Perhaps a little of my personal history is in order as I begin my first year as the new Board president. I’m a baby boomer in my mid-sixties who moved to the Brattleboro area as a 29-year old. I’d just completed four years of teaching at a Waldorf school in New York City. Having grown up in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, this area geographically felt very much like home. Joining the Brattleboro Food Co-op was one of the very first things I did upon moving here in 1983 – quality food and a sense of community being my big motivators. (It was in college at the University of Maryland where I shopped at my very first co-op.) Soon with a baby and a toddler I spent a fair amount of time in the kids room at the Co-op when it was on Flat St. I also volunteered as editor of the first regular Food For Thought newsletter, a role I enjoyed for about 10 years.
This is actually the second time I’ve been on the Board. Back in 1999 I served for 6 years when my girls were in elementary and middle school. That was when the Co-op was being lured out to Putney Road in the old Grand Union space – interesting times that led us to commit to being a downtown anchor and purchasing the plaza which we’ve since deconstructed in order to build our new store.
In November 2015, I stepped forward again and was elected to the Board. Despite my active and varied engagement with the majority of the Co-op’s 45-year history, stepping into the role of Board President is not something I take lightly. Key to our Co-op’s future is board leadership and strategic guidance. As an organization, we are at a bit of a crossroads on a number of accounts. And, the environment we operate in—both locally and retail-wise—has evolved over the last decades. Although our core cooperative values can and should remain, the manner in which we reflect them must be responsive to our membership and the community in which we live. With thoughtfulness, curiosity and vigor, the Board will wrestle with these issues – and we will look for your participation, input and perspectives.
I feel so fortunate to live in an area with a grocery store—a mainstay of my life, since I can’t live off the 250 pounds of butternut squash I grew this year—that is fundamentally different from other retail grocery stores by virtue of it being a cooperative. For the 36 years I’ve been a member of the Co-op I’ve always had the feeling that a cooperative is a good thing; that a cooperative reflects the values I hold. Well, now I’m really digging into that. What exactly is it about being a cooperative that reflects my core values? Beyond quality food, what is it that inspires me to fulfill my responsibilities as a BFC shareholder with enthusiasm and a generous spirit?
The International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) is the global steward of the Statement on the Cooperative Identity – the Values and Principles of the cooperative movement of which the Brattleboro Food Co-op is a part. I found a lot that resonates with me in their 2015 Guidance Notes to the Co-operative Principles. Check out the sidebar and see if you feel similarly.
At a time when our Brattleboro Food Cooperative is facing financial challenges, is challenged daily by the negative social outcomes of the economic inequities of our society, I have to dig deeper into what it means to be a cooperative to know what I already feel in my heart of hearts: that this is more than a grocery store, more than a place where I buy my organic carrots and bulk oats. This organization is a significant player in creating the world I want to live in; a world that is equitable, resilient and enhances the well-being of everyone. The Brattleboro Food Cooperative gives us an opportunity to make that happen. Let’s all lean in and actively participate as shareholders and shoppers in building positive community!
2015 Guidance Notes to the Co-operative Principles: A Sampling
“…our Co-operative founders wanted to achieve much more than just establishing and operating successful business enterprises. They were concerned for social justice and were motivated by a passion to help transform the lives of those whose social, economic and cultural needs they had the vision to seek to meet through a jointly-owned and democratically controlled enterprise.”
“A key distinguishing feature is that co-operatives create wealth for the many members of co-operatives…., not solely for the few who are rich enough to invest capital in investor-owned enterprises. Co-operatives help counterbalance the massive growth of inequality between the world’s rich and poor…..”
“…the identity of members democratically in control of a co-operative is an organizational trait that differentiates co-operatives from shareholder-owned and/or joint-stock investor-owned companies where customers, investors, workers and managers are separate and distinct. Co-operatives are user-driven organizations established by, owned by and operating to meet their members’ common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations.”
“…open membership to all persons implies that there should not be a high threshold to become a member. Generally a member’s share in a consumer co-operative is set at a nominal rate…”
“Many commercial enterprises imitate membership by inviting customers to join wholesale clubs, commercial loyalty schemes, frequent flyer programs, or club card schemes….. Membership of a co-operative is fundamentally different to these arrangements, which are no more than marketing tools that do not grant ‘members’ rights of ownership….”
“…the duties and commitments required of co-operative members vary from co-operative to co-operative, but they include exercising voting rights, participating in meetings, using the co-operative’s services…..”
“Our values are immutable, but the application of our Co-operative Principles require constant re-appraisal in light of economic, social, cultural, environmental, and political change and challenge.”
By Jerelyn Wilson