Spoke Folks Cooperative Inc., a worker-owned cargo bike cooperative business, has fully launched to haul trash, recycling and compost via bike and trailer in Norway and South Paris. 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. CEBE and Spoke Folks established our 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, Massachusetts. He turned the idea into a working project through a CDI training designed for rural communities, and was joined by founding members Jessica Cooper, a young mother and climate activist, and Justin Bondesen, a local composting and outdoor enthusiast, in the winter of 2019.
Vlaun said, “I’ve always been passionate about the bicycle, a nearly perfect machine that represents independence and freedom. 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.”
“Spoke Folks began as a side project for me — one that would allow me to work outside and learn more about bikes and our waste systems,” Cooper said. “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 our initial focus on waste hauling to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in our community. We began delivering food (via bikes) from local food banks to at-risk residents in the community and with grant funding provided by the Onion Foundation, and were able to provide meal delivery free of charge for local restaurants.
In October of 2020 Spoke Folks officially began hauling trash, recycling, and compost for customers. We 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, 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!”
Spoke folks has four member-owners, three of which are founding members: Vlaun, Bondesen and Cooper. 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.
As member-owners, we seek to reimagine waste management in our community, and with the launch of Spoke Folks, provide our community with the option to choose an environmentally friendly pickup service, and offer education on compost, recycling, and cooperatives.
Spoke Folks is currently the only (known) hauling service of its kind in Maine. With our success in Norway, we have a goal to replicate our 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.
You can learn more about Spoke Folks Co-op and/or sign up for our services on our website: www.spokefolks.me. We can be reached via call or text at 207-890-9776 as well as by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and are on Facebook and Instagram: @spokefolksme.