Talent Cornerstone: Reflections on the Startup Process

By Alan Langrall of Green Top Grocery

gtg-logoThe four cornerstones are constants in the lifecycle of all co-ops, whether they are startups or stores that have been opened for some time. People often come to the table not knowing what they have to offer, or what is expected of them. Helping volunteers find the fit for their personal talents, and work within the group setting, requires thought and evaluation. When the right person is in the right job, the entire group benefits.

In 2012, Alan Langrall came to the fledgling Green Top Grocery (GTG) startup the way many people start at co-ops. He saw a poster for the first community meeting and was curious. “I still remember that poster featured a big stalk of broccoli with a light bulb base, and something about it really got my attention.“ He kept going to follow up meetings and became an owner at the first event when ownerships were offered. Not yet knowing what was involved in a startup co-op board, Alan volunteered for the first board. “I must have figured they all seemed to be smart folks and that we could just figure it out as we go “ With others, he has attended several Up & Coming conferences, and is excited to see GTG is now in the process of building their store. The staff of FCI is delighted that Alan is sharing his personal story of working to build a co-op, and he welcomes emails at ablinil@hotmail.com.

It’s all about the love, right? Good ideas naturally attract good people and good fortune, right? While certainly recognizing the maximum effort and the considerable time, energy, and hard work that has gone down, Green Top Grocery has indeed been very fortunate. Fortunate

  • to have had that genuine, influential, community minded, original organizer who recognized the opportunity and first came up with the whole idea (Elaine),
  • to be positioned early (through funds made available) to find and hire that someone with the unique passion and outreach skills needed to grow our owner numbers (Katie),
  • to still have that uniquely talented and generous graphic artist as part of our original heavy lifting team (Melanie),
  • to be close enough to that thriving, established, model co-op to be mentored and be supported in so many ways (Common Ground Food Co-op) and
  • to have the consulting resources of FCI and CDS Consulting Co-op available that have played and continue to play a huge part in the success of GTG.

For me, these people and the gifts they bring really stand out. There are many more outstanding people involved, and other examples of the love and nurturing they bring to the task. May our good luck and fortune continue.

gtg-marketign-cookiesAs an early owner and board member, I would often have conversations with new owners and others about our co-op. I came to see myself as working in the background of the organization. My contributions are valuable, but of a different nature than some others. They were the heavy lifters, and I was okay with that. We have had a wide range of lifters and levels of involvement over time as people come and go. I have happily done my share as needed, and at very least continue to show up. There were many times where my energies and skill set proved no match for the meeting organizing, document designing, newsletter writing, spreadsheet producing, or tech savvy contributions of others. At one co-op conference I was reminded that organizations benefit and even need people like me. My contributions are more on the order of balancing and calming in nature. I like to believe there have been times where that was needed.

I recall being part of the reconciliation process through two separate rough patches. Fortunately our consultants helped and their advice was well received. Who knows if my actions moved the pivot points, but it felt right and very necessary at the time. Feelings were indeed hurt each time. Both times, after a few tears and eventual forgiveness, we got back on track. Looking back, it probably made us stronger. I do recall how fragile the whole thing felt with nearly everyone being a volunteer. I wondered what really holds this thing together, and realized it’s really all about the love. You really do have to love it and believe in it. I still wonder occasionally, but now I see it and marvel. As we continue to grow, our momentum feels strong, and that feels pretty great.

Event planning and logistics have ended up being my co-op niche. I just signed on again for another annual meeting planning committee. There will be more events, and a store opening. Check lists! Phone calls! Meetings! Let’s go! We have things to celebrate.

I value this important thought from another co-op conference participant: “If it’s not fun, what’s the point?” Cheers, fellow startup co-ops! Party on!

FCI: Why We Like This:  Right from the beginning, matching people’s skills and gifts to the tasks of starting a co-op is super important. The TALENT cornerstone is all about that—putting people to work, seeking out great workers for every task, and building them as steam and keeping the momentum going as the startup progresses. This personal story shows how one committed volunteer can find a niche, adapt to the changing needs of the group, and bring enthusiasm at every turn.


Great Events: FED Talks

by Carol Rauschenberger of Shared Harvest

Shard Harvest logo
The staff at FCI loves hearing about the great events that startup co-ops offer. They build membership, teach people about co-ops, and bring the communities together over food, and local food systems. FCI wants to share some of these with you in our blog stories on Great Events.

Shared Harvest in Elgin, IL faces a common startup struggle-building community interest in local food, and in the idea of a community-owned food co-op. Our thanks to Carol Rauschenberger, the founder of this startup food cooperative, for sharing this Great Event with us. For more information on their event, email Carol at info@sharedharvest.coop. Reach the Food Co-op Initiative staff anytime at info@fci.coop.

To connect with the public and reach potential coop members, Shared Harvest is always looking for ways to educate the community about food-food systems, safety, accessibility, and similar issues. Finding great ways to bring people out to talk about food issues, and learn about the co-op, can be an ongoing challenge.

Two years ago we did a film series on food-The Shared Harvest Film “Feastival”. We learned that a short film is better than a long one, especially when not sitting in a comfy theater seat. Our participants looked for a brief facilitated discussion after each film. We did the series primarily at the local library. In true food co-op style, we featured some healthy munchies, and we averaged about 30 people per event.

FEDTalks Full House SHared HarvestThis spring we sought another avenue to educate people about food and our co-op mission. We had thrown around the idea of TED talks two years ago. After some research, we realized that was not an easy road to take. There is a lot of preparation and paperwork to even be qualified to be part of the TED Talk series.

Still liking the idea of the TED talks, we came up with our own version: FED Talks, short for Food EDucation Talks. Using a similar TED format of 15 minute presentations, we provided three brief and passionate talks by local experts. Including introductions and a brief discussion time, we offered our target audience a succinct and thought-provoking hour long event. Two factors could support our success: many passionate people in the area have great knowledge about various food topics, and our award-winning Gail Borden Public Library would include us in their quarterly flyer. The library flyer goes to every household in the community. We also publicized the talks through Facebook and email.

Eagerly, we reached out to several potential speakers, settling on three. By offering an informal atmosphere, we felt even inexperienced speakers could feel comfortable. A local organic farmer, spoke about the “Importance of Local Food”. “Following Your Passion” was offered by a mushroom farm worker, and a master gardener shared “What the Local University Extension Can Do for YOU”. Two of the speakers used slide presentations, and we had a volunteer signal the three-minute warning to each speaker.

Blog Facts FedTalksThe weather was cold but clear on the evening of our FED Talks in early February. We planned for an audience of 30 people, but wound up with 50. We had a brief facilitated discussion after the talks and many people lingered over snacks for a good half hour longer.

Though we were not able to measure direct membership sales from the event, it was well attended. The speakers were passionate and interesting to listen to and well-received by the audience. Our only regret is that we didn’t film the talks.

Both our film and FED Talks series demonstrate our commitment to the community and food education. Our second FED Talk is coming up in May. We already have our speakers lined up, and are looking into video taping them .

FCI: Why We Like This:  An  event like Shared Harvest’s FED Talks can be a low demand on an organizing team yet still help define the co-op as a convener of thought and innovation around a community’s food system. It builds the co-op’s legitimacy, relationships with other food-focused thinkers, and is a form of food education for the community. It is important to demonstrate how the co-op brings value to owners and the entire community before the doors are open. Some efforts to do this take so much energy they may sidetrack the ultimate goal of opening a store. Putting on a FED Talks event once or twice a year can build community value without diverting energy. Including a solid membership push would enhance the event.

Great Events: Movie Night

Reposted from April 25, 2014 – Food Co-op Initiative staff
“Everything I learned I learned from the movies.” ― Audrey Hepburn

popcorn-1413413768A5QHosting a movie night can have many benefits for your startup. Publicising the event will create PR for your project. You can likely raise a small amount of money from admissions and/or sale of concessions. If a social hour is held afterwards, movie night can be a community builder. And if you use the titles below, you’re sure to inspire some first rate discussions of food issues.

Food for Change
Focuses on the food co-op movement in the U.S., including the way they are strengthening communities and helping the local economy. http://www.foodforchange.coop

Forks Over Knives
Examines whether degenerative diseases can be controlled or reversed by diets free of animal-based and processed foods. http://www.forksoverknives.com

Seeds of Freedom
Charts the story of seed, including the impact the industrial agricultural system and genetically modified seeds have on communities around the world. http://www.seedsoffreedom.info

What’s on Your Plate?
Follows two 11-year-olds from New York City as they discover where their food comes from and learn more about sustainable food practices, including co-ops. http://www.whatsonyourplateproject.org

American Meat
A pro-farmer documentary about a grass-roots revolution in sustainable farming — starring Virginia’s own Joel Salatin and his Polyface Farms — explains how America arrived at its current industrial system and explores the burgeoning local-food movement of farmers, chefs and everyday folks who are changing the way meat reaches the American table. http://www.americanmeatfilm.com

King Corn
A story of two friends, one acre of corn, and the subsidized crop that drives our fast-food nation. As the film unfolds, two best friends from college on the east coast, move to the heartland to learn where their food comes from. With the help of friendly neighbors, genetically modified seeds, and powerful herbicides, they plant and grow a bumper crop of America’s most-productive, most-ubiquitous grain on one acre of Iowa soil. But when they try to follow their pile of corn into the food system, what they find raises troubling questions about how we eat-and how we farm. http://www.kingcorn.net