Melissa Ilana Cohen has spent the past 11 years of her life dedicated to food activism from the ground-level of a small food co-op in the college town of Isla Vista, CA. Her inspirational lectures around food justice, regenerative business, and participatory activism have become a mainstay at UC Santa Barbara and around the wider community.
Melissa’s project management work at the Burning Man and Lucidity Festivals have facilitated the incorporation of mechanisms that integrate cooperative organizational structures and sustainable food access solutions into highly participatory temporary and transformative environments.
Melissa is currently the General Manager of the Isla Vista Food Co-op, a 47-year old community-owned grocery store that serves a very diverse and mostly low-income neighborhood adjacent to UC Santa Barbara. 2018 saw about 9% of total store sales come from food stamps, about $300,000. The Co-op also co-envisioned and piloted UCSB’s first grocery voucher program for high-risk-hunger student communities ineligible for food stamps, steering $15,000 from state funds into grocery vouchers.
Her unique position in the dynamic community of Isla Vista has afforded opportunities to create lasting and productive bridges between areas of the community, university, affiliated organizations, and the food co-op, to help foster integrative and resource regenerative solutions for community food security.
Melissa loves creating meaningful and mutually beneficial partnerships between unlikely allies in order to achieve a greater good of practical resource sharing, values-based coalition building, and change-making community engagement.