Whitewater GroCo Attends Up and Coming 2020 Food Co-op Conference

This year, 12 Owners of the Whitewater Grocery Co-op joined 250+ other people working on start-up food co-ops or operating food co-ops around the nation at the Up & Coming 2020 conference.

Group photo of some of the participates of the conference. 

Meeting in Madison, WI in early March, over 30 states and 69 co-ops were represented by fellow cooperators. The conference is designed around idea sharing and the spirit of cooperation, with over 55 workshops presented by 50+ speakers this year. Workshop topics ranged from governance challenges to creating a diverse and welcoming co-op to gaining owner-membership. 

This year's theme, Tapping the Hive Mind, centered around drawing on our collective knowledge in effective ways without the need to reinvent the wheel for each of our own co-op projects. We would like to share with all of our owners the highlights of all the “collective knowledge” we learned from cooperators around the country at Up & Coming 2020.

A few of us attended Thursday for a tour of Willy Street Co-opand FEED Kitchensin Madison, as well as the opening reception. One of our Owners, Tricia Borchardt, said about Willy Street Co-op,”super impressed with the design, products, workers. Maybe it’s just me, but that store looked so clean and fresh! It was like going to heaven!” About FEED Kitchens, she said, “It was cool to see this type of ‘incubator’ in action and learn how it is funded and serves as a training facility as well as a space for new or small businesses to prepare their food.”

Friday and Saturday were deeper dives into specific issue areas. To gain an understanding about the vast array of workshops, check out the program here. Our crew split up to cover as many topics as possible that were relevant to us. Here are just a few takeaways from the workshops.

Board members Brienne Brown, Katy Wimer, Eliva Meza-Klosinski, and Praveen Parboteeah help themselves to lunch at the conference

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

This was a huge focus as part of the conference. In fact, there was an entire track focused solely on diversity, equity, and inclusion focusing on a variety of topics with different workshops. Many of our owners/volunteers attended these workshops. The topics ranged from how to manage micro-aggressions to creating an inclusive co-op culture from the inside out.

One of our board members, Katy Wimer, summed it up nicely! She said, “I was really blown away by what I learned this year because I focused heavily on the inclusivity/diversity track of workshops. The most repeated piece of advice was that inclusivity and diversity begins at the Board level and that then trickles down into Outreach. Another big takeaway was that Outreach needs to spend more time listening and less time pitching the project to community members. People want to be heard and want to share their needs with us, and if we're building a store FOR the community, we have to honor that commitment and listen to ALL.”

Marketing to Launch

Currently we are approaching a transition phase for the Whitewater Grocery Co-op. We are moving from marketing entirely for membership growth to marketing to launch a store. This means that when going through the transition of a collection of people to an actual grocery store, we need to be marketing as an actual grocery store and appeal to the average citizen. Instead of appealing only to our core with our mission, we need to appeal to the average shopper with different “grocery” based messaging.

80% of our shoppers aren't/won't be Owners--we need to speak to them: What's in it for them? How do we fit into THEIR life? We need to be repetitive on things we know we'll be good at/known for: Local? Grab 'n' Go? We have to show off the non-sexy stuff, too! This has helped us visualize our messaging and branding for the very near future.


When thinking about outreach and engagement, it is important to have something for any person that would like to get involved. To aid this, we are preparing a running list of needs as a foundation for increasing our volunteer base and ability to place people in specific roles. Attending volunteer and membership workshops is a great way to get a fresher on the process of onboarding and training volunteers! Another major take away was when we show up to engage in our community, we must be listening with all ears. 

In terms of membership growth, it helps to really understand our audience and make it as easy as possible to sign up for ownership. Also, properly equipping our team with training to all be on the same page of understanding for communication. We learned it's important to keep all communication clear, clean, and professional. It’s also important to leverage our ownership!, how can we find ways to make it easy for you to share stuff online and help us get new Owners to help us grow?

Business Development

Members of our board and volunteers also attended workshops on governance, finances, business development, and more! Some of these were structured as case studies from other cooperatives about their successes and failures. For example, the Renaissance Co-op says they struggled, and eventually closed,  because of poor management, lack of strong marketing, and inability to create a movement shoppers could get behind. The General manager needs to have skills related to employees, community, and the store.

Board member Anne Hartwick picking the brain of marketing/ outreach guru Katie Novak of Katie Novak Cooperative Coaching!

We have our spirits high after buzzing around with our fellow cooperators for a weekend. All of the knowledge sharing always has a huge impact. During the conference, the GroCo even won a raffle for a free entry for next year's conference, so we know we'll be coming back! Please reach out if you are interested in attending next year or have any questions about the conference.

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  • Jonathan Roberts