At Hilo Health Co-op, exercise comes recommended by your doctor—who’s also a member-owner

hilo health2 web ed637hilo health2 web ed637[photos by Michael Ben] There’s a reason getting in shape is a ubiquitous New Year’s resolution. The benefits of exercise run the gamut from more energy to fewer doctor’s visits. But what if you got paid to exercise? That added incentive is a reality for member-owners of the Hawaii-based Hilo Health Co-op, the nation’s first cooperative fitness center and a new NCBA CLUSA member.

Hilo Health incorporated in March 2014 and, a few months later, acquired an existing CrossFit gym. After a shaky transition that included the business owner leaving town, co-founder Grif Frost, who now serves as president and CEO, stepped in full-time to find a way to salvage the business.

“Without the support of our cooperative member-owners, the business would have failed,” Frost says. “We all pulled together and found a way to evolve Hilo Health using a much better business model with huge potential to do good.”

Hilo Health isn’t Frost’s first startup. A self-described “serial entrepreneur,” he has started, built and sold more than 40 businesses in Japan and the U.S. The cooperative business model was a natural fit for Hilo Health.

While researching Hawaii’s business regulations, Frost discovered that consumer co-ops can legally offer “exempt securities” to customers, who then become shareholders. “A CEO is always having to figure out ways to raise cash to support business development,” Frost said. “Being able to offer exempt securities helped solve that challenge.”

Additionally, Frost said, organizing as a co-op meant Hilo Health planned strategically and transparently from the onset. Convincing prospective customers to become member-owners “absolutely requires you to have a very good business plan and then ‘walk the talk,’” he said.

hilo health1 web 7b5edhilo health1 web 7b5ed“Working with others—and I recommend starting with a small group of three to five people—is a great way to develop a business plan,” Frost said. “Everyone does something well, which, when you add it all together, can create a solid foundation to launch a cooperative business.”

Shortly after its launch, a partnership with an area physicians’ association boosted Hilo Health’s profile in the community. Local doctors were looking for a fitness center they could recommend to their patients and were intrigued by the cooperative business model. With a new fitness program tailored to meet recommendations set by the East Hawaii Independent Physicians Association, Hilo Health membership grew steadily to 120 within the year, Frost said.

“Many people in the community are looking to achieve optimum health through exercise, but are intimidated by the thought of going to a gym,” Frost said. Working with the medical doctors, Hilo Health created a S.M.A.R.T exercise programs for beginner, intermediate and advanced-level students in a positive, supportive environment.

“That means no mirrors, no competition and trackable results,” Frost said. “Plus, Hilo Health comes recommended by your doctor, who very likely is also a member!”

Hilo Health is currently working with Hawaii’s largest insurance agency to ensure that its S.M.A.R.T. exercise classes are eligible for reimbursement if prescribed by a medical doctor as an alternative to prescription drugs that lower cholesterol, blood pressure or blood sugar. “Keeping people out of hospitals is a huge financial win for health insurance companies,” Frost said.

When they join, member-owners undergo an initial optimum health assessment to determine their class level. Quarterly report cards and a mentorship program help members stay on track at Hilo Health’s 4,300 square foot open-air facility. For busy parents, childcare is available three times a week. Community members who don’t join the co-op are welcome to participate in Hilo Health’s fitness programs, but they also aren’t paid to exercise.

Hilo Health’s goal, Frost said, is to grow to 250 members, further refine the cooperative fitness center model and then teach other entrepreneurs to start similar small co-op fitness centers in their own communities. The ultimate goal for members is to not only improve their own health, but help others thrive, Frost said.

“Hawaii is a great place to come for a three-day seminar to learn how to start your own consumer cooperative fitness center. Takes a lot of arm-twisting, though,” he jokes.

Still time to register for NCBA CLUSA’s 100th Anniversary Kickoff Event

100yrs social graphic f5445100yrs social graphic f5445

NCBA CLUSA will officially kick off its 100th Anniversary Campaign at the National Press Club tomorrow, January 13, and it’s not too late to join our members and supporters, lawmakers and top co-op executives for this important press conference. Click here to register for free! This is a great opportunity to show your solidarity with the co-op community and meet members of the press who are interested in cooperative business.

From 8:30 – 9 a.m., we’ll hear from Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), co-chairs of the newly formed bipartisan Congressional Cooperative Business Caucus. The congressmen will speak on how the cooperative business model can shape the future of American jobs, industry and the economy for the better.

Next on the speaker docket are Lillian Salerno, deputy under secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development; and Meegan Moriarty, legal support for USDA – Rural Development.
NCBA CLUSA will also highlight the scope and impact of the cooperative economy during this event. We’ll hear from top co-op executives including Gina Schaefer, owner of 11 Ace Hardware stores in the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore area; Bruce Carrozzi, divisional vice president of Retail Growth for True Value; and Charles Snyder, president and CEO of National Cooperative Bank.

We’ll also hear from Terry Ingram, an Organic Valley farmer from Culpeper, Virginia; Mollie Moisan, director of Outreach for Pachamama Coffee Cooperative; and Dan Arnett, general manager of Seattle-based Central Co-op.

In addition to marking the official launch of the Congressional Co-op Business Caucus, this press release will also unveil the findings of the first national public opinion survey on co-ops in more than a decade, which found that a majority of Americans strongly believe that co-ops are beneficial to consumers, despite a general lack of awareness of the philosophy governing the cooperative business model. NCBA CLUSA interim president and CEO Judy Ziewacz will unpack the survey results for attendees.

We’ll also serve a special 100th anniversary roast of organic, co-op grown and roasted coffee produced by NCBA CLUSA member Pachamama Coffee Cooperative.

An agricultural challenge becomes an opportunity for women in Niger

niger REGIS web 14e38niger REGIS web 14e38[Men and women from Tilla Village work together to rehabilitate the land. The training was given to the women's group, and as owners of the land, they decided as a group what to plant.]Like many women in Niger, Amina Abdoul Wahab, from Tilla village, does not own land, but she is still responsible for feeding her family and collecting water and firewood daily.

In many parts of the world, women do not have access to land. To give women the opportunity to support themselves, the USAID-funded REGIS-ER project, implemented in Niger by NCBA CLUSA, is convincing community leaders and chiefs to allocate degraded land to women’s groups. Armed with tools and strategies to rehabilitate the farms through training from REGIS-ER, the women can use the land to produce nutritious crops for their families and earn income.

Bio-reclamation of degraded lands (BDL) takes an agricultural challenge and turns it into an opportunity for women to build resilience in their communities. In Niger’s Zinder region, 30 women from Tilla village are doing just that.

In 2015, members of Tilla’s women’s association learned how to increase the productivity of degraded lands through simple techniques for water collection and retention. Impressed by the 2014 results of a BDL site from a neighboring village, the women solicited REGIS-ER backing to organize themselves into a strong interest group, applying for their village’s BDL parcel, which they knew they could reclaim and add value using BDL techniques. With support from NCBA CLUSA, their united advocacy efforts succeeded in convincing the chief of the village to loan them a 3.7-acre plot for a three-year period.

Using BDL techniques, the group of 30 women grew drought-tolerant crops, with the initial provision of seeds and agriculture inputs like fertilizer from REGIS-ER. Easy to implement, the combination of water catchment and agroforestry strategies improved both the women’s income and their family’s nutrition, while also upgrading their social status.  

The women grew okra, moringa, hibiscus, senna and sesame. Yields from the harvest have been outstanding—in fact, yields for okra, hibiscus and sesame have been almost double the average for the region.
“Eight dry measures of okra are still left, despite my family’s consumption throughout the season. Currently, you can sell one measure of okra for USD $4.14 (2,500 CFA) on the local market, so we can already earn $33.09 (20,000 CFA) just out of okra,” Amina said. That profit is about one month’s salary for an average Nigerian, according to World Bank data.

The BDL site was named “gona mata,” or “women’s parcel.” Still, many husbands came out to offer a helping hand. “Because the work is a bit tough,” said Ado, Amina’s husband, “and we want to see them succeed in this initiative.” Where men gather at the mosque and women usually gather at the well, the BDL site became a true “exchange space between men and women,” Ado added.

The BDL site is also a public asset for the entire village. All the women of the village—even those who don’t have a parcel on the site—can go and take some okra or hibiscus leaves from the site to cook a nutritious dish called “tapché”.

Working together, the women are confident that they have a sustainable piece of land. Using the profits from their harvest, they are considering purchasing the land to continue the investment beyond the life of the project. Under new techniques and training from REGIS-ER, what was once degraded land is producing high yields and bringing a community together.

Organic Valley surpassed $1 billion in sales in December 2015

Organic Valley 400 9a6ffOrganic Valley 400 9a6ffNCBA CLUSA member Organic Valley is celebrating a milestone this month—in December 2015, the farmer-owned cooperative surpassed $1 billion in sales, making it the first billion-dollar organic-only food company, according to this press release from Organic Valley:

On Tuesday, December 22, CROPP Cooperative / Organic Valley reached a remarkable milestone: The farmer-owned cooperative surpassed $1 billion in sales. Founded in 1988 by seven struggling farm families in Southwest Wisconsin, Organic Valley now has a membership of 1,800 farmers producing organic food in 35 states. It is the first billion-dollar organic-only foods company.

This landmark caps an extraordinary year for Organic Valley. Two new product lines illustrate the range and quality of the brand: In 2014, the cooperative brought two brands of organic milk protein shakes to market—Organic Balance and Organic Fuel—and in 2015 Organic Fuel became the #1 selling organic protein shake across all grocery channels. In August 2015, Organic Valley launched Grassmilk yogurt, a premium cream-on-top yogurt made with 100 percent grassfed milk and no grain, serving the growing market for premium organic dairy.

As the cooperative creates and markets new products, it’s also growing into mainstream and convenience channels to meet increasing consumer demand for high-quality organic food wherever they shop—a reality underscored by Organic Valley’s February 2016 launch of Good To Go, an adult single-serve milk, and the roll-out of Mighty Bar organic meat snacks under sister brand Organic Prairie.

Support for Organic Valley’s core products also remains strong, with half & half, butter, and cheese winning best-of-class awards and recognition in 2015. “We see our growth as win-win-win,” said VP of Brand Marketing Lewis Goldstein. “Our original mission of saving family farms also happens to produce some of the best food on the planet that’s the healthiest choice for everyone—the farmers, their animals and farmland, and consumers.”

Consumer support for Organic Valley has helped the cooperative continue to put farmers first by paying a high, stable price for their work. Paying farmers fairly ensures a future for family farming culture while rejuvenating the soil, protecting water quality, and eliminating antibiotics, synthetic pesticides, artificial hormones, and GMOs from a portion of the food chain. Consumers value that choice.

Director of Public Affairs Anne O’Connor, who oversees the cooperative’s social responsibility and philanthropic giving efforts, said, “More than ever, people want to buy brands that are about more than just profit, but also about people and the planet. In our growth and the growth of our industry, we remain committed to our core values of social responsibility, honesty, and caring for our communities. It’s the best way to provide the best organic food.”

About Organic Valley
Organic Valley is America’s largest cooperative of organic farmers and one of the nation’s leading organic brands. Organized in 1988, it represents approximately 1,800 farmers in 34 states. Focused on its founding mission of saving family farms through organic farming, Organic Valley produces a variety of organic foods, including organic milk, soy, cheese, butter, spreads, creams, eggs, and produce, which are sold in supermarkets, natural foods stores and food cooperatives nationwide. With its regional model, milk is produced, bottled and distributed right in the region where it is farmed to ensure fewer miles from farm to table and to support our local economies. For further information visit

Employees take partial control of Capitol Hill grocer in first of its kind move in U.S.

central coop 500 f671acentral coop 500 f671a[photo courtesy Central Co-op] Seattle's Central Co-op recently became the first grocery store in the U.S. to shift from an entirely member-owned store to what's called a "solidarity co-op," where members and employees own equal shares of the business. Seattle-based Puget Sound Business Journal reported on the move, which differentiates Central Co-op in the increasingly crowded and competitive natural grocery industry.

Click here to read the full article.


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