Following are remarks from Tony Thompson, the IFC’s outgoing board president.
Thursday night I was at the annual dinner for the Sustainable Iowa Land Trust (SILT). Suzen Erem is one of the primary drivers behind the organization, and she says “No land for local food producers, no local food.” I’ve watched SILT grow over the past three years from an idea into a wonderfully viable organization. I didn’t come here tonight to talk about other organizations, however.
I came here because I’ve poured all of my spare time over the past year into the Iowa Food Coop. That spare time hasn’t been so easy to find – I’ve transitioned back from Sweden 4 years ago to last year running a 60-member CSA in my 2nd year of farming to now working full-time as a data analyst while still managing a local foods farm with 2 acres of vegetables, 100 laying hens, a couple dozen turkeys, and a few pigs. While I did the CSA on my own, my extended family has been very involved in doing most of the work for the eggs and turkeys.
Today, I put myself in a category I’m not so fond of: hobby farmer. I have access to a couple hundred of acres through my family’s century farm. I could have continued the CSA – struggled with a body that isn’t very cooperative – I have asthama and bad knees – and eeked out a very meager living. I’m still toying with ways to keep my hands in the soil.
I tell you this because there is a need for land for beginning and local foods farmers. That need is being address by other organizations. There is also a need – not being met by anyone else – that the IFC is perfectly positioned to meet. There is a need to CONNECT PRODUCERS with those who EAT.
There is a need – and it is our OPPORTUNITY and our RESPONSIBILITY – to rise to this challenge. Not to dwell on how hard it is or the reasons why we can’t do it – but rather to get on with doing it, together.
With that – there are 3 things that I want to share with you tonight:
1) The Genius of And.
2) It’s your Co-op (and you’re coop)
3) A call to action
First, the “Genius of And”
Work hard AND Work smart
Grass fed AND grain fed
Margin AND Mission
Consumers AND producers
“AND”s get harder the more ands there are. As a co-operative – with consumers, producers, volunteers, staff… it’s hard to keep us all happy. We must act with grace, and trust, and respect. We’re all in this, together, with different wants and needs. Producers need to survive. Consumers need to eat, and want to have a good experience. Volunteers want to contribute. Staff want to thrive. These aren’t either / or – these are “yes, and”, and in this is the essence of the nature of a co-op: the realization that we are not alone, and that others don’t have the exact same needs and wants as we do, and – in essence – we are stronger, together. And in a state where we export $8 billion a year on food – while we claim to feed the world – I have a dream of Making Iowa feed itself again. And I think we do that by working together with a spirit of cooperation.
2. It’s your co-op (and you’re coop)
First and foremost, we’re member-driven. Don’t the like the way it’s going? Step up and get involved. Trust me – you can become board president quickly! Or a board member. Or a distribution site volunteer. Or a marketing volunteer. Or… whatever you want to do to support the co-op volunteer.
The success of our co-op depends on us working together. Sharing responsibility. Doing our part. Contributing! The co-op is the fun part – co-operation, and sometimes friendly co-opetition – prices on products, or who can get products in their carts before they sell out.
But there is also a coop part. Envision the chicken coop – the work that has to be done. Collecting, washing, and packing the eggs. Feeding and watering the hens. Changing the bedding, scraping the floors. Keeping out the foxes. There’s hard, and not always the most fun, work that has to be done. But that is what makes us- this – work. That is what your 15% fee goes to. Instead of going into a banker’s pocket somewhere else… it goes into our small business. Please don’t forget that. Please don’t forget that at the end of the day – we are responsible for the financial success of this entity.
3. Returning to the wonderful vision of happy hens… here’s your call to action: What we really need your help with – well, the three marketing campaigns we established this year cover them well:
First: bring in new members. We’ve been working on this – we’ve had great support from visitors to our table at the Downtown Winter Farmers Market, and we will be tabling there again in two weeks. Norma has a sign up sheet if you are able to take a shift staffing the table. We are doing our first distribution in Pleasant Hill this week – and thanks to Courtney Long and Madeline Sturms for their work in getting things going – this is a wonderful partnership between the IFC, the City of Pleasant Hill, and Iowa State University! Still, personal connections from us as members are the best. Invite your friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers to experience the IFC. We have business cards that you can take as a reminders and hand out. You don’t have to go to Kim Jackson levels… but bringing in just 2 or 3 new members will go a long way!
Second: we want to increase the amount that each consumer is purchasing each cycle. We want you to be thinking about what more you want to see available for purchase on the IFC, and help us get it here. And be thinking about how you can buy more of what you eat through the IFC. Producers – my guess is that you don’t produce everything that you eat… you are encouraged to buy from other producers, too!
Finally: If you’re a member of the IFC, we want to see you every cycle. There is always something to buy that is sure to pleasure your palette– usually 1400 or more somethings. Not convenient? Pick up on Saturday morning at Franklin instead of your regular time. Try our home delivery service in the metro area. Strive to be a regular customer.
Could you – right now – pick one (or more!) of these 3 things that you will commit to doing over the next 2 months?
Thanks so much for being part of the Iowa Food Cooperative, and for talking time to join us here this evening!