CoFED inspiregizes future food co-op leaders across North America. We support students with training and tools, and connect them with peers, mentors, and allies in a solidarity network.

Midwest Mentors Network

CoFED has secured commitments from the following advisors and allies to field questions from CoFED member teams! Thank you mentors! If you would like to get in touch with any of these wonderful people, email


Courtney Berner – University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives 

Courtney Berner is the cooperative development specialist at the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives where she provides various types of technical assistance and counsel to existing cooperatives and to groups interested in pursuing cooperative business activities. Courtney has policy, research, and outreach experience in a range of issues related to food systems, environmental sustainability, community economic development, and the cooperative business model. Prior to graduate school, she spent five years at the Worldwatch Institute, an environmental think tank in Washington, DC, where she worked in communications and development. She holds an M.S. in agroecology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a B.A. from Pacific Lutheran University where she majored in biology, French, and environmental studies. She recently joined the board of the Willy Street Cooperative in Madison. Courtney originally hails from Oregon but is proud to be living in America's Dairyland. 

If you'd like to learn about starting a new co-op, cooperative structure, incorporation, bylaws, etc., governance and finance issues facing co-op start-ups, or regional food system development, ask to be put in touch with Courtney.


Nichali Ciaccio – Riverwest Co-op
Nichali has been the volunteer coordinator for the Riverwest Co-op in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, since 2012. He serves on the Education and Human Resource Committees. He is a co-founder of Milwaukee Co-op Fest and a participant in the Riverwest Cooperative Alliance. He holds a B.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he majored in history and philosophy. Prior to working at the Riverwest Co-op he spent five years traveling and teaching in Spain, Vietnam, Turkey and Japan. He is most proud of his management position on the Seitan Phillies--Milwaukee's only cooperative softball team. Yes, they are as fierce as they look (Nichali is on the far left). 
If you have questions about managing volunteers, the day-to-day operations of a food co-op, or cooperation among cooperatives, ask to be put in touch with Nichali.

Karen Lehman – Fresh Taste

Karen Lehman is the director of Fresh Taste, a collaboration formed by several Illinois foundations and the City of Chicago to relocalize Chicago’s food system and improve equity of access to good food. Karen comes to Fresh Taste with 30 years of food system experience. She directed both the Food System and Regional Economy programs at The Minnesota Project; co-founded and was co-director of the Youth Farm and Market Project in Minnesota; and directed the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy's Food and Agriculture Program. Karen held the Endowed Chair in Agricultural Systems at the University of Minnesota and consulted for the Ford Foundation on rural development in Mexico. She attended Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government as a Bush Foundation Leadership fellow and subsequently was a Senior Associate at Cambridge Leadership Associates. She has worked professionally as a leadership consultant and has extensive experience in local food system development.

If you are looking for help on cooperative organizational development, anti-oppression, campaign planning, or local food systems, ask to be put in contact with Karen.


Emily Lippold Cheney

Emily Lippold Cheney began her work in the cooperative movement with the founding of a community cooperative housing network, followed by years of managing and developing others on national and regional scales. Her service as the Executive Director of North American Students of Cooperation (NASCO), a federation of housing cooperatives rooted in social justice and anti-oppression, equipped her for her current work building a national cross-sector organization for cooperative youth, USA Cooperative Youth Council. USACYC seeks to both strengthen the engagement and amplify the voice of youth in the national and international cooperative communities. She also serves on the Board of CooperationWorks!, a US network of cooperative developers, and on the inaugural Board of the Data Commons Cooperative, an international movement-building organization seeking to maintain robust, accurate, and useful technological platforms for sharing information. As a cooperative organizer, Emily also spends her time as an educator and trainer, provides development consultation, and serves on various national and international working groups in a range of fields.

Emily is a good person to talk to about the specific challenges youth face in the co-op movement, about the many facets of starting up a cooperative, or about how to do cooperative education effectively. 


Dan Nordley – Cooperative Grocer Network

Dan Nordley is the executive director of Cooperative Grocer Network, is in his 15th year as a director on the Seward Community Co-op board, and was the recipient of a Co-op Service award from Cooperative Development Foundation in 2009 in recognition of a vast and unusual array work he has done with co-ops. These have included store front management, warehouse distribution, governance, branding, communication design - print & web, and trade association management.

Sarah Pike

Sarah Moffitt Pike – Association of Cooperative Educators (ACE)

Sarah is the executive director of the Association of Cooperative Educators (ACE), a membership organization that brings together cooperative educators from across North America to highlight programs and practices that increase understanding and innovation in cooperative education.  Sarah has 15 years of community, economic and business development experience in the public, private and nonprofit sectors.  She received her Masters in Business Administration from the University of St. Thomas and a Bachelor of Arts from Syracuse University.

If you need help with cooperative education or business plan development, ask to be put in touch with Sarah.

Stuart Reid – Food Co-op Initiative

Stuart Reid is the Executive Director of Food Co-op Initiative, a non-profit foundation providing technical assistance, information and resources to groups organizing new retail food co-ops across the United States. He served as the Food Co-op Development Specialist for Food Co-op 500 (the pilot project that grew into FCI) for three years. Stuart has an extensive background working with a variety of cooperative and investor-owned businesses. Most recently, he served as General Manager of Just Food: Northfield Community Co-op in Northfield, Minnesota where he had full operational responsibility for its opening and then led the store through its first two successful years. Prior to joining Just Food, Mr. Reid was General Manager of Seward Co-op, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He also worked for other cooperatives and food service businesses in Minneapolis over a 30-year career.

If you have questions about community co-op creation or retail and food service businesses, ask to be put in touch with Stuart.


Keith Taylor – The Coop Research Project

Keith is a researcher, focusing on community development vis a vis the co-operative institutional model. He is a PhD Candidate, studying Human and Community Development, an interdisciplinary field combining elements of economics, political science, and sociology.

His interest stems from understanding proper (proper being a proxy for alignment with pre-defined desired outcomes) institutional fit for addressing critical social dilemmas for the identified policy and development outcome, with an emphasis on optimal community and individual wellbeing. From this perspective, community and economic development initiatives as well as public policy can be seen as originating from and stewarded by a number of actors, not just elites within “the government” or “the market.”

Keith's specific research interests pertain to governance, institutional design, fit, and the externalized impact upon the host community (questions of development and experiential learning). Ask to get in touch with Keith if you would like to explore those ideas. 


Leslie Watson – Cooperative Development Services

Based in Minneapolis, Leslie is a member-owner of CDS Consulting Co-op, a shared services cooperative of independent consultants who support food co-ops throughout the U.S., helping them to achieve excellence in operations and governance, and to create a strong cooperative culture. She thrives on the energy and optimism of the startup cooperative venture, and loves to meet fellow cooperators from all walks of life and sectors of the economy. Leslie is a founding organizer and board member of the Northeast Investment Cooperative, a unique new co-op formed by residents of Northeast Minneapolis to allow them to make transformative investments in distressed commercial real estate in their neighborhood. She also served as a board member of Northeast Minneapolis’s Eastside Food Co-op from 2002 to 2011, including three years as board president. 
Leslie holds a J.D. from the University of Minnesota Law School and a Master’s in Public Affairs degree from the U of M’s Humphrey School, and is the recipient of a 2013 Bush Foundation fellowship to support her work in community cooperative development. She believes wholeheartedly in the cooperative model as a way of shaping our relationships with our communities, distributing wealth more equitably, and reorienting commerce and industry to serve people and planet ahead of other interests. But she thinks that cooperative Scrabble is just wrong. 

If you want to know more about starting up coops, especially grocery coops, cooperative economic theory and practice, or legal challenges faced by cooperatives, ask to talk to Leslie.



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