In Solidarity: Community Enterprise Clinic Transforms Businesses into Cooperatives

In 2021, the Turner Family Community Enterprise Clinic completed Tennessee’s first conversion of a conventional business into a worker-owned cooperative. Since that time, cooperatives have become a growing part of Tennessee’s business landscape and the Clinic’s community engagement.

A cooperative enterprise is owned and controlled by its workers and/or consumers, rather than conventional investors. These members each have one vote in managing the cooperative. Rather than distributing its profits to shareholders, a cooperative pays its earnings back to the members in accordance with how much they worked or consumed from the cooperative that year. Because cooperatives are controlled by their stakeholders, they generally provide higher wages to workers and better deals to consumers than regular businesses.

In past semesters, the Clinic has assisted cooperatives in the fields of landscaping, translation, childcare, and computer programming. Students have also done community presentations on cooperative enterprise and assisted Nashville’s co-op incubator, the Southeast Center for Cooperative Development. In the Spring 2023 semester, the Clinic is pleased to provide legal services to a record three cooperative enterprises.

One of those clients is Grow2Learn Cooperative, a start-up hydroponic cooperative that aims to disrupt the food system and to change how Nashvillians obtain their produce. Hydroponic systems allow the cultivation of high volumes of produce without soil, eliminating the need for a traditional garden and extending the growing season year-round. Grow2Learn hopes to distribute hydroponic systems throughout Middle Tennessee, but especially schools, residential rehabilitation and transition facilities, and families without easy access to affordable produce. Founder Danny Goldberg describes hydroponic access as “a powerful tool to end food apartheid and create health equity.”

Clinic students Ellen Pasquale, JD ’23 and Thomas Boynton, JD ’23 are helping Grow2Learn implement its vision for a multi-stakeholder cooperative that will empower workers and consumers alike. They are working closely Grow2Learn on governance, tax, securities, and contractual matters, establishing a durable structure that will allow the client to thrive.

“Being a part of the Turner Family Community Clinic this semester, I have really enjoyed the opportunity to help my client, Grow2Learn, establish as a legal entity in TN, particularly given their admirable cause: fighting food insecurity across the state,” Boynton, said. “It’s rewarding to assist such a great group of community leaders, and the process has taught me how to be a stronger advocate for clients within the transactional space.”

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