Hi everyone, I’m Grace, a voice that you have not yet heard in the monthly Food for Thought Board of Directors column. I’m new to the Board, relatively new to Brattleboro, and… while it pains me to say it… new to the world of food co-ops. I thought sharing my story of how I got on the Board might resonate with some of you and inspire you to come to a Board meeting and maybe even run for the Board of Directors yourselves.
When I came to Brattleboro, I had many unsavory opinions about food co-ops: They were for rich people. They cared not for the lives of those who were economically and socially disadvantaged in their communities. People there would guilt trip me for my love of Doritos and gummy worms. They thought they were better than me.
When I first came to Brattleboro I didn’t have a car, only a bike, and my thighs were not yet accustomed to the rolling hills of Vermont (I hail from the Midwest… a flatlander and proud of it!). So, I decided to buy a membership to the food co-op, since it was the downtown grocery option.
Also, I loved the store. It was warm, intimate, and colorful. The aesthetics of where I was shopping and how they impacted my body, mind, and soul have never happened to me before… I wondered what else inspired this feeling of goodness I got while strolling down the aisles.
My new roommate, Mary Bené, turned out to be on the Board of the Co-op. Through discussions with her, I began to realize what the Co-op really means, and what good food really means. It means that you are being loving to your body by giving it the nutrients it needs. It means being loving towards those in your community that grow and sell food by sharing your resources with them, as they do with us. It means being loving to the Earth by supporting environmentally conscious methods of food making.
Having been committed to the work of advocating for the rights of those marginalized and oppressed as well as seeking means for collective liberation, I began to reckon with the power of the food co-op, and to reckon with the power I had when it came to buying food for myself.
Food co-ops advance many of the causes I believe in, but had somehow turned into a monster in my brain… I now wondered why I had ever focused on the perceived evils of the food co-op. When my roommate asked me if I was willing to run for the Board, I said yes, wanting to dive deeper into this new awakening to see if I could spread the good word to others too.
Shortly after I submitted my application for election to the Board, I attended the Annual Meeting. For those who haven’t heard or didn’t attend, the public discussion section of the Annual Meeting focused on an instance in which a staff member had accused a Black woman of stealing, and also the general feeling that Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color were not only not welcomed in the store, but being watched and targeted. I was deeply disturbed and definitely shocked, in the way I always am when my bubble of whiteness and privilege has popped and I am face to face with reality. I had been duped by good food and good feelings!
But, I was already in. My name was on the ballot. I now held the tension of my support, admiration, and respect for the Co-op and the realization that a lot of work needed to be done too.
Through working through the issues of whiteness and discrimination and discussing how we can promote equity, diversity, and inclusion during our Board meetings, Board retreat, and other committee meetings, I’ve been realizing again and again the strength and resilience of our food co-op. While the issues of racism, economic inequality, and environmental disregard and devastation run deep in our society, the Co-op’s structure and values lend it the flexibility it needs to adapt to an evolving community and to be held accountable to being a truly equitable, diverse, and inclusive organization. For instance, the work being done to put food options on the shelves that are economically priced has been a joy to behold. I even spotted my beloved Doritos amongst the Deep River Chips while shopping the other day!
If you are committed to ensuring our co-op is a space where all community members have access to good food (food that is loving towards ourselves, our communities, and our planet), I highly encourage you to run for the Board. Board members provide the guidance that can change the Co-op’s priorities, goals, and visions are, and hold the Co-op accountable for meeting the needs of shareholders and community members.
I’m so grateful for all of the learning and transformation I’ve been doing while serving on the Board of Directors, and I hope that my tale has encouraged you to get involved with the Board by joining us at a meeting or becoming a director yourself! Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or Mary at email@example.com for more info.
By Grace Koch