Co-op Conference Keynote (Yes, people were clothed)


When I started working on my book in earnest, I had to focus. I resigned my position on the BOD of NoBAWC, encouraged other folks to run for the planning board of the regional and national co-op conferences, and helped recruit other folks to travel for out of town co-op events. Basically, I stopped doing pretty much all outside-the-store work to help the worker co-op movement.

So, to reward me for this, after my book came out they asked me to do a keynote address at the Western Worker Co-op Conference this year.

Now, to be clear, this keynote address is unpaid and, as opposed to regular book events which usually cost me half a day’s pay minus royalties on any books sold, (to be paid approximately nine months later) this event is in rural Oregon and cost me three days pay minus books sold. Of course I said yes. Heck, I figured I owed everyone.

Because of scheduling issues, the conference had a keynote on Monday night and on Tuesday morning. Rosalinda Guillen of Community to Community Development started things off on Monday night with a powerful talk about the realities of the lives of farmworkers, their extremely early death rates, and the possibilities of making connections between urban co-ops and the people who do the hardest work in the process of creating food. She has been helping to organize farmworker co-ops in Washington State.

It was then that I realized what my role in the conference was. It was my job to lower the bar. I started my keynote with something like, “We heard a powerful talk by Rosalinda Guillen last night. She talked of a lifetime of organizing to keep farmers from dying early deaths and showed pictures of children working in the fields. But hey, I wrote a book about cheese. Look at me!” People could move on to their workshops a little less intimidated after I was done.

Because this wasn’t a cheese conference or a bookstore crowd, I realized a few days before the conference that I needed to write a whole new talk for this event. I focused on co-opy things: that in the editing process, the most red-lined thing in my original manuscript was changing all the “we”s to “I”s; the irony of being on the cover of my book after working for 15 years to collectively build our cheese department to be one of the best in the country; the way the my co-op help me build the knowledge that I needed to have to write this book as well as being encouraging to me fulfilling an outside-of-work goal. Indeed, I do think that co-ops, being democratic entities, are uniquely placed to support both people’s workplace development, and their goals outside of the workplace. It’s one of the reasons I’ve worked at one for 17 and a half years.

Hey, look. An artist and co-oper named Eris Weaver did this awesome graphic recording of my talk:

co-op keynote

I didn’t talk about cheese very much at all (though three other co-op cheese buyers and one ex-member of the Red Star Cheese Collective were in attendance) but people seemed happy. After my keynote I went down to the river and collapsed in exhaustion, only moving in the next couple of hours to turn pages in my book and swat away horseflies. That was pretty awesome.

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