During my interview with Chris Dilley, general manager at the Peoples Food Co-op in Kalamazoo, Mich., he said that by implementing changes to realign their co-op’s culture that it didn’t create “culture in a box.” I’ve thought a lot about that comment since then, because I know food co-ops always have their own unique cultures based on the people involved, geography, and size of the co-op’s community. But no matter what, a good co-op culture is unified around the same things, a positive outlook, investment in the future and respect for all stakeholders.
I think “culture in a box” is apropos for our times too, when the competition attempts to impersonate the unique cultures inherent in self-determining businesses, but without the same soul or level of commitment to authenticity. On a recent trip last year, I’d been to three cities back-to-back where I visited the same chain store. Each location had the same “handmade” sign font and identical attempts to persuade customers they were really cool and independent.
Clearly, what those well-funded imposters know is that what people want in communities is a connection to their food, their retailer, their neighborhood. They have no compunction faking it if it results in fat sales. On behalf of everyone involved in growing the food co-op movement, this is exactly why we need to actively cultivate a culture of ownership. It is the core of who we are and why we do what we do. Nothing else comes close.