Published May 2, 2016 by Food Co-op Initiative

by Carol Rauschenberger of Shared Harvest

Shard Harvest logo
The staff at FCI loves hearing about the great events that startup co-ops offer. They build membership, teach people about co-ops, and bring the communities together over food, and local food systems. FCI wants to share some of these with you in our blog stories on Great Events.

Shared Harvest in Elgin, IL faces a common startup struggle-building community interest in local food, and in the idea of a community-owned food co-op. Our thanks to Carol Rauschenberger, the founder of this startup food cooperative, for sharing this Great Event with us. For more information on their event, email Carol at Reach the Food Co-op Initiative staff anytime at

To connect with the public and reach potential coop members, Shared Harvest is always looking for ways to educate the community about food-food systems, safety, accessibility, and similar issues. Finding great ways to bring people out to talk about food issues, and learn about the co-op, can be an ongoing challenge.

Two years ago we did a film series on food-The Shared Harvest Film “Feastival”. We learned that a short film is better than a long one, especially when not sitting in a comfy theater seat. Our participants looked for a brief facilitated discussion after each film. We did the series primarily at the local library. In true food co-op style, we featured some healthy munchies, and we averaged about 30 people per event.

FEDTalks Full House SHared HarvestThis spring we sought another avenue to educate people about food and our co-op mission. We had thrown around the idea of TED talks two years ago. After some research, we realized that was not an easy road to take. There is a lot of preparation and paperwork to even be qualified to be part of the TED Talk series.

Still liking the idea of the TED talks, we came up with our own version: FED Talks, short for Food EDucation Talks. Using a similar TED format of 15 minute presentations, we provided three brief and passionate talks by local experts. Including introductions and a brief discussion time, we offered our target audience a succinct and thought-provoking hour long event. Two factors could support our success: many passionate people in the area have great knowledge about various food topics, and our award-winning Gail Borden Public Library would include us in their quarterly flyer. The library flyer goes to every household in the community. We also publicized the talks through Facebook and email.

Eagerly, we reached out to several potential speakers, settling on three. By offering an informal atmosphere, we felt even inexperienced speakers could feel comfortable. A local organic farmer, spoke about the “Importance of Local Food”. “Following Your Passion” was offered by a mushroom farm worker, and a master gardener shared “What the Local University Extension Can Do for YOU”. Two of the speakers used slide presentations, and we had a volunteer signal the three-minute warning to each speaker.

Blog Facts FedTalksThe weather was cold but clear on the evening of our FED Talks in early February. We planned for an audience of 30 people, but wound up with 50. We had a brief facilitated discussion after the talks and many people lingered over snacks for a good half hour longer.

Though we were not able to measure direct membership sales from the event, it was well attended. The speakers were passionate and interesting to listen to and well-received by the audience. Our only regret is that we didn’t film the talks.

Both our film and FED Talks series demonstrate our commitment to the community and food education. Our second FED Talk is coming up in May. We already have our speakers lined up, and are looking into video taping them .

FCI: Why We Like This:  An  event like Shared Harvest’s FED Talks can be a low demand on an organizing team yet still help define the co-op as a convener of thought and innovation around a community’s food system. It builds the co-op’s legitimacy, relationships with other food-focused thinkers, and is a form of food education for the community. It is important to demonstrate how the co-op brings value to owners and the entire community before the doors are open. Some efforts to do this take so much energy they may sidetrack the ultimate goal of opening a store. Putting on a FED Talks event once or twice a year can build community value without diverting energy. Including a solid membership push would enhance the event.