by Sabine Rhyne, General Manager
Within hours of the results of the recent election, I found myself focusing on the ways in which our cooperative needed to redouble its efforts, as the community hub that it is. Namely, it became so very clear that our welcoming retail space, though already comfortable to so many, needed to be that in spades.
For our immigrant community, people living with disabilities, the LGBTQ community, and all of those who fear for whatever reason, our cooperative is a light and a harbor. It just so happened that I recently spent an evening in the newly refurbished Next Stage community kitchen area with Robyn O’Brien from the Putney Food Co-op, Bonnie Hudspeth from the Neighboring Food Co-ops Association, and performers and community activists from Sandglass Theatre and their visiting artists, in a week spent talking and experiencing voices of community. We thought only a few people were coming, only four tickets had been purchased the night before, so we considered reducing the amount of soup and appetizers to prepare. But when we arrived to begin our discussion about access to healthy food in our communities and our co-ops’ Food for All programs, more than forty people materialized, all enjoying Robyn’s magnificent butternut squash soup, and more.
They came because community was needed.
And looking around that room with such a wonderful collection of people, I felt pride in our community cooperatives and the heartfelt communication that the Sandglass artists and friends inspired. This was us. And clearly, our cooperatives’ role in our respective communities is to throw open our doors, time and time again, to invite conversation, dissension, and respectful listening. Food intertwines with art, with social justice, and with gatherings of people tied together with love. Meaningful connection.
Although the recent Annual Meeting was only attended by half of the number who came last year, the conversations there were no less inspiring. Reflections about co-op ownership revealed that our shareholders care more, and expect more, from both our Co-op and themselves as a consumer. One very positive statistic that I will share with you is that for the first five months of this year, we are signing up 30% more shareholders than the first five months of last year, pushing us up to over 7000 active shareholders. We have more than 250 folks signed up in the Food for All program, active shareholders all. So our place in our community is real, and speaks to the values that our townspeople hold dear.
So, let’s open our ears, and our hearts, and be sure that we are doing what we can to make life even more special to our neighbors and friends. I believe that our farmers and producers deserve that we prioritize them in our purchases. I believe that our shareholders deserve that we work very hard to provide items of very high value, whether in quality or in price, and I believe that our staff deserve our respect and thanks for jobs well done. I also believe that now, more than ever, we need to link with other organizations in our communities and with cooperatives across the country and the world, to bring ourselves closer together, to ultimately better our collective situation. And in light of this, we appreciate our staff members, shareholders, and neighbors who have heeded the call to stand with the indigenous people near Standing Rock on our behalf, in peaceful community contemplation.
As we begin this new year, we will be engaging you and our community collaborators to emphasize our collective potential to reach out to more and more people who are feeling neglected and unheard. We will be seeking new ways to connect, and to facilitate connections. We will also be buoyed by the knowledge that our Brattleboro Food Co-op is a long and beautiful expression of a different way to participate in our food system, that offers a local way to change our world, through one of the most basic needs that we have. And just to be sure that you hear us loud and clear in this endeavor we will be celebrating you, our shareholders, with a festive weekend January 14 and 15. We so appreciate you, our core community owners, and invite you to come in and celebrate all that we do together, while saving a little money and tasting some delicious morsels. And then, on Monday, in celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, we will be inviting some of our community partners to come and let you know how you can be more involved in our community’s needs.
Because, as you well know by now, our Co-op and our community is stronger together.