I've been recently given the pleasure of interviewing one of my newest colleagues and board member confidants, owner/director, Xochitl Small. But, before I go further, let me introduce myself. My name is Laurence, I am the recently elected employee board member for our beautiful Mountain View Market Cooperative, and I’ve been an owner since 2013 and have put in almost three years of service at this wonderful place. Xochitl's acting role on the board of directors takes on many forms, one of those included being a co-delegate, along with Claudia Piper, to represent MVM in an all-co- op event held recently in 2016. I was afforded the opportunity to get the details from Xochitl, herself, in a fun interview style meeting, in which she beautifully explains her take on Co-op Café.
L: Can you give us a brief explanation of what the Cooperative Café actually is?
X: Initially, I didn't really know what it was, even after being on the board for a year now, this would have been the first time the opportunity presented itself. Co-op Café is run by CDS or Cooperative Development Services, who are actually a cooperative of consultants; they essentially do consulting for co-ops and are, in turn, cooperatively ran. The do a few things, training is their main focus, but they also set up multiple Co-op Cafés all over the U.S. The overall idea behind the Cafés is to discuss different challenges and opportunities each co-op is confronted with, and then to share this knowledge, not just with the consultants but with different delegates from co-ops in this region.
L: Was there an overall theme for this year's summit in particular?
X: So this time the theme was courageous leadership; because each co-op is experiencing different and challenging transitions, the hosts came up with an overall united theme for the group.
L: Meeting new people is always fun, what were some of the ice breaker or mixer activities used to acquaint everybody?
X: There was one, the "Get-to- know-you Bingo" (chuckles), so it's set up with squares like bingo that have some trivial information-- a random detail about a person, and we had to find someone that fit the description and write his/her name in the square. Like you had to find someone that traveled over a hundred miles to be here or silly ones, like do you have a secret tattoo (laughs)..
L: Was that you?
X: (laughs again) That was not me (more laughing)..
L: Was it helpful?
X: There were prizes for the winner, I didn't win, but they had erasers shaped like produce to go along with the grocery theme. Throughout the event the format was based on mixing and sharing new experiences, essentially brainstorming with people that you've just met, so it was helpful.
L: What were some of the activities used to brainstorm ideas?
X: The idea was to collectively germinate ideas or thoughts; we were asked to watch movies, and sit through presentations, but the major activity was going on at the tables throughout the room. White butcher paper was stretched across each table with 5 or 6 people at each, where sticky notes were readily available for use. The idea was to watch the presentation, collect your thoughts on the stickies, and later, share them along the blank canvas each table represented, then, finally, to migrate to a new table, where new stickies and one representative awaited you from the group before you.
L: I hear the CDS CC Library is quite a powerful resource, what does the acronym stand for and is this your typical library?
X: You do kind of have to have a card-- where members of the CDS get access. As directors we have access to two really helpful networks, the Cooperative Grower's Network and the CDS, Cooperative Development Services, who work through the Consulting Co-op, that's where the CC comes from. These are basically extremely knowledgeable consultants who have gained experience through direct service in the co-op industry. With all the collaborated information, the group has maintained a Library that has, for years, logged various by-laws and other resourceful cooperative legislature and so becomes a resource that other co-ops can reference as a focus or starting point. In actuality it's more of a digital reserve of information that, as a new board member, has been very helpful.
L: I read a quote that I really liked from Charles Darwin stating, "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change," how does this notion hold for co-ops especially ours?
X: So that quote struck deeply with me as well. Partially because of the successful history our co-op, in particular, has seen. Historically, the co-op has had very high grossing numbers financially, a high grossing grocery store (chuckles), we were doing really well when we were the only game in town (organic, non-GMO, and non-conventional), but with the arrival of additional perceptions and growing competition, our strengths couldn't insulate us as well. So now it's less about how we were able to be successful in the past, but more about how we learn to continue to serve the needs of our community; basically, with the competition now being able to provide these same things, how do we continue to be the place where people shop?
L: What is World Café?
X: World Café is name given to the activity used to brainstorm the finer points examined in the struggles and successes of each co-op, later refined to powerful conclusions or ideas.
L: Is it something our co-op could use or find helpful?
X: Because it promotes continuing the conversation, our store can move forward making progress by identifying and addressing the important factors specific to our co-op. I think having one among our owners would allow these concerns to, not only come to light, but in following the basic principles of a co-op, and having such potential, our owners could become interested and engaged, thereby offering their own input.
L: What are some of the best or well-loved responses produced in the workshop? How can these work for Mountain View Market?
X: The double up box: people who receive food stamps could effectively double up the value of their purchase simply by using it for produce, much like the promotion at the local farmers market a customer would me more inclined to shop and eat healthy with such an incentive. Another mentionable response, came from our own Claudia Piper, my co-delegate, who is also an extremely experienced board member. She had an inspiring take-away that explored the possibilities of subsets, or various cooperatives within the Organ Mountains Cooperative. Because the legal entity made possible by the original founders afforded us subsets to a common cooperative theme, it is actually possible for our co-op to branch out into alternate or additional cooperative formats. For example, say we wanted to create a child care cooperative-- the provisions of the Organ Mountains Cooperative allow us to embark in such ventures.
L: Going forward, how can some of the ideals produced at the summit be utilized in everyday operations in our store?
X: As an owner, the things that would be really exciting for me, for example, is walking down the produce aisle, and seeing actual photos of the farmer and the farm, and being able to research the different processes involved in each harvest in order to make a well informed decision on my purchase. Also, it would be great to engage owners at the annual member meetings, not just to enjoy a social event, but to participate in a planning segment much like the World Café.