Saturday, November 27, 2010

Brainstorming ideas for the Oklahoma Food Cooperative.

Over the last few weeks, I have been encouraging a brainstorming process among the Board and the membership in three major issues: Improving Customer Satisfaction, Spending Money, Making Money. I chose to divide the issue these ways, because it seemed to me that these were the areas that needed attention.

For a long time, we have substituted volunteer labor for money. That has been, and will remain, an important aspect of the Oklahoma Food Cooperative experience, but our history also suggests that there is a hidden cost to that in the form of over-burdening key people who all to often have ended up “burning out”. There is an increasing feeling among the leaders of the coop that it is not acceptable for the coop to go on “sacrificing” people in this way, so the issue of “spending money” is definitely on the table.

To spend money, however, we must make money. So we also need to think about ways to increase the cooperative’s revenues.

And customer satisfaction has a very direct relationship to whether or not people decide to shop the coop for all or part of their households’ groceries.

This document summarizes the results of the brain storming suggestions, from both the Board and the membership. The outline below was not pre-determined, but was formed after looking at all of the suggestions and sorting them. Some of them could easily be in more than one location, but this is a good place to start.

In this summary, I have combined similar suggestions and listed their proposers and tried to organize them by topic. I did some rewording to take them from the form of casual conversation to ideas for discussion. If I distorted anyone's idea, or if your idea got lost in the conversation, let me know.

By posting this discussion – to the members of the Board, to the coop’s general discussion group, and to my website, I hope to generate even more discussion and conversation and ideas about re-organizing the way we do things. I will continue to act as “secretary” for the discussions and add new ideas as they are developed to this outlined, which will be posted from time to time to the various discussion listservs and at  .

I would caution everyone that this has been a brainstorming process, it is not a document indicating management decisions that have already been made. While discussion about the merits or demerits of each of these proposals is perfectly fine, I would like to remind all that this discussion should be civil and devoid of angry outbursts of rage if you see something you don’t like. Everyone participating in this process is deeply committed to the coop and its success and so the good intentions of everyone can and should be appreciated.

NB:  Due to the limitations of the software, much of the formatting has disappeared from this document, in particular, the indents.  A pdf of the original, with all the formating, can be downloaded from the files section of the Coop's general discussion group, .

1.0 Improving Customer Satisfaction
1.1 Website Changes (7 topics)
1.2 Member Issues (3 topics)
1.3 Producer/product Issues (9 topics)
1.4 Marketing/promotion (2 topics)
1.5 Customer Education (1 topics)
1.6 Big Picture Items (1 topics)
1.7 Delivery Day Sorting (4 topics)
1.8 Pickup Sites (5 topics)

2.0 Making Money

2.1 Sales (8 topics)
2.2 Marketing/promotion (5 topics)
2.3 Member Issues (3 topics)
2.4 Miscellaneous Revenue Sources (6 topics)
2.5 Miscellaneous Issues (1 topic)

3.0 Spending Money

3.1 Promotions/marketing (1 topic)
3.2 Employees (11 topics).



1.1.1 A button to click on the home page: First Time to the Website. This would explain the basics in two or three paragraphs: cost to join, order cycle and pick-up, a few of our vip standards in brief. (Ann Boulton)

1.1.2 Improve the website more so it functions more like a normal e-commerce website. (Chelsey Simpson)

(a) Make products easier to sort. (Chelsey Simpson, Shauna Struby)

(b) Offer more product sorting options for the list like other websites have (sort by most popular, recently added, most and least expensive, organic, all natural...) Chelsey Simpson, Karen Cline, Shelley Smith, Shauna Struby,

(c) Make the lists more visually appealing/ not as long to scroll through. (Chelsey Simpson)

(d) Auto-generate an email the day the order closes so that everyone with items in their cart receives a reminder to check it for accuracy and add more items if they want. (Chelsey Simpson)

1.1.3 Automate product display, so that if a product has zero inventory, it does not display. If members take items out of their shopping carts so the inventory is restored, the item would automatically re-appear without producer or coop admin action. Bob Waldrop, Kathy Tibbits. Shelley Smith

(a) Enable a user option to “hide items without inventory”. Karen Cline.

1.1.4 Product search. Laura (member).

1.1.5 If the coop runs on Linux, switch to htdig. Julia Christensen

1.1.6 Eliminate duplicate product categories/departments/shelves. Karen Cline, Shelley Smith

1.1.7 Use an icon to identify at a glance that a product is either organic, naturally grown/raised without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, or conventionally grown.


1.2.1 Customer Complaints

(a) Improve our response time to customer complaints/questions. (Ann Boulton)

(b) Organize communications so that six people don't think they need to respond. (Ann Boulton)

(c) Eliminate/resolve non-functioning customer service issues like the delays in returning messages left on the answering machine at the op center. Four possible solutions:

(i) Change the message to say call Ann Boulton, here's the number.

(ii) Ask people to leave an email address.

(iii) Hire an answering service.

(iv) Use a flow chart that shows where customer complaint emails go. Ann Boulton

1.2.2 Besides subscribing all members to , also subscribe them to to encourage feedback and discussion. Dev Valencourt.

1.2.3 Host a bulletin board that allows anonymous posting at the website. Dev Valencourt


1.3.1 Eliminate random weight items. (Chelsey Simpson)

1.3.2 Develop a producer help desk/volunteer that would work with producers who do not have computer access to list their products, print their product lists and labels, etc. Charge something for this service. Kathy Tibbits, Kathy Moore, Lauren Brandeberry, Bob Waldrop Waldrop, Shauna Struby, Dev Valencourt, Karen Cline,

1.3.3 Eliminate missing item fee if due to pests, freeze, etc. Kathy Moore

1.3.4 Enforce the requirement that producers declare their use of conventional pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers. Shelley Smith

1.3.5 Standardize the way that produce is listed. Patty Loofbourrow

1.3.6 Include allergen requirements as part of producer orientation. Patty Loofbourrow

1.3.7 Develop a method/structure for members to request products and for this info to make it to producers. Dev Valencourt. Linda Zoldoske

1.3.8 Combine the store idea with a certified kitchen available for rent; put April Harrington in charge of it. Kathy Tibbits, John Herndon, Dev Valencourt,

1.3.9 Implement an E-bay-type feedback system for producers. Bob Waldrop


1.4.1 Promote the coop in Fayetteville, Arkansas, at the U of Ark. (Ann Boulton)

1.4.2 Address the issue that the coop is only for upscale urban people. Patty Loofborow


1.5.1 Offer more cooking classes. (Chelsey Simpson)

(a) Develop recipes using only coop ingredients (except maybe salt and pepper) maybe make it a competition, possibly cause it to pop up when someone orders one ingredient. (Ann Boulton)


1.6.1 Regionalize the coop for an additional monthly delivery.

(a) 3 regions – OKC, Tulsa, Muskogee Tahlequah.

(b) One monthly order would be like our present statewide delivery.

(c) A second monthly order would be regionalized. Members in the Tulsa area would order from Tulsa producers; members in the Tahlequah-Muskogee area would order from Tahlequah producers; members in the OKC area would order from OKC area producers.

(d) Producers could have the option of participating in more than one regional order, as long as they could get their products to that region’s delivery day.

(e) Submitted by Bob Waldrop.


1.7.1 Sort frozen and refrigerated items to individual customers like we do dry goods. (Bob Waldrop)

1.7.2 Improve the presentation of frozen and refrigerated item by packing them in boxes for individual customers. (Bob Waldrop)

1.7.3 Number the coolers in sequence for pickup sites. (Ann Boulton, reporting suggestion of member)

1.7.4 “Head of Security” for the op site. Kathy Tibbits


1.8.1 Train our pick-up site volunteers to act like real customer service people. (Chelsey Simpson)

1.8.2 Write cooler numbers on invoices so that customers don't have to consult the sheets. (Chelsey Simpson)

1.8.3 Improve training, support for, and compensation for route/pickup site managers. Candace Lockett

(a) Have a route/pickup site managers appreciation day, or an nual bonus or gift for them.

(b) Suggest to producers that they send free samples to route managers, who have direct interaction with customers and can act as salespeople.

(c) Ensure that every route/pick-up site manager has a number to call on delivery day, well into the evening, and the next day, that will be answered by a live person capable to answering questions, resolving problems, or finding the person who can handle a particular situation.

(d) Candace’s ideas for support for route/pick-up site managers were “seconded” by Karen Cline, Pam Ferry, Shauna Struby, Bob Waldrop, all of whom have been route or pick-up site managers.

1.8.4 Dedicated coop transportation for routes, either by purchase or lease, together with training for the drivers. Julie Gahn

1.8.5 Offer free samples of food at pickup sites. (Ann Boulton)



2.1.1 Go to twice a month orders. (Ann Boulton)

2.1.2 Start a Coop farmers market. Order online, pickup at a coop farmers market. Greg Parker.

2.1.3 Encourage out of town customers to network in order to pick up orders for them at a coop farmers market. . Walter Kelley

2.1.4 Bob Waldrop’s Variation on the Coop farmers market: Develop a Coop Mobile Market (CMM) that would wander about on a schedule in areas with a strong cooperative membership base.

(a) People could order online for delivery at the Coop Mobile Market

(b) CMM would also have stock from producers offered on consignment. This preserves one of the advantages of the coop for the producers in that they wouldn't have to be personally present for the event.

(c) CMM could be a different place every day for 3 weeks of the month (perhaps repeating in some locations), operating on Saturday in areas where there aren't a farmer's market.

(d) Start with one CMM in the OKC area to test the concept, and then if viable add one for the Tulsa area.

(e) Producers could drop off consignment product on delivery day when they are bringing their other stuff, they wouldn't get paid until we sold the items, but when sold they would get paid promptly (weekly check).

(f) Finesse any software issues in the short term by installing our software on multiple domains, e.g.,, and , so that people could order online for 3 weekly deliveries at a coop mobile market stop, while keeping for the regular monthly order.

(g) The mobile market would be a trailer pulled by a pickup, carrying food and tables and etc and setting up at a location like we do at present for a pick-up site.

(h) Kathy Tibbit’s variation of Bob’s variation on the coop farmers market suggestion: Put the coop mobile market on a bus.

2.1.5 Open a store. Dawn Mahiya, Shauna Struby. Kathy Tibbits.

(a) Locate the store next door to the Red Cup location in the 73106 zip code, OKC. (Dawn Mahiya)

2.1.6 Coop-operated CSA: Instead of ordering exact items, customers would choose from one of a couple CSA boxes that would contain items from different producers. Sell the boxes outside of the regular monthly delivery as a testing ground for a second monthly delivery. Farmers' markets could be distribution points for the CSA-type system (Chelsey Simpson)

2.1.7 Make coop meal packs – everything (or most things) necessary to make a particular meal for a certain number of people. (Kathy Tibbits)

2.1.8 Additional pick-up possibilities not on the third Thursday, such as picking up on the Saturday after delivery day to accommodate members that can’t meet our current pickup. Jennifer David.


2.2.1 Have a farm tour and charge money like they do for house and garden tours. Do it annually and select a different region of the state each year (close to metro areas if possible). Ann Boulton

2.2.2 Promote the coop in North Texas. Ann Boulton

(a) And also other border areas.

2.2.3 Promote the coop to more medical people; Ann Boulton

2.2.4 Have a specialized “Sale” web-flyer each month. Justine Foster.

2.2.5 Highlight sales in existing producer notes. (?)


2.3.1 Make new members accounts active immediately so that they can order right away. Ann Boulton

2.3.2 Charge an annual fee of $20 that can be waived by donating an hour of your time or attending a board meeting. (Chelsey Simpson)

2.3.3 Increase the coop producer and customer charges.(Bob Waldrop)


2.4.1 Invest some of the coop's working capital in items that are not and never will be produced by Oklahoma producers, which the coop would buy at wholesale and sell at retail to our customers, such as Texas citrus, Arkansas and Texas rice, paper goods (something like 7th generation toilet paper etc). (Bob Waldrop)

2.4.2 Implement the program to sell classified ads at the website to members only, that has already been approved by the Board. (Bob Waldrop)

2.4.3 Sell display ads on the website. (Bob Waldrop)

2.4.4 Sell booths at the annual meeting. (Bob Waldrop)

2.4.5 Operate a catering truck offering Oklahoma foods at fairs/events. Bob Waldrop

2.4.6 Have more Oklahoma food dinners but charge enough so we actually make a profit. ?


2.5.1 Study other retail coops for ideas for us. Shauna Struby



3.1.1 Spend some money on advertising. Walter Kelley


3.2.1 Hire a finance manager. Walter Kelley, Kara McKee, Bob Waldrop, Greg Parker, April Harrington

3.2.2 Hire a PR/outreach manager. Ann Boulton, Chelsey Simpson, Bob Waldrop

3.2.3 Make changes to the GOM job duties so that the position is an actual GM. Chelsey Simpson

3.2.4 Institute a pay raise/work credit increase across the board for "middle managers" or other people who do not have a full time or even part-time work load but who we depend on greatly and who hold responsibility. Chelsey Simpson

3.2.5 Hire a routes manager. Kara McKee

3.2.6 Hire a software assistant to do routine website tasks and handle the routine software/customer web-related questions. Kara McKee

3.2.7 Raise for GOM. Bob Waldrop

3.2.8 Hire a producer manager. (Bob Waldrop)

3.2.9 Spend more money on hiring employees to do work presently done by over-worked volunteers, target critical functions, especially communication functions. Justine Foster.

3.2.10 We should fill other management holes with employees, such as producer communications and maybe even route coordination. Chelsey Simpson

3.2.11 General increase in the work credit program for volunteers. Bob Waldrop

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Feastin' Season Begins! November Bobagandistic Thoughts for the Oklahoma Food Cooperative

OK this is not only the feastin' season, it also opens up the singin' season.  So here is the "official" Oklahoma Food Coop holiday song (well, one of them anyway, next month we have the 12 Days of the Coop's Christmas. . . which includes a Very Pesky Pastured Chicken in a Stratford Peach Tree!)
Tune: Deck the halls with boughs of holly

(1) Tis the season for the feastin',
Oklahoma Foods are good to eat!
Taste nutrition can't be beaten,
Oklahoma Foods are good to eat!
Nurturing the land and people,
Farm and city joining hands.
Tis the season for the feastin',
Oklahoma Foods are good to eat!

(2) Care for people and creation,
Oklahoma Foods are good to eat!
Hope throughout the bio-region,
Oklahoma Foods are good to eat!
From our farms onto our tables,
we will bless the way we eat!
Care for people and creation,
Oklahoma Foods are good to eat!

(3) Healing nature with earth's beauty,
Oklahoma Foods are good to eat!
Wisdom, joy fulfilling duty,
Oklahoma Foods are good to eat!
Eating with the changing seasons,
Chasing the CAFOs from our land!
Healing nature with earth's beauty,
Oklahoma Foods are good to eat!

(4) Social justice, sustainability,
Oklahoma Foods are good to eat!
Economic viability,
Oklahoma Foods are good to eat!
These our values, govern always,
They will take us forward far!
Three in number the core values,
Oklahoma Foods are good to eat!

This is what we are about, good food for good people.  Social justice, environmental sustainability, economic viability -- good food that does good, or as we shall say in December, "Peace on Earth, Good meals for all!"
It gets very busy around here.  We don't always achieve our goals.  But seven years into this crazy experiment, we are still here, making a difference on farm and in the city.
This is one of the important principles of the Oklahoma Food Cooperative.  So this is the month for the cool season greens and squash and pumpkins.  Looking at the order inventories, I still see a lot of greens available.  Greens are so tasty and nutritious.  Folks should buy lots, cook 'em and eat 'em now, and freeze some for eating later.  Cooked greens freeze very well, I do it all the time. 
I also see lots of pumpkins, and if you're making your pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving out of canned pumpkin, well, you are missing one of the great taste treats.  At our very first activity -- the Oklahoma Food dinner of November 2003 -- we served pumpkin pie made from real pumpkins.  None of us had actually ever done that before, but we looked up the recipe on the internet (Google is the friend of local food), and it was certainly the best pumpkin pie I've ever et.  Combine that with some whipped cream from pastured cows, and you have very fine food for your feastin' table.
Turkeys sold out really quick -- memo to producers, WE NEED MORE TURKEYS NEXT YEAR. That's been true every year of the coop's existence.  But that doesn't mean that we lack for fine centerpiece meats for your holiday tables.  I see wonderful tenderloins of beef and pork and buffalo. Whole prime ribs of buffalo. Legs of lamb.  Roasts.  Pastured chickens.  Very nice foods for your feastin' season.
And details?  We have pecans for your pecan pie or pecan tarts, or to scatter across your baked sweet potatoes.  Lard and suet for pie crusts.  Peanuts and roastin' and eatin'. Wonderful whole wheat flour for rolls, breads, and cakes, and yes, whole wheat flour makes a very fine cake.  Use buttermilk or yogurt instead of milk and it will be a light and tasty cake, so much so that people will hardly believe it was made with whole wheat flour.  Jams and jellies for your rolls.  Bread and hot roll dough if you're too busy to make your own.  Nice prepared casseroles for potlucks and when you are just too busy to cook.
Now is also a good time for your holiday gift shopping, and you name it, our fine coop artisan producers have them for sale.  I hadn't realized how easy the food coop would make my Christmas shopping.  Friends and family receive jellies and jams and artisan soaps and pecans and crafts from me instead of mass-produced junk made by wage slaves and sold in big box stores.

There are many ways to cook greens. The most traditional, southern way is to simmer them slowly with ham hocks or bacon. Arkansas bacon is particularly good for this I think, or a meaty bone from a ham. As the cooking proceeds, a rich vitamin-filled broth results, this is what is called “pot liquor” or “pot likker”. Serve with freshly baked corn bread. Other additions include onions, garlic, hot peppers (or hot pepper sauce), liquid smoke.

1 cup cooked turnip greens contains: 20 calories, 1.2 g protein, 4.4 g carbohydrates, 3.5 g dietary fiber, 93% water, 550 RE vitamin A, 27 mg vitamin C, 118 mcg folate, 203 mg potassium and 137 mg calcium.

Traditional method: Use about 1/4 lb of bacon or ham hocks per five pounds or so of greens. Fry bacon until crisp. Bring water to boil, add salt and crushed red pepper. Crumble bacon over greens and add to the liquid. Simmer until done (at least 1 hour, if using ham hocks, simmer until the ham hocks are completely done and falling apart, which would be 3-4 hours. Many people add sliced or diced turnips to the greens for cooking. Turnip greens in particular need to be cooked longer than some of the more tender greens like spinach or mustard.

Cooked greens freeze just fine. While they are available, buy lots, cook and freeze for eating later!

Cream of Greens Soup
1 lb ham slice, with bone
8 cups water
1 large bunch of greens, washed and finely chopped
1 cup chopped onion
2 cups chopped celery
2 cups chopped green onions
1/4 and 1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup flour
5 cups milk

Place the water and ham in a pot, cover, and simmer for 3 hours. Remove ham, add the chopped greens, simmer for 1 hour. (If you are making this with turnip greens, add them at the beginning of the cooking. Melt 1/4 cup butter in a skillet, and the chopped onion, celery, and green onions, cook until tender. Put the cooked onion mixture in a blender or food processor, and process until smooth, mix with the greens. Melt 1/3 cup butter in a cooking pot, gradually add the flour and stir to make a roux. Gradually add the milk, stirring constantly, until it thickens. Then add the greens and onion mixture, a dash of salt and hot sauce. Add the ham cut into chunks. Cook until thoroughly heated, do not boil. Makes about 10 cups.

Coop Cooking Note: We have ham, greens, flour, butter, and cream for sale this month. Instead of five cups of milk, try a mixture of cream and water or stock. Use whole wheat flour to make a roux (I generally sift whole wheat flour before I use it to make a roux). When I make this, I will certainly some jalapenos and maybe half a habanero or Scotch bonnet pepper to the onion mixture.

Cook the pumpkin, mash it, whip it with whipped cream or yogurt and honey. Chill & serve with a cookie from your favorite coop baker or other local bakery. Also good with cinnamon, nutmeg,
shaved chocolate sprinkled on top. (From Shauna Struby).

To turn a pumpkin into pumpkin pie. . . first you get your pumpkin, wash it, scoop out the seeds (save them, wash them, toast them in the oven, eat them!), and then slice the pumpkin into strips. Place these strips on a cookie sheet or other flat pan, and bake in the oven at 350 degrees until they are soft. The skin may caramelize, but that�s fine, it just adds to the robust flavors. When they are soft, peel off the rind (it should come off very easy, with a butter knife), and mash the pulp with a potato masher or a big fork or a food processor, and voila, pumpkin puree which is then used just like canned pumpkin in your favorite pumpkin pie recipe. 

If you feel like you need more instructions, visit which has pictures of 3 different ways to cook the pumpkin. There's a lot more pumpkin recipes at the site, including a recipe for a pumpkin pie with a pecan topping that I am trying this year, for sure, also a pumpkin pie made with NO sugar. Note that their recipe for pumpkin pie uses evaporated milk, which is an industrial food way of getting something sort of like cream.  I use real cream in my pumpkin pies.  If the recipe calls for 1 cup sugar, you can substitute 3/4 cup honey.

I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving, surrounded by friends and family and good food, good cheer, good times.  We all live busy lives, but we can enhance our holidays with "slow and local" food, providing "good meals for all".  If you have any questions about recipes or anything about your holiday meals, post them to  and you'll get answers!

Y'all bon appetit, you hear!
Bob Waldrop, bobagandist in chief

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Down to the wire for April Harrington.

We are down to the wire to help April Harrington survive the vicious attack by the ODOT bureaucracy on her business.  In a typical misallocation of resources, as we are heading into the peak oil era, ODOT is widening a road and will destroy her market-bakery building, one of the "greenest" buildings in the state.  This impacts her business -- which in turn impacts her employees and the other local producers who rent her bakery to make their products in a health-dept-certified kitchen.  Times are bad all over, and what is ODOT doing? Destroying jobs in rural Oklahoma. 

Anyway, she is trying to raise $25,000 to put a smaller, cheaper building on part of her property that will not be taken by ODOT.  These are not good times for local food entrepreneurs to be going to banks, and thus April embarked on a non-traditional fundraising campaign using the "Kickstart" program, which invites people to fund ventures like April's that also have broad social and environmental impacts with gifts of capital that can make a difference between success and failure.

This is a time-limited campaign, and we are down to the wire.  As of 10 AM on Thursday, November 4th, we have 32 hours left for people to commit to help April.  We are only about one-third of the way towards the goal, so there is a lot to be done.
April has worked hard and does not deserve what the State of Oklahoma is doing to her in our name.  Let's vote against the craziness of ODOT and help April in this time of grave need.  Make a pledge today!  Tomorrow will be too late.