Miguel has been involved in agriculture for 20 years. He graduated as an agricultural engineer in Honduras and worked in the production of bananas and melons in his native Ecuador. After Hurricane Mitch devastated Honduras in late 1998, Miguel returned to work with smallholder subsistence farmers in rural Honduras supporting capacity-building programs. This experience marked his professional future and since then, Miguel has been supporting smallholder farmer and farmworkers to implement more sustainable practices and access better markets in the global north.
Miguel has worked closely with production co-ops, especially in coffee and cocoa, in the last 10 years. Miguel currently runs his own consulting company, Coffee Gente LLC, and serves on different boards and committees that focus on sustainability in the food sector. He currently leads UTZ Sustainability Program’s business development efforts in the Americas. When Miguel moved to Madison a couple of years ago, he got involved with the Willy Street Co-op and was elected to the Board a year ago. In this article, Miguel answers a few questions about his work with the Co-op’s Board as part of the Meet the Board series.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE THING ABOUT THE CO-OP?
“I have been involved with co-ops and sustainable food for most of my professional career. I highly value the privilege of being able to purchase sustainable food while supporting the cooperative model. We have over 30K Owners. Together we have the opportunity to learn about sustainable supply chains and the cooperative model in order to improve our community and support farming communities in Wisconsin and beyond.”
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE OWNERS TO KNOW ABOUT YOU?
“I am passionate about sustainability, especially social and economic issues in farming. I have worked with farmers and farmworkers over the years, and I think there is so much we can do as consumers to create a more just situation for the people whose hard work enables us to eat every day. I don’t think there are quick fixes or easy answers for the dire situation of people in our food system. As consumers, and members of our community, we need to educate ourselves, realize that there is much we have to learn about the situation of others, and change our behaviors to create true sustainability.
“I want the Board to be an agent of change in our Co-op and Dane County to work to improve the situation of members of our community who have limited access to opportunities, including sustainable food. Many of us are privileged enough to have access to abundant opportunities and sustainable food, and I believe it is our responsibility to improve that access for other members of our community. There is a lot of work to do on that front, and I hope to work with the rest of the Board members to create meaningful change. I don’t believe a little change is sufficient. It is comfortable but not enough. I think that, as a co-op, we need to aspire to create significant change.”
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE OWNERS TO KNOW ABOUT THE BOARD?
“We are YOUR representatives. And we need to hear from you, as many of you as possible, to represent you well. We often hear from only a few Owners, maybe the most vocal ones, and it is difficult for us to best represent your interests if we do not have good communication. I invite you to get in touch with us or come to one of the Board meetings to learn more about our work.
“Last year was a challenging one for the Co-op and the Board. As a group, the Board spent significant time and effort navigating the different challenges and opportunities that arose, including labor and racial issues. I believe we need to transition from responding to issues as they present themselves to playing a more proactive role shaping our own future. We need a strong shared vision for the future of the Co-op and strong leadership for the future. We Owners, staff and Board need to rally around this vision, recognizing the competitive grocery environment and the community challenges and opportunities we face. I hope the Board will be able to work with the GM and staff to create this strong vision and be part of the needed leadership that will make sure the Co-op will succeed in the next 10-20 years.”
THINKING ABOUT THE FUTURE, WHAT OPPORTUNITIES DO YOU SEE FOR THE CO-OP IN THE NEXT THREE YEARS?
“We need to evolve to be able to better serve our community. We have an opportunity to improve access to sustainable, healthy food for many more people in Dane County due to our unique model. In addition, the competitive grocery landscape continues changing. We need to evolve to take advantage of these opportunities before they become threats and challenges. We need to return to profitability and make sure the Co-op is on a secure financial path for the future.
“I also think we all need to learn more about racial inequities in our community, and work with other organizations to address the challenges the Race to Equity report highlighted. I believe we all have a role to play in order to ensure the well-being of all of us here in Dane County.”
HOW DO YOU IMAGINE SUCCESS TO LOOK LIKE THREE YEARS FROM NOW?
“For me, success means that the Co-op is playing a more productive role in improving access to opportunities and sustainable foods for more disadvantaged groups in our community. It means we are reaching many more consumers and areas/regions and are developing stronger, deeper relationships with diverse Owners and customers. Lastly, it means Owners understand how the Co-op is different and how this is good for the community and the world. The Co-op can and should be the cornerstone of a fairer, more sustainable community in Dane County.”