Conference Highlights Outstanding Contributions, Larger Challenges

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Many CCMA attendees visited local landmarks, such as this kiva at Coronado State Monument, and co-op stores.

Directors, managers, staff, and allies of food co-ops met in Albuquerque during June 9–11 for the annual CCMA (Consumer Cooperative Management Association) conference. Outstanding individuals were honored for their contributions to cooperatives, and recognition was extended to co-ops that have achieved a noteworthy age. National food co-op organizations held brief business meetings, and conference attendees contributed thousands of dollars toward future training needs. Keynote speakers provoked intense discussions on cooperative values and stakeholders, while examining the importance of cooperatives and other wealth-sharing strategies. Among the cooperative crowd, a spirit of camaraderie and fun accompanied thoughtful presentations and passionate conversations that illuminated local and global challenges.

Preceding the two full days of CCMA programs was an extra day of leadership training and a half0day of bus tours to landmarks and to La Montañita Co-op stores in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The host co-op’s Membership Director Robyn Seydel and General Manager C.E. Pugh led its major contributions to conference logistics and festivities. Program planning was overseen by Ann Hoyt, UW Madison Urban Cooperative Initiative; CCMA is sponsored by the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA).

Co-op milestones

The great majority of food cooperatives represented at the conference were formed in the 1970s, and attendees noted the remaining 25-year milestones for that generation of co-ops. Sixteen co-ops completed their third decade during the past year, while the following four attained age 25:

• Green Fields Market (Greenfield, Mass.) • Takoma Park/Silver Spring Food Co-op (Takoma Park, Md.) • Valley Co-op (Alamosa, Colo.) • Willimantic Co-op (Willimantic, Conn.)

Currently, co-ops and their allies are witnessing and assisting in the birth of another wave of food co-ops. Beginning at this year’s CCMA banquet ceremonies, conference attendees also celebrate the following new cooperatives launched within the past year:

• Harvest Market in Barneveld, Wis. • Just Food in Northfield, Minn. • Longmont Co-op Market in Longmont, Colo. • Mountain Community Market in Eatonville, Wash.

Outstanding cooperators

Tak Tang, during more than four years of pathbreaking work at Wedge Community Co-op in Minneapolis, developed open source (free access) software for retail co-op operational data, a project which required writing thousands of lines of code and much trial and error. Described as “much more than a point-of-sale system,” the resulting IS4C (Integrated Systems for Co-ops) is now in use at Wedge and elsewhere (see article in previous edition of CG). In receiving the Cooperative Innovation award, Tak acknowledged essential collaboration and teamwork among Wedge staff and other co-op colleagues.

Dan Foley, former general manager, provided strong support for IS4C at the Wedge, one of the many ways he assisted innovative co-op projects and provided time and resources for local, regional, and national cooperatives. During his years at the Wedge, the co-op expanded three times, multiplying sales to attain the largest dollar volume of any single store natural foods co-op, attracting thousands of members, and building a strong staff and management team. In receiving an Honored Cooperator award, Dan said, “At the Wedge, what we do is sell service.”

Holly Jarvis received a Cooperative Service award, well-earned for her years of successful management at Food Front Co-op in Portland, Ore., while also serving as an effective chair of the board of directors for the National Cooperative Grocers Association. In the latter position, Holly devoted countless hours guiding multiple people and interests through a prolonged, complex, and unifying reorganization of NCGA. She continues as a much appreciated NCGA board leader and retail manager.

Beth Skinner, board chair at Berkshire Co-op, Great Barrington, Mass., received a newly established award for Cooperative Board Service. Beth has been a leader on the board at Berkshire Co-op for several years, and under her quiet and inclusive chairing the board has greatly strengthened its governance practices while making major contributions to co-op collaboration in the New England region.

The final award, also for Honored Cooperators, celebrated Kate Sumberg and Walden Swanson and their many years of outstanding service to cooperatives. In recent years, Kate and Walden’s continuing development of online data-sharing, beginning with CoCoFiSt (Common Cooperative Financial Statements) and now with many specialized variations, has made possible major improvements in mutual aid and operational practices among co-op managers. Now part of the team at Cooperative Development Services, Walden and Kate, through their unwavering dedication and humor, have positively influenced hundreds of co-ops and cooperators throughout the country. When he and Kate received the award, Walden pointed to food co-ops’ continuing excellent performance and excellent values, then asked, “What is it all about?”—answering that our co-ops are building better communities and a better world.

Funds and forecasts

Attendees closed the banquet with a major fundraising auction that magnified sales from many other contributed co-op items. The cooperatives present boosted scholarships for future training by adding over $20,000 to the Howard Bowers Fund—the fund regularly makes grants to co-ops for special projects and to support attendance at regional and national training sessions, including CCMA.

Conference workshops included board policies and strategy, expansion planning and store management tools, new co-op development, a small co-op track, and more. Keynote speakers Paul Hazen of NCBA, Brett Fairbairn of the University of Saskatchewan, and Gar Alperovitz of the University of Maryland stirred attendees with thoughtful analysis, provoking extensive exchanges around themes of cooperative values, stakeholders, and the need to expand cooperative economics. Speakers challenged attendees to act on the potential for cooperative leadership in helping transform the dominant but very damaging system of investor-driven corporations.

As for the program theme, “Who’s on first?” (amusing confusion, an Abbott and Costello baseball allusion new to some of the younger set), here’s my call: Values such as democracy and solidarity have managed to get on base. Cooperatives are now at bat. We must drive those values home. Although political, environmental, and fiscal trends are alarming and foretell much disruption and pain, cooperative enterprise is growing in strength and numbers, making contributions toward, in the words of Alperovitz, “reclaiming our wealth, our liberty, and our democracy.”

See other articles from this issue: #119 July - August - 2005