Three members of your Board of Directors were privileged to attend the 56th Annual Consumer Cooperative Management Association (CCMA) meeting held in Philadelphia from June 14th to 16th. Below, we three offer our thoughts on this experience. Harriet takes the lead, providing an overview and describing one of the meaningful and fun events. Jane offers her perspective on the changes since she first attended CCMA many years ago. Tom shares his understanding of one of the important issues raised at the conference, the “Nutrition Transition.” We are all very grateful for the opportunity to attend CCMA and to serve you, the Co-op’s shareholders.
Harriet Tepfer, Jane Dewey & Tom Franks
Harriet - Roughly 400 people representing almost 100 food co-ops and related businesses came together to hear exceptional keynote speakers, share ideas, attend workshops on subjects ranging from “New Technologies in Retail” to “Servant Leadership,” and to have a great time getting to know other cooperators – board members, staff, and management from all of these great co-ops. It’s hard to overemphasize how exciting the world of food co-ops is at this time, with many new co-ops starting up (and many young people involved with these start-ups!) and the cooperative business model beginning to get the attention it deserves in this, the United Nations’ International Year of the Cooperative.
We even received a visit from Ben Franklin himself after lunch one day. Ben was one of America’s first cooperators – he and fellow firefighters founded the Philadelphia Contributionship for the Insurance of Houses of Loss by Fire. Mr. Franklin spoke about the important role co-ops have played in our country – very inspiring, given his long-range perspective! Many placards had been made the evening before, and after Ben’s speech we marched to Independence Plaza, shouting slogans all the way – “Human need, not corporate greed!” and “Prosperity for posterity,” to name a few. There we met good old Ben again where he read the “CCMA Declaration of Independence” (The Near-Unanimous Declaration of America’s Food Cooperatives), which we had all signed. (See below.)
Jane - The tone and content of the CCMA conferences has changed dramatically since the 70s and 80s. It used to be that most workshops and conversations focused on cooperative business operations, issues that included how to run a natural foods store and who should manage and how. CCMA is now about vision, collaboration, and recognizing the contributions cooperatives make around the world. What this conference made very evident is that co-ops today are leaders in food security, economic development, and employment opportunities.
CCMA 2012 provided a broad collection of workshop choices. The repeated themes that caught my attention emphasized our strengths and our responsibilities to keep the cooperative principles front and center in all our work, to continue to collaborate community wide, and to provide greater access and education about our product line and purpose. Clearly the cooperative business model provides us with a unique opportunity to serve our community and country.
Tom - Dr. Marion Nestle gave a keynote address on “Cooperatives and the Politics of Food” from her perspective of decades of engagement across the economic and political spectrum. She explained that hunger, malnutrition, food insecurity, and obesity are social and/or political problems, not technical or resource problems. She states that this country is in midst of “the Nutrition Transition,” from hunger to obesity. Every year roughly twice as many calories are produced as are needed. The producers, mostly large publicly-traded corporations, are driven by irresistible market forces to deliver shareholder value through continually increasing profits. In order to do this, they must sell more calories than we need. This is achieved through:
- The weakening of regulation, such as the elimination of restrictions on marketing to children;
- Legal action, which has resulted in the Food & Drug Administration abandoning any enforcement efforts related to health claims on food packaging;
- A vast increase in lobbying from a few million dollars annually for the entire industry to over $29 million for Pepsi alone in 2009;
- A comparable increase in marketing, (e.g. $47.2 million for PopTarts alone in 2010);
- Placement of packaged food everywhere, e.g. drug stores, office supply, etc;
- Control of “the most undemocratic bill possible,” the Farm Bill, which prohibits subsidies for fresh fruits and vegetables and creates “a mountain of corn in a sea of subsidies.”
Dr. Nestle provided references to many resources. In response to many questions, her response was to act local, and in that regard, to advocate for Farm Bill support of fresh fruits and vegetable and small farms.
One final note: Be sure to view the beautiful Cooperative Quilt hanging near the exit to our new store. This quilt, made of T-shirts from different food co-ops, was bid for at the Bowers Fund Silent Auction by our attendees at CCMA and the CDS Consulting Co-op, to celebrate the opening of our store. Our Co-op gets to enjoy this quilt for some part of this next year, before it travels to its next co-op destination, and is then auctioned again at the next CCMA.
The Near-Unanimous Declaration of America’s Food Cooperatives
When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the corporate bonds which have connected them with others and to assume among the fruits of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God have endowed them, a decent respect to the opinions of personkind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the establishment of new cooperative business enterprises.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness and that, central to that happiness, is citizen engagement, economic empowerment, access to healthy foods and good health,
That to secure these rights, member-owned, democratically governed Cooperative Business Enterprises are instituted among citizens (Co-op Principle #4), membership is available to all, without discrimination (Co-op Principle #1), deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed (Co-op Principle #2),
That whenever any Form of Corporation becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new Cooperative Business Enterprise (Co-op Principle #4), laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness (Co-op Principle #3). Prudence, indeed, will dictate that business enterprises long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that citizens are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such business enterprises, and to provide new business models for their future security (Co-op Principle #4).
Such has been the patient sufferance of these food growers and consumers; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Commerce. The history of the present mega-corporations is a history of high costs, repeated injuries and usurpations to the citizens, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over the citizenry and their access to healthy foods. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world (Co-op Principle #5).
We, therefore, the Representatives of the Food Cooperatives of America, in General Congress, Assembled this date, June 15, 2012 in Philadelphia, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good Members of these Cooperatives, solemnly publish and declare, that these united Cooperative Business Enterprises (Co-op Principle #6) are, and of Right ought to be, Free and Independent Business Enterprises (Co-op Principle #4), that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the profit-taking, third-party shareholders of the World (Co-op Principle #4) and that as Free and Independent Cooperative Business Enterprises (Co-op Principle #4), they have full Power to establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent Business Enterprises may of right do (Co-op Principles #4 & #7).
And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor (Co-op Principles #6 & #7).
The 7 Cooperative Principles:
1. Voluntary and Open Membership
2. Democratic Member Control
3. Members’ Economic Participation
4. Autonomy and Independence
5. Education, Training, and Information
6. Cooperation Among Cooperatives
7. Concern for Community