By Steve Cooke, aka the Big Cheese
Earlier this month, I had the privilege of attending the 8th Annual Up and Coming Food Co-op Conference in Milwaukee, WI. Over 350 attendees from start-up food co-ops around the county, including a group from Fredericksburg, Va came out to learn how to get their co-ops off on the right foot to ensure success.
Since Friendly City Food Co-op opened in June of 2011, it has been held up as an example of a co-op that “did everything right”. And while that is certainly nice to hear and true in many regards, it is humbling and raises questions about how other food co-ops are able to open, survive and thrive in a very competitive marketplace.
My purpose in attending was two-fold. First I was asked to share a case study about our co-op and what we did so well, and whether we could have been even better prepared to operate a strong food co-op. Secondly, I got to sit in on other workshops and serve as a resource, of sorts, to offer feedback on ideas that new start-ups have for their co-ops and also to be a “ringer” – answering questions and filling in gaps of information. Start-up cooperators wanted to hear from someone who has been through what they’re experiencing.
We are very pleased to be able to join with other existing food co-ops around the country in contributing to a Principle Six (Cooperation among Co-ops) grant to support next year’s conference attendees with scholarships for registration. As a co-op that benefitted from wise counsel and support from other co-ops when we were on the path to opening, it is very heartwarming to be able to pay it forward in this way.
By the way, one of our founders and former Friendly City Board President Ben Sandel, was also a presenter at the conference. In his new role as a consultant with Cooperative Development Services Consulting Co-op. , he spends his time guiding start-ups in successful owner loan campaigns and board development. He is in high demand and led four separate sessions at the conference, all of which were very well received.