Our Amazing Speakers

This year we are lucky to have a great line-up of presenters and workshop leaders from a multitude of cooperative sectors.  Our goal is for you to leave the conference with the tools and knowledge you need to start, strengthen or expand your coop.  We also want you to leave feel inspired and more engaged in the regional, and national, cooperative community.  Our speakers will make sure that both of these happen!

Vanessa Bransburg – The Benefits of Worker Cooperatives

Vanessa Bransburg was Director of Cooperative Development at the Center for Family Life (CFL) in Brooklyn, NY for 7 years where she established the NYC Cooperative Development Initiative and was one of the founders of the NYC Network of Worker Cooperatives. She currently works for Democracy at Work Institute in San Diego consulting with start up cooperatives. Vanessa is originally from Buenos Aires Argentina.

Mieka Briejer – Telling the Financial Story

Mieka is an integral piece to the Center for Inclusive Entrepreneurship team. She is particularly focused on developing programming and design for many of the entrepreneurship classes and marketing materials that CIE provides. Mieka is deeply passionate about the power and opportunity that co-ops hold in our world’s sustainable business future! In support of her passion, Mieka holds a BA in Business Administration from the University of Washington and a professional history rich with outreach and community engagement experience.

Aaron Blythe – Agricultural Co-ops: Beyond the Farm

Aaron has been involved with sustainable farming for over 12 years.  Originally from Minnesota, he has grown food on Organic farms in California, Oregon, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.  From 2003-2004 he studied and worked at the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems at the University of California at Santa Cruz.  He spent 6 years as the Farm Manager of the Minnesota Food Association running a 200-member CSA and helping to train a diverse group of Immigrant Farmers in Organic vegetable production. Currently Aaron is a Co-manager at Shared Ground Farmers’ Cooperative. Shared Ground is a marketing coop made up of three Latino-owned farms and two Anglo-owned farms.

Rodrigo Cala – Agricultural Co-ops: Beyond the Farm

Rodrigo Cala and his brother have owned and operated an organic vegetable farm in Turtle Lake, Wisconsin for seven years. They have the reputation of growing the best organic broccoli in the region. Rodrigo was one of the founding members of Shared Ground Cooperative  that distributes produce of its member farms in Minnesota and Wisconsin to restaurants, grocery stores and a CSA. Rodrigo’s family operated a sales site at the Centro de Abastos in Mexico City and farmed in the State of Mexico. Rodrigo attended the national university UNAM in the capital city. He has lived in the United State for twelve years. Rodrigo is a key member of Latino Economic Development Center ‘s agricultural training team.

Matt Fast – Co-created Branding

Matt has an MBA in Sustainable Business from Pinchot University (formerly Bainbridge Graduate Institute). He joined NWCDC in the fall of 2014 and works primarily with the Resident Owned Community project (ROCNorthWest).

Kendall Fisher – Principles of Accounting and Law for Cooperatives

Kendall Fisher, an attorney in Dorsey’s Tax, Trusts & Estates group, has experience advising cooperatives on their qualification under Subchapter T of the Internal Revenue Code, equity management plans, and corporate governance plans. He has also co-developed curriculum aimed at educating start-up workers’ cooperative member-owners about the most important tax issues to consider when forming and operating their cooperative organizations. Finally, Kendall has assisted in representing cooperatives before the IRS, including obtaining letter rulings and general compliance disputes.

Jade Flores – Collaborative Session on Cooperation Amongst Co-operatives

Jade works for the Community Food Co-op in Bellingham, WA as both staff and serving on the Board of Directors.  She is also a student at Western Washington University obtaining her degree in Food Systems with a minor in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Western’s IDEA Institute. Jade is also a member of Bellingham Cohousing, a thriving 33-family condominium association run by consensus. Her passions surround growing the local food system and enhancing economic development through the new economy.

John Flory – Cooperative Public Markets; Cooperative Case Studies in Minority Communities

John is a Special Projects Director for the Latino Economic Development Center in Minnesota. John has more than twenty years of experience in micro-lending, and small business development support, and played a lead role in developing two business incubators, including the Mercado Central.

John received a Bachelor in History from Manchester College, Indiana in 1969 and a Masters in Business Administration from the University of St. Thomas in 1988. John managed cooperative grocery stores for seven years before coming to work full-time at LEDC. John also owns North Country Fair Trade, an international for-profit business that connects Latin American laborers with North American consumers.

Joe Garrison – Sociocracy: Governance for the New Economy; The Many Faces of Governance

Born to a family of cooperative wheat and cotton farmers in the Texas panhandle, Joe Garrison has lived in coop housing and worked at a food coop. Ten years ago, he helped found worker-owned Blue Scorcher Bakery Cafe in Astoria, Oregon. Some of the best advice he’s gotten so far is “Fix your own damn oven!”

Diane Gasaway – The Many Faces of Governance

Diane joined the Northwest Cooperative Development Center in 2003 and together with the NWCDC Board of Directors has been responsible for building the Center into what it is today. Her specialty is in strategic planning, co-op education, co-op development, grant administration, and budget management for a multitude of projects. Diane has 13 years of experience in the financial services industry. She received a Master of Public Administration (with a co-op emphasis) from The Evergreen State College.

Molly Gibbs – Communication with Intention…to Clarify

Molly specializes in organizational coaching, and individual leadership coaching.  I’m committed to building relationships with co-workers, leaders, staff, and with family members. Relationship building is central to all my work, both within organizations and by promoting wellness within individuals. Ask me about the art of inquiry, to enhance understanding and avoid incorrect assumptions.  I provide high quality Communications training, live and online.  These sessions are unique and empowering.  Molly Gibbs and Associates trained 2,000 healthcare staff at Northgate Hospital, MultiCare Medical Center and SW Region Group Health.

Javier Gonzalez – Agricultural Co-ops: Beyond the Farm

Javier is a founding member of the Agua Gorda Cooperative which began operation in 2012 as a small scale vegetable farm on an urban plot. The co-op members expanded its production and sales each year until they were able to purchase a 54 acre farm in Long Prairie, Minnesota, a town of 3,000 residents.

Javier has worked on a dairy farm in Long Prairie for eight years where he and his wife own their own home. The farm has been most successful marketing the Latino specialty crops that they grow, particularly tomatillos and serrano peppers. Last year the cooperative sold 40,000 pounds of tomatillos to a tamale maker in the Twin Cities which will process all the green salsa the business uses in a year from tomatillos grown by the Agua Gorda Cooperative. All the members of the Agua Gorda Cooperative moved to Long Prairie from the small town of Agua Gorda, Michoacan in Mexico.

Pakou Hang – Agricultural Co-ops: Beyond the Farm

Pakou Hang is the Co-Founder and the Executive Director of the Hmong American Farmers Association. Pakou’s childhood was spent picking cucumbers for Gedney Pickles and growing and selling vegetables at the local farmers markets. She has over 20 years experience with farming and vegetable production and is a former member of the St. Paul Farmers Market Board of Directors as well as a 2011 participant to The White House Project’s Plate to Politics Summit in Wisconsin.

In 2001, Pakou’s family was featured in the book, Renewing the Countryside Minnesota, and she recently teamed up with Renewing the Countryside again to connect Hmong farmers with Twin Cities chefs committed to purchasing local vegetables. Pakou also worked with the Healthy Foods Healthy Lives Institute at the University of Minnesota to examine traditional Hmong medicinal plants and developed a curriculum to teach Hmong American elementary students about Hmong traditions in health and healing. In 2010, Pakou worked with the Latino Economic Development Center to spearhead a feasibility study on challenges and opportunities facing immigrant farmers in Minnesota.

Pakou has worked for over 12 years as a community organizer and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2008 with a Masters in Political Science and from Yale University in 1999 with a B.A. also in Political Science. She is a recipient of the prestigious Hubert H. Humphrey Public Leadership Award, the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans, and the newly inaugurated Bush Leadership Fellowship which was the impetus for the formation of HAFA.

Anna Isaacs – Co-ops as a Vehicle for Social Justice; Co-op Movement and Project Visioning

Anna has worked with CoFED since January 2012. She came to this work by first working in CECOSESOLA, an association of 80 cooperatives that serves about 55,000 families weekly in Barquisimeto, Venezuela. She was a worker-member of The Flaming Eggplant Cafe, in Olympia, Washington. She also has worked with the Northwest Cooperative Development Center doing business and financial feasibility planning for a local food processing coop. Through this work, Anna hopes to build power that enables communities to have agency over making some of the most important economic and political decisions for themselves.

Jerry Koch-Gonzalez – Sociocracy: Governance for the New Economy

Jerry helps companies and organizations implement sociocracy in support of their strategic goals, and to create adaptive and effective organizations where all members’ voices matter.

He is a consultant and certified trainer in both Dynamic Governance/Sociocracy and Compassionate Communication (NVC), with a focus on governance, decision making, communication skills, and conflict resolution. Jerry is a founding resident of Pioneer Valley Cohousing, a 21year old community successfully using Dynamic Governance for the last three years. In his younger days, Jerry was a staff member of Mariposa Food Coop, the Friendly Sprout Cafeteria (worker coop), Movement for A New Society (national network of collectives), DiversityWorks (training collective) and other cooperative ventures. He was a long time Board member of the Institute for Community Economics, United for a Fair Economy and Class Action. Jerry is the CEO of The Sociocracy Consulting Group, itself a sociocratic limited liability company run on cooperative principles.

Terri Krohn – Plan for Success with Strategic Marketing

Terri Krohn owns her own consulting firm, Terri Krohn Consulting, llc, and brings over 30 years of business and marketing experience to her consulting practice. She has worked for billion dollar corporations and small businesses. She co-founded a retail services startup company with ten service locations. Having been both an employee and an employer, she understands the business challenges companies face, particularly in challenging times.

Terri Krohn is a seasoned marketing professional specializing in strategic business planning and marketing management.  She has assisted non-profits, healthcare companies, insurance firms and technology companies in developing strategic plans.  Terri is a Paterson Certified Strategic Planning Faciitator as well as a Certified Provider of QuadRed Organizational Assessments.  She helps her clients by actively listening, assessing the current situation, asking tough questions, and developing an accountability system.

Ellen MaccaroneGovernance: The Often Overlooked Backbone of Cooperative Success 

Ellen M. Maccarone, PhD, has been on the Board of the Main Market Co-op for 2 ½ years and serving as president for almost a 1 ½.  She is interested in food ethics, which prompted her running for the board.  She is also Associate Professor of Philosophy and Faculty Advisor to the President at Gonzaga University.

Teri McKenzie – New and Alternative Financing Models

Teri McKenzie is the Executive Director of the Inland Northwest Food Network.  Teri was born with an insatiable love of food. She is passionate about both food and community building, and recognized early on that any social gathering worth its salt includes food.  A returned Peace Corps volunteer and inveterate humanitarian, Teri has decades of experience both in the nonprofit sector and in higher education. With a Masters degree in Whole Systems Design/Nonprofit Leadership and drawing inspiration from the teachings of the natural world, she is a firm believer in the collective wisdom and creativity of people to address the problems we currently face. 

John McNamara – Filling the Gaps: Getting the Board Your Coop Need; The Many Faces of Governance, Moderator

John has 26 years of practical experience in the worker cooperative world with Union Cab of Madison where he served as a director for eight years and in management for over twelve (including General Manager). He has experience in marketing and strategic planning, governance models and human resources. John earned a Masters in Management: Cooperative and Credit Unions from Saint Mary’s University (Halifax) in 2010 and currently is PhD Candidate in Business Administration (Management) whose dissertation examines the burgeoning “union-coops” model of worker ownership. John is a founding member of the Democracy at Work Network and serves on its Board of Governors. He teaches a summer course on worker cooperatives along with being part of the faculty team for the first year core courses in the Masters of Public Administration at The Evergreen State College. In 2015, John helped edited a collection of essays on measuring co-operatives. It is available as a e-book at no cost from the Cooperative Difference.

Keith Nyitray – Building Relations Between the Sitka Co-op and the Sitka Tribe of Alaska

Keith Nyitray is one of the founders of the Sitka Food Co-op that was established in 2011 as a means to address the rising costs of food in the isolated island community of Sitka, Alaska. Keith was Chair of the Co-op’s Board of Directors for 4 years and is now serving as the General Manager for their “day-to-day” operations.

Over the past five years, Keith has helped transform what was once a small private “buying club” into a member-owned cooperative that currently has 180 members, purchased over $200,000 of products and produce in 2015 (at an average cost savings of 15-20% for its members), and has been growing steadily from year to year. His passion (and his methods) for “Bringing Good Food & Community Together” is what he hopes to share through his presentation at the conference.

Brenda  Latvala Pfahnl – Preparing to Apply for Funding 

Brenda has worked at Shared Capital Cooperative since 2009.  She has eighteen years of experience working in cooperative finance.  At Shared Capital she has a particular focus on financing grocery cooperatives and food & farming related cooperative enterprises. She works with both start-ups and existing food cooperatives across the country. She serves on the board of directors of the Lakewinds Food Cooperative, on the board of advisors for the Howard Bowers Fund, and on the Minnesota Grocery Access Task Force’s “Good Food Access Fund” committee.

Laura Ridenour – Collaborative Session on Cooperation Amongst Co-operatives, The Many Faces of Governance

Laura Ridenour has over two decades experience in the non-profit sector working with and for small sustainable and organic farmers and food entrepreneurs in California, Colorado, Washington State and Washington DC. She spent some of her childhood on a rural farming commune in Tennessee. In California, her father’s business was one of the first certified organic food processors in the state. Laura has practical hands on farming experience and a certificate from the UCSC Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. She holds a Bachelor’s in food systems and social change, and a Master’s in sociology, with a focus on the local food movement. Recently, while working as Food and Farming Manager at Sustainable Connections in Bellingham, WA, she co-founded the Eat Local First Campaign and the Whatcom Food Network, while managing a beginning farmer training project and farm-to-fork events and publications. Laura serves on the board of directors at the Community Food Co-op, and is current chair of The Farm Fund. She is excited to apply her skills and experience in the co-op sector, believing firmly that member-owned co-operatives, worker owned businesses, and relationship-based economies are needed to address the complex systemic problems of our time. Laura consults with non-profit organizations, businesses, and leaders on food systems development projects. www.lauraridenour.org

Joan Rutkowski- Marketing the Co-op Difference: Telling Your Story

Joan Rutkowski is the Owner Engagement Coordinator at the Moscow Food Co-op in Moscow, Idaho. Her efforts to educate and inspire people about cooperative ownership are informed by her previous training and work in journalism and teaching.

Nathan Teske – Cooperative Public Markets

Nathan is the Director of community economic development for Hacienda: Community Development Corporation. Nathan oversees programs designed to create opportunities for economic development and asset building for residents of Hacienda properties and other community members. Nathan worked with Catholic Charities-El Programa Hispano for 9 years before joining Hacienda CDC. He has traveled extensively in Mexico and has received a B.A. from Reed College and a PhD from the University of California-Berkeley.

Emma Thomson – The Many Faces of Governance

Member (on an owner’s track) of NW Construction Co-op, a worker owned general contracting business in Olympia that practices Consensus.

David Thompson – Keynote Address – “Together We Can”

David Thompson is a pioneer in the Cooperative movement, nationally and internationally.  Thompson has an impressive list of accolades and interests, all relating to Cooperatives, and he understands the important role that co-ops play in their local and regional communities. Thompson is currently the President of Twin Pines Cooperative Foundation, one of the largest co-op funder of cooperatives in the nation.  Under Thompson’s leadership, TPCF has created Cooperative Community Funds for almost 30 US cooperatives.

Thompson authored Weavers of Dreams: Founders of the Modern Cooperative Movement (1994), and co-authored Cooperation Works! (1996) and A Day in the Life of Cooperative America (1994).  In addition to these works, Thompson has written over 300 articles, many of which have been translated and published around the world. Here is an abbreviated list of his publications.

As the Keynote Speaker for this year’s conference, Thompson will situate cooperatives within a historical context in order to examine the role of co-ops in today’s world.  Known for his forward thinking and innovation, Thompson will conclude his talk with a look at the future of cooperatives.  Here is a sneak peek at David Thompson.

Join us for this talk on Saturday, February 6th
Jaime Villalaz – Agricultural Co-ops: Beyond the Farm

Jaime is a Greater Minnesota Business Development Specialist for the Latino Economic Development Center in Minnesota. Jaime moved to Minnesota in 1995 from San Diego, CA. He grew up in the border town of Tijuana and attended the University of Baja California where he earned an accounting degree. Jaime was Program Coordinator for United Migrant Opportunities Services in the areas of Welfare to Work, High School Equivalency and other social programs from 2002 to 2009. He has been working as tax preparer for the last 5 years serving the Latino population in the St. Cloud, Willmar and surrounding areas. Jaime has collaborated with LEDC providing technical assistance and organizing start-up classes in rural communities before joining LEDC staff.

Jeff Voltz – Access to Capital for Business Development

Jeff Voltz is currently a Project manger at Northwest Agriculture Business Center. With more than 20 years of experience in retail grocery, urban and rural community development and lending, cooperative development and sustainable agriculture, he is able to provide valuable technical assistance to family farms and food businesses.

Jeff’s retail and food business experience includes serving as CEO/President of PCC Natural Markets, the nation’s largest retail food cooperative.  He also served as General Manager of the Community Food Coop in Bellingham, as General Manager of the Consumers Cooperative of Berkeley (the Berkeley Co-op), and on the Board of Directors for Frontier Natural Producer Co-op, the nation’s leading processor of organic herbs and spices.

Jeff also has a depth of experience in nonprofit rural and community development. As the Executive Director of DownHome Washington, a Community Development Financial Institution, he supported staff and low-income, minority, and women businesses to develop and submit business plans and loan applications, providing more than $500,000 in SBA Micro-Loans and USDA IRP loans to small business owners. As a Project Manager for NABC Jeff has helped family farms access $1.65M in capital for business development and expansion.

Erica Wagner – Marketing the Co-op Difference: Telling Your Story

Erica Wagner is the Visual Media Coordinator at the Moscow Food Co-op. Erica brings years of outreach, education, and marketing experience to the table. Erica combines her photography and writing skills as the author of the co-op blog, Beet Box.

Megan White – Governance: The Often Overlooked Backbone of Cooperative Success

Megan White has worked in retail health food and local food systems for 14 years. She first fell in love with cooperative business in her early 20s through membership in a retail food cooperative. Over the last 6 years at Main Market Cooperative in Spokane she has served as produce manager, assistant store manager, board member, and interim GM twice before taking on the role full time in 2013. With staff and board members she has helped build almost every system currently in use at the cooperative and has helped the business turn from lack of profitability and growth to currently seeking out opportunities for store expansion.

Joel Williamson – New and Alternative Financing Models

Joel grew up in his family’s rose-growing green house south of Spokane, walking around on stilts under two acres of glass. Joel studied theatrical lighting design at Eastern Washington University, and toured with theatre companies in LA before landing back in Spokane to work in city government and nonprofits. He earned his MBA in Sustainable Systems from Bainbridge Graduate Institute at PInchot University with an emphasis on Finance and Entrepreneurship. When he is not gleefully driving the LINC Foods truck around, Joel enjoys quality time with his wife Lauren, and their dog Stanley. Joel also loves tinkering with his homebrew set-up and expanding the awesomeness of fruits and grains through the magic of fermentation.


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