Viroqua Food Co-op, Viroqua, Wis.
www.viroquafood.coop

One of the goals of the Viroqua Food Co-op in Viroqua, Wis. is that everyone enjoys being there, whether it’s a customer, staff member, or a co-op director, whatever their role. In addition to providing high quality products and an excellent service experience, the co-op is focused on fostering community. “The goal of the board is to have a close relationship with members,” said Curt Brye, the co-op’s board president. In the past year and a half, the board has been learning more from members and community about what they’d like the co-op to accomplish going forward. This has meant holding community and stakeholder meetings, and exercising a little creativity along the way.

In fall 2013, the co-op invited a cross-section of members (top shoppers, long term members, new members, local producers and random owners) as well as community partners (lenders, elected officials) to come out for a meeting and a lunch. In addition to sharing the co-op’s history, and its current impact, the meeting also asked people to participate by sharing what they think is the co-op difference in the community, and what they’d envision the co-op accomplishing in the future. For those who attended “it was an expressive, positive experience,” said Brye.

curtbrye-vTo hear from members and shoppers in a more impromptu approach, the board put up a tent outside the co-op for an Occupy the Co-op day wherein people could stop in the tent and give their feedback. “We served food and drinks and did a listening session,” Brye said about the event.

Outside of meeting with people in-person, the board also updated their co-op webpage and did a summary of their work in multiple issues of the newsletter.

All these board activities are an intentional part of strengthening the co-op’s Democracy pillar. “We do as much as we can to hear all the voices and put together the common threads,” Brye said. All of the feedback they got will help them with their planning. He also said that the board wanted to evaluate whether it is on track with its stated Ends, and they concluded that they are in alignment with the member needs and desires. He believes that the support the co-op enjoys from members and customers is a reflection of the co-op’s direct connection to them, as well as a clear demonstration that the co-op benefits the community. In a town of 4,400 people it boasts a membership of 3,000 people who live in the area.

“Everybody has a part to play,” Brye said regarding the co-op’s continued success, and that’s why the co-op continues to solicit input in multiple ways. For everything they do, including opening up the co-op to the community as a democratic institution, Brye said, “the Co-op Principles are our guiding example.”
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4PCG Focus—Democracy: successfully practicing, protecting, promoting, and perpetuating our healthy democracies. Each issue of Connections will focus on one pillar of the Four Pillars of Cooperative Governance. For more information about 4PCG, read the article in the January/February 2014 issue of Cooperative Grocer.

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