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Getting to Know Your Board

Courtney BernerCourtney Berner

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.

Mark E. Saunders, CFPWine and Hop ShopNorthside Animal HospitalMonona Grove Nursery SchoolThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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