Melissa Cohen

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.

Workshops & Presentations

  • A Cooperative Approach for Mobilizing Communities

    60 min | Altar of Earth

    Addressing solutions for food security isn't just about providing access to healthy foods... for us it's about healthy populations, economic class, labor rights, immigration, climate justice, housing, gendered violence, ableism, queer liberation, racial justice, and much more. The Cooperative Movement is a local, national, and hugely international movement that is bridging the complex gap between diverse communities of workers, consumers, producers, and their own self-determination through economic democracy. The Isla Vista Food Co-op is an incubator grocery store. We are a strong example of a cooperative space that helps fill and fuel a socio-political gap through the intentional strategic priorities that steer our work in the community, in our case using the grocery cart as the vehicle for social change. This discussion will offer a perspective on what an accessible, inclusive, integrative and equitable food system can look like, and how every day decisions can feed the future, seed the next generation, and mobilize contributions to a healthier local community and beyond.

  • Visionary Panel: Spirituality and Regenerative Economics

    120 min | Altar of Spirit

    Many of those who pursue their spirituality find themselves restricted by social superstructures that demand cash flow. In what ways can we move beyond this limitation to pursue our passions and inner calling while still attaining fiscal abundance? How can we cultivate adaptive systems that will better allow us to integrate into mainstream society, even as business owners, and transform our culture from within? What is the role of technology in this? How can we leverage it to build a cooperative and flourishing culture for all, while still generating personal revenue? How can millennials, in particular, find ways to bridge the spiritual and economic divide and create a future that is both transformational and offers financial security?