Thank you to our friends at the National Cooperative Business Association for profiling our co-op! NCBA is turning 100 this year and they are profiling co-ops from all around the world in their NCBA100 series. Check out their story about P6!
The P6 team was excited to host the Annual Meeting in the P6 home base of Minneapolis, welcoming peers from near and far. The newest P6 members, Moscow Food Co-op of Moscow, ID, and The Good Earth Food Co-op of St. Cloud, MN, joined for the first time. The meeting took place on May 19th and 20th.
The conference began with tours of the new Seward Co-op Friendship Store and of the newly remodeled Eastside Food Co-op. Attendees had tons of questions about the tools these P6 experts use to promote small, local, and cooperative products.
After the store tours, we held a celebratory dinner at the Seward Co-op Creamery Cafe. In addition to recognizing all the great work P6 members have done this year, the dinner served as an opportunity to welcome non-P6 member co-op representatives interested to learn more about P6. The Creamery Cafe staff did a great job highlighting P6 producers, with special focus on our P6 wholesale members.
On Friday, with the help of expert facilitators from Growthworks, Inc., we put our heads together to plan for the growth of the P6 movement. This packed day of activities allowed members to brainstorm for improvements at their own co-ops and share best practices. Additionally, we collected perspectives about the best way the P6 national team can meet collective goals.
Many thanks to the P6 producers who donated product to help make a successful meeting: Maple Valley Co-op, Farmer Direct Co-op, Organic Valley, WiscoPop!, Peace Coffee, Seafood Producers Co-op, and Equal Exchange. Thank you for supporting the movement!
When Seward Co-op helped create P6, we were looking for a way to help clarify for staff throughout the organization the products that meet our highest values from the perspective of “who’s making this food?” and how the answer to that question aligns with the mission or ends of the co-op. As a policy governance co-op, we are an ends-driven organization. The decision to participate was made through a lot of conversation – it couldn’t just be me as the General Manager, or just the marketing department. P6 takes on a life of its own in terms of helping employees at all levels, but especially front-line employees, make informed and quick decisions to direct customers towards products that meet their values. We’ve heard over the years that customers are upset about the consolidation in the natural foods industry. P6 is a quick and easy way that frontline employees can direct customers to products that are not corporate owned. It also helps employees that make product selection decisions. It helps us prioritize our decisions about which products get what space on the shelves.
As we’ve continued to grow with the opening of the second store and the café and the production facility, P6 has made it possible to transfer our co-op’s values to our new staff. It is a really simple and powerful. By focusing on three criteria—small, local, and cooperative—employees grasp our competitive advantage quickly and fully.
I think P6 needs to live throughout the whole co-op. I’ve seen co-ops try to implement it purely as a marketing program, and it doesn’t work so well. There’s a depth to P6. It’s very nuanced. For it to be fully successful, everyone needs to understand what the story is. It takes training and it takes resources upfront, but once P6 is in place, it really helps take the co-op and the whole economy in the direction we want to see. From my perspective as the General Manager, it’s accomplishing our goals of better communicating with our customers about the story behind the products we’re selling.
P6 connects the work we’re doing here at Seward with an international set of principles. Based on the 6th Cooperative Principle—Cooperation among Cooperatives. By having local as a primary criteria, P6 also fulfills the 7th principle, which is Concern for Community. It goes all the way from the macro level to the micro level. What we’ve seen here at Seward Co-op is that it provides a lot of meaning to our staff. Stocking products on a shelf can be mundane. P6 connects this everyday work into a vision for the whole organization within the context of the international cooperative principles. It also ties back to the historical founding purpose of natural foods co-ops in being a vehicle for social change.
P6 functions for us as an alignment tool. Our co-op has become a larger employer with nearly 400 employees. It is too big at this point for me as a General Manager to connect with individual employees and have deep conversations about our values as a business. Having P6 at Seward allows for the values, the ends, and the co-op principles to be more transparent and to manifest these in the organization in a way that’s more powerful than we ever anticipated. P6 helps our employees at every level tie into the larger meaning of their work.
This post by Bjorn Bergman originally appeared on the Viroqua Food Co-op website. A longer profile of Farmer Direct Co-op, the newest P6 member, is coming soon.
A small, but revolutionary change took place in our bulk section this year. When it comes to bulk grains, beans, lentils and seeds, we have struggled to find reliable P6 producers to supply our Co-op. Needless to say, it was with great excitement this past spring when the National P6 Office set up a call to introduce P6 retail co-ops (including VFC) to Farmer Direct Co-op, a producer of organic bulk grains, beans, lentils and seeds. After a few more months of working out distribution logistics, this summer we got our first shipment of organic bulk steel cut oats, green lentils, French lentils, small red beans and golden flax seed from Farmer Direct Co-op.
At the national level, this is a huge victory for Principle Six – as a movement! From the beginning of its creation, P6 had a vision of creating more “Producer Co-op-to-Food Co-op” trade relationships. This connection with Farmer Direct is the first time we have seen one of those “co-op to co-op” relationships evolve and result in new P6 products being stocked at the VFC. A big P6 Win!
With the introduction of Farmer Direct Co-op bulk foods at VFC, we wanted to take some time to share with you why we are so excited about carrying their products.
Farmer Direct Co-op started in 2002 when Jason Freeman (current General Manager) and three organic hempseed farmers formed the business as a way to create more crop price transparency for organic family farmers on the Canadian prairies. The Co-op quickly became popular and more farmers started to join.Today, the co-op is owned by 60 family farms located throughout Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, Canada.
As Farmer Direct Co-op sales have grown, they became interested in establishing a process and certification for assuring fair crop prices to its farmer-owners. This led them to Domestic Fair Trade Certification (a.k.a. fairDeal). Domestic Fair Trade Certification assures that organic farmers receive fair prices for their crops and that farm workers receive a living wage. In 2010, they became the first food business in North America to receive Domestic Fair Trade Certification.
Farmer Direct Co-op is the only company in North America to combine all three attributes of farmer ownership, domestic fair trade, and organics – all under one brand. When you purchase Farmer Direct Co-op products from our bulk section, you are supporting 60 organic family farms, as well as 11 employees. To learn more about Farmer Direct Co-op, check out their website.
Next time you pass through our bulk section, look for and support Farmer Direct Co-op by purchasing their fantastic P6 grains, beans, lentils and seeds.
In 2014, Equal Exchange convened six grocery co-ops, including Seward Co-op and Eastside Food Co-op, to create the Grow Together Fund to support a cashew growing co-op in El Salvador called Aprainores. These co-ops donated approximately $5,000 each to Aprainores in a special coop-to-coop development fund project. The money was used to help them start a Revolving Loan Fund to give low-interest credit to their members to tide them over until the harvest. Because much of Central America experienced a severe drought last summer which destroyed their corn and other subsistence crops, farmers were particularly hard hit. This fund helped the farmers buy food for their families and work on their own farms, rather than have to hire themselves out as day laborers on other farms. Equal Exchange also donated funds to help improve productivity through the planting of additional trees, and technical assistance enabling 15 new farmers to join the coop, and additional acreage to be converted to organic production.
Here’s a report from the farm on their progress, thanks to the Grow Together Fund:
We would like to briefly mention how Equal Exchange has helped us to improve our cooperative!!
We started working with Equal Exchange in 2013. Since then, we have been so blessed with their support and we have increased our technical and productive capabilities.
On behalf of our cashew farmers, and workers, we thank you and wish that you keep growing and supporting small farmers, not only us, but also all the small producers who really need support to produce the food of the world.
Congratulations to Aprainores on their progress!