This Cooperative Life Blog Series
Interview #3: Hank Herrera
Hank's Cooperative Life Story
Hank is one of a kind. He is the person that says that thing at a meeting many people are thinking, but choose not to say. He brings up race. He asks questions to people who assume things can only be done in one way. He makes sense of a world that at many times makes no sense at all. He’s practical, passionate, wise, wild, and extremely intelligent. So yes, I was extra excited to hear what Hank would share during our interview and of course--it shifted my thinking profoundly.
Hank Herrera is impressive. He was the President & CEO of the Center for Popular Research, Education & Policy(C-Prep) then Dig Deep Farms & Produc and is now a farmer. As a farmer, Hank co-owns 'New Hope Farms. He is a principled man that not only talks the good talk, but walks the good walk.
Interview Caveat. I have to thank Carol Coren, from Cornerstone Ventures, LLC because she introduced me to Hank. It was at a co-op conference. She raised her hand and expressed the need for co-op lawyers, to which I enthusiastically raised my hand and shared the amazing work of Sustainable Economies Law Center. After the session was over she came over to me and said, “You’re smart. Tell me more about who you are.” That’s how a quick, epic friendship started. She had to go somewhere, but invited me to be the 6th person in a 4-person car (we literally got close very very fast) then asked me if I was going to the dinner ceremony, said I had to and fancied up my look by letting me borrow her scarf and a cute sweater. She was amazing, and one of the things we discussed was the role of racial inequities within cooperatives business and the lack of stories that share low-income and communities of color roots of cooperation. “You have to meet Hank,” she said...and now here I am writing this blog post about a transformation interview I had with Hank--in part thanks to Carol. Thank you, Carol!
Interview “Aha’s.” Hank joined us at the CoFED office, he had just picked up his truck--a vital part of a farmer’s life--and was excited to give it a good wash after the interview. His presence is deep, but light at the same time. Here are some gems from our interview that demonstrate Hank’s cooperative life:
Not a Fan of Co-ops? Hank’s first experience with co-ops left him thinking they were not an efficient business, but through his years, he’s had an amazing journey and as he learned more through the Laney College Worker Owner he sawy and heard from worker-owners directly and the benefits of worker-owner capital accumulation. Now he asks, “Why in the does anybody do anything different?. The co-op love now runs deep.
Food is a M.E.S.S. It’s a new word, Manufactured Edible Substitute Substances MESS.
We’re in a Moment of Hope. One of the highlights of Hank’s story and long career rooted in food was his description of how the food movement has changed, and the hope he sees as new leadership of color increases within the work, visibility and importance of food justice.
An overview of Hank’s answers to our two signature questions:
1) What was Hank’s first experience with co-ops?
HANK: First heard about it in Rochester and Abundance food co-op, people split off and store closed and new people, actually yea, it took them a lot of time and it was a lot of struggle, so id didn’t like the idea i thought it was really inefficient, so I was not a fan of coops, but i was a fan of local economic food systems and how much people spend on food in particular area and how much farmers could make if they could met that mean and it didn’t add up. Food sector is one of the largest sectors of our economy and these large industrial companies that are highly concentrated they are making out like bandits, very much, yes they bring food to community, but they bring out the money that people bring to food. So what could regions/towns do to disrupt that dynamic and not only that……then I started to talk to folks and began to think of cooperative again because of the values.
The cooperative has a list of seven principles, but the bottom line is cooperation, working together is how I describe that and that began to make more ad more sense to me, so I have been involved with Dig Deep Farms & Produce and after having left there and trying various themes of working with various organizations I decided to strike out on my own and make the ideas I have work. If I succeed god bless me, if I fail god bless me, because I had the chance to build something based on my values. We wrote a one-page manifesto and invited people to join a cooperative because I decided I wanted to have a cooperative venture. We cannot break-up. We have to work through problems together and we have to work through conflict, using our words. For me, all of this is wrapped up in the idea of building more co-ops so New Hope Farms came to being as a new farm and recognize co-op in the state of California and we are also working on a DPO with cutting edge capital. On our farm we produce lamb, but thats not enough to stock a store so we’re trying to recruit other farms, but all as local as possible and will follow the Arizmendi model and employ employees from the neighborhood who as they grow capacity will become the worker-owners.
2) Which co-op principle was Hank most feeling on the day we interviewed him?
HANK: Which one—i think democratic member control and autonomy and independence would be the stand-outs, you almost can’t disaggregate them, they all have to be there, but…these two because there are 3 of us right and we are really blessed that we together make decisions in a reasonably straightforward, effective way (don’t want to say easy, nothing's easy). Lots of people play lip service to a horizontal organization of a group, but it's never true, groups have lives of their own, in spite of what their words are. We are fortunate that in our groups, we live the words. The path that we’ve set upon is to not be a part of the industrial food system and this might be entirely insane, but in order for us to achieve our goals we have to be as autonomous as possible. We can’t escape the world as it is, but to the degree that we can achieve autonomy and independence and retain our democratic control is key.
Hear the full interview and Hank’s incredible story on this link:
THIS COOPERATIVE LIFE story series is a project of The Cooperative Food Empowerment Directive (CoFED), which provides tools and training for campus communities to develop strong cooperatively-run food businesses. We engage with a dynamic network to increase access to healthy food while promoting thriving, equitable, and resilient local economies. Special thanks to Smoking Ghosts for providing music, Kai Nagai-Rothe for production support, and our producer Faiza Farah.