Last week in Fayetteville, Arkansas, 20 representatives from our rapidly-growing ranks of P6 cooperatives met to discuss what the future of a cooperative supply chain will be. We were joined by the three new farmer co-ops that have joined P6 in 2015: Maple Valley, Organic Valley/Organic Prairie, and Farmer Direct. These farmers collaborated with folks from the 8 retail food co-op members of P6, including our two newest members, Menomonie Market Food Co-op and Roanoke Natural Foods, to get serious about what co-op to co-op to co-op trade will mean for our food system.
In addition to our co-op farmer members, we were able to talk with three farmers whose products get the P6 designation at Ozark Natural Foods, our host for the meeting. Farmers Mee, Tessa, and Genevieve told us how the P6 program has made a difference for their businesses. Genevieve and Pauline, the fresh manager at ONF, both told a story about how Genevieve was able to provide for her family without competing with other farmers in the area by asking Pauline what no one else was growing for the co-op. Genevieve’s farm then grew butternut squash, filling a niche the co-op hadn’t been able to supply before. Genevieve told us, “It was great to be a local farmer, but it’s been tremendous to be a P6 farmer and be a part of a national movement.”
Mee is an employee at ONF as well as a P6 producer, so she has many different opportunities to interact with the program. Mee told her story, explaining how the P6 program gave her a clear venue to tell customers about the value of her wellness products. She said that she never got any interaction with her website until P6 launched, at which point she started hearing from people who wanted to know more about her business. Farmer Tessa runs the first cheese producing farm, and the only goat cheese producing farm, in Northwest Arkansas. She told us about how Ozark Natural Foods and the P6 program supported her farm through some difficult times, leading to growth in her business and sustained access to delicious local goat cheese for the region.
Our facilitators led us in a conversation about how to support new co-ops in joining P6 and building cooperative supply chains. We heard presentations from Eric Newman of Organic Valley/Organic Prairie, who told us about the challenges and opportunities of being an 1,800 member organic farmer cooperative. Cecil Wright of Maple Valley shared his experience as a maple farmer and as the leader of an established, but smaller, multi-stakeholder cooperative of organic maple farmers and the people who support their efforts and buy their products. Finally Jason Freeman of Farmer Direct Co-op, an all-organic, all-domestic fair trade certified co-op in Canada that produces grains and beans and is just breaking into the American market with the help of P6.
We spent the rest of that day discussing how our cooperative trade movement can connect all the links in this chain. These conversations ranged from small ideas, like creating marketing packets for national farmer cooperatives that all our retail members can access, to huge ideas, like expanding cooperative distribution chains across the country, helping small farmers create co-ops, and expanding markets for small and cooperative farmers of color. We’re extremely excited to pick up these ideas and see where they take us next!
Our first board election took place in the days leading up to the Annual Meeting, and the results were announced at the meeting. This is the first time our leadership has been elected, following the great work of our founding Board. We’re taking the next steps in building a democratic organization! Our new board members are Loralyn Howard of Three Rivers Market, Bjorn Bergman of Viroqua Food Co-op, Cecil Wright of Maple Valley Co-op, Eric Newman of Organic Valley/Organic Prairie, Nick Seeberger of Seward Community Co-op, and Jeff Jewel of Bloomingfoods.
On Friday afternoon, the staff of Ozark Natural Foods took us on a tour of their store and told us about their P6 programming. As we walked in, staff members in P6 shirts offered us a new P6 kale salad with all P6 ingredients. We heard a presentation from Pauline, the ONF Fresh Manager, about the store’s efforts to bring the P6 program to life. Inspired by her experience working with Genevieve, Pauline developed a website for telling farmers about what fruits and vegetables are needed, so they can grow specifically for needs the co-op has. We heard about ONF’s P6 Tour de Farms, which is expanding this year to include producers, and to invite 500 community members, over the 250 who came last year. Thanks so much to Ozark Natural Foods to for hosting this event and helping all of us build the cooperative trade movement!
If you’d like to hear more about our Annual Meeting, check out our Twitter page, which has more detailed information and pictures.