A General Manager’s Perspective on P6

Sean Doyle Seward Co-op General ManagerThis testimonial from Seward Co-op’s General Manager Sean Doyle demonstrates the value of P6 in a retail co-op environment. 

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.

P6 Producer: Roots In Bloom

This article about Roots in Bloom by Andrew of Ozark Natural Foods originally appeared on their website

roots in bloomOnce upon a time you could find Mee McGill sitting at the Owner Services Desk, smiling wide at everyone who walked through the door. Mee has since moved on to become the Assistant Wellness Manager, but you can still see her throughout the store with her signature smile and perpetual cheer.

In addition to her position at ONF, she and her husband own and operate Roots in Bloom Farm, a Certified Naturally Grown farm and homestead nestled in the Boston Mountains in West Fork, AR. Roots in Bloom is an off-grid, sustainable teaching farm dedicated to providing naturally grown food and wellness products to the community and world. Roots in Bloom is passionate about healthy values, nutritious food, sustainability, and helping others in need. They provide Certified Naturally Grown produce and herbs to ONF, in addition to local nurseries and through community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs. They also offer workshops, DIY kits, and other value-added products such as all-natural bug sprays, healing salves, and sunscreen. We sell many of Roots in Bloom’s products at ONF, and I can personally attest that their products work very well. I was duly impressed with her bug spray when I went for a hike one day back in mid-summer. RIB sunscreen is also recommended for protecting your sensitive skin against the sun’s harmful UV rays. We will also soon be carrying their Baby Bum Heal diaper rash cream, in addition to an all-natural ConChest rub to battle the nasty congestion one gets during cold and flu season. One of their most exciting products is their Sustainable Lifeline DIY Tincture Kits. If you’ve ever wanted to try your hand at making your own tinctures, then these are for you.

roots in bloom

In addition to her work at ONF and Roots in Bloom, Mee is also a doula, a medical assistant, CNA, and Master Herbalist. According to Mee, “I am a mother of two wonderful young women who I provided home education to for several years. Following this stage of my life, I felt it was time to expand my skills and offer assistance to the community who supported my choice to home school. I followed my dream and received my certification as a Master Herbalist. I was so interested in the things that I learned that I wanted to further my education in the medical field. I felt this would give me a better understanding of “conventional” medicine and the differences between that and “alternative” medicine. I received my nurse assistant certification and became a medical assistant as well. After spending some time figuring out where I wanted to aim my focus, I went back to work for the natural food co-op in my area and began the development of this farm. I have become more passionate about natural wellness and healthy food. It is my desire to share the knowledge and abilities I have gained with others. Currently, I offer doula and in-home care services, herbal consultations, workshops which teach about home herbalism, and working hard to develop Roots in Bloom to create a healthier future for my community.”

Roots in Bloom currently has a Crowdfund campaign to purchase a waterwheel that will be used to produce electricity. Any remaining funds will be allocated to improving the wellness aspect of their business. You can also find Roots in Bloom on social media, including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter. Their website is www.rootsinbloom.weebly.com.

As you can see, Mee is a valuable asset to our food co-op and Fayetteville community, and we are so grateful to have her on our team!

 

Farmer Direct Co-op on the shelves at Viroqua Food Co-op

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.2016-Farmer-Direct-Co-op-Postcard.jpg
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.

Farmer Direct Co-op bulk bins at Viroqua Food Co-op

 

A P6 Fall in Arkansas

The Tour de Farms and the Farmer Appreciation Dinner were cornerstones of Ozark Natural Food’s relationships with their customers and producers before they ever joined P6. Upon launching P6 in fall 2014, the ONF staff re-envisioned these events with a P6 perspective. The new P6 Tour de Farms is bigger and more inclusive, bringing ONF members to breweries and coffee roasters as well as farms, and the P6 Appreciation Dinner is open to all 120 P6 producers who make or grow products for the co-op. Here’s reports from ONF’s Pauline Thiessen about these exciting events.

P6 Tour de Farms

Core Brewery 20115 Tour De FarmsThis past October Ozark Natural Foods hosted its second annual P6 Tour de Farms where owners and guests could tour over 20 participating Principle 6 farms, breweries, coffee roaster shops, a soap business, and one winery and vineyard.  Following the precedent set in its first year, Tour de Farms continues to be the most popular event in terms of owner participation, with over 300 registrants in 2015!  Originally borrowed from New Leaf Market, ONF organized the first set of tours in 2014 as a way for its ownership to connect directly with regional farmers who grow food to sell through the coop.  After the launch of P6, the event grew to include area P6 businesses who sell their value added products through the store.

Ozark Pasture Beef 2015 Tour De FarmsUp from 8 stops to 21 stops in its second year, the event was organized into 6 different teams, or suggested routes.  The stops were clustered in Fayetteville, AR where the co-op is located, and around neighboring towns that ranged from 10-70 miles away from the store with average driving time at 1 hour to locations in surrounding counties. One route went to the neighboring sister city, Springdale; another south of Fayetteville; 2 routes spread out east around rural Huntsville and the historic city of Eureka Springs; and the furthest one away took attendees to a different growing region outside of the Ozark hills that is referred to as the River Valley. The closing event was held at the educational farm to school garden in the lot adjacent to the coop with tours of both Ozark Natural Foods and our organic chicken and livestock feedstore, Ozark Natural Feeds.

Plentygood Farm 2015 Tour De FarmsOn the tour, farms promote two-hour tour windows, while businesses arranged for group tours at specific times so each team could easily organize in terms of a suggested driving route. Registrants receive a “passport” containing all of this information, as well as addresses and maps, prior to the start of the tour weekend. This year folks could start signing up a month before the event and come back to the store to pick up their passports two weeks early.  People who visited 9 or more of the 21 stops could return their stamped passports to the store and be entered to win one of 2 shopping sprees or a Farm and Garden giveaway valued at $100. Each stop has fun things including organized tours, prepared samples of food from the farm, refreshments provided from the coop,  various demonstrations like How to Build a Cold Frame or No-Till Farming, and farms and businesses are encouraged to have their product available for purchase.

Ugly Bunny 2015 Tour De FarmsThe event is free, open to the public, and paid for by ONF’s Farmer Committee with a budget under the store’s Marketing and Outreach department.  ONF started the Farmer Committee over 7 years ago with the aim of providing additional support to farmers actively growing produce for the coop.  The Farmer Committee is a volunteer group of owners, farmers, and staff of ONF dedicated to educating and supporting local farmers and encouraging the transition to organic farming practices by offering resources and assistance.  The committee also envisions a vibrant network of local organic food producers that increases the availability of organic food for the Northwest Arkansas community.
Saddlebock Brewery 2015 Tour De FarmsAfter just one year, the tour became popular enough that both farmers and owners were already looking forward to 2015.  ONF is planning to continue the annual tour in 2016. Last year we averaged over 40 attendees per stop and this year, with more stops, the average was in the mid-twenties. Based on feedback from our first year, we added the suggested routes and posted directions on the website for some of the harder-to-find stops.

White River Creamery 2015 Tour De FarmsThe New Leaf farm tour has grown to over 1,400 participants with over 40 stops and offered workshops.  We are excited to see our P6 Tour de Farms grow as a regional event that connects people with the farmers who grow their food at their community coop.  P6 events like the tour have already created positive results. We had owners come back to the store just to buy Spence’s chicken because they got to go to Across the Creek farm and understand just how much effort it takes an Iraq war vet to raise pasture poultry on non-GMO feed on a land trust in south Fayetteville, and our community wants to support family farms like that.  You can see that understanding and awareness grow in a tangible way when folks can share food from the farm with the farmer who grew it, right after a personal farm tour.  To me, that is P6 in action, that is the importance of the cooperative business model.

 

P6 Appreciation Dinner

DSC_0127This past December, Ozark Natural Foods celebrated and took a chance to say thanks to all of the store’s P6 producers at our 6th Annual P6 Appreciation Dinner in Fayetteville, AR. Invitations were given to all 120 P6 farms and businesses that work to produce and add value to food for the co-op. Over 90 producers were able to make it to the dinner held at the Garden Room on Thursday, December 3rd.

The dinner started at 5pm with appetizers and donated beer from P6 producer Core Brewing Company.  The guests enjoyed the food trays DSC_0133and lager while a slide show played with pictures of every P6 producer the dinner formally began. The dinner is emceed each year by me, Pauline Thiessen, Fresh Foods Manager and the store’s fresh foods P6 Liaison. I opened with greeting everyone to much applause and introduced the other staff presenters for the evening. Representatives from throughout our store’s P6 program spoke about their experiences working with producers. The store’s prepared foods department catered the event and served made from scratch food like Roasted Lamb & Chicken, Savory Winter Squash Stuffing, Mashed Sweet Potatoes, Roasted Roots, a Fresh Winter Salad, and Maple Spice Cake, all featuring local ingredients from P6 producers.

DSC_0142We organize the dinner a little differently every year with a different focal point for the event.  We’ve had presenters who’ve created food hubs in their area and other sustainable food systems advocates, we’ve premiered a documentary we produced, we’ve done an awards dinner, and this year we wanted to have a discussion with our producers about competition planning. Between March of 2015 and March of 2016, both Natural Grocers and Whole Foods will have opened their doors less than 3 miles from the co-op.  With direct competitions and other traditional stores stepping up their game on the organic and local foods, our store, like many other co-ops across the country, is noticing the impact. We’ve spent years now doing competition prep planning, had board and owner visioning, staff input, and talked to other coops, and thought we should get some feedback from our producers.  We saw this year’s dinner as an opportunity to have a conversation with our producers about their ideas for thriving in the face of competition and specifically how P6 and the direct vendor relationship can help strengthen our store as well as their businesses.

DSC_0148The competition discussion was led by Mike after short presentations about how P6 works in the different departments and a P6 year review and farmer committee report. Since this was our first full year of being a P6 coop, we really wanted to have staff members talk about the program in action in their different departments, to give the producers an idea of what the staff are doing with P6, its impact, and new aspects of the program that we’ve developed this past year. Debbie spoke about how the cashiers use P6 to engage customers and the store’s New Leaf program, a way that customers can round up their purchases and donate the amount towards a specific need or project from the store’s P6 producers. Zee talked about it from her perspective during nights and weekends and what she was doing to source and promote P6 beer & wine. Mee talked about the tools she developed for tracking crop agreements, shopping P6 in packaged products, and her new liaison position before I presented.

DSC_0150I was excited to review our first full year of P6. We’re doing a lot more P6 events now and I wanted everyone to know how our collective involvement with the national trade movement was impacting our local store. I thanked everyone from the host room and servers to ONF staff and board, and then of course, the producers. Part of the intention of the dinner is to help our producers develop a sense of being a distinct group within our community. We had some really fun things to report, like Mee’s new liaison position, sales data from events like our P6 Shindigs, and the things everyone waits for in the farmer committee report: who our top producer was (Sycamore Bend Farm) and the total dollar amount of fresh foods purchased over the past year.  In 2014 we purchased over $167,000 of local fresh fruits and veggies. This year we sourced over $201,000 of P6 produce and plants!

DSC_0141I think this is due to two things: our new approach with fresh foods and increased participation with P6.  I was completely amazed and so thrilled that the number had increased so much and despite a slump in overall store sales. I think it’s an healthy indication of the resilience of our producers and ours store, and like I told them, it almost brought a tear to my eye.  It’s great to know and be able to share this information.  People can get down after years like this one where torrential rains caused 50-75% crop losses for 3 of our top producers and people are waiting to compare us to Whole Foods. Things like the dinner just lift everyone’s spirits for an evening and remind us all of the bigger picture. Our producers look forward to ‘the dinner’ every year and it’s had a tangibly positive impact on vendor relations, something I view as a core part of P6. With 2015 coming to a close we’re all looking forward to 2016 with crop planning, new tools for P6 vendors created by the staff, and of course, to next year’s dinner.

Update from the Grow Together Fund

IMG_20151201_114003In 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.

  • Before Equal Exchange started working with us, we were only processing 2800 quintales (100 pound bags) of raw cashew nuts because our land certified as organic was only 163 Manzanas (113 Hectares) (280 acres). This last year we hired an agriculture technician to give follow up to a new group of cashew farmers. These farmers were already producing cashew nuts, but were not organically certified, so we put our efforts toward giving them technical assistance in organic agriculture and we got them certified.IMG_20151201_123255
  • We increased our production of organic cashew nuts from 3000 to 3500 quintales.
  • We increased our annual sales from $350,000 to $425,000; this was because we had more organic cashews available.
  • We increased labor in our factory one month longer than usual (80 people at the processing plant) providing badly needed jobs for women in the area.
  • We added 15 new members in the department of Usulután. We now have 62 members.
  • We have planted 700 new trees (in new areas that represents 10 new hectares) (25 acres).
  • 700 old trees were cut and new seedlings were created by grafting new shoots onto the old trees.IMG_20151201_122537
  • We have created a Revolving Loan Fund to make credit available for farmers. We have available a credit line for small cashew farmers who receive pre-finance to do maintenance work on their cashew farms before the harvest time. This helps them increase productivity of their farm and feed their families while they are waiting for the harvest.

 

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!