Exploring CCMA – a journey of collaboration and community resilience

CCMA attendees toured Fare Share Market, a local cooperative providing natural foods and groceries in Norway, Maine.

The 2024 Consumer Cooperative Management Association (CCMA) Conference held in Portland, Maine from May 30-June 1 brought together cooperative advocates, leaders and stakeholders from the food and grocery co-op sectors. Portland’s natural beauty and vibrant atmosphere set the stage for an eventful and engaging conference.

This year’s conference theme, “Rising Tides: Lifting Up Communities Through Cooperation” pulled inspiration from the metaphor “a rising tide lifts all boats,” emphasizing that as cooperatives flourish, they elevate the overall well-being and prosperity of the communities they serve. It encouraged attendees to explore and brainstorm how cooperatives catalyze positive change—fostering prosperity, social justice and environmental sustainability.

Day 1: Co-op Tours

The first day of the conference commenced with co-op tours, offering attendees the opportunity to explore and learn from cooperatives in the local community. Two notable tours stood out: the Rising Tide Group Tour and the Norway Maine Group Tour.

The Rising Tide Group Tour began at the Rising Tide Co-op in Damariscotta, Maine. Participants had the chance to witness the cooperative’s impact on the local food economy and food access. The tour showcased Rising Tide’s store and community kitchen space, and allowed attendees to savor Maine-sourced foods and beverages. The tour continued to the Coastal Rivers Conservation Trust (CRCT)/Twin Villages Foodbank Farm (TVFF) and the Community Food Storage Hub. At this stop, participants explored the Food Storage Hub and learned about the inspiring partnerships that make it possible. Twin Villages Foodbank Farm, located on CRCT property, showcased the sustainable farmland and its role in feeding people in need. These cooperative initiatives demonstrated the power of collaboration in addressing food access and promoting local food economies, leaving a lasting impression on me and other attendees.

The Norway Maine Group Tour provided an immersive experience into the cooperative efforts shaping the community of Norway, Maine. Co-op champions visited various cooperatives, nonprofits, and small businesses that have come together to create a thriving and sustainable community. Stops included Alan Day Community Garden, where the impact of cooperatives, nonprofits and local businesses on the area was discussed over lunch provided by their team. Spoke Folks, a worker-owned, bicycle-powered cooperative, showcased their innovative approach to trash, recycling and compost pickup and how their partnership with Alan Day helped them grow. The tour also visited Norway Equitable Housing Cooperative, the Center for an Ecology-Based Economy, Norway Downtown, Fare Share Food Co-op, and the historic Norway Opera House. These diverse cooperative initiatives highlighted the collective effort to build a stronger community and foster sustainable development.

Conference Panels and Sessions

We kicked off CCMA programming with the Nourishing Communities Session, focusing on the vital role of food cooperatives in addressing food insecurity and fostering community resilience in low-income, low-access (LILA) neighborhoods. This interactive discussion brought together cooperative leaders to explore the challenges and opportunities faced by food co-ops serving underserved areas. The session helped create a larger conversation on the potential of food co-ops to transform food systems and promote equity.

One of the highlights of the conference was the lunch session featuring NCBA CLUSA President and CEO Doug O’Brien; Erbin Crowell, Executive Director of the Neighboring Food Co-op Association; and Kirstie Boyette, Associate Director of the Cooperative Development Foundation. This session delved into how co-ops in the U.S. can tap into broader efforts to raise awareness of an advocate for co-ops during the 2025 International Year of Cooperatives. The session also explored the role of cooperatives, particularly those in the food system, in advancing the the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. In proclaiming 2025 the second International Year of the Cooperatives, the UN noted that co-ops are uniquely positioned to achieve the SDGs, which include no poverty, zero hunger and good health and well-being.

Attendees of this session were reminded of how food co-ops can contribute to the SDGs and work together across sectors and communities to advocate for policies that promote equity, inclusion and sustainability. As we prepare for 2025, O’Brien emphasized the significance of cooperatives in building a more inclusive economy and highlighted NCBA CLUSA’s focus on increasing awareness and advocacy. “What we’re doing in 2024 is beginning to gather the information so that that we as a community can tell the cooperative story. We’re collecting that impact both quantitatively and qualitatively in hopes of helping people tell their own co-op stories,” he said. The lunch session provided a platform to discuss marketing recommendations and strategies to share the impact of cooperative enterprises during a year that will center the cooperative experience on a global level.

This year’s CCMA Conference in Portland, Maine was a testament to the power of cooperation and collaboration in creating thriving communities and fostering sustainable businesses. From the captivating beauty of the location to the engaging co-op tours and informative conference panels, attendees were immersed in an enriching experience, inspiring them to continue championing the cooperative difference in their respective co-ops and communities.

Want to know more about CCMA?

CCMA is the national annual conference for food cooperative directors, management, staff and sector allies. The CCMA conference is organized by the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives with assistance from a planning committee comprised of co-op managers and board members, representatives from cooperative associations, development organizations, financial partners and other allies.

NCBA CLUSA’s president and CEO Doug O’Brien speaking on the 2025 International Year of Cooperatives during a lunch session.
NCBA CLUSA’s Yaneidy Lora (left) and Brandon Johnson (right) in the exhibitor hall.

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