view this email in your browser

A tribute to our colleague & AMAZING friend Bill Stevenson

The work we do as professional cooperative developers is broad, diverse and compelling; sometimes even perplexing. Most of us came into this work organically. We did not choose a course of study in our youth with the end goal of becoming a cooperative developer. Somewhere along the way, our journey crossed the path of cooperative development, and we decided to take it.   

Bill Stevenson came to be the director of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union Cooperative Development Center somewhat later in his (too short-lived) life. Bill had already concluded a successful career as an attorney, of which 20 years was spent as the corporate attorney for National Farmers Union Insurance.   

Upon reflection, number of adjectives might come into the minds of those who knew Bill – he was a devoted husband, a loving and supportive father, a great friend, a consummate professional, an intellectual who never stopped learning - as evidenced by his last degree, a Masters of Divinity from ILIFF School of Theology in June of 2019. Bill was dynamic, compassionate, and funny. In my mind, he was brilliant.   

I first met Bill about a year after I began working for Rocky Mountain Farmers Union. My position was a new one for the organization – and sort of evolved as it unfolded. I was hired by another of RMFU’s many dynamic, innovative leaders, John Stencel, who wanted the organization to focus more on fundraising and external support, beyond its membership and grants in the Foundation. Bill was not yet retired from NFU as their attorney, and I met him by chance via phone, regarding a technical, legal matter related to NFU Insurance. I was instantly drawn to Bill’s dynamic personality and our conversation strayed from its purpose. Next thing I knew, we were scheduled for lunch – at YaYa’s, of course!  

Over the next few years, there would be many such lunches and much change in each of our lives. Bill and I became friends; but more than that, he was a confidante to me. I sought his advice, shared with him new ideas and brainstormed – about everything from my aging parents, to work-related ideas and concepts, to personal relationships. He shared some with me, too, though I only wish I could say I had been as much of a support to him as he was to me.   

Bill took an immediate interest in the work of Rocky Mountain Farmers Union and its Foundation. He became one of our greatest supporters. Oddly enough, he had been only vaguely aware of our work during his 20-year tenure with NFU Insurance. When I moved into the Cooperative Development Center full-time, about a year after meeting Bill, he learned more and more about that work, and took a keen interest in it. Shortly before I was called back home to New Mexico to take care of my aging parents full-time, I was named interim director of the Co-op Center, and Bill was one of my main advisors and supporters. Once I left, Bill slipped easily into the position. It was almost as though it had been his calling all along.   

As with many of us, Bill’s transition into cooperative development work was organic, maybe somewhat serendipitous, you might say – for Bill, for the Co-op Center, and for the broader cooperative community. What Bill brought to cooperative development was different, though; unique and special. His skills and intellect as an attorney were, of course, a tremendous asset to the Center. But, much more importantly, Bill’s perspective, his approach to life and to people, his soulful attention to the divinity of our work, was what made his leadership so important. I believe all of us are forever changed through the experience of Bill’s leadership and his very presence.   

Co-op Staff Photo

Dan Hobbs, Interim Director for the RMFU Co-op Center, say this about Bill: “One of the great honors and experiences of my life was working with Bill Stevenson for over 10 years. His passing earlier this summer is a grievous loss for me, the entire RMFU family and so many others. Yet he leaves a very powerful legacy that is a source of strength and inspiration. Bill embodied the 7th Cooperative Principle of Concern for Community. He lifted many people and projects up with kindness, confidence, and optimism. When we encountered set-backs with some of our projects, he would simply say "oh, fiddlesticks", at once acknowledging the challenge, making light of it and then moving on. To me the expression now represents deep resilience-- a characteristic of our organization and members.”  

Scott Zimmerman, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union’s longest standing employee, adds this: “When Bill first came on board the RMFU Cooperative Development Center, I was struck by his desire to jump right in and start learning what “we do.” He always was ready for a new idea and tackling a new challenge.  It did not matter what the current project was, he would try his best to understand what was wanted and work to make the idea proposed come to fruition. He enjoyed meeting new people and getting a chance to understand their point of view. I remember the first time we traveled together to a “co-ops 101” presentation, he went over the plan several times before we arrived to make sure we would cover all points even though in ended up being just four attendees! Bill gave the group the best he could do for whatever group or individual he was working with. On a broader scale, he was always ready to pitch in and help, whatever the effort needed. His kindness was the greatest feature of an amazing personality, always saw good in whatever he was doing.”  

Sandra Baca, Assistant Director for the RMFU Center, adds, “When I started working at Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, I was so taken by the kind soul of Bill. A leader who was eager to educate and mentor anyone who walked through his office doors. If you wanted to learn, Bill was there to teach. Although we came from very different backgrounds, we both wanted to help communities in need. He quickly learned that my passion was to be a voice for the vulnerable community I called home. Bill was one of a kind; a class act. I wished I would have taken advantage of more conversations, invitations, and opportunities as he was always willing to listen and offer his perspective. I am a better person because of his leadership and proud to have known him.”  

I have worried some over how to pay tribute to Bill; it has been a daunting commission for which I feel completely ill-equipped. One reason for this is that, while we all relate to Bill’s soulful and compassionate approach, I cannot begin to imagine how to address the wholeness of him. He was incredibly intelligent, intellectual – always studying and learning, and incredibly funny and amusing. He was light-hearted, but still managed to convey earnestness to serious matters. The closest I can come is to say that Bill Stevenson truly was brilliant in every way.  

I am imagining that each of you, as you are reading this, are nodding your head, and recalling your own account of the brilliance and divinity that Bill brought into your life, and into the collective world of cooperative development. We all know and love something special about Bill. He managed to touch each and every person he met individually and cooperatively. Thank you to each of you who has taken the time to read my account, with help of some of my amazing team of colleagues.   

God rest Bill’s beautiful soul – cooperatively.   
-Susann Mikkelson, & RMFU Co-op team

RMFU Co-op Development Center, Director, Daniel G. Hobbs

Dan Hobbs will lead Rocky Mountain Farmers Union’s Cooperative Development Center, announces RMFU Executive Director Ben Rainbolt. “Dan’s working knowledge of the community-changing impacts of cooperative ventures puts him at the forefront building a future that will benefit the common good,” Rainbolt says.

Hobbs previously served as the lead co-op development specialist for RMFU since 2011. He provided technical assistance to start-up and established agricultural and food cooperatives and businesses throughout Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming. His areas of focus included project financing, preparation and review of plans, non-profit and for-profit incorporations, and training of board directors and managers, as well as grant writing and strategic planning.

He is succeeding Bill Stevenson, who passed unexpectedly in June. During Stevenson’s guidance, which began in January 2011, the Cooperative Development Center flourished by working with groups wanting to improve their incomes and opportunities through cooperative enterprises. 

“Bill was fully committed to the future of the Cooperative Development Center,” says Rainbolt. “During the past two years, he talked of retiring and I talked him out of it and encouraged him to work closely with Dan Hobbs to assure the current projects and long-range focus would be in good hands. Because of this, Dan is familiar with our stakeholders and strategic partners, including USDA. The grants awarded to the Center allow us to assist the underserved communities that look to us to bring experience and insights to the table.”

Hobbs has worked in a variety of capacities with the RMFU Cooperative Development Center since 1997, including being a project leader, service provider and staff member. He completed his professional cooperative training through CooperationWorks in 2005. In his current capacity he is primarily responsible for providing training and technical assistance to numerous rural cooperative and economic development projects and businesses throughout rural areas of Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming. 

He is skilled in working with agricultural cooperatives and other mutually owned businesses that are in start-up stages, and especially those comprised of minority and resource-limited producer groups. His experience in these areas has led to a deep understanding of the barriers and opportunities facing producers in the rural areas of the Southwest and Rocky Mountain regions and, in turn, to advance innovative and effective solutions to overcoming barriers and take advantage of opportunities.

Hobbs was the Executive Director of the Organic Seed Alliance, a non-profit organization devoted to the ethical development and stewardship of the genetic resources of agricultural seed. He was the executive director of NewFarms, another non-profit organization devoted to the restoration and improvement of agricultural lands and economies in marginal areas. He also led the Tres Rios Agricultural Cooperative, a producer-owned marketing and distribution cooperative that provided organic produce and natural meats to retail stores, restaurants, and buying clubs in Colorado and New Mexico. Hobbs also has led trips and activities related to “experiencing America” in Spanish for Costa Rican Board of Education members and for women from the countryside of El Salvador.

Hobbs grew up in downtown Denver and knew by the age of 18 that he wanted to get into the fields of agriculture and rural economic development. Since graduating from College at the University of New Mexico in 1991, he has been farming garlic and other specialty crops in Colorado and New Mexico. He also attended Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana, on his educational path.

A fifth-generation Coloradan, Hobbs lives on his Avondale farm with his wife, Nanna Meyer. Dan has two daughters, Joni and Shannon, ages 24 and 21, who both live in the Pioneer Valley of western Massachusetts. 

“One of the great honors and experiences of my life was working with Bill Stevenson for over 10 years. His passing earlier this summer is a grievous loss for me, the entire RMFU family and so many others. Yet he leaves a very powerful legacy that is a source of strength and inspiration,” says Hobbs. “Bill embodied the Seventh Cooperative Principle of Concern for Community. He lifted many people and projects up with kindness, confidence, and optimism.”

Hobbs says the Cooperative Development Center staff regrouped over the summer and they are beginning to work on innovative new projects involving rural workforce development and direct marketing cooperatives. 

"NOW, THEREFORE, in recognition of the vital role that cooperatives play in improving economic opportunity and the quality of life in America, I, Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Agriculture, do hereby proclaim October 2020 as National Cooperative Month. I encourage all Americans to learn more about cooperatives and celebrate cooperatives’ accomplishments with appropriate ceremonies and activities." #CoopMonth Recognition from the Department of Agriculture of #CoopMonth2020!
See the U.S. Department of Agriculture proclamation for Co-op Month here:…/files/RD8675673_Proclamation_sign…
RMFU's Coop Center Commit's to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. The RMFU Co-op Center has always worked in close collaboration with other centers and agencies, largely through the CooperationWorks! cooperative network to develop new approaches and models to better meet the needs of emerging cooperative businesses. There are several areas of collaboration planned with fellow cooperative centers for this application including: cooperative meat processing and cooperative development with indigenous people. One example of center-to-center collaboration is two consecutive years of presentations by Dan Hobbs at the Montana cooperative conference on food hub trading networks sponsored by cooperative development centers there. These presentations were then followed by two-day long food hub strategic working sessions. The La Montañita Cooperative Distribution Center and its companion successful retail co-ops are leaders in cooperative development support and training, sharing their operational expertise and intellectual property with other cooperatives around the country.

At the Center’s request two years ago for example, La Montañita staff travelled from New Mexico to Alamosa, Colorado, free of charge, to consult with the Valley Food Co-op there. Aspects or approaches of a variety of multi-stakeholder cooperatives and businesses, such as High Plains Food Co-op, Central Colorado Foodshed Alliance, and Colorado Farm and Art Market, have been replicated in other regions. Al so, there has been extensive national interest and sharing of the food hub trading network cooperative agreement that the RMFU Center prepared. We work with service cooperatives as a low risk path to developing cooperative businesses in resource-limited communities, another model that has been transferrable. An example is the Old Fort Market Garden Cooperative, in Hesperus, Colorado, which provides beginning farmers with access to land, equipment, tools, supplies, and insurance, and which is being replicated at the Rio Grande Farm Park Cooperative in Alamosa, Colorado. We remain committed to collaboration and transferability of cooperative development strategies and we readily share our materials, experience, and ideas.

Response and Rebuild Grants: Due November 9th

The Colorado Department of Agriculture is making about $1 million in grant funding available for Colorado farmers, ranchers, food hubs and processors to support them in adjusting to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the food supply chain, and round 3 of the Respond & Rebuild Fund is now open.

Colorado agricultural producers are eligible for grant awards up to $12,500. Farmers’ markets, food hubs, processors, and other intermediaries that support producers are eligible for up to $50,000. 

The respond and rebuild grants will be administered by the independent Colorado Farm & Food Systems Response Team. To date, the fund has provided more than $370,000 to producers and intermediaries across Colorado, focusing on the needs and opportunities of small- and mid-size growers, beginning farmers and ranchers, veteran farmers, farmers of color, LGBTQ+ farmers, and female farmers — producers who are often underserved by public programs and projected to bear the brunt of the crisis’s impact. 

Applications are open now and will be accepted through Monday, November 9, 2020.
Apply Here: Response & Rebuild Grants
Register for TODAY!

Scan the code to learn more about the presenters and topics at 2020 RMFU Education Workshops!

National Farmers Union signs MOU with MANRRS

National Farmers Union (NFU) signs MOU with (MANRRS) a national society that welcomes the membership of people from all racial and ethnic groups that participate in agricultural, natural resource, and related science fields of study. MANRRS provides a community of friends as well as a network of employers for its members (CSU).
(co-op talk starts at 10:58)
Co-op Corner 
Modified Consensus for Successful Decision Making
Groups and organizations committed to consensus believe that such a process is superior to majority rule for reasons of mutual understanding, unity of purpose and participation, and protection of minority rights. At the same time, some find that a pure consensus model can work against efficiency and be poorly adapted to deal with situations where certain members or sub-groups adopt an obstructionist posture or are otherwise not prepared for a decision.
Modified Consensus
Unfortunately, extreme versions of consensus models are sometimes represented in caricature to make the point that any pursuit of consensus is unrealistic. This is a stereotype with some substantiation—we’ve all witnessed some bad examples--but it needn’t be taken as a rule.

Many co-ops, community organizations, family businesses, and non-profits are committed to consensus decision making for the sake of cohesion but at the same time can get stymied by adherence to a strict model that ends up perpetuating the stereotype. Actually, consensus decision making doesn’t need to be a straightjacket on organizational process, and it doesn’t need to take forever to achieve. Consensus can be liberating as well as rewarding—and reinforce core values for an organization that tries to embody deep democracy.
Modified consensus is a term that some researchers and consultants have used to describe a situation where a pure consensus model of governance is altered somewhat to meet the specific needs of a group. Consensus decision making presumes a unitary as opposed to an adversarial model of democracy—building on the assumption that a group with diverse interests can in fact achieve a generally agreed upon understanding and that any clash of interests can be bridged. The unitary perspective is important here, but it doesn’t need to limit what organizations like co-ops can do when there are differences of opinion.
Many organizations are committed to the consensus process yet find that they need to deviate somewhat from the pure consensus model in order to address certain issues and situations that arise—for example, cases of fundamental disagreement within the organization or a desire to move beyond an impasse. Time urgency for a response or decision can also be a reason.
Some of the most difficult practical issues faced by consensus-seeking groups are:
Practical Issues faced by consensus seeking groups
The idea of modified consensus can be applied in at least these three ways:

1) The group or organization determines through absolute consensus which types of issues/decisions are (a) those for which there must be consensus of the whole, (b) those which can be handled by committee recommendations without their being a consensus of the whole, and (c) those which can be decided by individuals charged with certain assignments. That is, the group as a whole decides on the most important, central, or defining aspects of the group about which consensus is vital (e.g., as represented in mission statements, by-laws and strategic plans). In this way, the group of the whole creates certain kinds of efficiencies while not sacrificing democratic ideals. The most important decisions thus relate to core principles, the structure of the organization, the organization’s public identity, and major policies and projects.

This kind of clarity and transparency is utilized well in Namaste Solar of Boulder, Colorado, a successful worker-owned co-op.

2) The group sets up criteria under which an impasse in a discussion can be overcome. For example, the group can move through a set of questions: (a) Have minority views been fully aired and discussed? (b) Can this decision be tabled or delayed? (c) Should an ad hoc committee be created to study options before the larger group decides? (d) Are there circumstances under which the person(s) blocking the consensus would/should step aside? (e) What are the implications of moving forward at this time? For the majority? For the minority? (f) Would moving forward on this issue now jeopardize the integrity of the consensus process in the future? (g) After moving through a series of questions like this one, the group may reserve the right to vote, perhaps requiring a super-majority of 75% or more. This kind of step-by-step process is articulated well in the by-laws and related agreements of Colorado’s Grain Chain (a 501c5) and many other non-profits and co-ops.

3) The group creates a series of steps by which a member or a sub-group can be asked to leave, fired, or expelled. This is one of the toughest issues for consensus-seeking groups because the very idea of expulsion or fragmentation seems inimical to the ideas of unitary democracy and consensus. Still, we have great examples of co-ops that deal effectively with such vexing problems by training members in conflict resolution. The Arizmendi bakery chain of the Bay Area have a terrific track record by interweaving sensible conflict-management techniques into everyday work practices.

Many organizations can get into trouble when an intractable conflict does arise, or when it becomes clear that there is an ill “fit” between one part of an organization and the rest of it and bridging the two sets of interests seems impossible. In such situations, the group as a whole may agree to follow steps like these: (a) create an open forum between representatives of the majority view and those in question, (b) use a qualified mediator to facilitate a general meeting devoted to the issues of majority and minority opinions, (c) allow for a cooling off period, and (d) establishing a clear standard for a super-majority to make decisions about membership and especially non-membership.

1) C. T. Butler and Amy Rothstein, On Conflict and Consensus (Portland, ME:  Food Not Bombs Publishing, 1987).
2) Center for Conflict Resolution, University of Wisconsin, A Manual for Group Facilitators
(Madison:  Center for Conflict Resolution, 1977)
3) George Cheney, Values at Work (Ithaca and London:  Cornell University Press, 1999, 2002).
4) Kathleen P. Iannello, Decisions without Hierarchy (New York and London:  Routledge, 1992).
5) Jane Mansbridge, Beyond Adversary Democracy (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1983).
6) Michael J. Sheeran, Beyond Majority Rule (Philadelphia: The Religious Society of Friends, 1983)

-George Cheney, RMFU Contractor
George formally retired as a professor of communication at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, after 40 years of teaching and conducting research at a number of institutions including also the universities of Utah and Montana and visits to universities in Europe, Latin America, and New Zealand.
view this email in your browser
Copyright © 2020  Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, All rights reserved.