CALL: Angela Dawson on Reclaiming Co-ops and Farming

From an 11-part series recorded at the April 16, 2022, “Celebrating Badass Minnesota Women” event

Thanks to First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis for hosting the April 16, 2022, event on behalf of the 38th anniversary of Minnesota Women’s Press and its kickoff of Changemakers Alliance.

To become a supporting member of Changemakers Alliance and its conversations-to-CALLs-to-action, click here.


My name is Angela Dawson. I am the co-founder of the 40-acre cooperative. I am a fourth-generation reclamation farmer, meaning that I am reclaiming the farming legacy of my ancestors. I say that I am fourth generation, but it would be fifth if you counted the forced labor of my great-great-grandfather.

I am here to talk about what fires me up and what we can do together — what I want you to be fired up about with me.

I am a very strong proponent of the cooperative model. I feel like the cooperative model is going to be key to us creating a new economic reality that is more human-based and that allows us to integrate our values into everyday life and make it more sustainable for everyone to cooperate.

I know that Minnesota is one of the states that has the highest number of cooperators — we have the highest number of co-ops per capita, the highest revenue-grossing cooperatives — but they are mostly all white men. So, nobody is benefiting except for them. That has to change and that is what I am fired up about.

The reason I am fired up about the cooperative model is because it can relate to any industry that you are operating in. It can be around arts, health, farming. What is ingrained in the cooperative model, and the way that we are using it specifically at 40-acre co-op, is about making all of the ecosystem work together. We are very strong on economic progress — we are talking about the new economy, the circular economy, paying for labor fairly and treating people within our agricultural system in a way that humanizes and doesn’t put capital at the forefront of our food.

The cooperative model allows us to do this kind of work. It is not only important for agriculture — it is also important for technology, it is important for utilities, it is important for the environment.

The co-op model can do a lot of things, but it can’t do some things — and the reason why it cannot do some things is because it is not the most celebrated structure that has the most federal resources, right? So what we are doing is building this stuff from the ground up.

Because we have farmers that rely on us for their sustainability, and because we have communities that rely on us to create organic food that is actually healthy for them and not poisoning them is the reason why the co-op model needs to have more infrastructure and support. We have had some challenges in developing the co-op because of [lack of] resources.

We have spun off a nonprofit and a policy-making arm of the cooperative. It hasn’t been formally announced yet, but Great Rise is an effort of the 40-acre co-op, along with some of our other supporters to really call Minnesota to rise to the occasion of healing our community from the tragedies and the traumas that we have experienced, especially around racial disparities.

With the legalization of cannabis — I am a cannabis farmer, a hemp farmer — this will be a burgeoning market. We feel like there is a lot of economic opportunity in the circular green economy. If we are having this opportunity to create a whole entire industry in the state of Minnesota, and if we don’t have people of color equitably at the table discussing how to divide these resources, then Minnesota has failed its community again. Then it will have failed to bring us the healing that would be the right thing, and the only option that we are putting on the table.

Legalization of any resources without considering equity in the question, and without thinking about different economic opportunities that we can bring to the community, is something that [we need to do.] I hope I can see you at one of our meetings and count on your support when we start talking to public officials about equity and what it means for us.

I hope we can see you in the ecosystem of the cooperative, benefitting and participating in what we create for Minnesota.