I had the opportunity to attend a 2-day retreat with our board of directors last weekend. We had an in-depth discussion on the cooperative principles that guide us, board decision making, and strategic planning. It was also a time for us to learn from someone who has been through this process before. We welcomed Ben, a co-op consultant from Harrisonburg, VA, to our cold and snowy community. Ben was was an integral part of opening Friendly City Food Co-op, a start-up that opened its doors last year after about 5 years of planning, organizing, and building membership. The process we are following is very similar to theirs, although each community is different in terms of its timeline. We were happy to have Ben join us and share his expertise on the start-up process. He helped us to realize we are not alone in our efforts, and that the process can be long, but its worth it. He assured us that we are right on track and was excited to hear about our progress.
The weekend was filled with questions, stories, and a recognition from everyone in the room that what we are doing matters. Co-op's operate differently than other businesses and are guided by 7 principles, which you can find here. We had an opportunity to reflect back on our vision, which will continue to guide each of us through this work. During a group activity, we had the opportunity to share which cooperative principles are most important to us. Although they were all a little different for everyone, they contribute to the overall goal of what we are trying to do:
- strengthen the local economy
- create community around food
- provide a reliable marketplace for local farmers, artists, and other entrepreneurs
- create an educational center by offering cooking classes, teaching food preservation, and inviting kids and their families to shop, cook, and eat together
- promote healthy, happy, and delicious eating with fresh, local food
So whatever drives us and inspires us to continue to work through this process, we want you to be a part of it, too. In fact, you already are!
Below is an image that Ben shared during the retreat. Its a simple, yet powerful illustration that demonstrates that the co-op already exists in our community. We will eventually have a store, but all of the outreach events, house parties, education/marketing, cooperation, and in-kind contributions made by many, many people is exactly what the co-op stands for. When kids get to make food art while their parents watch films and participate in discussions, the co-op already exists. When someone decides to host a house party and spread the word about what we are trying to do, the co-op already exists. When someone decides to become a member-owner or volunteer their time, the co-op already exists. When we partner with other business or producers to promote local, sustainable farming, the co-op already exists. So although we have some work to do before our store is open, we are already there in many ways. The movement to open a food co-op is afoot in Bismarck-Mandan, and it is alive and well!
-Heidi Demars, Outreach Coordinator