This October, Brattleboro Food Co-op is joining over 40,000 co-operatives and credit unions across the United States in celebrating Co-op Month, observed nationally since 1964. This year’s theme, “Co-ops: By the Community, For the Community,” was chosen by the National Cooperative Business Association to promote how co-operative enterprises enable people to work together to meet their needs and build stronger communities.
In recent conversations, I have referred multiple times to an article that I read last fall, and its conclusions never fail to surprise the listeners. In a Harvard Business Review article,1 Eddie Yoon observed some consumer trends over a fifteen-year period, which have direct impact on how the grocery industry interacts with its customers—or rather, how the customers interact with the industry.
At the turn of the millennium, the leadership of our Co-op, both on the board and on the management team, worked on understanding where our business could make changes in order to not only reduce its footprint, but actually to work towards becoming “a regenerative business that has a net positive environmental impact.” This became our fourth Ends policy. We have reported on the sales of local products in our store, which—due to how much of it we sell—clearly has some effect on our overall impact. These products clearly burn
Ok, it’s no secret — I hope, anyway — that I’m a realtor, have been for the last 15 years. I often get to entertain people from out of our area who are considering living in and/or around Brattleboro; it’s actually fun to be a tour guide, as I get to talk up my favorite everythings of life up here in what many, maybe most, consider to be “the boonies.” I show people our wonderful array of restaurants, stop at the New England Youth Theatre if the buyers have kids, wave to and talk about New England Center for the Circus Arts, cruise the neighborhoods, give interested parents a view of the schools, point out the Farmer’s Market, expound on the Literary Festival weekend, wow people with the Harris Hill ski jump, and show off Sam’s, and the Latchis Theatre with its great range of movies, Art Deco styling and real butter on the popcorn, if you want it. My real favorite, big surprise, is talking to these potential newbies about the Brattleboro Food Co-op. Honest! Why?
I joined the Co-op board three years ago with a desire to understand where all my money was going—to put my mouth where my money is, in a reversal of the popular expression. I found in the Co-op management—and on the board—a remarkable transparency, a deep love for community, many new relationships, and an expansion of what a friend recently described as “radical tact.”
For some of us, fall brings sports events worth watching, along with harvests and leaves. I too enjoy a few hours spent watching amazing athletes banding together in pursuit of championships. That’s why I happened to see a TV commercial for a very large national chain touting its support of nutrition in the school system, through the employ of chefs and the education of providers in the benefits of good, healthy eating for our youth.
I received a wide spectrum of comments on last month’s column. Some were shocked—they had no idea how much we have been swept into the struggles that confront so many in our town. Others, who are more aware of this, were largely positive about shining a light on the situation. I take heart in the mostly positive reactions, and hope that you who have read this and thought more deeply about it share