From the GM
Alex Gyori, General Manager
I was impressed and very encouraged. On Saturday, April 7, 125 people involved in food co-ops from around the region gathered excitedly for a Cooperative Café, an interactive workshop organized by the Cooperative Development Services Consulting Co-op. The purpose of the event was to learn from each other what is happening in the food co-op world and to create next steps in the cooperative movement. Moving around randomly to join three other people, each group of board members, employees, and others imagined a future with thriving cooperatives in a competitive marketplace. Participants discussed what would be better to leave behind, then what to take along on the road ahead. Three ideas clearly stood out: a desire to leave behind inappropriate preconceived notions, a resolve to amplify innovative collaborations, and a resolute commitment to retain authenticity.
What to Leave Behind
It was perhaps not really remarkable that relative neophytes and seasoned cooperators shared similar concerns. At the top of the list was a desire to be inclusive of all people, resolutely casting off the sometimes deserving but often unfair image of elitism, by retooling food co-ops for relevancy and accessibility to everyone in our communities. Another fervent wish was that co-ops needed to leave behind an underdog mentality, confident that despite the alluring glitz of many competitors, co-ops provide something special and important.
Creativity, clearly abundant among the enthusiastic crowd, will surely lead to novel and productive expressions of cooperation in the coming years. How to impart professional knowledge, implement best practices, and share administrative services were a few of the ideas discussed that could lead to economies of scale to drive out business costs with the intention of lowering the price of food, a high priority for all food co-ops. Participants pointed out, too, that innovative ways to connect with like-minded entities such as credit unions, savings and loans, and producer co-ops should be explored to expand the reach and impact of cooperative enterprise.
Understanding how to reinvent themselves to meet changing and evolving needs of their owners, Co-op Café participants pointed out that food co-ops need to maintain a clear distinction between growth designed for the benefit of people and growth created solely for the purpose of making money for a select few. The challenge is how to maintain and manifest core values during times of transition and change, while recognizing and respecting the variety of motivations and sometimes contradictory ideas that inspire the diverse cooperative membership.
Spending the day in the company of such enthusiastic people was a real honor. Leaving behind for a moment the day-to-day operational focus allowed unfettered reflection on what is and what could be, not unlike the thought process involved in packing for a long trip—agonizing over what to take or not to take. If cooperators continue to engage in such collaborative conversations, co-ops will thrive. The Brattleboro Food Co-op is privileged to be part of a truly vibrant movement.