Just about a year ago, CoFED was gearing up to launch our first Regional Organizer Fellowship. The Fellowship was designed, on the advice of previous Regional Organizers (ROs), to prioritize ongoing training, support, and professional development opportunities. We were amazed to receive more than 80 applicants, and chose a group of 5 amazing young leaders who the CoFED network has grown to love and appreciate! They have worked to train, connect, and “inspiregize” college students to start and improve student-run food cooperatives across North America. Now, as the year-long experience is coming to a close, we’d like to update the network about where CoFED is headed from this first class of Fellows, and say THANK YOU to the ROs and all that they have accomplished:
Capturing some of the highlights
The Fellowship began with a ten-day intensive, where ROs gathered in Berkeley, California for trainings on everything from financial management to group decision-making, and anti-oppression to branding. We had visiting speakers from AORTA, Arizmendi, and Sustainable Economies Law Center, and also spoke with student team leaders at the Berkeley Student Food Collective and the Second Kitchen Boulder Coop. After the intensive, the ROs returned home to hit the ground running in their regions, and over the course of a year expanded our network to 450 students, 40 schools, and 30 food and coop mentors. Here are some of the highlights…
Here’s Eric at Powershift 2013, a national conference of more than 7,000 youth leaders interested in building a clean energy economy that works for everyone. His presentation “Using Student Food Cooperatives to Fight Fracking, Climate Change, and Food Injustice” was a success! Eric first joined CoFED during the spring of 2011 as a student leader with the Humboldt Student Food Collective. As the California Regional organizer, Eric worked closely with student teams like the Real Food Cooperative at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to start their business plan. He also worked alongside allied organizations such as the California Student Sustainability Coalition and the Real Food Challenge, to get the California State University Board of Trustees to support sustainable food across all 23 CSU campuses. Through this work, he has gained much insight in how to build a strong student organization and start a cooperative food business.
Lauryl started the Fellowship off with a bang, conducting a road trip with Yahya to visit student food coops from Delaware to Vermont over the course of a month, seeking to strengthen connections among cooperatives through facilitating skillshares and building relationships between neighbors in the movement. The student leaders that she met on the road built a regional steering committee that organized the Northeast Student Cooperative Convergence in Amherst, Massachusetts, which provided training and learning opportunities for student cooperators. Most recently, she and a student leader from Kingsborough Community College have completed the Center For Family Life Cooperative Incubator Program and are building a coop with a team of students, faculty, and administrators.
Ruby was instrumental in designing and delivering CoFED’s curriculum for student-run food coops at this year’s NASCO Institute “A Fire in our Bellies: Food Justice & Cooperatives”. She has done an incredible job engaging students in the Midwest, and nationally through social media and the creation of the Student Coop Exchange Facebook Group. She says, “I felt successful in my work when I got to facilitate a weekend retreat for Rose City Coffee Co-op. I got to help them pass down knowledge from graduating seniors to new leadership, build a sense of community, and envision their future.” Through this year-long experience, she has learned the importance of cooperation and about the amazing cooperative network that exists in the Midwest. We are proud to see her completing the Fellowship already with a paid internship at P6.
Here is Whitney delivering the first CoFED Membership Certificate to the Flaming Eggplant Collective in Olympia, Washington. One of the Eggplant’s worker-members comments on working with Whitney: “She is super approachable and makes herself available to us when we need good advice for navigating tricky situations.” Whitney has been thankful for the professional development opportunities she has received as a RO Fellow, including involvement in and learning about non-profit development and grant writing, as well as attending the Worker Cooperative National Conference in Chicago at the end of this month.
Yahya is deeply connected to the work of CoFED. In his time as a CoFED RO, he has excitedly journeyed across the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast to build coops and cooperative networks, constantly on the move in order to connect with as many people as he could. In the past year, you could find him at conferences like Jackson Rising: New Economies Conference in Jackson Mississippi; CoopEcon: Building Democratic Ownership in Epes, Alabama; Reweaving NC: Building Solidarity Economies in Greensboro, North Carolina; and soon, CommonBound: Moving Together Towards a New Economy in Boston. More recently, he decided to organize a convergence for the CoFED network, which turned into an incredible event for 50 students from across his regions. He says “I have learned that this work is best when people are meeting each other and feel connected to a movement, and they know there are people to turn to for help and advice. Having people do this work is important and is appreciated by the folks we work with.”
Throughout the year, even from scattered locations, the Fellows continued their training over conference calls, where they shared the role of student and teacher, each facilitating workshops such as power-mapping the college campus, business planning, and legally incorporating. We also had wonderful speakers join us such as Sarah Pike from the Association of Cooperative Educators and Diane Gasaway from the Northwest Cooperative Development Center.
We met again in March for a week-long retreat, where ROs engaged in topics like transformative organizing, listened to speakers such as John Curl talk about the history of cooperative movements in the United States, and toured worker-owned coops like Mandela Foods and Cheese Board. Also during this retreat, ROs gave instrumental feedback to CoFED’s Strategic Planning process, to help define where our new and growing organization is headed.
What is CoFED’s next step?
Like many college students with the approach of summer, CoFED is also preparing to graduate! Through Strategic Planning, we are making the important transition to an organization that provides longer term job security to its workers, and more consistent support to the student teams that make up the CoFED network. This means we’ll be investing more heavily in our organizers and the projects on the ground, starting in the new school year! We all know that organizing networks and building strong relationships is hard work and requires time! At CoFED, we put a lot into this work, and want to be able to grow into an organization that can harvest the fruits of our labor more sustainably - from annuals to perennials.
If you are interested in applying for the new open positions, please see these exciting job descriptions posted on our website and apply by June 15th.
We extend our gratitude to all our allies and friends who have and are supporting us in this transition. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with us and please share these opportunities with your networks!