A Greater Velocity of Cooperation

Well over three hundred directors, managers, trainers, and other cooperators met at the 2001 Consumer Cooperative Management Association (CCMA) conference under the theme, "Velocity of Cooperation." Food co-ops intensified their sector's training and development efforts, accelerating a trend of closer collaboration and rapid development of national programs.

CCMA serves each year as a kind of food co-op summit, full of new faces and old from local co-ops and national associations. Its meeting rooms and social events are venues for lively discussions of co-op issues, strategic plans, and business relationships. While regional and national food co-op associations continue to advance their respective agendas, CCMA offers the one annual event that brings them all together.

CCMA is sponsored by the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA) and organized by Ann Hoyt of Urban Cooperative Initiative at UW-Madison. Held in Chicago this year at a stately old hotel facing Lake Shore Drive, the conference once again offered a very full schedule of excellent resource people and enjoyable events. During the awards program (see sidebar), Ann was given special thanks for planning another outstanding conference.

Attendees took part in up to four days of meetings and training workshops. They also toured local food retailers and distributors -- plus a blues festival, museums, and Frank Lloyd Wright houses. And they raised thousands of dollars for co-op training scholarships from the Howard Bowers Fund, named after a dedicated cooperator and former manager at Hyde Park Co-op -- now Co-op Markets, local host for the conference. Attendees wound up a busy few days with a high energy party on a boat in Lake Michigan under fireworks and the downtown skyline.

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Cooperative Award Winners

Consumer Cooperative Management Association awards honor cooperatives, managers, and their colleagues for outstanding accomplishments. This year, the following were given well-deserved recognition for their contributions to cooperatives:

Cooperative Service: Pam Mehnert

Now at Outpost Natural Foods Co-op for twenty years, Pam in 2000 led its growth from their original 9,800 retail sq. ft. Milwaukee store to a second, 8,700 retail sq. ft. store in Wauwatosa. As manager, Pam's leadership continues to yield member and community involvement, growing and profitable operations, a strong management team, and many contributions to other co-ops.

Cooperative Excellence: Hanover Co-op

Hanover Co-op continues to expand upon its high level of service and community involvement. Begun in Hanover, NH in 1936, the co-op is enjoying strong growth in its two supermarkets as well as two convenience stores and auto service shop. Education programs and activities in support of its community and the national co-op community make Hanover Co-op an outstanding leader.

Cooperative Innovation and Achievement: Weaver Street Market

Weaver Street Market is a dynamic force in its Carrboro, NC community. Formed in 1988 as a hybrid consumer and worker cooperative, Weaver Street's retail operation has been a tremendous success and was recently augmented by opening a next-door restaurant. Weaver Street continues its active involvement with its local and co-op communities. (See story in this issue)

Cooperative Milestones: From 25 to 40 to 60 Years!

Founded 1976:

Arlington Food Co-op (VA) Belfast Co-op (ME)
Bloomingfoods Co-op (IN) Briarpatch Co-op (CA)
Chequamegon Food Co-op (MI) Cook County Whole Foods (MN)
Deep Roots Co-op (NC) East Lansing Food Co-op (MI)
Flatbush Food Co-op (NY) Frontier Co-op (IA)
Federation of Ohio River Co-ops (OH) GreenFields Market (MA)
Honest Weight Food Co-op (NY) La Montanita (NM)
Life Grocery Co-op (GA) Linden Hills Co-op (MN)
Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op (VT) MOMS Co-op (MN)
Natural Harvest Food Co-op (MN) Northwoods Food Co-op (MN)
Ontario Federation of Food Co-ops (ON) Roots & Fruits Co-op Produce (MN)
Three Rivers Co-op (IN) Ukiah Co-op (CA)
Upper Valley Food Co-op (VT) Wheatsville Food Co-op (TX)

Founded 1961:

Puget Consumers Co-op (WA)

Founded 1941:

Putney Co-op (VT)

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Record attendance was matched by reports of high velocity in cooperative performance. A strong rate of co-op expansion continues and is seen in many locations. Two co-ops in formation were represented, while two co-ops, Valley Natural Foods (MN) and Community Mercantile (KS), couldn't attend because they had new store openings that week. Co-op growth extends to regional and national plans as well, and advancing the regional and national associations provides a growing background to the regular CCMA program. Representatives of national associations met for added time prior to the conference, then presented their agendas and issues to CCMA attendees.

CGIN (Cooperative Grocers' Information Network) and NCGA (National Cooperative Grocers Association): these organizations worked hard on advancing their plans and on increased collaboration. CGIN has developed rapidly into a heavily used website for food co-ops (at www.cgin.org) and is continuing to post many valuable materials for its 105 retail co-op members. The CGIN board is expanding the organization's mission and activities to encompass the creation of more resources and services for co-ops. They are also pursuing closer collaboration with Cooperative Grocer, for which they serve as an editorial advisory board.

NCGA is pursuing both a national co-op label program and the national expansion of the Midwest's Co-op Advantage Program (CAP). Currently the CAP program has top priority. Robynn Shrader, NCGA executive director, has an ambitious agenda for developing long-awaited national buying and other services for food co-ops.

NCGA members include the members of several regional Cooperative Grocers Associations, and these individual stores can now access extensive resources via NCGA's website, located at nationalcoopgrocers.com. Present at the conference to review the wide variety of financial, technical, and other services available was the new E-ministrator for the site, Glenda Garcia of the National Cooperative Bank (NCB). NCB and the NCB Development Corporation have established CoopSolutions.com, which provides website development and other services for co-ops in all sectors.

Meantime, the latest wrinkle in CoCoFiSt, the co-op managers' data program, has the potential to enhance inventory management by providing comparison data down to small categories and even individual items; the new direction also may provide essential technical capacity for the national purchasing and label programs. Walden Swanson, developer of CoCoFiSt data sharing for co-op managers, has spun off yet another acronym and formed the CoCoITT. The Common Cooperative Information Technology (IT) Team is comprised of retail co-op IT managers, Pat Theurer of NCB, Robynn Shrader, and Walden. They are preparing a request for proposal for an IT program encompassing point of sale systems, human resources, accounting, and membership.

The excitement in the room was palpable during some of the presentations showing how strong national organizations and services are developing or could develop. Food co-ops have had important allies for these efforts: each other, their co-op distributors, and in particular the National Cooperative Business Association and National Cooperative Bank. The latter two continue to provide major support for the development of increased organizational capacity by the co-op food sector. Years of effort in building regional and national alliances are bearing fruit in the development of NCGA and CGIN services and in plans for additional national program

See other articles from this issue: #095 July - August - 2001