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Your Board

Hi, I'm Your Board

Outpost's Board of Directors will use this blog to discuss issues the board is exploring as it envisions Outpost's future. Can't make it to a meeting? Check here frequently to read what the Board is up to. Your current Outpost Board of...
Your Board

My Dream Food Co-op

Board Beet
By Your Board on July 16, 2013

One of the really cool parts of my day job at Feeding America is that I get to travel around the country to join, start, simplify, complicate, explicate, and otherwise advance some of the big conversations surrounding food, food access, hunger, and food systems. It’s really one of the favorite parts of my job.

So it was to my great pleasure that many of the same themes emerged in the sessions, keynotes  and side conversations at the 2013 Consumer Cooperative Management Association (CCMA) conference in Austin, which I attended last week with more than 400 co-op staff and board members from across the nation, including some of my fellow Outpost board members and store managers.


Going into CCMA, I made an intentional choice not to talk about food access, but when I got there, the opportunity to connect my day job to my work of the Outpost board on your behalf, and to cooperative movement at-large, was too rich an opportunity to pass up.


“Food Access for All: Food Access in Mixed Income Communities” was the first session I attended and it stood out to me because the session facilitators asked one simple question – if you were to build the ideal/dream co-op what would it look like? As I sat there thinking about it, it struck me that my ideal food bank and ideal co-op shared more in common than differences.


For example, I believe that both food banks and food co-ops must become more active participants in shaping, improving and protecting the policy environments they operate in through advocacy. We have a lot to lose on the policy front with all of the proposed changes in the Farm Bill, and how that piece of omnibus legislation is written and designed. Who better to inform that process than us, the farmers, eaters, environmentalists and advocates for low-income families?


We also must engage our constituents and stakeholders in a process of co-creation. Whether it’s a food bank program or a full service food co-op in a low-income community, the people availing themselves of the service will not own anything that they don’t have a hand in creating. We risk either failing completely or falling into the trap of being food missionaries if we believe that we can be successful otherwise.


Also, both food banks and food co-ops need to create more robust partnerships for collective impact. Imagine a food co-op that had real goals and metrics to decrease the rates of food insecurity in their communities. Imagine a food bank that had goals to decrease the rates of diet-related diseases and other community health outcomes. Imagine that we were able to forge the trusting partnerships and create the mutually reinforcing activities that leveraged and built upon on our individual assets. Imagine how successful we could be.


Finally, in order to make all of this work, we need adaptive, values based leadership. The key threat to us achieving all of the above is that in the current world of restricted resources, we will try to pick out and amplify the small differences in our missions to corner the market on resources rather than focusing and investing in our similarities – or in other words, cooperation. Freud called this the narcissism of small differences. And it will take an adaptive form of leadership, one that is uncompromising in its values, but also open to change, to bring us together and align us toward our broad goals.

Ok, so you have a sense of the characteristics of my dream food co-op/dream food bank. What’s yours?

– David Lee, board member


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