by Emily Chiara
Two weeks ago I headed to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to participate in this year’s Up and Coming Conference for food co-op start-ups. Hosted by the Indiana Cooperative Development Center, this conference brought together hundreds of people from co-ops across the country. Representatives came from co-ops organizing in the hearts of big cities like Chicago and Detroit, to the rural communities of Sitka, Alaska and Silverton, Oregon. There were co-ops in every phase of the start-up timeline, from those about to open their stores, to others just scheduling their first community meeting.
While each group had their own unique story of their co-operative’s successes and struggles, the feeling of collective pride, optimism, and cooperation (pardon the pun) was infectious throughout the 3-day conference. In fact, the conference mantra, “P6 Love” in reference to the 6th co-op principle of cooperation among cooperatives, was chanted throughout and felt in nearly every workshop. It was inspiring to see so many groups sharing ideas and tools of the trade, knowing that each one’s success depended on our collective efforts. Through this, I left with a plethora of new creative ideas used by others to sustain membership drives, recruit volunteers, and increase visibility in the community.
One of the biggest takeaways from the weekend was that co-ops across the country need to be able to adapt to the changing grocery industry as well as their individual community’s needs. At a time where the rise of health food and the decline of working conditions in the food industry are reaching unprecedented mainstream attention, food co-ops must strengthen efforts to be more than just grocery stores.
We need to be environmental stewards that uplift small farms and businesses that are truly rooted in sustainable growing practices. We must also be social and economic justice advocates who insist on the affordability and accessibility of healthy food and fair working conditions for all. In order to be such effective advocates, we must continue to listen to what our communities need and remain rooted in this mission.
Our 500 & Counting party (click the hyperlink to RSVP) on Sunday, April 7th marks the beginning of a new phase of membership growth. We will begin employing new methods to increase our visibility while also implementing listening circles across the greater Amherst area to ensure that we are addressing the needs and concerns of everyone in our community. But we need your help to make this a reality. I look forward to the day when the Common Share Food Co-op can be a leader to new fledgling co-ops at future Up & Coming conferences. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to learn how you can get involved and support our efforts.