On A Mission

By Steve McCargar, Board President and David Lester, General Manager

ver the 39 year history of the Oneota Community Co-op the mission statement of the Cooperative has played an important role. Our original Articles of Incorporation described the purpose of the organization, with slight revisions in the 1990s, as “(1) to supply, at a reasonable cost, whole foods and other items which meet member needs and are compatible with the Cooperative’s Mission Statement; (2) to encourage production and consumption of organically grown foods which are locally produced (if possible); (3) to specifically reject products which injure the natural environment. . .”

Based on this purpose, a mission statement of the Cooperative was developed in the 1990s which read, “Our mission is to provide our member-owners with: foods produced using organic farming and distribution practices with an emphasis on supporting local and regional suppliers; reasonably priced whole, bulk and minimally packaged foods and household items; products and services that reflect a concern for human health and the natural environment and that promote the well-being of the workers and communities which produce them.”

This mission statement gave the management a better defined direction of their work and attempted to reflect, in a few sentences, what the membership desired the Co-op to be.

When the Co-op considered what kinds of food to purchase and sell, managers referred to the mission and tried to reflect it in the choices they made. It also was the basis for decisions made about equipment purchases, construction materials, non-toxic pest controls and a host of other business-related considerations. From the beginning, it was truly the case that Oneota Community Co-op was a “mission-driven organization.”

In the mid-2000’s the Co-op’s Board of Directors developed a new eight-part “Ends Statement” that clearly spelled out a series of “Ends” (think of them as measurable goals) that the Board used to evaluate the progress our Co-op was making and the performance of the Co-op’s General Manager. Though the Ends Statement did not replace the Mission Statement, the former did become the focal point of the Board’s monitoring and review process. The mission became more of a historic reference point, not our stated reason for being.

Now in 2013, the Co-op Board has revisited the question of our mission and its relationship to our Ends. Working with our GM, David Lester, several members of his management team, and a strategic planning consultant from the University of Iowa, the Board has updated the mission statement and tied it directly to a somewhat revised Ends statement.

From this point on, our core documents will begin with the following Mission and Ends language: “The mission of the Oneota Community Co-op is to build vibrant communities and ecosystems by providing organic, locally produced and bulk foods, as well as other products and services that are sustainable for those who consume and produce them.”

There are many reasons that Board members and staff alike are excited about this new statement. For one, it is more memorable. Our membership is growing exponentially and we are experiencing a rate of growth that is bringing in new customers from all over northeast Iowa, southeast Minnesota and beyond. We intend to use this more refined mission statement in all of our membership publications, on our wall in the café seating area, and in many areas of the store. We think it is important for our customers to know what the core of our business and the work of the Co-op are about in one memorable sentence.

We put a lot of thought into the impact of words like “to build vibrant communities and ecosystems” and “sustainable for those who consume and produce them.” We are a business that is concerned about the people and the environment that they live and work within. Board members and staff alike are excited to present this to the Co-op’s member-owners as the product of a thoughtful, consensus-building process – one that is true to our original purpose and one that gives us meaningful direction in the future.