The Up & Coming Food Co-op conference is a wonderful annual gathering of peer startup food cooperators from across the US, all focused on supporting each other in working toward opening new community owned grocery stores. 2020 was no exception to this, and for my first year attending, I had a blast! Hosted by the Food Co-op Initiative (FCI) and Indiana Cooperative Development Center at the Sheraton Hotel in Madison, Wisconsin, this year continued the trend toward a greater emphasis on addressing food insecure areas, in both rural and urban settings. One of our long-time friends and client-partners, Market 166, sent their Board President Jenna McMullan-Freedman, and two GCDC Board Members, organizer of the West Georgia Farmer’s Co-op Eric Simpson, and Columinate CPA and Red Clay Co-op organizer Audrey Griffin, and yours truly GCDC Executive Director Matthew Epperson, all converged from down south up in the still chilly Midwest. (There was still plenty of snow-pack off of the sides of the road, y’all.)
Each session was fit to the 3 stage development model FCI uses as its road-map for startup food co-ops, ranging from the organizing stage 1, through stage 3 implementation. I was able to attend some great session. The first was on creating a “pitch packet” to tell the story of your co-op with Darnell Adams of Firebrand. Then, how to utilize Nationbuilder for your customer resource management (CRM) (basically to stay in touch with them through email, donations, social media interactions, and more) with the Oshkosh Food Co-op. Third was bylaws and legal concerns with Dave Swanson, and finally Breaking Down Systemic Oppression with Jamila Medley of the Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance.
During the award ceremony, Ed Whitfield was recognized for his and other organizers’ efforts following the closure of Renaissance Community Co-op to share what they learned, and hopefully help our movement avoid that same conclusion for the next wave of food apartheid overcoming food co-ops like Detroit’s Black Community Food Security Network, among others. Jamila challenged us to think through what it means to be welcoming by sharing the video Look at Art, Get Paid, a study of inclusivity efforts of a museum that sought to pay folks who had never been to the museum before, to provide frank feedback about all the ways un-welcoming messages are sent often unintentionally in progressive spaces.
I leave Wisconsin physically tired, but mentally prepared to continue supporting startup food co-ops in Georgia. If you’re interested in learning more, please drop us an email.