spinning border on flyout menu toggle button


This eight-week online program is organized into a sequence of weekly lessons with lectures, readings, media, discussions, and relevant assignments that can be completed throughout the week at your own pace and on your own schedule.  Online learning will be facilitated by successful food co-op manager, Clem Nilan.

Learning Objectives

  1. Participants will have a broad understanding of the overall development process for new retail food co-ops.
  2. Participants will be familiar with the resources, professional support, and cooperative organizations that startup food co-ops require.
  3. Participants will have a good understanding of their potential roles in food co-op development.

Assessment of Learning

Assessment of learning will be provided through the instructors’ evaluation of performance of each individual student per the guidelines set up in the online course area. These will include evidence of readings, participation in online discussions, blogs, and other activities as assigned.

Program Schedule

Week 1:  Understanding the Essentials

  • Cooperative Principles and Values
  • Legal and Accounting Structures
    • What makes a cooperative a cooperative?
    • Why bother?
    • Legal structures
    • Implications for raising capital
    • Incorporation
  • Vision, Mission, and Feasibility
  • Community Engagement


Week 2

Students can elect to attend an optional group meeting & conference in Milwaukee, WI.
Please this attached document for details.

(Optional; Requires Separate Registration and an Additional Fee, travel and all other expenses are the responsibility of the students, not included in the program fee) 

Thursday morning: Networking and discussion
Thursday afternoon: Co-op tours
Friday and Saturday: Conference agenda



Week 3:  Help!  Who’s Running this Thing?

  • Sources of Information and Support
    • Food Co-op Initiative
    • Development centers
    • Consultants
    • Existing food co-ops
    • Local/regional business advisors
  • Building an Organization
    • Founders
    • Steering committee
    • Board
    • Committees
    • Volunteers
  • Effective and Accountable Development
    • Accountability
      • Legal
      • Ethical
    • Delegation
    • Communication
  • Paid and Volunteer Staff
    • Recruitment and retention
    • When to pay someone


Week 4:  Community Support and Ownership

  • The Roles of Members (owners)
    • Equity
    • Outreach
    • Governance
    • Patronage
  • Bylaws
  • Community Outreach and Organizing
    • Legitimacy
    • Trust
    • Respected voices
    • Repetition
    • Repetition
  • Effective Ownership Campaigns
    • Branding and messaging
    • Did we say “repetition?”
    • Shotguns and snipers


Week 5:  Feasibility

  • What Determines Feasibility?
    • Financial feasibility
    • Market feasibility
    • Organizational feasibility
    • Supply feasibility
    • Design feasibility


Week 6:  Financial Planning

  • Sources and Uses Budget
  • Pro Forma Financial Projections
  • Project Budgets


Week 7:  Raising Capital

  • Sources and Uses Budget Update
  • Sources of Capital
    • Grants and donations
    • Member loans
    • Preferred shares
    • Commercial lenders
    • Other options


Week 8:  Location, Location, Location

  • Ideal site characteristics
  • Lease vs. buy
  • Developers
  • Negotiation and Contracts
  • Engineering, Architecture, and Design
  • Floor Plans and Design Elements


Week 9:  Bricks and Mortar, or Doors on the Store

  • Project Management
  • General Manager
  • Board Development and Transitions
  • Outreach and Promotion
  • Equipment
  • Inventory
  • Staffing
  • Policies and Procedures
  • Pricing Strategy
  • Outreach and Promotion
  • Working Capital
  • NCG

Final Project

Option 1:
Participants will be asked to present a summary case study of a food co-op that opened in the last five years. The case study should include:

  • An outline of the co-op’s founding process
  • The original vision and mission of the co-op
  • Financial projections and actual outcomes
  • Obstacles overcome
  • Lessons learned and recommendations

Option 2:
Participants will select one module topic and present a detailed case study of how a recently opened food co-op addressed the issues raised.

Option 3:
Participants will collect and analyze data from startup food co-ops that could provide insights into best practices or trends (subject to prior approval of a proposed research plan).