As a board member, we have many excellent resources for learning more about serving and engaging ourselves as member owners in the Cooperative Grocery industry. Each year, the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives hosts an educational conference for the Consumer Cooperative Management Association (CCMA). I recently had the pleasure of attending this terrific learning experience along with General Manager LeAnna Nieratko and Operations Manager Chad Seblink. This year’s conference was held in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a unique experience as the greater metropolitan area of the Twin Cities (Minneapolis/St. Paul) boasts more than 13 cooperative grocery stores. Cooperative grocery is so prevalent that it really feels like the 7 Cooperative Principles (see below) are ingrained in the community consciousness and manifest in neighborhood and municipal projects. Like many other cities striving to adjust to a post-industrial marketplace, Minneapolis is embracing cooperative ethics and principles to build a thriving community recently voted the most bike-able city in the nation. The current downtown construction and building restoration made traffic during the conference wonky, but provided an interesting backdrop to advocate for investment in current infrastructure, and certainly an excellent example in which to host the 2017 CCMA Conference.
During the conference, I got to choose from a number of interesting keynote speeches, workshops, and presentations pertinent to the current issues facing us at the Whole Foods Co-op in Erie. Sessions included such topics as “Strengthening Member-Owner Participation through Board Communication”; “Beyond In-Store Tabling: Best Practices and Brainstorming for Better Board Engagement”; “Together We Grow: Member Loan Campaign Builds Community & Success”; “Building a Strong Board: Explore Practices for Board Perpetuation, Including Recruiting, Qualifying, Electing, and Orienting New Directors” and several more. If this sounds boring, I promise it wasn’t! The sessions were set up with interactive exercises, audience participation and discussion, lots of question and answer opportunities, and humorous, good-natured presenters. One of the best things about being in the Co-op community is the people. Being surrounded by real, honest, self-aware, engaged, smart people who are emotionally and intellectually invested in their co-ops and their communities and truly care about the health and welfare of their organizations and the people they serve is both inspiring and energizing.
Keynotes and major presentations included topics of diversity, inclusion, and a fascinating look at indigenous foods of the northern Americas by the Sioux Chef, Sean Sherman. We also had the pleasure of lunching on fare from the Sioux Chef Catering, which boasts “We prioritize ingredients from indigenous vendors in our area, and we make everything from scratch. We are naturally gluten, dairy, soy, processed sugar, beef, pork, and chicken free!” It was a gorgeous 3-course meal that included cornmeal encrusted trout garnished with dried butternut squash and native flavors like amaranth, toasted sage, and cranberries infused even into a low-sugar dessert. The densely packed and educational schedule of the conference concluded with a reception at the Mill City Museum, a historical landmark and local history center, which presented another fabulously catered meal (Dungeness Crab Avocado Salad? Key lime pie shooters? YES PLEASE!) and yet another opportunity to network with the employees and board members of Co-ops across the country. These networking sessions and connecting with other Co-ops provided some of the best information about what’s actually working in the world of retail grocery.
Does this sound fun yet? It WAS. Does this sound like something in which you would like to participate? Are you ready to learn more about your Co-op and how the 7 Cooperative Principles can help our community? Do you have a few hours each month to devote to reading, learning, and attending meetings? Being a Director on the Board of the Whole Foods Cooperative Erie may be right for you! We are currently looking for people with interest and passion in serving their community. Previous experience with retail grocery, finance, commercial real estate, commercial buying and sales, accounting, or any kind of professional Cooperative organization a PLUS but not required. If you’d like to attend meetings, trainings, retreats, and generally learn more about what makes our Co-op tick and feel you have the time and interest to devote, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn about the upcoming election for new Board Members and all the requirements.
We look forward to meeting you!