Yes, that’s us – we are small and strong at GPNF. This is not a phrase I can take credit for but Karl and I were at a conference this past weekend with people who can take credit and understand how to start and how to exist being small and strong. It was a huge opportunity for us and we owe a big thanks for the invite to our neighbors at Litchfield’s Natural Foods Co-op. These people came together to instruct and be instructed on the creative work of starting a food co-op. There were no perfect answers but a lot of support to be found in this shared initiative. The Small & Strong Conference was from 9 am to 4:30 pm on Saturday Oct 27th. The meeting started with good food of course – provided by Mississippi Market Co-op of St Paul (where I am a member!).
The opening comments were from 3 different food co-ops around the country who are “small & strong”. All three talked about their unique challenges, how they got started and what they are currently working on. These three continued to share experiences and insights throughout the conference. They shared specifics on how they use social media, how they handle their critics, what tone they use in marketing, how and what their customers are shopping for, etc. There was a lot to glean and apply to each of our own small works – there were maybe 25 co-ops represented. Supporting organizations like Co-operative Development Services were there to lead break out sessions and meetings. These people came with consulting experience and shared some of the nitty gritty on running a co-op in these breakout sessions.
I think the three big takeaways I had from the meeting were these:
Importance. Being up to something good is nice but being up to something important and knowing our “why” is critical. It’s is not what we are doing but why we are doing it that fuels our energy, enthusiasm and ultimately our ability to impact. Our “why” in the co-op is that we want nutritious food and food education available in our area because we truly believe this is the gateway to healthy families and healthy community. We are supporting change in food understanding and availability so the plague of cancer and other illnesses in our community become less of a threat.
Awareness. Being in this business and this endeavor requires awareness. We cannot ignore our competition and the way the food market is changing. We must know who we are and why we are different in order to keep our mission strong. We are food educators and we are making nutritious food available to build healthy families and a healthy community. Without proper food education this will not happen.
Openness. Working with a team can be difficult but team is key in a co-op. Staying open minded for ideas and solutions to problems is critical. Staying open to opportunities and new ideas is an effort that never stops and it cannot. We need this to be effective as a community owned organization.
A few pictures…