We like to think of it as a noncompetitive storytelling slam—a potluck of bring-your-own tales, essays, short stories, and with any luck, some humor.
Join us this Friday, April 8, from 5 to 6 p.m., as we enjoy another round of cooking, eating, and storytelling at the Culinary Learning Center in the Lebanon Co-op. Our first storytelling and cooking class in March was a hit, so we’re at it again. Enjoy family-appropriate stories told by Co-op Chef and CLC Director Eli Morse, our in-house food and fable aficionado. The menu will include angel hair pasta, red sauce, and fresh pesto with a simple salad and citrus vinaigrette. You’ll go home full and satisfied in body, mind, and spirit.
Storytelling and cooking classes may seem a bit outside the box, but it’s in line with the education efforts our Co-op has encouraged for 80 years. Do you know that your Co-op has a department devoted to outreach and education? We run cooking classes, sponsor events, build the education displays you see in the front of our stores, and publish the blog you’re reading now. Wonder why?
It goes back to the beginning of the cooperative movement itself. During England’s industrial revolution of the mid-1840s, the cooperative movement’s founders—known today as the Rochdale Pioneers—recognized the value of education enough to place that value within the echelon of principles that would come to guide cooperatives around the globe.
The Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers was a group of weavers, artisans, and craftspeople in Rochdale, England, that banded together to open their own cooperative food store—selling high-quality and unadulterated food and staple products they could not otherwise afford. In doing so, they also set down the now-famous Rochdale Principles, with Principle 5 related specifically to education:
Education, Training and Information
Cooperatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperatives. They inform the general public – particularly young people and opinion leaders – about the nature and benefits of cooperation.
Because “the nature and benefits of cooperation” is a broad topic to tackle, it takes a wide variety of people with a lot of expertise to make it happen. And at our Co-op, we’ve taken the concept and run with it in vast, unique, and sundry ways from the very beginning—ensuring that education was a foundation of our organization even in its infancy in 1936.
In short, education is an important part of our Co-op simply because education is an important part of co-ops around the globe. Ari Weinzweig of the famed Zingerman’s Deli once quipped that cooperative education departments exist all over the world “in order to give liberal arts majors a place to work.” True enough, perhaps. And each cooperative approaches education differently, whether there is a department specifically devoted to it or not.
It’s not always an easy road to travel. While many members and consumers simply want us to be a good grocery store, for example, others envision us as a socio-political lobbying body, fighting for causes as varied as our membership itself. Indeed, our “descriptive rather than prescriptive” approach is something we admittedly deviate from ourselves from time to time too—championing causes such as protecting small family farms or mending a frayed national food safety net.
So the road to education is nonlinear and broad, and the cooperative movement has ensured that road can travel through a grocery store, of all things. If it’s a concept that sounds lofty, sometimes unattainable, and thoroughly interesting, it’s because it is. And we invite you to learn more about why it is so interesting and to take part in our education efforts.
What’s a great first step? Sign up for a Co-op Class! You may end up trying a new beer, learning a new recipe, or even hearing a chef read Natalie Babbitt while whipping up a pot of pasta. Maybe it’s not what the cooperative founders envisioned, but it’s co-op education nonetheless, and we have a hunch they would approve of seeing the Fifth Principle in action, even if it’s in unexpected ways.