The Brattleboro Food Co-op Board of Directors kicked off the (almost) new year at our annual retreat, this time online. We spent a Saturday morning in December building cohesion, trust, and effectiveness as a group. As the newest Board member Steffen Gillom said, “It was impactful, and I’m looking forward to getting to know the other Board members.” Other participating Board members included President Jerelyn Wilson, Judy Fink, Beth Neher, Joe Giancarlo, Denise Glover, Mark Adams, and myself, Tamara Stenn.
Led by Columinate* consultant Thane Joyal, we gathered around our zooms, screens on, sipping coffees prepared at home. Working together and in small groups, we studied Servant Leadership, reviewed board governance, and explored the Co-op’s “Ends Policy,” the guiding principles of the BFC. In Servant Leadership, we learned that our primary goal as board members was to serve and support Co-op members and the general manager by using Servant Leadership principles. These included listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, and a commitment to people and community growth.
Judy noticed that throughout the retreat, “There was deep thinking, (with) everyone respectful and willing to challenge who we are and where we should go.” She found the experience to be “both calm and energizing.” Joe had similar sentiments noting that, “We made good progress towards building our shared understanding of our priorities.” Jerelyn enjoyed our “Getting comfortable with each other.” And Denise appreciated that we were “Refining our goals as a Board, coming together as a new Board, (and) aligning our purpose for the upcoming Board year.”
We were aligning with some of the purposes, making sure that we had a balanced Board that reflected the Co-op community and the larger local community. Thane echoed this, explaining that retail food co-ops were both leaders and foundational building blocks of the food system. She reminded us that it’s remarkable what can be done with a grocery store to transform the community and that retail co-ops were a hotbed of learning. We recognized the Co-op’s role in being part of a food hub in times of food insecurity, our position to support local farmers, and our responsibility to continue to bring more diversity to our products and prices.
We explored how we can go down the road together with different needs and methods and still arrive at the same place. As a Board, we asked what that meant for us and how others saw us. Using a “Wizard of Oz” analogy, we wondered if others saw the Board as the “guy behind the screen” and noticed how things got better when the Wiz stepped out from behind his screen. We are committed to expressing what we’re trying to do more openly, so others can join us on the same journey. We welcome you to attend meetings, talk to us, get involved, and continue to give feedback. In return, we will respond with transparency and gratitude.
When filling Board positions, we noted that there needs to be a range of age, skills, experience, a variation in personality types, and people with different kinds of connections to the community. When our first Board action came to play in January, and we had an open Board to seat to fill, we applied these learnings.
We approached the annual meeting as a slam dunk – a time to get to know each other, our mission, goals, needs – and think we scored! The Board looks forward to continuing to tap the networks of our networks and take opportunities to lean into our values, be intentional and grow access and inclusion all of the way to the periphery of the community we’re trying to represent. We are committed to steward and convey not just what we need but also to what we aspire. We welcome you to join us in this commitment.
* Columinate is a national cooperative of consultants who work with organizations like the BFC to share strategies, tools, and skills that help organizations build and empower the community for the common good.
By: Tamara Stenn