Beth Neher is nearing the end of her time as a Director on the Brattleboro Food Co-op Board. Our BFC by-laws allow a director to serve 3 consecutive terms, and then they have to step down. During her 3 terms, 9 years, Beth became the Board president and worked closely with our General Manager, as well as ran the Board meetings, worked with the other Directors to govern the Co-op; it’s a labor- and thought-intensive role, and Beth took it very seriously.
When did you become a member of the Co-op?
I became a shareholder in 2004 (or was it early 2005?). My career has been in education, writ somewhat large: I’m a teacher of English as both a Foreign and Second Language, and I have been a teacher trainer and educator in TESOL since 1990. I moved here from London, England to work at World Learning/SIT, and then worked as faculty and staff in the Marlboro College Graduate and Professional Studies until the closure of the graduate school MA TESOL program.
When I arrived in Brattleboro, I was clear about wanting to shop at a grocery store that reflected some of my core values: to shop in a store where I would be able to connect with people and where, as much as possible I could buy organic, fairly- traded and locally-produced foods. I have chosen not to become a consumer of mainstream agri-business products because it is not an aspect of life here – or anywhere I have lived – that I support for a number of reasons, chief amongst them the destructive, inhumane and profit-driven nature of agri-business. The Co-op has also felt more ‘human’ than other grocery stores, a place where I could interact with staff and other shoppers and over time build relationships with people with whom I seemed to share some of my values. Indeed, I found many such people at the Co-op. In several instances, I believe I have made friendships and built relationships that will stand the tests of time and change. It is still the only grocery store where I shop, and the Brattleboro Food Co-op is the only co-op in the area of which I am currently a shareholder.
What drew you to serve on the Brattleboro Food Co-op Board of Directors?
I ran for a seat on the Board 9 years ago in November. I ran because I wanted to contribute to a retail organization founded on co-operative shared values and principles in a more committed and meaningful way than being a working shareholder allowed me, especially as the BFC moved through the tremendous changes of a new building, unionization and, early on in my board serve, a new GM. I also ran because I was curious and open to learning – and a very good thing that I was! It was immediately evident how much there was for me to learn at the board meeting I attended before running as a candidate. I’m now completing the maximum 3 terms on the Board – 9 years, and as our Bylaws mandate, I will be stepping off the board in November. What I have liked most about my time on the board is that I have continued to learn from other board members, prospective board members, and shareholders and who engage with the present and future of the organization and my own missteps and mistakes: I have learned a lot about co-operative board work and what it involves; about board leadership; and about the community of shareholders, shoppers and staff here. I have continued to be challenged: There is certainly no place for complacency, or an immutable, single viewpoint, in the work of being on the board. And I remain curious, and ultimately hopeful, about the future of our Co-op as we move into another period of transition.
What will you do after leaving the Board?
Stepping down from the board does not mean my commitment to the Co-op will end. I will continue to be a working shareholder; for now, I will continue my work as an educational consultant with the training wing of a construction labor union on a large curriculum project and hope to be able to work face-to-face with instructors who deliver the curricula next year at the annual instructors’ conference. There is always work to do around the house and in the garden, projects on which it will be incredibly satisfying to make significant progress; and there is family and time to spend with them! Last, and certainly not least, there is more I am curious about and want to learn – so much more learning to do. And I intend to continue to make my own very small contribution to a world I wish to see more of: the work of those who choose to pursue small-scale regenerative farming intentionally, thoughtfully and respectfully; small-scale, local businesses creating locally relevant products that are curiosity- and passion-driven; and community.