Twenty-seven juniors in Mr. Bizzaro’s Advanced Placement Environmental Science class at a local high school had settled into their seats before the bell, and were curiously looking around their already amply-equipped classroom at the four new food prep stations. Their anticipation was palpable, but for more than 20 minutes the students remained actively engaged in the thoughtful and informative presentation delivered by Amy Ellis, Honest Weight Food Co-op’s Outreach Coordinator, and Member-Owner Sue Adler. Another Member-Owner, Justina Gabrowski, was on hand as well to help with the Outreach action. After presenting a solid overview of the Co-op, Amy and Sue spoke on several topics, including organic labeling, the science of GMOs, and the carbon footprint of our food, fielding questions as they went.
Then, the real fun began. The students advanced to their stations to assemble and serve chocolate-avocado mousse, ginger-peach smoothies, traditional hummus, and salad made with hydroponic lettuce grown right in the classroom. Participation was enthusiastic and enjoyment of the finished product was plain to see! (The Outreach team also brought along copies of the Coop Scoop for students to take home with them after class.)
The Ready, Set, Grow Program
The activity in Mr. Bizzaro’s classroom is an annual event sponsored by the Outreach Department’s Ready, Set, Grow program. Outlined in just two pages, the plan can be adapted to any grade level, from pre-K to high school.
In 2016, more than 150 presentations were given. During her six years as Outreach Coordinator, Amy Ellis has overseen plenty of development in this program, which depends entirely on member-owners to deliver presentations. The Ready, Set, Grow programs are always expanding and changing to meet demand, and to reflect the ideas, interests and talents of the member-owners who help run it. According to Amy, there are about 20 member-owners who make up the core group of presenters, anchoring the program in a core routine. Many others join in for particular projects or for limited periods of time. Member-owner staffing is very fluid, a sort of revolving door. Amy adds, “It’s hard to grow and expand without more member involvement.”
Member-owners who are most successful in the Ready, Set, Grow program possess certain characteristics. A “people person” would do well in this Department. It also helps to have a flexible schedule and a customer service mentality, as well as a way with kids. Typically, to accomplish an Outreach action, a small team of three or four members will cover the event from start to finish: first picking up the supplies and materials at the Co-op, then transporting them to the site, presenting the information, overseeing the activity, and cleaning up and returning to the Co-op. Most training is done through shadowing and working with seasoned Outreach member-owners.
How the Outreach Department Operates
Member-owners make up the core of this Department and hold a wealth of institutional knowledge, ranging from how to best convey the workings of the Co-op to diverse groups, to when the busy season starts, or how much avocado-chocolate mousse will be needed for a group of teenagers in the morning. Relationships have been formed with community organizations such as the Albany School of Humanities Garden Club. Outreach is asked back, year after year. In fact, many requests for presentations are made to the Outreach Department, and most of them are granted. The main factor is scheduling, as the calendar fills up quickly, especially in the summertime.
Other Outreach programs include the Community Dance Series and monetary sponsorship of related non-profits. Perhaps the best known of the Outreach efforts is the Food For Thought film series, held monthly at The Linda on Central Avenue in Albany.
The budget for Outreach has grown steadily over the years, keeping pace with the Co-op community. Last year it was $25,000. (The Outreach Department takes public contributions, as well.) Does Outreach action add to the Co-op’s triple bottom line of people, profits and the planet? That’s a hard thing to measure, but Amy believes it adds significantly in terms of giving 5 percent of the Co-op’s profits back to the community.
Outreach activities are a great way for the Co-op to spread the word about who we are, and to help folks understand what we stand for and what we do. They get a chance to sample our wares, and promotional coupons are often given away. All of these things can get people in the door and generate interest in the Co-op’s products, services and organization.