Starting something new isn't easy. Especially if there aren't any good models out there for what you are trying to accomplish. When Joel and I first started LINC Foods, we had two objectives as far as organizational structure goes:
1. Farmers voices would be an integral part of the process
2. The employees would be worker-owners and the organization would be a cooperative.
We debated for many, many hours on whether or not we should form LINC Foods as a single cooperative entity, including both workers and farmers as owners, or if we should start two cooperatives, one for the farmers (LINC Farmers) and one for the worker-owners (LINC Foods). When it came time to make the decision, we went with the latter.
When I look back at where Joel and I were back in August, standing next to a dumpster behind the Comfort Inn on 3rd street, hoping for someone to throw us some carrots out of the back of their car so we could heap them into the back of Joel's Scion, I want to reach back in time, give us each a pat on the head, and say, "Oh, you stupid, innocent, fresh faced babies, you have so much to learn."
Well, learn we did, and one of the things we learned was that we really didn't need to start two different organizations. We were losing efficiency by splitting our efforts across two co-ops. We had a board of directors for the farmers co-op that didn't really have much to manage, and Joel and I were scrambling to get everything done on our side with no board to help us. Our customers were confused about the two different names. I think some farmers were a bit confused about what exactly Joel and I did other than drive the delivery truck around. And LINC Foods didn't have the same clout that it might have with potential funders had the farmers been owners instead of just supporters of our efforts.
So on Saturday we convened the LINC Farmers membership and voted to merge the two organizations. LINC Foods is now owned half by the farmers and half by Joel and I (and whoever else might be brought on to run the food hub side.) Governance of the organization will be shared between the two classes, as will distribution of the profits (you know.... when we eventually have profits.)
This was an exciting step and I was so touched to see all the support from the farmers we have been working with over the last years as we planned out the launch of LINC Foods, and the last 7 months that we have actually been in operation. We absolutely could not have made so much progress without all the help and support we have received from our amazing small farm community.