Hand outs from the conference.
The Up and Coming Food Co-op Conference, coordinated by the Indiana Cooperative Development Center and Food Co-op Initiative, is an amazing opportunity for start-up co-ops to gather together, share their experiences, and learn from those who have succeeded before them. This event embodies a number of the 7 cooperative principles, including providing co-ops with a space for education, training, and information (P5); cooperation among co-ops (P6); and concern for the community (P7). Our previous attendance to this conference has helped us in our success thus far, and everything we learned from this year’s conference will help us go even further.
Attending this conference just as we are entering into stage 2 of our development made the 2-day event even more exciting. Since the workshops and presentations are geared towards start-ups in all stages of development, everyone can find something relevant to their situation. For those in stage 2, the focus is on feasibility and planning. Growing member numbers, capital campaign planning, developing relationships with lenders, and proving financial feasibility were the big topics explored. There were also topics that were extremely exciting, like how to hire the best staff and determining what services we’d like to provide. We are entering a major transition period in our growth, and the knowledge gathered from these presentations will help us to develop a solid plan for how to become the best co-op for our community.
Another great thing about this conference is being able to share our own experiences and see how far we have come. When we’re in the trenches, it can be difficult to see what great work we’ve done so far. We continue to steadily grow, and have forged many great relationships throughout our community. In talking with other co-ops, sharing what’s working, what isn’t, and how we plan to move forward, it highlights what an amazing job we have done thus far. It is also a wonderful experience to be able to give back to a community that has already given us so much.
In addition to amazing resources, this conference gives us a chance to see what new trends are occurring in co-ops. More and more underserved communities are working to create co-ops in order to provide greater access to healthy food farmed using sustainable means. In addition to providing eco-conscious nutrition, co-ops can help bolster these communities through their direct service and contributions. More money spent in co-ops stays in the community than conventional grocery stores, co-ops consistently pay their employees a living wage, and they provide educational opportunities to enhance people’s understanding of where their food comes from. All of these aspects can benefit any community, but they are exceptionally more valuable when they exist in food deserts.
As we work towards making our individual communities better through our own co-ops, it is wonderful to connect with our larger cooperative community to see the great work being done through all of our efforts. It is wonderful to be a part of such an amazing co-op community, and we look forward to returning next year.