Weaver Street Market in Carrboro, N.C. is continually working to cultivate community connections. They host multiple events every year, and the Co-op Fair is one special event that brings hundreds of co-op owners together for a day of festive learning and activities—and voting, too. “It is wildly successful,” said Brenda Camp, the co-op’s owner services coordinator.
The first fair was launched in 2012 in conjunction with Cabot Co-op Creamery as the Co-op A-Fair on the Triangle lawn of their Carrboro location. Over thirty cooperative producers and organizations came together for a day of co-op education and awareness and 500 people came to the event. In two years the event rapidly morphed into Weaver Street Market’s Annual Meeting and Co-op Fair held in September at the Food House, the co-op’s 27,000 square foot commissary kitchen. Co-op producers continue to participate as well as local farmers and organizations partnered with Weaver Street.
Leading up the Co-op Fair, the co-op staff actively invite owners to come to the event, and the co-op produces an interactive map of activities. (Very cool!) “It’s also a way for us to introduce owners to the Food House and for staff to meet them,” Camp said. At the Food House, staff and vendors pull out all the stops offering samples and hands-on demonstrations for making sushi, smothered pork, crackers, breads and salads. The co-op’s Cooperative Community Fund recipients also join in the activities—for instance nutrition groups offer advice for healthy eating, and a high school’s garden group shows kids how to plant seeds. “It influences how people shop, too,” Camp said. “When they meet the farmers it’s so compelling, and when they see their products in the co-op they suddenly identify with them.”
The Food House is also a great venue because it has a large patio for hosting events, and people can get a tour of the employee gardens. “We’re getting people excited with multiple ways to participate. People really enjoy coming together,” Camp said. “Every year we attract more and it’s an event that builds on itself.”
Wrapped into the fun are opportunities to meet and talk to board members as well as vote in the co-op’s board elections. The board has come to rely on the Co-op Fair as an integral event for member engagement and feedback. They also have plans to launch a Co-op Fair in April 2017 that invites nonmembers to the co-op to share with them an intimate view of what the co-op is all about to encourage more people to join. “It’s been overwhelming, the positive response. The board wants to be sure to invite prospective owners to see what it means to be part of the co-op,” Camp said.
A similar event called the Co-op Plan is a weeklong event for staff, wherein they also get to participate in demonstrations and hear stories and share food from local producers. “Every year we do it, it gets easier and we get more good ideas,” Camp said.
Camp reflected on the event’s ongoing success by saying, “Part of it is ownership and community connection. It showcases what we do every day. People enjoy eating, sharing stories and tasting local food and beer and wine. It’s gotten more vibrant energy every year.”