Quick Stats

Start of Board Term: 2024

CW Membership: Organizational, through the Northwest Cooperative Development Center

Favorite Cooperative Principle: Principle 5 – Education, Training, and Information

Favorite Cooperative: Rainbow Grocery

Years Living on a Boat: 13

 

 

What brought you into a career in cooperatives?

I usually say I was a pissed off wage worker. I was a mechanic, I worked in kitchens, I was a delivery driver for bakeries, wine companies, and stuff like that. I loved food and working in the food system, but hated every aspect of working for capitalist business owners. So I returned to school in my late 20s to get a degree, to get out of kitchens, and to figure out how I could still do what I love in a way I could live with. I started studying sustainable agriculture and food systems. Through that, I learned about the cooperative model in the context of producer co-ops and then farm worker cooperatives. I took a class from John McNamara on the history of the co-op movement. From there I realized “Oh, this cooperative enterprise model is the most powerful solution I’ve been presented with for all of the issues of the food system.” Shortly thereafter, I came to realize that it is the most powerful tool for all of the problems in society. I learned about cooperative development through that class and started volunteering at the Northwest Cooperative Development Center (NWCDC). Within a year I was offered the job doing administrative office support and went through the CW trainings. For me it was about making a better wage in a way I could keep my sanity and live with myself. I feel lucky I landed here! I can mostly keep my sanity and definitely live with myself!

If you were a kitchen utensil, what would you be and why?

The one that came to me is a spatula because 1) I’m good at taking problems and flipping them on their head, and 2) when I cook, I use a spatula for pretty much everything. 

Fun fact: You live on a floating tiny house – a boat! Can you tell us about that?

I’ve lived on a sailboat for 13 years. This year, for the first time, we’ve started thinking pretty seriously about how we get back onto land. It was our solution to the crisis of housing affordability. We lived in San Francisco when we met, and we already could not afford SF. It was getting worse by the month. For us, buying a sailboat was a way to get rent control. It really worked for us for a long time. Our housing costs have been less than half of what our peers’ have been for 13 years. Plus, it’s cool to take our house to an island for the weekend! But you do hit your head a lot. It would be cool to have a house where I can stand up. Our boat is 36ft – exactly small enough for it to work for us. If it was half a foot smaller, our marriage would have been destroyed 10 years ago. 

What is your favorite cooperative principle and why?

Principle 5 – Training, Education, and Information. The longer I’ve done this work and the more co-ops I’ve worked with, the more vital it has become to me. It can be easy to think of it as “extra” — something we do when we have time and money for it. Now I see it as one of the absolutely critical pillars of cooperation, without which a co-op can’t survive. My job is to provide training, education, and information, so there’s good alignment there! For cooperators who are trying to successfully steward their co-op and are facing challenges, the opportunities where they are provided training, education, and information are the most energizing and hope-building things that occur. People get reminded of what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and how they want to be doing it.

It’s my big source of inspiration and where I get to provide the most support and inspiration to cooperators. 

This is your first year on the CW board. What made you want to serve in this capacity?

We wanted someone from Washington to still be on the board! That’s part of my answer from an organizational standpoint, but for me individually, it’s two-fold. Co-op development is a very complex job to undertake. We hold people’s future, livelihood, housing, and place of work. That’s a big responsibility. My hope is that by serving on the board, I can help new folks entering the field, and people who have been doing it for a while, feel more confident and secure in their ability to provide cooperative development assistance. I want them to get the support they need so they can support clients. 

I am going through the process of realizing that I am not a new, young cooperative developer. I’m a journeyman co-op developer! Part of it for me was about self-consciously accepting that mantle and moving out of this idea that I am the one who has to ask everyone “how do I do this?” I’m getting more confident and secure in my experience.  I can be sharing that with other people who could benefit from it, instead of keeping myself in a learner’s mindset, which would mean that I’m not sharing what I have learned and now know!

You recently completed your Master of Management, Cooperatives and Credit Unions with Saint Mary’s University. Can you tell us about that? 

It was the single most rewarding and enriching educational experience I’ve ever had — the quality of the instruction, the depth of learning, the community of learners – particularly the fact that everyone in the program was actively engaged on a daily basis, doing the work that we were learning to do even better. The community of learners and practitioners I got to be a part of, including connections to the professors and instructors – all of whom were actively doing work in the co-op movement and in actual co-ops – was rewarding. The connections I’ve made have been valuable personally and professionally. Now that I have graduated and had conversations with other folks who’ve gotten MBAs, it has only become clearer that the quality of instruction I’ve received was exceptional. I feel confident in my ability to communicate with middle and upper management in cooperatives and credit unions, and with people in government. I learned a lot of tools and information that have been extremely valuable in thinking about operating cooperative businesses that are successful and functional.

What was your #1 takeaway from the program?

My immediate reaction was my top 3 #1 takeaways! The thing that I learned, that I internalized, that I end up telling everybody, is that cooperatives are most healthy, successful, and sustainable, from both economic and association standpoints, when they embrace the co-op identity and fully operationalize the principles and values of cooperation. The apparent tension between the needs of the members and the needs of the enterprise is not real. Those things can and should be brought into alignment. In doing that, you actually build a stronger member association and a stronger enterprise. There’s concrete real-world evidence over several decades that shows us that the more our cooperatives act like cooperatives, the better and stronger they are.

Tell us about your work with the Northwest Cooperative Development Center.

I serve as a cooperative developer. I work with clients, mostly producer and worker co-op clients that could be start-ups or conversions, doing every aspect of the business development process. I work with them from the idea stage all the way through feasibility, business planning, building membership, organizational design, getting finance and starting up. With clients who are already in operation, I might help do workshops, training, or troubleshoot specific problems.

I also focus on our education and training programs. We have our 10-week co-op academies that are intended to walk people through the entire process of starting a co-op. At the end of the 10 weeks, they’ll understand everything they need to get started, they’ll have to the tools to do it, have a timeline, and know how NWCDC can support the process.

NWCDC promoted conversions and worker ownership through their Legacy Project. What legacy do you hope to leave in the co-op movement?

I’ve never thought about that! One of the things I feel the most strongly about is the idea that anyone can do this. There’s stuff you need to learn, but you don’t need to be exceptional to be a successful cooperator. Any group of people who decide to unite for their common interest absolutely can and should start and run a successful cooperative. People can figure this out, and have been for a long time. A big part of the co-op development job is just giving people permission to do it. Letting people know, “You can figure out how to do this! And there are a ton of people who will want to help you do it.”

Or I’d like them to build a giant statue of me. One of the two!

What’s your favorite co-op?

It’s still Rainbow Grocery, even though I haven’t been there in over a decade. It was the first grocery store I went into that didn’t immediately make me start having a panic attack. It was the first place I bought groceries where I felt like it was for human beings. I was only 19 the first time I walked in there. I didn’t totally understand what a co-op was, and continued to not totally understand for another 10 years, but my experience there communicated to me at a bone deep level that this was different, better, and more aligned with the world I want to be living in.

If it wasn’t for Rainbow. I would probably never have married my wife! The first time I convinced her to go on a date with me, she was managing the Blue Bottle and they ran out of white wine. I had a scooter, and offered to go to Rainbow to get wholesale white wine if she would get a drink with me after work, and she agreed! We’ve been inseparable ever since.

If you could wave a magic wand and see one thing change for the co-op sector, what would it be?

It would probably be first right of refusal for every business and piece of rental property. Workers and renters would have the first right of refusal anytime anything went up for sale. 

Anything else?

I am open to talk to anybody about co-op development! It’s the most energizing thing when I get to talk with folks, especially folks who are confronted with a project they’ve never had to deal with before, or who are new in the profession and feeling overwhelmed or unsure of where to start. I was definitely in that space myself for the first several years of doing this work. It’s gratifying to be able to help people through that. A lot of people fall into the trap of thinking they should already know how to do something simply because they’ve been asked to do it. The reality is that in this work, we are constantly asked to do things that no one has been asked to do before! I would love for people to reach out to me if they have questions, need support, or just want to chat! Email Fred!