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Bike cooperative hauls trash in Norway

From Spoke Folks

NORWAY – Spoke Folks Cooperative Inc., a worker-owned cargo bike cooperative business, has fully launched to haul trash, recycling, and compost via bike & trailer in Norway and South Paris.

Founding member Jessica Cooper said, “Our mission is to offer a people and bike-powered alternative to gas-powered pickup/hauling services and to help communities reimagine their approach to the waste system.”

Spoke Folks is a project of the Center for an Ecology-based Economy(CEBE), a Norway non-profit founded to engage the community in addressing the climate emergency.

Worker-owned Spoke Folks, a cargo bike cooperative business, has fully launched to haul trash, recycling, and compost via bike & trailer in Norway and South Paris. (Photo courtesy of Spoke Folks)

CEBE and Spoke Folks established the worker-owned business with essential resources and training provided by The Cooperative Development Institute’s Rebuilding the Rural Economy Training Program funded by the USDA. CDI is a New England based non-profit with a mission to build a cooperative economy. 

Scott Vlaun, Executive Director of CEBE, was originally inspired to begin a cargo-bike project after hearing about Pedal People; a successful cargo bike co-op in Northampton, MA. He turned the idea into a working project through a CDI training designed for rural communities, and was joined by founding members Cooper, a young mother and climate activist, and Justin Bondesen, a local composting and outdoor enthusiast, in the winter of 2019. 

“I’ve always been passionate about the bicycle, a nearly perfect machine that represents independence and freedom, Vlaun said. “I’ve used them to commute to work, for cross continental travel and for hauling produce from my farm. When I learned about the Pedal People cooperative I realized that bikes could play a bigger role in an ecology-based economy. CDI helped us take this realization to a viable business model that will provide good jobs in a democratic workplace while helping to tackle the climate crisis, reduce waste and pollution, and increase the quality of life in our downtown.”

Cooper said Spoke Folks began as a side project for her – one that would allow her to work outside and learn more about bikes and community waste systems. “It quickly became a large part of the reason that I made a full move to live in Norway and immerse myself in the community here. Learning how to build a cooperative has been some of the most rewarding work I’ve done, especially knowing that our mission is aligned with my personal values when it comes to climate action and sustainability.”

Early in the spring and through the summer of 2020, Spoke Folks changed an initial focus on waste hauling to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in our community. The group began delivering food via bicycles from local food banks to at-risk residents in the community. With grant funding provided by the Onion Foundation, they were able to provide meal delivery free of charge for local restaurants.

A Spoke Folks member-owner pulls a trailer loaded with trash and recyclables behind his bike through downtown Norway last fall. (Photo courtesy of Spoke Folks)

In October of 2020, Spoke Folks officially began hauling trash, recycling, and compost for customers. They also offer general hauling services for a flat rate of $25/hour, delivery services from the local food co-op, and meal deliveries from a local farm fresh meal program, Foothills Foodworks. Prices for service are in the same range as other trash hauling companies in the area, making Spoke Folks a competitive service with an environmental benefit. 

 Kim Hamlin of Fiber & Vine said, “I wanted to go with Spoke Folks mostly because they are a community-minded, Main Street business like me! I love that they are worker owned, value driven and that my trash pick up won’t be burning fossil fuels unnecessarily. They are affordable, convenient, and quiet. Also, it may sound like a minor detail, but their recycling bins are aesthetically pleasing and compact, so they work quite well in my retail space!”

 Lu Brown, a Casco native and avid biker, joined Spoke Folks as a steering committee member in the summer of 2020 and quickly became an enthusiastic worker-owner and a main rider. 

The four member-owners seek to reimagine waste management in their community, and with the launch of Spoke Folks, provide the community with the option to choose an environmentally friendly pickup service, while offering education on compost, recycling, and cooperatives. 

Spoke Folks is currently the only hauling service of its kind in Maine.

With the success in Norway, the worker-owners hope to replicate their cooperative bike-powered model in other towns and cities throughout Maine where Spoke Folks can help create good jobs and provide a valuable, fossil fuel free waste management service, Cooper said.

Learn more about Spoke Folks Co-op and sign up for services at: www.spokefolks.me.

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