Sustainability. The capacity to endure without contributing to wanton depletion. Economically, socially, culturally, and ecologically, we at your Co-op are charged with positive contributions to the longevity of our community. Specifically, I interpret this to mean that we provide the goods and services that are needed in the local community, and we operate a fiscally sound business in order to contribute to the local economy. A tall order, to be sure. For two years now, we have been able to make a profit, although that profit is well under 1% of sales. Still, being on the right side of that zero is part of our charge. After this most fundamental job of running a profitable business, we concentrate on ensuring that we return as much of our revenue as possible to our local economy in the form of local purchases of goods, local use of services, and by supporting roughly 150 staff members, or 100 full-time equivalents, with meaningful work. We also manage to distribute nearly three-quarters of a million dollars in discounts back into our owners’ pockets—a staggering number!
End #5: The BFC exists to meet its shareholders’ collective needs for a sustainable local economy.
I have challenged you before to find any non-cooperative food store in the area that returns 37% of its revenues to the local economy. Last year we sold over $3.2 million in local products made or grown by our neighbors. Could we do more? Absolutely. We continue to look for more ways to succeed in this area, including increasing our use of local items in our prepared foods. As I have said in these pages before, buying local is a commitment that requires more staff time, more careful planning, and more explicit marketing of the value of this particular category. It is, by its very nature, not efficient. But again, every winter we host our growers to explore new options, crops we could sell more of, and ways to improve our processes. We include as many staff members as possible in visits to local producers and farms to know our partners better.
In addition, we pay wages of nearly $4 million, and town taxes of roughly $130,000, and we support many local organizations, not only financially, but in collaborative projects of many kinds. We contributed over $16,000 to local organizations last fiscal year, including to recipients of the Bag-a-Bean project which also rewards customers for re-using their own bags and bulk/produce receptacles.
And then there are all the intangibles that the Co-op provides, quietly and dependably, in offering tabling space, meeting space, and more to all of the local individuals and non-profits working hard to improve our community and to make it more sustainable in so many ways.
As spring begins to make itself known in our corner of the world, think about all the ways that you can impact our local economy by choosing local, by re-using containers and bags, and by committing yourself to bulk purchases. We will be featuring specials, events, and recipes in our Bulk department throughout April, along with tutorials for those intimidated by the process. Do your part for sustainability!
The co-op world lost an important mentor and visionary in January. Bill Gessner, a longtime advisor to so very many cooperatives over the last several decades—especially in the area of expansion planning—died in Minnesota after a stroke. He was thoughtful, playful, incredibly supportive, and more committed to cooperative principles than most could even imagine. He was inducted into the National Cooperative Hall of Fame in 2012, which was fittingly the U.N. Year of the Cooperative. He was also well-known as a rabid tennis player and a loveable musician. We will miss his impact and his quiet presence.
I look forward to seeing you in the aisles.
By Sabine Rhyne, General Manager