the state

– of why i’m not a member yet. by vastate
Saturday, 26 September 2009, 16:33
Filed under: -of eats, -of green, -of harrisonburg, -of jhumphrey, -of localism, -of politik, -of townie-to-townie

i got a text on thursday night.


it read, “remind me why i am out supporting my local food co-op tonight and you all aren’t even members?!”


here’s why:

i love co-ops.  i’ve professed my undying love several times on this very blog.


i’m tired of hearing folks report getting the cold shoulder from Friendly City Food Co-Op insiders.


i’ve heard several stories recently wherein concerned, interested, or simply conversation-making co-op members were informed by snotty co-op big whigs that their questions could not be answered in the interest of secrecy and security.

questions about the mystery location of said co-op.

questions about the mystery opening date of said co-op.

questions about the mystery inner workings of said co-op.

come on, people.

there are ways to keep information private without being holier-than-thou secret club members.

it’s a co-op, damn it.

i personally feel that you’re really burning some important transparency bridges.

i understand if a business deal is not yet complete, you might not feel you can go round town running your mouth about it.

but why not just say as much?  we’d understand.

but don’t insinuate that we’re not cool enough to know.

i’m not a member and have been pending my membership until i’m convinced by someone that FCFC has potential.  i’m further from sold than ever before.  why give my money to a co-op production just to be shut out of the process?


don’t you all have someone who is supposed to be public relations-oriented?  advertising?  community building?

i’ve written many annoying rants on this blog trying to get someone’s attention.

(trying to get someone to write me back and prove me wrong.)

maybe that’s too adversarial of an approach for you.  but, honestly, to an outsider – a potential member, it doesn’t look like things are going so well.  until a couple of days ago,  your website, STILL said that a summer 2009 opening date was expected.  you have 580 member households, but need 1000.  you have raised $85,000, but need $600,000.


okay, that was a little harsh.  a lot of hard work has gone into getting 580 households signed up and $85,000 raised.  but, it really seems like you needs some new ideas.  and most of all, you need a better attitude when talking with the community.

it’s true.  i didn’t go to the meeting.  that was a little lame, i admit. but, i have talked to many who were there and people are still a little confused.  everything is a little ambiguous.

maybe it’s time to spice it up.  try something new.  ride the wave of controversy.  turn it into something positive and energy-inducing.

we have over 200 people reading this blog a day.

you have the chance to write in and make me look like just a girl with a bad attitude.  convince me to join.  convince me that what you are doing is going to work.

write to me and give me the scoop.  this isn’t actually all about me.  (believe it or not.) it’s about reaching a whole lot of people who might be unimpressed with your old methods of potluck and music at the mediation center.   make our readers (many of whom are already members), feel involved.

here are some ideas:

(you see – we’re with you, not against you.  because we like co-ops.)

we’d love to host quarterly question/answer sessions right here on the state.


what about a rock lotto-style concert series FCFC benefit?


maybe a family supper-style gourmet local-foods event.  i bet some local chefs would participate.  and farmer’s would donate the goods.


what about low-income folks? do you have any sliding-scale system in place that might encourage the active involvement of those who want to show you (and the bank) that they like you but can’t dish out $200?  this might get you a few hundred more member households in a hurry.  there are a lot of students and poor-ish families out there that probably would support you if it didn’t seem so financially daunting.

start an interactive blog.  even the farmer’s market has one.


keep up the facebook page.  gets some more fans already.


and tweet more.  your last tweet was in may.  come on, it’s cute, simple, short, and sweet.


so, here’s your chance.  respond.  let us help you. a little controversy sometimes inspires the best conversation and action.  give us a better attitude.  that’s my real gripe.  show us that you’re nice, you know what you’re talking about, and that you encourage questions, participation, and discussion.

“The evils of controversy are transitory while its benefits are permanent”  – Robert Hall

i’m waiting…

(because i want to give you my $200.)

p.s.  i’ve asked my kind friend who sent that lovely text to write a rebuttal to this post.  we’ll see what he has to say…


8 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I am a member and I agree with this post 100%! I joined very early in the process because I liked the idea so much and because I had just received some money and knew if I didn’t go ahead and join I probably never would.

But I agree with everything you have said here and because of that I have made zero effort to recruit any new members (with the exception of one post on my blog). I even had someone ask me some questions about it the other day that I couldn’t answer because of all of this.

It is very frustrating and it makes me feel like I have wasted $200 which as a single mother I cannot afford to do!

Comment by Emmy

I’m not a regular blog reader, but when I saw the title of this post in the margin of hburgnews, I knew exactly what it was about.

While I don’t feel the co-op insiders are snotty I feel like, even though I’m a member, I’m still getting the ‘sales job’ on this idea, where I’d rather feel like I was part of the idea (besides the part where I’m supposed to be pitching it to my friends). Part of this feeling is the secrecy about what is actually happening or not happening. I joined 2 years ago, talked several friends into joining, and went to several events, but the ongoing “we’ll have big news any minute now and we’ll include you in it” vibe is not sustaining my interest any more.

I know this is a hard time to get something like this off the ground and I admire the folks who can stick with it. It’s a great idea, but for those of us who are ~ok~ with the current hburg grocery shopping choices, it’s difficult to sustain enthusiasm without something more to hang on to…

Comment by Hburg Downtown Supporter

Hello Blogger and others! I am your woman! My name is Deb Rhizal and I’m the outreach coordinator for FCFC. I took this job in June and in the very first week I created a personal mission statement for myself and my new job. Written at the top of every newsletter it reads: “The member-owners of FCFC are valued, informed and empowered to work as a team to make the store a reality.” Information is power folks, and I’m here to share it! Unfortunately, because I know it has great potential, I am pretty un-savoy when it comes to on-line social networking and until 5 minutes ago I had never heard of “The State.” I’m making progress every day learning more: as a result you can now check out FCFC’s facebook page and our facebook group and we have a tweet account and a new on-line social networking volunteer who began working to share info about FCFC just last week. We’re getting there! This morning I had a message in my inbox from an FCFC owner-member with a link to this message, which is how I found it. Thank you! Both to that member, and to the original poster of this discussion.

I can say wholeheartedly that I am totally in agreement with you. Co-ops are owned by the community and transparency and organization is the gut of what makes this alternative business model worth while. Access to information, and the ability to have a say in process, are tools that give us consumers a chance to make a real stand for what we will and will not consume – the whole purpose of a consumer’s coop!

I have been doing my best to put very clear detailed information out there in every newsletter I’ve written and in all of my communications with both potential and current members. I invite you to read them, and other updates at our web site at I’ve also written again and again that I am available for any questions! My number is 746-6032 for anyone who wants to call.

Now: I know you are more interested in NEWS then a discourse on how we’re trying: So here are a few pertinent updates:

Site: The preferred future home of FCFC is in downtown Harrisonburg in a building that is currently empty. If you look around at the vacant buildings and consider parking and viability and good access (limited one way streets etc), you’ll probably pick it out pretty fast. So why can’t I just put the address right here in this post? Because we don’t have a signed lease. We are still negotiating for a better price per square foot and for placement within the building (we aren’t using the whole available space), and we still need a bank committment before we can sign. If our site is public then we have an immense amount of pressure to make it work at that site. That pressure decreases our negotiating power and also our ability to go to site B if we don’t reach terms that work for us. Plus, that site won’t be available forever, and without a bank committment in place we can’t assume it will wait for us. If you think we’ve blown a lot of trust and morale already, imagine the blow a mistaken announcement about the site would cause! Trust me – we really want a major increase in owner-members because without it we won’t have a store…and we think that announcing a site is our #1 best way of recruiting new people. We won’t be sitting on that information the minute it’s official! And, all members are welcome to serve on the site committee– a sure way to know all the ins and outs. Maybe this is a good time to remind folks that ALL board meetings are open, every new member was given the dates and location (first Thursday of each month, Above Cally’s, 7:30)and that the minutes are available in the office or by request through email.

Time-line: I will be the first to join the chorus of wanting to know WHEN the store will open. Fact is, it’s out of our hands. The board has tried again and again to make their absolute best projections— but they’ve been wrong and we could be again. No one would withhold that crucial piece of info if we had it. Here are the factors:
Past – the main reason past predictions didn’t come about is the economic downturn and the change in lending.
Future – The store will be open within a year of securing funding and the site— hopefully less, but you know how construction can go and we are renovating an existing downtown site. SO – WHEN will we secure funding? That’s what the current BIG PUSH is all about. We’re trying to do so before fall passes. It’s ambitious, but if everyone pitches in it could happen. Here are the steps. A lot of them need to happen simultaneously, so there isn’t really an order and we’re literally working on ALL of them right now.
1. Get a loan committment from a bank or credit union stating that they will give the loan IF we meet XYZ contingencies. Parkview Credit Union is currently the most likely to do this, but we’ll talk to any institution interested. In the mean time, call Parkview and let them know you really want them to offer this loan.
2. Get a USDA loan guarantee so that Parkview, or another institution, can make this loan.
3. Increase membership to 800-1000 people so that we have more money from equity shares ($200.00 each) and so the goals of the member loan campaign can be spread over more people.
4. Raise $600,000 in member loans.
5. Be awarded a few major grants.
6. Find additional private lenders.
7. Negotiate a workable price on a site.
8. Sign a lease

And who is this “we?” The 7 current board members are just working as much as possible without losing sanity on all of this. An additional core of about 5 long-term committed volunteers are serving on various committees. 17 new volunteers have joined the forces in the last 2 weeks. There are various advisers helping (paid and volunteer), bankers are working, a realtor is working, a lot of members keep spreading the word, and I spend 30 paid hours a week recruiting and organizing those volunteers, working on publicity, reaching out to new members, sharing information, printing and mailing stuff and so on. It’s remarkable and an honor to be part of. It’s also painfully slow and difficult and more people are really needed.
So – WHEN? – You tell me! When the community of Harrisonburg kicks up 800-1000 members and $600,000 dollars it will be rolling! Once it’s rolling we’ll push architects and project managers for some hard-core dates and spread the news. The BEST-CASE scenario is completing the steps above by the end of November and opening a store this time next year. Can we do it? Absolutely! But not alone.

Money: The short on this long story is that before the economic downturn we expected a bank or credit union to fund most of the project. The new reality is that they will fund about 30% of it. That leaves it up to us, the owners, working through the board and volunteers, to raise the rest in owner equity (loans and shares), and grants or private loans. BIG JOB. Thus the member loan campaign which kicked off last Friday. Yesterday was the first day of follow-up calls. $8,000.00 was pledged last night, so we’re up to $93,000. Watch the carrot grow on our web site.

Web site: And for everyone out there who is great with web sites and finds ours a bit behind the times, here’s more information that may help bring some understanding to the web site’s shortcomings. When it was designed we were given access to it through a particular program. This program is costly to set up per individual and is very slow and cumbersome to use. The former outreach coordinator did the updates regardless of their less-then-convenient nature, but when I took the job multiple people tried to get the program installed on my computer and were not able to. Thus while “former man (Adam)” was out of town this summer we basically couldn’t update the web site. He’s now back in town and has begun to do regular updates again. A technology task force is also trying to transition us to a totally NEW and IMPROVED system (want to help – volunteer!). Also, we’re limited to 25K images, so the carrot project is a bit of a nightmare. The joys of volunteer efforts! They aren’t always the smoothest as everyone squeezes time into the cracks between work and family life… but they are a triumph of the greatest of human spirits as so many put their personal resources towards something they want for themselves and their community.

I apologize to anyone who has felt a snotty edge. I could offer a long list of excuses regarding the nature and complexity of educating lots of people on alternative business models and food issues… but rather I will just personally say that working for the board of the FCFC is a joy: They are compassionate, people-centered, and affirmative. I personally stand in awe of how they have given of themselves to coordinate this effort that each and every owner-member is bringing to Harrisonburg.

Please circulate this information far and wide, call me with questions or host a home or office party and invite me to come for a Q&A! I love to talk and I’m happy to share in great detail about FCFC, both its process and purpose. Thank you -Deb Rhizal, Outreach Coordinator FCFC

Comment by Deb Rhizal

[…] in fact, deb rhizal, the communications/organizer/outreach/etc. person for FCFC, wrote us a very well-humored and informative response to our most recent call for action. […]

Pingback by – of co-op response. « the state

[…] goal, which has led some would-be supporters to question their methods. Johan Grimsrud writes on the state: i’m not a member and have been pending my membership until i’m convinced by someone that FCFC […]

Pingback by » FC2 Pushes, But Will H’burg Pull?

I think some solid suggestions were made in the original post as far as transparency and communication go. I think those will go a long way towards helping disillusioned members (if there are actually very many of them) and nonmembers see more clearly the direction and progress of the co-op.

I can understand the frustration people feel about the slow progress and the secrecy, but I think both are quite understandable if you stop to consider the economy (slowing down the progress), and basic business negotiation practices (requiring some secrecy).

Count me in as a non-disgruntled (hmmm….. does that make me gruntled?) member of the co-op. And to be clear, I’m not one of the supposed insiders, so my lack of disgruntlement isn’t based on knowing those super secret details. 🙂

Comment by Scott Rogers

[…] concrete development is pretty exciting, especially since much of the frustration we’ve heard in the community centers around the previous ambiguity of the co-op […]

Pingback by – of co-op homes. « the state

[…] year, Jill Humphrey blasted FCFC on her blog for what she perceived as cold-shouldered elitism and insider secrecy surrounding the future […]

Pingback by Friendly City Food Co-op: Selling Community |

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