Courtney Berner was elected to the Willy Street Co-op Board of Directors in August 2013. Courtney is originally from Oregon but has also lived in France and Washington, D.C. She moved to Madison in 2009 to complete a master’s degree in agroecology at UW-Madison and is now working at the UW Center for Cooperatives as a Cooperative Development Specialist. Last month Courtney interviewed me as a new Board member, so I wanted to return the favor and ask her a few questions.
DRH: How did you first learn about cooperatives?
CB: I opened my first checking account at a credit union in 7th grade and belonged to a grocery co-op during my time in D.C., but I didn’t fully grasp the power of the cooperative model or its many applications until later. In grad school, I took a class on co-ops that totally changed my understanding of co-ops.
DRH: Tell me about the UW Center for Cooperatives and your role there.
CB: The UW Center for Cooperatives does research, outreach and education on the cooperative business model. Most of my work revolves around co-op development, which means I help people start new cooperative businesses around the state.
DRH: Are there any new projects you are working on at the UWCC?
CB: The Spring Rose Growers Cooperative is a multi-cultural farmer-owned cooperative that provides education and joint marketing opportunities to new and underserved farmers. Spring Rose recently lost their major source of funding, so I am working with them to develop a sustainable business plan for the coming years.
DRH: Why did you decide to run for the Board?
CB: Grocery co-ops are one of my happy places! I love the way co-ops feel, the food they sell, and the community they create. I had wanted to run for the Board for a long time but wasn’t sure how long I would stay in Madison. Once I started my work at the UWCC, I knew I would be around for a while and believed I had some valuable experience to bring to the Board.
DRH: Is there anything you have been surprised by during your first few months on the Board?
CB: I knew I would enjoy being on the Board but I have been surprised by how much I love being part of the meetings! I really enjoy the people and the process and I have this whole new sense of pride for the organization that I didn’t anticipate feeling.
DRH: What excites you most about serving on the Board?
CB: The Co-op continues to grow and is at a point where it can do many things. It is a very exciting time to be a part of shaping the Co-op’s strategic vision and future.
DRH: What do you see as the biggest opportunity for the Co-op in the next two years?
CB: I think there is a lot of room for growth in Madison’s natural foods market and I would much rather see the Co-op move into that space than one of our competitors. Another opportunity I see is increasing the accessibility of the Co-op to low-income communities.
DRH: What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the Co-op?
CB: The biggest challenge I see is related to the first opportunity I mentioned. If the Co-op is going to pursue growth, it should do so thoughtfully and strategically to maintain or build democratic participation and its sense of community.
DRH: Do you have any favorite family food traditions from childhood?
CB: One of my favorite family food traditions is a recipe for potstickers, or Chinese dumplings, that my mom clipped out of The Oregonian when I was young. My mom and I would make the recipe from scratch; between making the dough for the wrappers and the dipping sauce, it took a long time. Ever since making the recipe the first time, dumplings have been one of my favorite dishes.
DRH: Lastly, name three Co-op products you couldn’t live without.
CB: It really depends on the season, but three favorites would be kale, the sheep’s milk feta, and dried mangoes from the bulk section.
On a separate note, Board member Raechel Pundsack stepped down from the Co-op’s Board of Directors, effective February 2014. We would like to thank Raechel for all the years she served as a Board member.