaign in which they sold sandwiches made at home at events, gatherings, and out of baskets around the campus. They were met with resistance from the local police but received overwhelming support from the student body. In August 1975, Matt Mayer, a student at the University of Maryland, College Park, submitted a proposal to the Student Government Association (SGA) for the formation of the Maryland Food Collective.[1][3] The "sandwich line" remains to this day a staple of the food options offered to customers.[2]

Although started as a movement against the university's administration, the food collective was featured on tours of the university and there exists a running archive of ledgers, advertisements and other documents from the collective in Hornbake Library.

In May 2019, the food collective closed after attempting to negotiate with the Adele H. Stamp Student Union to pay off debts amounting to $40,000.[8]

Cooperative business structureEdit

According to a draft of the business plan of the collective:

The Co-op's current management and worker organization is based on an equal-pay, equal-responsibility and equal-role system. Every worker is hired into the same position and immediately given the same amount of responsibility and power. Each worker has equal democratic decision-making power and is expected to contribute equally to The Co-op. All workers are theoretically responsible for every aspect of the store.[4]

Sustainable practicesEdit

The Maryland Food Collective engaged in environmentally sustainable business practices.[9] The Co-op used biodegradable plates and bowls and provided a 10% discount to customers who brought their own cutlery and containers. Additionally, the collective made use of Stamp's composting dumpster and composted much of their food waste.[10]


Local and organicEdit

Part grocery store, The Co-op featured a selection of locally produced and organic fruits and vegetables. These same ingredients were used in the making of the food served in the small cafe and sandwich shop. Although these were available in a much wider variety at the front of the store, the collective decided to remove their storefront vegetable shelves (along with much of their grocery section) around 2012. However, fruits were still available by the registers and customers could ask a worker to retrieve any specific vegetables from their kitchen's walk-in refrigerator.[1][11]

Vegan and vegetarianEdit

The Co-op offered a wide assortment of vegan and vegetarian-friendly food options,[12] with the sandwich line featuring over 50 different ingredients.[11] It also featured a vegan daily hot special.[1] The store sold vegan sides, snacks and desserts, with meals averaging $5 to $7.[11]

Customer serviceEdit

In 2007, The Co-op instituted an anti-discrimination policy for serving students after several cashiers refused to ring up the purchases of students wearing t-shirts expressing religious or political beliefs. The new policy "respects the right of an individual worker or volunteer to remove themselves from the work environment and to choose not to act as an agent of the store", while it also "guarantees the right of any customer in the store to be served by a representative of the store, unless the customer is acting in a verbally, physically, or sexually threatening manner".[13]

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Maryland Food Collective Archives". Special Collections. University of Maryland Libraries. hdl:1903.1/1631.
  2. ^ a b c d "About". Maryland Food Collective. Archived from the original on 13 January 2017. Retrieved 12 February 2013.
  3. ^ a b Diamondback Editorial Board (5 April 2012). "Staff editorial: A co-operative effort". The Diamondback. Retrieved 25 February 2013.
  4. ^ a b "Maryland Food Collective Business Plan, Draft 1" (PDF). CoFED. Retrieved 25 February 2013.
  5. ^ Dubb, Steve (2019-05-06). "A 43-Year-Old University of Maryland Food Co-op Struggles for Survival". Nonprofit Quarterly. Retrieved 2020-07-15.
  6. ^ "Maryland Food Co-Op 10th Anniversary Poster". National Museum of American History. Retrieved 2020-07-15.
  7. ^ "Voting With Your Fork". National Museum of American History. 2013-08-16. Retrieved 2020-07-15.
  8. ^ Subin, Samantha. "Despite the best efforts of its workers, the Maryland Food Co-op is closed". The Diamondback. The Diamondback. Retrieved 16 April 2020.
  9. ^ "Success Story: Food Co-op – University of Maryland". Energy Star. Archived from the original on 8 March 2013. Retrieved 25 February 2013.
  10. ^ List, Madeleine (13 February 2013). "Stamp Student Union food court vendors lag in recyclable, compostable containers". The Diamondback. Retrieved 25 February 2013.
  11. ^ a b c Evans, Andrew (2004). VegOut vegetarian guide to Washington, D.C. (1st ed.). Salt Lake City: Gibbs Smith. p. 126. ISBN 1-58685-471-2.
  12. ^ Diffendal, Theresa (2019-06-11). "Workers want to save the UMD Co-op before it closes in May - The Diamondback". Retrieved 2020-07-15.
  13. ^ Fingerhut, Eric (16 May 2007). "Maryland food co-op policy respectful or insulting?Views differ as collective issues statement, university may take action". Washington Jewish Week. Archived from the original on 12 April 2013. Retrieved 13 March 2013.