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Co-op Fall Table 2023

Co-op Table Fall 2023

Grace Cox Wins Cooperative Service Award
By Monica Peabody, Staff member

October is National Co-op Month and it seems fitting that we get to brag
about one of our collective members who has dedicated decades to
developing and supporting food co-ops and cooperative values both in
our little town of Olympia and across the nation. We are so proud of our
longtime Co-op staff member, Grace Cox, who was recognized by the
Consumer Cooperative Management Association (CCMA).  On June
10th in Sacramento, CA, she received a national award for her work in
service to food co-ops. The Cooperative Service Award is given to an
individual who has made outstanding contributions, whose
accomplishments are consistently viewed as models by other
cooperators, and who has made a profound difference in store
operations and member services. Grace is recognized for not being
afraid to take risks to achieve positive change and for being a champion
of the cooperative principles:
·      Voluntary and Open Membership
·      Democratic Member Control
·      Member Economic Participation
·      Autonomy and Independence
·      Education, Training, and Information
·      Cooperation among Cooperatives
·      Concern for Community

Recipients of this award are regarded as mentors, innovators, and
leaders. Their accomplishments have not only enhanced the stature,
reputation, and overall strength of the cooperative community, but the
significant changes they have instituted have helped their cooperative to
better achieve its goals. Grace has been doing this work for nearly 40
years, representing the Olympia Food Co-op and our values and
practices on the national food co-op scene. She has built tremendous
respect nationally for what we have achieved here in Olympia as you will
see in the following excerpts from the nomination letters submitted from
her colleagues near and far.  
Over the 39 years Grace has worked at the Olympia Food Co-op, she
has been one of the primary forces of leadership, innovation, creativity
and mentorship. In 1984, our sales were approximately 4500,000 in 2500
square feet of retail space. With Grace as our Merchandising and
Finance Coordinator, we quickly grew to over 1 million in sales by 1989. 
Grace worked with Harry Levine to plan and create all aspects of our
second store and opened the 5,000 retail square foot eastside store in
1994, which became profitable within two years. In 2023, we are
expecting $20 million in combined sales from both stores. Grace has

been the primary person over the years to connect the Olympia Food Co-
op with the larger food co-op movement in the US. Grace is a leader. 
She is brilliant, articulate, funny and unique. She is an icon in Olympia,
known primarily for her stewardship of the Olympia Food Co-o, but also
for her commitment to activism and for playing in the Citizen’s Band.
Since 2011 I have witnessed the energy, knowledge and integrity that
characterizes the many hats Grace wears at the Olympia Food Co-op. I
believe Grace embodies the core principles of the Olympia Food Co-op. 
Because of her long tenure, Grace is a valuable mentor, both to staff and
Board members. Her institutional knowledge is handy, in terms of
practical matters on the floor and in terms of long-term planning.  Grace
is consistently patient and professional, even under what can sometimes
be severely trying circumstances. She’s a favorite of long-term shoppers
who appreciate her humor. When I visit co-ops in other cities, I will often
chat with staff members and inevitably, someone will have a positive
anecdote about Grace. I believe it’s fair to say Grace’s reputation
enhances that of the Olympia Food Co-op. I have seen Grace stand up
forcefully for the Co-op’s values and principles. This means occasionally
having difficult conversations and I have long admired Grace’s
willingness to do the uncomfortable thing in service of the principles that
unites us as cooperators. I have served with Grace on several
committees and have valued the insight and wisdom that she brought to
discussions about how the Olympia Food Co-op can better accomplish
our goals. Grace is a positive force in our community. Her musical
abilities and her exhortation that “anyone can sing” is yet another way
that she encourages others to find their voice.  
Twelve years ago, Grace was offered a contract to guide Alberta Co-op
in the process of implementing the membership vote in favor of collective
management. She took a one year sabbatical from the Olympia Food
Co-op to do this work. She entered an organization that was in limbo,
operationally and culturally. Most of the staff supported the move to co-
management, but many did not. Building trust between staff members
could have been a commendable achievement for one year.
Simultaneously helping implement policies and procedures to sustain co-
management was a tall order. What I witnessed and participated in over
one year’s time was a remarkably successful transformation. She
provided the space to build trust in each other and our new style of
management, while ensuring the business embraced best practices and
operated at a high level. The gradual improvement in trust among the
staff and buy-in to our new operational structures couldn't have been
possible without her and her years of experience at a collectively
managed co-op. But even more important, she showed genuine care for
our success and our journey toward co-management. I ended that year
pleasantly surprised by what we’d all accomplished and deeply sad to be

saying goodbye to an amazing leader, cooperator, comrade and friend.
Grace stands out because of her serious dedication to food access,
cooperative business, democratic ideas and worker empowerment.  
Grace deeply believes in cooperatives as a force to bring justice to the
world. This belief led to her personal involvement as a founding member
and long-time board member of the Domestic Fair Trade Association.
DFTA fosters collaboration between farmers and farmworkers in the US
and Canadian sustainable agriculture movement and is dedicated to
principles of fairness and equity by uniting those efforts with mission-
based traders, retailers and consumers. Grace warmly embodies the co-
op values of social responsibility, solidarity, honesty, equity and
democracy and always centers the experiences of those who do the
work. Grace models continual learning in the way her ear is attuned to
those most affected by decisions – she is listening, curious and asking
questions. She believes in cooperatives as a business model and social
justice as a core philosophy and understands their power when paired.
These qualities mean that Grace activates and motivates other leaders
within cooperatives and the fair trade movement and that she speaks
equally for living wages and fair working conditions for cooperative
grocery workers as for farmworkers and other workers in the food supply
chain. Her outstanding contributions to these spaces over the decades
reflect her personal commitment to living and working with dignity.
Grace's ethos of cooperation and concern for community had a solid
home at the DFTA. We will never forget the many times she grounded
our meetings by fully explaining consensus decision making to a room of
collaborators with varied experiences. Grace is highly skilled with group
processes and wisely, she places trust in environments in which all
participants may contribute to and support decisions. Her consistent,
calm and distinguished leadership enhances the cooperative movement
and its impact. We were all better at cooperating after an afternoon or
even five minutes with Grace! Her exemplary desire to truly listen, her
mastery of processes and decision making styles and her commitment to
cooperative principles is remarkable. Grace believes in our collective
ability to build a strong, just future through cooperation. We are grateful
for the inspiration her work provides.
I met Grace at the 1984 Provender Alliance Conference where she filled
the room with her warmth, her really big laugh, her loud voice and her
passion and enthusiasm for the work we were doing.  She made
everyone feel welcome, as if they were part of something great, which
we were and still are.  We worked together to form the first regional
Northwest Cooperative Grocers Association (NCG). Grace threw herself
into the group with passion and zeal for what co-ops could do by working
together.  Grace is equally passionate about collectives as a
management structure, striving to help others build consensus skills

wherever needed.  Grace is looked upon as a mentor, though it’s always
done with humor and a sense of cooperative spirit, ensuring that the
needs of all are considered and incorporated, or at least heard.  Grace
regularly stepped up – either to voice her opinion, to get active on a
committee and to advocate for all of us.  
While many cooperators demonstrate a commitment of service to others,
few embody that commitment as fully or as tirelessly as Grace.  She
served on the Board of Directors for NCG for over a decade. Her sharp
knowledge of finances was critical to forming NCG’s Risk Management
Committee, first on the Western Corridor and later nationally. Grace
made it a point to find a way for committee members to learn how to be
gracious, all the while helping others be better fiscal managers and
offering herself as a resource to any co-op that needed it. NCG is a
better organization because of Grace’s services. Many of us at NCG and
in the larger co-op community see Grace as a moral compass, who
insisted that NCG’s development not come at the expense of co-op’s
individual needs or priorities. She advocates for co-ops to take a stand
on social justice issues, educating us about the amazing history of
activism in the co-op movement and reminding us that co-ops can
continue to be an instrument for change and for good. Grace has been a
consistent voice advocating for transparency, democracy and a strong
member voice in NCG. Her influence is woven into the fabric of NCG.
She has pushed the organization from the very beginning to adopt
language and structure that align with the cooperative principles and to
the values of a just, equitable world. NCG is rich in principled staff and
members, but Grace has brought a clarity of vision and a consistent
commitment to principles that stands out. I believe Grace’s work has
made a real difference to co-ops all over the country.  
Grace is a passionate champion for labor rights and if you catch her in
the right mood, she might sing you amazing songs from the labor
movement. She taught many general managers how to deliver critical
feedback with respect and compassion, and maybe a little self-effacing
humor, without undercutting the substance of the critique. She reminded
many co-ops that they can prioritize environmental or social justice
causes. Grace represents one of just a handful of co-ops in NCG that are
collectively managed and serves as an advocate for her co-op and other
co-ops with democratic management structures. In addition to patiently
educating many of us about how collectively managed co-ops work, she
reminds all of us that anyone can be a leader – not just those with
“manager” in their job titles. She sees the potential for leadership in
everyone. At the same time, she never sugarcoats what it takes to
function as a collective and makes sure other co-ops considering
collective management understand the commitment. Collective
management relies on employees all contributing extra discretionary time

and energy toward leading and managing the business and because of
her experience, dedication and passion for non-hierarchical
management, Grace has spent decades supporting the success of
collective management at her own co-op as well as other co-ops.  If
there’s an opportunity to serve a cause at the intersection of food and
activism, I’m never surprised to find Grace has been or continues to be
Grace has served the co-op community and her local community in many
ways over the years. Perhaps most consequential for the long-term
future of the co-op world at large was her work on the team that
negotiated the first regional supply contracts with Mountain Peoples
Warehouse which later became United National Foods, Inc. (UNFI).
Those contracts created substantial cost of goods saving for co-ops in
the west. Grace was part of the first national negotiating team that then
went on to serve on advisory committees related to the contracts. Today,
the NCG national supply contracts with UNFI are integral to the success
of co-ops all over the country.  
For Grace, promoting cooperatives, workers rights and justice is not
something she just does at work, it’s who she is. Grace has always been
the first to remind or teach everyone about the importance of giving voice
to and respecting the work and opinions of all workers and people who
are normally marginalized. She would be the first to question the
sourcing of products and whether a company abuses its workers or pays
only lip service to publicly aspirational ethical standards. On many
occasions, Grace had the courage to be the only voice in the room
reminding us of our shared, higher values. The only voice, that is, until
she persuades the rest of us with her great intelligence and remarkable
humor. Over the years, Grace became a mentor to countless other
leaders in the cooperative movement, due in part to her energy and
willingness to spend so much time lending a hand to the movement she
loves. Fundamental to understanding Grace’s impact on so many people
in the cooperative world is understanding that when our mission, values
and morals become the very fabric of our businesses, and include the
voices of the many, we do real good. Grace has never wavered in stating
her opinion, but has always done so kindly and with great humor. She is
wildly inspirational, incredibly smart, innovative, compassionate and
handles opposition, may I say “gracefully,” while helping the rest of us
Most US food co-ops that started in the 1960s and 70s experimented
with alternative management systems, including co-management and
collectives.  But throughout the 80s and 90s, most converted to more
traditional management systems.  Today, very few food co-ops are
collectively managed. The Olympia Food Co-op is the oldest consumer

co-op with a collective management structure that operates with
consensus decision making. It has been doing so for its entire 46-year
history. Next year will mark Grace’s 40th anniversary at the Olympia
Food Co-op. Grace’s contributions at the co-op have been extensive and
wide-ranging, in the grocery department, in merchandising, training, as
well finance. The Olympia Food Co-op is well recognized nationally and
Grace is consistently called on to provide advice, support and often
technical assistance on how to sort through and improve on collective
management systems. Grace has been a creative, innovative and driving
force in the Olympia Food Co-op’s success both as a business and also
as a force for good and model for responsible businesses. Grace has
worked tirelessly to make sure that the Co-op fully lives up to the
international co-op principles as well as core co-op values, especially
democracy, equality, equity and solidarity.  Those principles and values
are not just a poster on the wall at the Olympia Food Co-op, they
describe everyday interactions on the retail floor and in the back rooms
of the co-op. Based on her deep commitment to the co-op as well as
racial and social justice, Grace’s impact has extended far beyond
Olympia.  She has been a steady force for supporting the growth and
development of all area co-ops, even those operating using different
management structures.  Existing co-ops and new co-ops have reached
out to Grace for help, guidance and the support needed to build a thriving
cooperative economy.  
You can see why we are bursting with pride to see Grace be recognized
for her many years of labor, commitment and excellence, not only to the
our co-op, but to the national co-op movement.  Another very fun part of
this story is that Grace shared this award with one of her best pals, Kelly
Wiseman, who has been the general manager at the Bozeman Food Co-
op in Montana for the past 30 years. Grace was asked to present the
award to Kelly, not knowing she had also won. Kelly was asked to
present the award to Grace, also not knowing he had also won.