Register and mark your calendars for Train the Trainers!

The dates have been set for both our Midwest and National Train the Trainers! These intensive trainings will allow young people in the Upper Midwest and across the nation to dive deep into cooperative education and, for the National training, community organizing. At Train the Trainers, participants will have the opportunity to:

  • Learn cooperative history, philosophy and best practices
  • Try out democratic decision-making and assessing community needs.
  • Develop skills in  facilitating workshops and coaching

Participants will with the skills to start their own cooperatively run business, share the basics of starting cooperative with members of their community, and strengthen existing coops in their region.

Our Midwest Train the Trainers will be a multi-part training, with the introductory conference call on September 30th, at 7pm central time. This workshop is for young adults living in the Upper Midwest  excited to gain in depth knowledge of Youth TCI’s cooperative entrepreneurship, intrapreneurship, and conversion workshops, then apply the knowledge and get paid to do it! After the training, participants will be asked to facilitate workshops on cooperative education in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (or adjacent states - let us know if that’s you!). Sign up for this training and the September 30th call here!

 National Train the Trainers will offer the same opportunities, and more! This two and a half day intensive will offer young people from anywhere in the US a chance to develop expertise in both cooperative development as well as community organizing skills. Due to scheduling challenges, National Train the Trainers has been pushed back to February, 2016, and will be held February 5-7, in Minneapolis Minnesota. We’ll keep you posted on the details!

Like our other programs, both Train the Trainers are free for participants with sliding scale donations accepted with appreciation. Travel stipends will be available for participants living outside of the Twin Cities. Young people from rural or rural-serving areas will be prioritized.

We hope you’re as excited about these trainings as we are! Shoot us an email at  if you have questions and share our save the date with others who might be interested!




Back to N. Dakota... to the Farmers' Union & Red Raven!

After a few training stops in North Dakota in 2014 that weren’t well attended, Youth TCI didn’t anticipate returning to ND this year. However, after meeting with the new North Dakota Farmers' Union Education Director at the recent Association of Cooperative Educators’ Institute out in Amherst, Massachusetts in July, all that changed! Emily, Youth TCI’s Program Director, went to Jamestown, ND for the afternoon to meet with NDFU’s education staff, member relations staff, and some #coopyouth camp counselors to discuss how Youth TCI could serve their state-wide constituency.

After touring the NDFU headquarters and looking at the rich history posted on the ways in the form of old coop gas station signs and framed newspaper clippings, Emily got to sit down with eight farmers union folks and learn about the opportunities available to young people through NDFU. The five college-aged #coopyouth who had just finished serving as counselors at the NDFU summer camp shared how they had all been elected to the State Youth Advisory Council (SYAC) and/or National Youth Advisory Council (NYAC) - and, what a tremendous honor they considered it to be to take on a leadership role through an election by their peers. They also elaborated on what roles the SYAC and NYAC had in steering the content and direction of programming for both summer camps and year-round education - this included picking a central discussion topic for the latter, which was “diversity” for 2015.

Emily then presented on the history of Northcountry Cooperative Foundation and the (Youth) Traveling Cooperative Institute, and closed by sharing a number of opportunities through which NDFU could partner with NCF to make use of the program and its curricula to serve their constituents, as they see fit. The opportunities were warmly received by staff and the following ideas for partnering came up:

  • Provide a Train the Trainer retreat for state and county education staff, so they can independently use the curricula with their groups throughout the state.
  • Partner with the collegiate FU chapters on college campuses throughout the state to provide trainings.
  • Attend a state-wide convention and provide some training as a breakout session.

Overall, this meeting was a great first step to building a relationship with an allied organization that has maintained tremendous cooperative education programs for decades. Partnering together is a way to add capacity and value to both organizations in a mutually beneficial way. We look forward to the coming months (and years) as we can work together to strengthen the cooperative community throughout the Upper Midwest.

And, on the way there and back, Emily stopped to visit Red Raven Espresso Parlor in Fargo, North Dakota! They are celebrating their 10th birthday this month, and are managing transition in their cooperative after some senior members departed and new members have come on board. The space remains welcoming, the food delicious, and the worker-owners awesome!

A tenet of Popular Education, the learning model Youth TCI uses, is accessibility - this is achieved by using a range of teach methods and ensuring that the content is relevant to the community in which it is being taught. For Youth TCI, accessibility goes a bit further to include financial accessibility. We don’t want any person to be unable to access cooperative development education, so we provide our trainings at low to no cost, depending on the needs and capacity of our partner organizations and/or each individual attending a given training. We are 99.9% grant funded, and our funders know and support our approach.

To achieve financial accessibility, we offer a sliding scale for trainings ranging from $0 (or, “Free99!”) to an amount covering both the hard (e.g. travel, supplies) and staff costs to put on a given training. If we have a partner organization inviting us to give a training in their neck of the woods, we’ll share our real costs and see what, if anything, that organization can provide to subsidize the program. Since that range can be a bit daunting from which to select an amount, we generally recommend that any organization based outside of the Twin Cities area (where our staff reside) to contribute $100-150 to offset our travel costs. For a training program without a partner organization, we will put out a donation jar with a suggested donation range of $5-20.

Our financial accessibility efforts go beyond the sliding scale to include travel stipends to offset the costs of participant travel to trainings. Working often in rural areas, we acknowledge that lots of folks may have to drive a considerable distance to attend a given training. We provide small cash stipends to cover gas for those who would be otherwise unable to attend. For our regional and national Train the Trainer programs, we have larger travel stipends set aside to facilitate participants coming from all around using planes, trains, and automobiles.

Since the primary measure of success for the Youth TCI program is reaching as many people as possible, ensuring the financial accessibility of our trainings is paramount. We know that the more people empowered with the knowledge that cooperative entrepreneurship or intrapreneurship could be a tool to improve their lives, the more lives are improved and the more our communities are strengthened. All contributions to Youth TCI in the form of partner organization payments and individual participant payments are tax deductible, as Northcountry Cooperative Foundation is a 501c3 tax-exempt non-profit. If you want to contribute to our work and allow us to support more people and organizations in accessing our training offerings, email and we’ll get you set up to give!


Youth TCI 2015 Update = More <3!

If you’re a young person and wanna be your own boss or have more say in your cooperative, the Youth Traveling Cooperative Institute has been and will always be for you. And, good news. The Youth TCI is poppin’ off in 2015! After offering one type of workshop in four states throughout 2014, the Youth TCI is expanding to offer trainings in two different areas:

  • Entrepreneurship: How to start your own cooperative business!
  • Intrapreneurship: How to make change and catalyze innovation from within a cooperative (e.g. as a cooperative staff person or member).

Trainings will be taking place throughout the Upper Midwest in partnership with city and regional organizations. Follow this blog for updates, check out this calendar for training times and locations, and like us on facebook to engage with our trainers and broader communities.

And, if you’re an older person and looking to sell your business (maybe you’re retiring?), Youth TCI 2015 is for you, too! Business owners have a tax incentive to sell their businesses to their workers through a Cooperative Conversion. These Conversions also offer you options for how quickly and in what ways to transition out of your business. Because many small business employees are young people, both consultations and trainings on converting your business are available through Youth TCI. Just get in touch to learn more!

It doesn’t stop here.

Youth TCI is going national in 2015 with a Train the Trainers intensive in November. Scholarships will be available to support young people from all over the country to attend a two day workshop that will equip them with the community organizing skills and cooperative entrepreneurship expertise they can use to either start their own cooperatives back home or help others do the same! Share our Save the Date with your networks. We’re beyond stoked about this.

For more information on all the available trainings and consultations, hit up our training menu here. If you or your organization would like a training or consultation to come to your town, let us know by sending a quick email at Training costs are covered by grants from the US Department of Agriculture and the CHS Foundation, but donations are accepted with appreciation.

As always, don’t hesitate to get in touch - Youth TCI’s program coordinators, Emily and Karen, are available to talk! <3

SAVE THE DATE: 2015 Trainings in WI, MN, & the UP!

With the new year come new Youth TCI trainings in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan! These three trainings are "Part II" of the two part curriculum, the first part of what was provided in almost twenty towns across the Upper Midwest during the summer of 2014. This round of training will include time for participants to share their own cooperative business ideas, role play key steps in the cooperative development process, and learn what it entails to go from a "need" to a "cooperative solution."

Participants don't need to have a cooperative business idea or to have attended the training given this past summer, all are welcome to attend! The first ninety minutes of the workshop is dedicated to a brief refresher course on "Coops 101" and "Coop 202."

The dates and locations for the upcoming trainings are as follows:

More training details and registration links will be announced later this week! Keep an eye out and spread the word. :)

In cooperation - EMLC


Circuit Spotlight: Northfield, MN

Two days in Northfield, Minnesota with a group of young people working in their home communities to both make a cooperatively-owned business and organize other youth was a definite highlight of the Youth TCI program to date. The youth group is comprised mostly of teenagers - they are both on the younger end of age spectrum for program participants so far, and have a level of dedication and readiness to create a cooperative business that is the highest of all program participants so far. Contributing to their readiness and enthusiasm is the strong youth supporting infrastructure. The Northfield Union of Youth exists to provide “POWER and VOICE to area youth and create a caring community. For youth and by youth. All ideas for programs, projects and events are all generated by the youth.”

The Northfield Union of Youth, which owns a youth center called the “Key,” has a youth Board and an adult Board which functionally supports and oversees the work of the youth. Through the Key and its activities, youth have access to governance positions within the city government and agencies (e.g. youth representative within the Parks Department). While it seems almost too simple, having a space for youth in which they are able to self-govern and be creative together is enough, for some young people in Northfield, to empower young people to participate in civic activities and think more broadly on how they can contribute to their community.

The group of young people active in the Key who chose to participate in the Youth TCI workshop are motivated to respond to a need for city-wide composting stated by their City Council. As a result, they are actively working with each other and mentors in their community to take the first steps in developing a worker-owned composting business that could hold a contract to deliver composting pick-up and processing services to the city. Since the training, the group has authored a first draft of a feasibility study and are busy building relationships that will be vital for seeing the process further into the future. I will be maintaining contact with them as they do their work, to support the initial stages of development and get them prepped to link up with a cooperative development professional to see them the rest of the way through the process – e.g. Cooperative Development Services.

State Reportback: North Dakota (Boom & Bust)

My time in North Dakota was meaningful and challenging. Despite having worked incredibly hard on outreach for trainings in the state and having a couple seemingly solid partnerships, North Dakota trainings had the lowest turnout of the program so far. Even though I had cold-called and emailed around thirty potential organizational partners and mailed out dozens of posters, most of the economic or community development folks who I would have expected to support the outreach work were so overwhelmed with other projects and business opportunities that they didn't have time to engage with Youth TCI. The main reason for this was well encapsulated by the CFO of Horizon Resources, a CHS member cooperative in Williston, when he said, “The recession never hit here.” Due to the oil boom in the Bakken Fields in the western half of the state, an economic boom has followed for local businesses and land owners – making most people in the area immune to the immediate impacts of the national high unemployment rate and any other consequences of the economic recession.

Experiencing a modern day boom town was somewhat surreal – driving in from the Northeast, the number of trucks on the highway increased and the kinds of things being advertised on billboards as I got towards turnoff for Williston, “the heart of the North Dakota oil boom.” Some of the ways leading in and out of town were two-lane county roads or state highways that were almost bumper to bumper with trucks while huge machinery was working along both sides of the roadway working to add lanes as fast as possible. I stopped at a Cenex gas station about thirty miles outside of Williston and had to wait in line in my car to use one of the eight gas pumps. Inside the gas station, there were three workers behind the counter managing long lines of people covered in dust and wearing big boots. There were a lot of middle-aged men who I presumed to be oil workers hanging around – a couple had set up shop with their dusty computers at a table in the cafe portion of the gas station and were talking on cell phones and typing in spreadsheets. While in town in Williston, all the youth I saw were actively working in a service industry job, e.g. server at a restaurant. There weren't many cafes or other businesses in which to “hang out” during the day – a drive around town and internet searches for cafes, art galleries, community centers, and other common spaces didn't reveal much. I spent some time at the Daily Addiction Coffee House, which was the only thing I could find – during the few hours I was there, adults comprised the majority of patrons. Relatedly, the places I stopped in western North Dakota had more people than the places I had stopped in other states, but I met and talked with the least people than I had along the circuit this year.

 Housing for workers in the Bakken Oil Fields

Housing for workers in the Bakken Oil Fields

Driving out of Williston towards the South took me on another two lane highway undergoing an expansion process and straight into the more active oil fields. The drive was slow, with traffic bumper to bumper on the highway, so I was able to look out across the hills as the sun was setting. This was the most surreal part of my time in North Dakota – there were fires burning at well sites all across the horizon, with a highway packed with cars and machinery on an otherwise desolate landscape. As the road would start heading down a hill towards a town, due to the change in color of the structures, you were able to see the outline of what the town used to be compared to what it looked like now with all the temporary housing set up for migrant field workers. Some of these tiny towns had quadrupled in size around their town center, with entirely new mini-towns of dozens to hundreds of RVs popping up up or down the road from the town centers. While many people are enjoying a great deal of prosperity from the oil boom, it brings along with it some unique social and environmental issues (e.g. human trafficking, radioactive waste). I am especially curious at what the utility of a cooperative model might be to those folks working to address the social problems in the region, while also interested in the role cooperatives might play in the answer to the question many people are asking about Williston and the surrounding areas - “what happens when the oil is gone and this is all over?”

The landscape and communities outside the Bakken Fields were quite different – even though I had driven through North Dakota in the past, I was in awe at the beauty of the many lakes and fields through which I drove. As I was in the state around harvest time, I was able to see a countryside bustling with threshers, trucks cued up to take grain to nearby elevators, and lots of trains rolling alongside the roads. In Fargo, the train tracks cut right through town, and I had to wait to cross the tracks twice during my first hour in town to let a train full of coal and a train carrying oil to pass. A highlight at the beginning of my time in North Dakota was visiting the worker cooperative cafe, Red Raven Espresso Parlor, as outlined in a previous post. The highlight that closed out my circuit in the state was holding a training at the Common Enterprise Development Corporation in Mandan, which is headed by Bill Patrie, though he will be retiring at the end of 2014. Bill was one of three folks who participated in the training and conversation, which resulted in him building a relationship with another attendee interested in developing an art cooperative and was eying a property on the same block as CEDC to rent for it. Through the past few decades, Bill has worked tirelessly to create cooperative and mutual businesses in the state, which has caused him to be the leader of North Dakota's “cooperative renaissance.”

 Common Enterprise Development Corporation - site of the Mandan training.

Common Enterprise Development Corporation - site of the Mandan training.

While the North Dakota trainings were a bit of a “bust” in terms of turnout, the rest of the trip was incredibly helpful in knitting together a clearer picture of what is happening in the Upper Midwest – economically and socially. There are clear aspects of North Dakota economy and culture that both distinguish it (e.g. oil boom) and align it (e.g. enduring presence of extractive industry) to the rest of the region. As the Youth TCI continues, opportunities to connect different areas of the region could lead to a stronger connection in North Dakota – especially as the question “what happens once this is all over?” begins to be answered.

 Red Raven Espresso Parlor in Fargo, ND - a worker-owned cooperative cafe!

Red Raven Espresso Parlor in Fargo, ND - a worker-owned cooperative cafe!

Organizing: When No One Shows Up...

Throughout the visioning and planning of the Youth Traveling Cooperative Institute, it has been stated time and time again by almost every person involved that the “organizing” or “getting people to know about the trainings and then show up” is the hardest part. As the planning progressed and I got deeper and deeper into finalizing training rooms, making dozens of cold calls to organizations throughout the region, sending literally hundreds of emails to potential stakeholders, and distributing press releases and radio PSAs, how hard it is to organize people you don't know around an issue they may not know about got harder and harder to remember. A few days before leaving in July to start the trainings in Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula, it occurred to me (again) – people just might not show up. This renewed realization came to me about three days before I left, and I kept it largely to myself until the day before when I and my partner attended the wedding of another cooperative organizer. He asked me how the preparations were going for the program, and I divulged that I was starting to feel a little bit anxious about people “not showing up.” He laughed and said, “Well, that's organizing, isn't it?”

His response was a bit comforting, to be sure, and I vowed to remember it as I went out on the road to keep my spirits up and the work in perspective. No one showed up to the first training. And, because no one showed up to the training that I could ask about a place to stay, I ended up getting and paying for a hotel room. This was a pretty big hit to my confidence, as I had vowed only to stay in hotel rooms in the most dire of situations, and had structured a lot of my budget around being hosted by folks I knew or met in the communities. It felt really bad to drive hours to show up to a town, not give a training, and charge a hotel room to the budget – for many reasons, one being that I structured the program in an entrepreneurial fashion, i.e. if no one shows up to a training, I don't get paid.

Since that first training, many people have shown up. Not at every training, to be sure, as there have since been two other trainings at which no one showed up (of 12 total to date) – including tonight in Fargo, North Dakota. This location was tricky, to begin with, as it was my first go at trying to organize a training on a college campus – I largely deferred to a graduate student contact I have on campus for the outreach, after getting a room secured through a faculty member. While that didn't really work out, what did work out is that I discovered a seven year old worker-cooperative cafe in Fargo called Red Raven Espresso Parlor. I was impressed to find a worker cooperative in the region that I didn't know about – and, when I looked at their Facebook Page, I found that none of my friends on Facebook had “liked” them – it's like discovering cooperative treasure! The cafe has a meeting room in the back that is frequently used by community groups for gatherings and trainings, as well as a message and community board that seems to be well used by folks in the area. In general, upon walking into the space and seeing the shelves of books for reading, a free box, well maintained stock of board games, comfy indoor and outdoor seating, art show, performance stage, and clientele of young folks – it felt like I had found a hub of community that was already engaged in and likely ripe for more cooperative organizing work.


 The front door of the Red Raven Espresso Parlor (a worker cooperative cafe) in Fargo, North Dakota.

The front door of the Red Raven Espresso Parlor (a worker cooperative cafe) in Fargo, North Dakota.

I talked awhile with the worker on shift, Sam, and he told me about their history, some of the challenges they face, and he said the Youth TCI sounded like a perfect thing for the back room. From what Sam told me, it seems most of the workers are in their 20s, are from the area, are out of or chose not to go to university, and work pretty full-time at the place. I asked Sam if he intended to stay for the next ten years – he said he probably would. Our conversation also revealed that they were not fully aware of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives and what they could offer, nor did they talk to their fellow worker cooperative cafes in the Twin Cities much – I will be following up with an informational email and an introduction to the USFWC Membership Coordinator.

While the training was kind of a “bust,” my stop in Fargo is a perfect illustration of the value of the Youth TCI even when “no one shows up.” As a result of my day spent in town, I found a community of young people interested in the cooperative conversation, an ideal future training spot, a cooperative that could be better connected with the national movement, and a touchstone for the work I am doing in the region. The lattermost point is quite important – having someplace nearby that you can point someone to so they can visit and really experience firsthand what it can be like to be a young person owning your own business is really important. It can be hard to imagine having self-determination in your workplace, especially after years of not having anything close to that. This kind of community discovery and network building is an increasingly important part of the Youth TCI. And, even though no one showed up to tonight's training, it provides further insight into which organizing tactics work for getting people to show up in the long run. Check out some more of my reflections on organizing tactics in a future blog post.

Circuit Spotlight: Sault Ste Marie, UP

Circuit Spotlight: Sault Ste Marie, UP

My time in the Soo was largely spent with two wonderful young people doing good work in their communities, particularly around agriculture, and we talked about how cooperatives could be relevant. Also, a brief story on the state of the Soo Cooperative Company and its two holdings, the Soo Food Cooperative and the Soo Cooperative Credit Union, which are some of the last vestiges of the century-old Finnish cooperative system in the region.

State Reportback: Upper Peninsula

State Reportback: Upper Peninsula

My time and the training in the Upper Peninsula was wonderful – my visits to Marquette, Escanaba, Sault Ste Marie, Houghton and Hancock, and Ironwood put me in contact with two dozen young people interested in cooperation who were not yet involved in the movement. In Marquette alone, over ten young people attended the training.

Circuit Spotlight: Stevens Point, WI

Circuit Spotlight: Stevens Point, WI

Time and work in Stevens Point was very illuminating and included a visit to an artists' cooperative, the largest rural Polish diaspora, a not-so-cooperative youth-run lemonade stands, & more. Hanging out in north-central Wisconsin also provided me the opportunity to spend time and talk with Margaret Bau, a seasoned and insightful cooperative developer of many years.

Take Care & Get to Know: Partners

To ensure the success for a regional program like this, it is imperative that the Youth TCI works closely with local and state Partners who work daily in the communities where the trainings are taking place. While the Youth TCI is run through an organization based out of the Midwest, the program and its organizer will still be unknown in many of the communities it visits. Knowing this, it is important that we have local stewards of the program who can help with community introductions and education about the area's history, industry, and culture.

"Take Care & Get to Know"

While I hail from the Midwest and have traveled extensively throughout the region, I know there is a lot about the region that I have yet to learn and experience. And, just because I grew up here doesn't mean that everyone I meet will think and talk just like me, so it is important that I take care and get to know the people and communities in which I am working and traveling. In service to this, I recently spent a weekend in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan driving around to meet folks, seeing potential training spaces, and participating in a training put on by Save the Wild UP, a grassroots environmental organization dedicated to the preservation of the Upper Peninsula’s unique cultural and natural resources. 

The training took place in Marquette and lasted two days. In that short time participants were given a wealth of information and insight - we were walked through the history of the area, had regional experts talk about current legal, social, and environmental issues, and were introduced to local citizens doing work to preserve and improve their communities. I learned an immense amount and grew my respect for the people in the region and the work they are doing to keep the UP an amazing place to live, work, and play. I look forward to my trainings in the UP throughout July!

Next, I am heading through Wisconsin to "Take Care and Get to Know" by attending a cooperative conference, visiting with folks throughout the state, and seeing some rolling countryside! EMLC

A Note from the Organizer: Emily M Lippold Cheney


I am a Cooperative Organizer who was born and raised in the Midwest. Throughout the past eight years, I have worked with youth and students as we developed and ran our own cooperatives all over the country. While I was living out in Southern California and working with the Santa Barbara Student Housing Cooperative, I felt called to return to my Midwestern home to reconnect with my roots and strengthen the region's connection with the national cooperative community and its resources. The Youth Traveling Cooperative Institute was a program I envisioned after the powerful experiences I had traveling to train other young people in cooperative development in California and through my work with the North American Students of Cooperation. After explaining my vision for the program to a colleague in North Dakota, they informed me that what I was thinking of fit perfectly into the already existing and successful Kris Olsen Traveling Cooperative Institute program. Shortly after meeting with Northcountry Cooperative Foundation staff about the program, we set out together to turn the vision into a reality in 2014.

Outside my work with the Youth Traveling Cooperative Institute, I am also a Core Organizer with the USA Cooperative Youth Council (USACYC). I serve on the Boards of CooperationWorks!, a US network of cooperative developers, and the Data Commons Cooperative, which works to maintain robust and useful technological platforms for sharing information in the solidarity economy. You can find more information and links to some of my presentations by starting here.

In cooperation - EMLC