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The Challenge Ahead

Starting a worker cooperative is proving to be a challenging and rewarding endeavor. In many ways it is a shock to the system to have an unknown and democratic organizational structure laid in front of us. How are decisions made? Who is responsible? How is this different than a nonprofit volunteer organization?

A worker cooperative “can be considered to be businesses that make a product, or offer a service, to sell for profit where the workers are members or worker-owners.” The mission of a worker cooperative is to provide for its members, normally by providing jobs and therefore income/a living. In our case, the first goal is to provide food to our members and eventually jobs. This is different from other organizations who engenders a mission to change an external issue. For example, the United Way’s mission is: “To improve lives by mobilizing the caring power of communities.” Like many nonprofits, this mission is externally focused. It is meant to instigate change in the broader community or in specific communities.

We are building our own community that is open and voluntary. We will decide on requirements, financial and participatory, but the nature of a worker cooperative is to be inclusive. We will be based on democratic principles and likely incorporate consensus decision-making into our procedures. We’ll place authority with trusted owner-members and share in the responsibility of accomplishing our tasks and reaching our goals.

This weekend we start the challenging work of cooperatively making decisions. We’ll review consensus and other models of making decisions and then apply those to our membership requirements. Also, we’ll choose a steering committee to facilitate the management of our work until we incorporate sometime this Spring. We must be patient and adaptable, our biggest challenges. We’ll find that some decisions require expediency and others time to reflect. We may look to those more experienced to weigh in with heavier opinions but we won’t lose our place in the process as individuals.

As time moves on we’ll see that we are working on two tracks. Governance (or the system of rules and processes for making decisions) and operations (the day to day functioning and practicing of our decision-making processes.) It may be that as a group we give more authority to individuals in representing us for governance issues, while retaining a more interactive and group oriented process for operations.

There are many models we can follow, but most importantly this is an opportunity for a group of caring individuals to collaborate and create a sustainable future.

Our Present Status and Upcoming Events

A rundown of our work: We are creating opportunities for Urban Farmers to work in a cooperative business enterprise. By coordinating small plots of land intensively grown across the city we’ll achieve access to a CSA share of produce for each member and the opportunity for future profit sharing by members.

We are currently in the middle of a process of forming the business structure and operating processes for having a successful business! By the end of the month we’ll have our Membership Requirements, Incorporation Documents and Vision Statement in first draft form. We’ve had three general meetings and a series of coordinating team meetings moving our work forward. After we’ve created membership requirements, decisions will be made by members and membership will include financial and hourly commitments.

Besides the benefits of having access to a CSA program from food grown in Seattle we are also providing members with hands on experience and learning opportunities. We are currently building a relationship with a local organization to develop a training program tailored specifically for our members and urban farming, including hands-on and site specific learning. We also have plans to build a greenhouse on one property and have plenty of work to be done for developing a distribution and harvesting plan.

Further down this post, you’ll see a schedule of meetings and workshops. If you’ve not made it to one of our meetings, please try and attend our Welcome Meeting for Potential Members, next Wednesday the 21st at 7pm. We can give you a rundown of the organization and opportunities and help you plug in to the work.

We look forward to connecting up with you soon. 

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Here is a schedule of upcoming meetings. Feel free to let me know if you have any questions.

Wed, Jan 14th @ 5:30pm
Season Planning Meeting: Tatiana & Derek’s Apt (2700 E Yesler Way Apt 202, 206-324-6224)
Time to get our groove on for the season. Attached is a document laying out the work we need to do. Let’s get some strides made this Wednesday.

Thursday, Jan 15th @ 4:30 pm
Business Planning Team: Dad Watson’s 3601 Fremont Ave N. (coffee and a happy hour)
We will be reviewing governance and incorporation documents and requirements. We’ll also discuss the general meeting plan. Current Agenda posted on Basecamp.

Thursday, Jan 15 @ 6:30pm
Mondragón Presentation @ Fremont Public Library

Presented by Shaula Massena with Northwest Socially Responsible Investing. She had a chance to visit the organization and is reporting on that experience. A quick link for her talk: http://nwsri.com/Mondragon.aspx
Fremont Public Library meeting room – 731 N. 35th St. Seattle, WA 98103 – Between Fremont Ave N. and the Aurora bridge on N. 35th.
For more information on Mondragón can be found at Wikipedia.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mondragon_Cooperative_Corporation

Wednesday, Jan 21st, @7pm
Welcome Meeting for Potential Members: Tatiana’s and Derek’s Apt (2700 E Yesler Way Apt 202, 206-324-6224)
Every week we are getting emails and contact from folks interested in participating. This meeting will give them a breakdown of what we are doing and how they can get involved.

Saturday, Jan 24th @ 2pm-7pm
Governance & Decision-Making Workshop (Location TBD)
We’ll have a check-in from each Team on the work they are doing with an opportunity for feedback from the group. Then start forming our decision making process and apply it to forming our Membership Requirements. Plenty of breaks and social time during this extended meeting.

Events Coming Up:

Greenhouse WorkParty – First few weeks of February
1st Annual Membership – February 28th (if all goes to plan)
Planting Season is just around the corner and on-site work will start in the next two months!

Update and Upcoming Presentation

It seems we took a breather over the holidays from our organizing, but things are now back in full swing.  We’ve got a group organizing the development of a greenhouse for starts, the Business Planning Team is getting into full swing for recommendations on Membership Requirements and Incorporation issues and we are in talks with 21 Acres to partner together on a training program for urban farmers.  We’ll be having a series of general meetings starting in as soon as a week to discuss these issues and begin forming our operating procedures and group decision making systems.

In the mean time, make sure and check out the following presentation:

There is a Presentation on Mondragón, a large Spanish cooperative this week. It’s presented by Shaula Massena with Northwest Socially Responsible Investing. She had a chance to visit the organization and is reporting on that experience.
A quick link for her talk: http://nwsri.com/Mondragon.aspx

Thursday, Jan 15 6:30 PM

Fremont Public Library meeting room
731 N. 35th St. Seattle, WA 98103

Between Fremont Ave N. and the Aurora bridge on N. 35th.

This event is not sponsored by The Seattle Public Library

For more information on Mondragón can be found at Wikipedia.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mondragon_Cooperative_Corporation

Thoughts on the Process

We’ve had three general meetings open to anyone interested in getting involved in our work.  During this time we’ve started envisioning the work of the organization, discussed individual ideas and started to meld them into a group vision.  We’ve had social time and we’ve had constructive dialog of what the next steps of our group are.

At our last meeting, I realized that maybe newcomers may get an odd sense of fluidity of the group.  Which is primarily because we are absolutely fluid right now.  The organizational formation is based on the participation of those who show up.  Eventually, we’ll have membership requirements, set job duties and responsibilities, governance structures, and something we’ve called “the Plan” (instead of strategic or business).  For now we’ve got idea sharing, research and proposals, amorphous dialog and really, an unclear future. 

That’s because we are forming a worker’s cooperative, where the members are the owners.  Where we grow food for our own consumption and to make a living for ourselves (by sharing profits).  We will be values driven.  We will have standards based on a shared set of values (environmental, social, economic and collaborative).  We will be comfortable with what we’ve created because WE’VE collectively created it.  And we’ll work collaboratively and democratically. 

Soon enough, we’ll have membership requirements. Organizational structures and policies.  Profit sharing schemes.  Prices structures, etc. And they’ll all be based on the shared values of those organizing the group. 

Ashley has recently joined us with an interest in assisting the organizing of the business systems.  She has experience in government, which will be invaluable as we move forward.  Policy and legal documents can be difficult to wade through and she is an example of someone who brings skills and know-how that are hugely appreciated.  

She tagged the Seattle Farm Worker Cooperative’s work as “creating opportunity for Urban Farmers.”  This is a perfect tag-line for our work going forward.    We want to step outside the idea of gardening.  We want to walk away from individual effort and towards shared responsibility as well as mutually beneficial relationships.  We want to think of Seattle’s usable lands as potential space for collaboration with each other, our communities and our environment.  

If you have a skill such as Ashley or just a passion for organizing and local food, feel free to meet up with us anywhere in the process.  We meet every two weeks in a general community meeting and in between on Team Organizing meetings.  Our next general meeting will be in the first week of the year, and we’ll be discussing Group Process, Dynamics and Decision Making. 

Keep in touch!

Ryan Hawkes, potential SFWC Member-Owner

(next posting on our shared values as they’ve been expressed so far)

Winter Social/Potluck

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Seattle Farm Worker Cooperative is hosting a Winter Social and Potluck.
Join us to have fun and do a vision workshop!  Anyone is welcome.
When: Tuesday, December 16, 2008 at 6:30pm
Where: Web Collective Office, Vance building, 1402 3rd Ave (between Union and Pike), 10th floor
Instruction: The door will be closed so call 206.330.9099 to be let in. 
What to bring: drinks or food to share
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Next Meeting: Wed Dec 3, 2008 @ 630pm

Next Meeting of the Seattle Farm Worker Cooperative

Wed Dec 3, 2008 @ 630pm

Mosaic Coffeehouse (http://www.mosaiccoffeehouse.org/)

4401 2nd Ave NE
Seattle, WA 98105

Topic: Sharing our Vision and Values in creating a worker cooperative growing food in Seattle.