Yard to Market is a Producers’ Cooperative. That means we are democratically governed and owned by the producers whom we serve. This is the fifth in a series of posts about the 7 Co-operative Principles which provide the foundation for how co-ops function. You can see the first post here.
Principle 5: Providing Education and Training
This is a big one. Member-owners of any cooperative are often learning about the co-op model and board governance for the very first time. In addition, most of Yard to Market Co-op’s producer members have never sold food in the marketplace before and must learn organic agricultural industry best practices for growing, harvesting, storage and delivery of their homegrown bounty. That’s a whole lot of new information for our members, and it’s a constant challenge to make that education easy, fun and effective. If you haven’t guessed yet, this very blog series is a part of our education campaign- making info about cooperatives available to all our current and future members to access at their convenience. But the blog is just the tip of the iceberg: here are some of the other ways Yard to Market works to teach members about growing and selling food cooperatively:
- The Member Handbook The one-stop shop for all things Yard to Market, this booklet is the ultimate record of how food gets from gardens to plates, and how payment goes from customer, through the co-op, into the pockets of the growers. New members are asked to read the handbook as part of the joining process, and copies are available online as well as at the Farmstand if questions arise.
- Farmstand Training The most important piece of the membership process is spending a day at the Farmstand. New members help set up the stand, check in produce, keep it fresh over the course of the market, and sell it. It’s also the first and best chance for a new member to get a sense of the culture of the cooperative and the strong focus on produce quality and friendly but businesslike member relations.
- Annual Meeting Each May the Co-op holds its annual member meeting. This is a chance for members to come together and learn about milestones, successes and challenges facing the business they co-own. The member meetings are the main venue where members exercise their voting rights and really engage with the democratic nature of the co-op. It’s also a time where members can ask questions of their Board of Directors and learn more about co-op governance.
- Board Participation Members are encouraged to engage more deeply with the co-op by attending Board meetings, joining a Board committee and/or running for a seat on the Board of Directors. This interaction is most members’ first experience with corporate governance and the policy governance system that Yard to Market uses to assess operational and board performance.
- Yard to Market 411 Newsletter This is a big one for producer skills training as well as owner engagement. The newsletter provides the latest weekly information relevant to producers like: what’s selling well, any schedule or policy changes (like Produce Standard Sizes and Prices 3rd QTR 2015) and availability of discounted garden supplies. It means even if producers don’t make it to the Farmstand each week, they can still be in the loop with what’s going on in the Co-op.
- Check-in and Participation at the Farmstand Once the initial Farmstand training shift is complete, training continues at Farmstand drop-off. As each new vegetable and fruit comes into season, new growers gain more experience with the bundling practices described in the Bundling Guide and our online videos as well as the quality (both cosmetic and inherent) that is required for Farmstand sales. Growers learn to cull seconds, to eyeball a 12oz bunch of greens, and to tie tight, attractive herb bundles.
- Member Events more casual than the Annual Member Meeting, Yard to Market hosts member events throughout the year to teach and build a cohesive, collaborative co-op culture.
- Lending Library Our newest resource treasure trove, the Yard to Market Co-op Library Catalog contains published titles on cooperative governance and history, food justice, gardening, cooking, farming and permaculture. There are also some great essays by Wendell Berry and some biographies of folks who have spent careers in small-scale food production.
Yard to Market Co-op takes its role as educator very seriously, and we are always looking for new, clearer, more delightful ways to convey information to our members, customers and community partners. Do you have a great idea for educating co-op members? Drop us a line – firstname.lastname@example.org