Big News! Cooperative Transition!
It is possible that this is the last blog post I will write for Snake River Seed Cooperative. As some folks know, I have accepted a full-time position as a horticulture professor at the College of Western Idaho. Education has always been my first love, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to do it full-time.
In the wake of my transition, we are fulfilling a longtime dream for SRSC and becoming a bona fide legal cooperative. We've always known that, just like the seeds we steward, the more hands who hold this business, the safer it will be. And until now, it's just been little ole me legally holding it, as the sole "owner" of the business. So, over these past few months, our transition team has dived headfirst into the the ins and outs of entity formation and taxation, guided by longtime SRSC blue flax grower and Sustainable Economies Law fellow Kelsey Jae.
For those to whom this means something, we will be legally forming as an Idaho benefit corporation taxed under subchapter T, the cooperative taxation structure. And we will have the opportunity to work toward becoming a certified B Corp. This model legally requires the board of directors to create public benefit through our daily operations, rather than just maximizing shareholder profits, which is what “regular” corporations are required by law to do. This focus on maximizing profits for shareholders while not accounting for environmental degradation, worker health, and other “externalities” is the primary way corporate big-business-as-usual is destroying communities and the planet alike, so it feels really awesome to be building in requirements to care for people and the planet into the legal structure of our little business moving forward.
One of the things that was so important to us in the transition was to make sure
that both SRSC employees and seed growers have the opportunity to own the business. This worker/producer ownership model is quite unique in this country, and we don’t have a map to follow on how to set it up well. However, the absence of a map creates the opportunity to draw our own! And we are. We are building in several beautiful features, including a sliding scale ownership buy in where each member-owner enjoys an equal ownership stake regardless of how many dollars they are able to contribute to buy in. It tickles me to think that this little company based in Idaho is on the cutting edge of designing a truly democratic and empowering business model.
As we work through the nuts and bolts of our transition and the transfer of “assets,” one thing that we are all in agreement about is about the fate of the seeds we steward themselves. The seeds have always been gifts. They were gifts from the earth and the ancestors thousands of years before we were born, they have nourished us and our communities immensely, and they will remain gifts for many, many generations to come. In our SRSC culture, we do not see our work with seeds as buying and selling them. Since we Homo sapiens are the only species who uses money, we see our work as monetarily compensating humans for our labor in assisting the seeds and their ecological co-collaborators by growing, cleaning, packing, shipping, and sharing them out into the world. Therefore, the seeds currently in our inventory will be given as a gift in the transition to cooperative ownership.
I will be stepping down as the manager of SRSC at the end of July, where I will be leaving the management of the cooperative in the very capable hands of Reiley Ney and Danny O'Malley, who will co-manage the Co-op moving forward. The four year-round SRSC staff (Reiley, Danny, Cassie, and Ana) are currently doing a lot of intentional work on building skills and capacity around cooperative leadership, and I have 100% confidence in the abilities of the SRSC staff to carry the day-to-day management of the business forward well into the future. I will always be available in an advisory capacity, and potentially even as a board member, depending on the board make-up we all decide on together.
I am buzzing with excitement about the future of SRSC and am beyond grateful to every single one of you who has helped to grow this project from a tiny seed to one of the most breathtaking organizations I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. Together, we are doing something remarkable. We are sowing the hope of a more just, equitable, and healthy world, one seed (and one radical, squirrelly little business) at a time!
Cheers to everyone as we embark on the next leg of our journey. May the wisdom of the seeds guide us to help increase abundance and nourishment for all!
In seedy solidarity,