This year’s PACA Co-op Summit and Annual Member Meeting was joyful, reflective, and forward-moving.
Early in the evening, we moved around and got to know each other by sharing our favorite cooperative principle and the co-op we love to talk about most. (So much co-op adoration!) We heard from Mike Richards, the general manager of newly-opened Kensington Community Food Co-op, about the reality of opening a community-owned grocery store: It’s hard. Though it’s also worth celebrating being open six months! (Psst, go check out their cafe and bar; they’re the only food co-op in the state to have a liquor license. Pretty cool!) While we were hoping to hear from Birth Brown, too, they got called in to attend a birth—so instead, we sent kudos from afar for their work in supporting birthing parents and families and radically welcoming humans Earthside.
Jamila (Medley), PACA’s executive director, offered PACA’s “year in review” in a wonderfully different way this time. She helped us all situate PACA and our community in a history of cooperative practice, both in our region and around the globe. Here’s a powerful historical fact: In the 1980s, the Philadelphia Association for Cooperative Enterprise (PACE) led an effort to convert two of the former A&P grocery stores—which had closed in Philadelphia, laying off 2,000 employees—into worker cooperatives called O&O Supermarkets, signifying “owned and operated.” Jamila shared that PACA is showing up in more and more spaces where cooperatives previously did not have a presence—such as Immigrant Business Week, PACDC’s Forward Equitable Development Conference, the 8th Annual Convening on Healthy Food Access (which has had practically no representation from food co-ops), and as contributors to the Rutgers Participatory Management Certificate Program, offered in partnership with the Democracy at Work Institute. Here at home, PACA welcomed over 100 participants in “co-op 101” and other leadership development workshops, provided technical assistance to over 50 co-ops and groups thinking about co-ops, and grew its membership to 27 co-ops, including 10 (!) worker co-ops. Cheers to the small yet clearly mighty PACA staff—Jamila, Jeanette, and Peter—for leading this work!
It was an honor, too, to welcome both PA State Representative Chris Rabb and Philadelphia City Councilmember Derek Green to say a few words. Both Representative Rabb and Councilmember Green have been huge supporters of PACA and our regional cooperative movement. Representative Rabb spoke about his grandmother, Madeline Murphy, a Black radical, journalist, and one-time Baltimore City Council candidate who was his political hero. He offered to help our movements fundraise and said that his door was always open to ideas—take note, folks! As for Councilman Green, he shared that while he has continued to learn more and more about co-ops every day, he honors how cooperation is a pivotal part of his family’s roots. Councilman Green’s grandfather was able to purchase the family’s farm in North Carolina in 1943. Recognizing the barriers many Black farmers’ children faced in traveling to and from the segregated school, he led a group of farmers to purchase a school bus, and coordinated his children—Councilman Green’s uncles—to rotate driving the bus. This cooperative effort enabled educational mobility that otherwise may not have been possible.
In true annual meeting fashion, we celebrated our award winners, welcomed new board members, and expressed our gratitude for board members ending their terms. I’m certain I wasn’t the only one with not-quite-dry eyes recognizing Bonfire Media Collective as the Co-op of the Year and Ailbhe Pascal and Jena Harris of 1149 Cooperative as the Cooperators of the Year. Our movements need powerful, multimedia storytelling and radical nourishment—and these co-op(erator)s deliver!
Congratulations, too, to the following folks on their board election:
- Meg Carol (Mariposa Food Co-op)
- Annette Griffin (A & Associates) — re-elected for a second term
- Lousoun McCrea (Ardent Credit Union)
- Tim Palmer (Kensington Community Food Co-op)
And an abundant dose of gratitude to Mo Manklang (Kensington Community Food Co-op, US Federation of Worker Co-ops) and Susan Kavchok (Childspace Day Care Centers), whose board terms are ending this year but whose contributions will be felt for years to come.
Last, and critically, this year’s meeting featured an interactive exercise that will support PACA’s strategic planning efforts in the weeks and months to come. Meeting attendees split up into groups to discuss where they’d like to see PACA moving and growing within four areas of work: policy and advocacy, education and training, alliance building, and technical assistance. You can see the notes from these conversations here—we welcome you to add your comments! Stay tuned for more updates on PACA’s strategic planning process, and how you can plug in.
In closing, I’d love to offer a note of thanks to our sponsors—Ardent Credit Union, Columinate, Equal Exchange, and SES ESOP Strategies—for making this 2019 Co-op Celebration and Annual Meeting possible. As Mo mentioned, these sponsors are so much more than sponsors; they are partners and allies in our shared work of building and sustaining our cooperative movement.