I live in a community where it’s common to run your own business or work for someone who does. We are artists, builders, growers, and makers with small companies that typically cannot afford to offer health insurance or 401Ks.
My personal story involves years of working part time for a gardening company owned by my friend Aja Hudson while simultaneously pursuing other interests and job options; I worked in wilderness education & farming, attended graduate school, and started my own herbal apothecary business. I loved the gardening work: being outside, installing gorgeous environments, and especially working with plants. But I did not consider it more than a temporary gig. There’s not much money in doing physical labor for someone else and I didn’t envision owning my own gardening company. I was seeking work that was meaningful and challenging, provided opportunity for financial growth, and connected me to a larger cause.
Aja, the owner of Earth Designs, dreamed about changing the structure of her business to relieve some of the pressure and time commitment for herself. She wanted to find more motivation for employees to remain with the company. A friend from graduate school connected us with CDI and Aja, myself, and four other Earth Designs employees began the transition work to a cooperative model. We worked over the course of a year to learn cooperative structure and governance, writing our bylaws under the guidance of CDI’s Director of Business Ownership Solutions, Rob Brown. We officially formed Earth Designs Cooperative in March 2016.
What followed was an incredible year of transformation. Becoming a worker cooperative brought new job responsibilities as we restructured the business to support and encourage growth. We connected with the pride that comes with ownership, the sense of shared responsibility, and the growth that follows the challenges of democratic decision making.
In autumn of 2016, I was invited to serve on the board of CDI. This opportunity expanded my understanding of cooperatives beyond the inner workings of Earth Designs. I began to see it as an element of cultural, social, and economic change—a viable business model for creating companies that are sustainable for both the worker-owners and the communities they serve. Worker cooperatives offer the individual employee financial security and a voice in the future of the company, while promoting a culture of sharing and collaboration.
I’m incredibly pleased to be engaged in this work and proud to be part of this movement. Please join us!
–Erin Domagal, Worker-Owner at Earth Designs and CDI Board Member