Great Events: Hondo Co-op Market’s First Event

By Adrianna Young from Hondo, Texas.

HONDO_COOP_MARKET202-2
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.
Hondo Co-op Market in Texas is in Stage 1 development stage, and Adrianna Young is a driving force behind getting this startup launched. Community meetings have moved them forward towards incorporation. They are working hard to show their community—a blend of small town surrounded by farms and ranches—to understand what a co-op is, and why Hondo needs one. Adrianna welcomes questions at ayoung0509@yahoo.com., and we are glad she is willing to share this first tabling experience with others.

Hello from Hondo, is a rural community in south central Texas with a population of about 9,000 residents.  Rich with agricultural resources, farmers and local producers, several of our local farmers provide produce for our two large grocers in town, H.E.B and Walmart. Many of Hondo residents share the common vision that Hondo is an ideal place for a retail food cooperative.  We have been inspired by the growing interest in the co-op and the flourishing attendance at each monthly meeting.

We started formally organizing in Spring 2016. Our first outreach event was 4th of July in ‘God’s Country’, the local nickname for Hondo.  We chose the annual Independence Day celebration because we felt prepared to start outreach, and the event is a manageable size. As a fledgling startup we had limited workers, but we felt this would be a good first event for us. Committing to the day forced us to get more of our early organizing work done.  We needed to table, but first we needed to clarify our mission.

Two weeks beforehand we held a meeting to create our vision statement. We broke into small groups with a list of questions to discuss and answer.  After about twenty minutes we read everyone’s ideas and created one vision statement. This would ensure we were all on the same page and could share the same information with our prospective members at our outreach event.

Vision statement:

Hondo Co-op Market is a member-owned, locally-focused consumer co-op serving the surrounding Medina community. Hondo Co-op Market provides access to local produce, local services, high quality products at the best possible price and a community space for cooking and wellness classes. Hondo Co-op Market furnishes a central vending location for local producers.

IMG_5030Our goal for the event was to promote the idea of having a retail food co-op in Hondo and to poll interest from individuals that shared the same vision. We also wanted to share food items made with local ingredients. Another intention was to connect with local businesses and local producers and get their feelings and opinion on a food cooperative in Hondo. Our main tool for reaching out has been social media and email.

Preparation for the event was easy and not too expensive. Our local print shop created our banner. ($50) A friend picked it up for me and paid for it, her donation for the event. I purchased a 12 by 12 foot canopy, and attached our banner. Two main tables served for sign-up sheets and informational materials. I created a nice informational flyer to hand out.A homemade soap display promoting support for a local family business. We sold patty pan squash muffins and zucchini bread muffins for $.50-1.00, but we only sold a few. Next time, we will have our treat tables closer to the front of the canopy.

image2We decided that we would have free art for children—vegetable coloring sheets, bubble wrap art, jewelry making and simple chicken origami activity. The kiddos and families had a blast! (I researched art ideas and purchased the supplies; we had two supporters give $90 collectively to help with material costs). I painted the signs for each art activity and set up three tables for each activity.The tables stayed busy throughout the evening. We stayed pretty busy helping the kiddos with their projects. We had six co-op supporters helping at our booth, some in short shifts and some until cleanup at 11:00 p.m.  

This event was a success. Next time, fewer art projects, and more focus on local food and co-op. The art projects became too involved and seemed to take away quality chatting time with prospective members. In the future perhaps an easy coloring page, local food samples, and more local items on display.

Our volunteers were awesome and were confident in Hondo Co-op Market’s vision.They were all very comfortable sharing the benefits of a food co-op in Hondo. For our next event, it might be helpful to have volunteers outside of the canopy greeting supporters.  Prep hours for the event ran about 4-6 hours for a small group of volunteers doing research, printing flyers, painting signs, picking up t-shirts from printer. Research art ideas, travel time to San Antonio for materials (35 miles from Hondo).

Advice I can give to another Stage 1 having their first event?  Colorful banner, matching t-shirts, a vision statement to communicate to prospective members, meet before your event to plan activities, perhaps create a shift schedule for volunteers, be sure of your focus for the day. I feel we focused on the art projects too much. Bring lots of water to drink and snacks. Have supplies like duct tape, Sharpies, extra poster boards, pens, zip ties for fastening items to your canopy, and light up your canopy!  It draws attention. Play music, smile and most of all have fun!

Our next outreach event will be in October at the Camo 5K Run. We are also in the planning stages for Hondo Co-op Market’s Local Taste event. We learned a lot this round, and are really looking forward to doing more outreach and building excitement for our future co-op.

FCI: Why We Like This:  Getting the word out that you are planning for a co-op, and talking to community members about what a co-op can mean to your community, is a critical first step for every startup. Jumping in to advocate while you are still learning the co-op ropes may seem scary, but it can create awesome community involvement. Plan continued public events as the behind the scenes work of organizing ramps up, and move towards being able to start your member/owner drive.
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Great Events: Promoting Membership

by Jeremy Nash of Prairie Food Co-op
Prairie Food Co-op logo sm
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.
Prairie Food Co-op in Lombard, IL has been successful in building membership by using one-month promotions, and keeping the interest high on social media. Our thanks to Jeremy Nash, co-founder and outreach coordinator of this startup food cooperative, for sharing this Great Event with us. For more information on these promotions, email Jeremy at jerry@prairiefood.coop. Reach the Food Co-op Initiative staff anytime at info@fci.coop.

At Prairie Food Co-op, we have been very successful at running promotions. They are an effective way of increasing membership numbers, but require thoughtful planning and interaction. The following is a list of the basics we have found to be most helpful.

Identify a realistic goal
The Facts PRairie Food PromosOur standard is the month-long promotion with the aim of getting around new 30 member/owners, but you can successfully use other time frames and goals. The more urgent the timeframe, the more chance of success is promised. If you want potential owners to be engaged, they’ve got to “see” the goal. A two week or month-long goal is easy to see, while a multi-month goal may be too long to maintain focus.

Choose an appropriate enticement
Knowing your community and potential member base is important. Consider how much you are willing to spend. Anything you can get for free or a deal is a plus. Often, a farmer or business will be happy to provide the prize for free or reduced cost, knowing the value the promotion will bring them. Or ask your owners for freebies. People welcome a chance to help the co-op if they’re too busy to help by volunteering. One or our owners donated four Cubs tickets, which we changed to two pairs to use as an incentive and we signed up 23 new member/owners in less than a week.

A few ideas for enticements:
CSA share (fruit, veggie, meat, fish), Arboretum/Museum Membership, gift card at local restaurant, theater, sports and local event tickets, locally made art, spa pass, etc. The sky’s the limit!

Messaging
Before announcing your promo, thoughtful planning of messaging is key to keeping your community engaged while the promo is going on. Name your promo something catchy, but simple, like “30 in 30” or “25 to Thrive”. You’ll be writing this a lot so make sure it’s not too complicated and can be incorporated into more specific messaging and easily hashtagged (#30in30!).

An effective medium to communicate your promo is your newsletter. Make sure the newsletter is to the point and doesn’t contain too much information. The promo doesn’t have to be the only topic in the newsletter, but it should be just one of a few topics. Make sure you have a link inside the newsletter that takes the receiver to your owner signup page.

Facebook
Prairie Food Coop screen shot FBSocial media can be a very valuable tool. We use Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, but Facebook has proven to be most effective. Understanding it’s pacing and algorithms will help produce results. Check out the Prairie Food Facebook page for a real life example.

Post at least three times a day if you can. Around 10 am, 2 pm, and early evening are the best times. Posting too early, too late, around commute times, or around mealtimes will limit your views. When running a promo, two of these posts should be related to the promo. They can be new member/owner announcements, the promo itself, or the website of the prize you are raffling* off.

A graphic that lists all of the details of the promo so you don’t have to write the details of the promo every time you post is very helpful. When the pic is clicked, it should send them to your member/owner signup page on your website. Countdown (15 to Go!, 10 to Go!, 5 to Go!) graphics are effective too.

Welcome your new owners as they come in. Some co-ops welcome four or five new members at a time in a post, which is necessary sometimes, but I believe it’s more effective to post owner welcomes one at a time to maintain an appearance of steady growth.

Make sure that as many people as possible see your posts, or at least the important ones. Here are a few tips on getting more eyes on your promo posts.

• Tell your audience to “like”, comment, and share the post within the post itself.
• Share the post in as many appropriate community Facebook groups and pages as possible.
• “Like” your own posts! Each “like” you receive increases your views. I “like” each post we make as myself, our co-op page, and two other pages that I am admin for.
• Boosting your post can be very effective, especially if you use Facebook’s targeting tool where you can target your preferred audience for your post by criteria such as city, gender, age, and what pages they like. Be aware that after you boost a post, the organic numbers you achieved before you boosted will dramatically sink for a period of time.

If your ongoing membership drive seems to be stuck and you are not getting any traction, consider a mini-promo that will get you rebooted. This has worked for us on multiple occasions. Our recent Cubs tickets promo was a mini-promo. We found that we got a large majority of our goal in the last 24 hours of our promo.

Prairie Food CUBS tix winnersAnd the Winner Is!
If you don’t meet your goal you don’t have to post about it. Most people won’t notice. However, if your promo was a success, shout it to the world.

If you’ve got the time, have fun with it. You can write all the names down on a piece of paper and make a video of a cute kid drawing the name from a hat, but wait to announce the winner until you have contacted them and they are interested in the prize. Some people, especially in cases where you mix promotions or the prize is time sensitive, may not want the prize or be able to use it. Alternately you can use whatever online random generator you want. No one has to know that you didn’t go to all the trouble of pulling a name out of a hat. In this case you can just announce the winning member in a post with a link to the prize they’ll be winning.

This example is by no means exhaustive, but I am confident that if you follow most of the advice listed, you will have a successful member/owner promotion. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me at jerry@prairieood.coop.

Good luck!

FCI: Why We Like This:  A series of promotions like these shared by Prairie Food Co-op can successfully build and maintain excitement around membership, as well as keep the co-op active in the public eye. Getting enticing prizes is a key that may require a great negotiator from the co-op group, but also can build community relationships. Your group can decide on prizes based on available donations and your own budget. This is a great example of effective use of social media to reach new and existing member/owners. The fact that it can be repeated with minimum effort is a big plus.

*A note on Raffles: Some states and municipalities have laws regarding the use of raffles. Be sure to check in your area.

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