A version of this post by Pauline of Ozark Natural Foods first appeared on their website. Thanks to Pauline and everyone at ONF for all their work to host our Annual Meeting this year!
At the end of May, we had the honor of hosting the Annual National P6 Board of Directors Meeting. Twenty representatives from the growing number of retail and wholesale cooperatives visited Northwest Arkansas to discuss the program, see how the program works in our store, and to vote on the board. This meeting was also historic as we got to elect the first official Board of Directors since the original members voted to become a member owned national cooperative in the spring of last year. We were so excited to host the meeting and meet amazing individuals from member co-ops including Sewards, Viroqua, Roanoke, Maple Valley, Farmer Direct, Three Rivers Market, Eastside, Menomonie, and CROPP, which most of you might know as Organic Valley along with Aaron Reser and Ruby Levine, the national program director and marketing assistant for P6.
The meeting was short and packed full of vibrant discussion on the values and logistics of cooperatively produced and distributed food, using the program to tell the story of P6 producers, the challenges and competition facing co-ops, and visions and directions for our new board. The meeting took place at Mt. Sequoyah, where our guests were lodged, and was catered by Ozark Natural Foods. Our northern friends seemed to particularly enjoy our house made biscuits and gravy. [Ed: can confirm.] The group mostly arrived on Wednesday night and started flying out Friday afternoon so their visit was mostly business, reports, intense idea sharing, and presentations. We did get to find time for some Fayetteville fun though! Some of the members along with myself and Ali, our Marketing Manager, met up the first night for a great dinner at Four Corners Kitchen where they got to enjoy all the local foods purchased and prepared in this wonderful new restaurant that is focused on the same thing we are in our kitchen here at ONF, using a menu that is built around seasonal local, and in our case, P6 farm offerings. (Special thanks to CROPP for taking us out!)
The next night was our turn and it was our delight to be able to take our guests and cooperative advocates out to dinner at Green House Grill with 2 of our own P6 producers, Tessa and Scott from White River Creamery and Mee McGill from Roots in Bloom. They, along with Genevieve Villines from Villines Family Farm, took time off their extremely busy farms to be a part of a workshop exercise and tell their story to the board and member representatives. Joining us for dinner, owner and operator Jerrmy Gawthrop, took time out to speak to members about the concept behind his restaurants and the driving force of locally sourced ingredients. A particularly moving moment for me was being able to share a meal with the people who both produced and prepared our ingredients and dishes while in the company of those who have done so much work on local and cooperative food systems. It is one of those times where I can literally see our food and cooperative movements strengthening, all over some goat cheese.
After a half day of meeting on Friday and lunch at our store, they listened to a presentation of the P6 program in our store and then got to tour Appleseeds Garden next door where Farm Manager Cale stayed in town to go over the non-profit’s operations and crops. The biggest take away for me was gaining the understanding that P6 is not just a marketing campaign, in the words of Eric from CROPP, P6 is a supply-chain program. It deals with how food actually moves around our country from farmer to store to consumer and farm to wholesale avenues and distribution. This is what coops are seeking to take on to make the food that we have worked over the past 40 years just to provide to our communities through retail stores. We are now working together as a group to move that food from farmer to you in a way that further benefits the communities who have made a co-op. Cooperatives address the unique needs of the communities they are in and we have learned a lot from each other. I’m excited to be in a store that does this for my community and for us now to be a part of this larger network that is constantly geared at strengthening each of its members. We are especially thankful to the entire board, staff, members, producers, and chefs who took the time to make this amazing event occur. Go co-op, go local, go P6!