Last year I wrote my first Co-op article on the topic of a welcoming community. To recap: In that article I spoke about my move to Brattleboro. It was a difficult time in my life, and I was seeking ways to make connections and find affiliation. One of my first decisions was to become a shareholder at the Co-op. I learned I could receive a discount by working two hours a month. Still groping to find my way I worked on average ten hours a week! I didn’t have other commitments and The Co-op was my “go to” place; I developed cordial relationships with Co-op employees, especially with those working the front end. I not only received a discount for my Co-op shopping, I also began to find the connection and affiliation I was seeking. Now I am a Co-op Board Member!
People initially come into cooperatives for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, they come looking for health reasons. Typically, a conversation with a health provider engenders a search for a supplement, a food replacement, a lifestyle change. In some towns, this may only go as far as a visit to a national chain that sells mostly supplements and has little customer service. We don’t have any of those types of stores nearby, so the Brattleboro Food Co-op is frequently the go-to place for this discovery process.
Here at the Brattleboro Food Co-op autumn brings reflection. Reflection on how fortunate we are to work at a responsible and community-owned business. To provide deep gratitude to our earth for the bounty of food that we receive and sell each and every day. These times of gratitude are ever-present when we take trips across New England to visit our local farmers, producers, and purveyors. This time around it took Jon in Marketing and Phil in Meat/Seafood to Misty Knoll Farms in New Haven, VT. The fall colors were beginning to boom as they drove highway and back roads to the farm. Every turn greeted them with a new field, farm, barn, or gorgeous pasture with animals and crops. It is a delightful ride that reminds you of how abundant agriculture is in Vermont. Upon arrival Rob Litch of Misty Knoll Farms was the tour guide to share about the history, practices, and philosophy that he and his partner John Palmer take in humanely raising turkeys and chickens.
As of this writing, I have completed nine months of BFC Board service. A couple of months ago, I became chair of the Shareholder Engagement Committee. The Shareholder Engagement Committee, which includes Mary Bene and Tamara Stenn, meets monthly between regularly scheduled Board meetings. Often Sabine Rhyne, the BFC GM, and Jon Megas-Russell, head of Marketing and Shareholder Services, join our meetings and we discuss how we can be supportive of, and responsive to, the General Manager’s efforts and initiatives. Our meeting notes are part of monthly Board packets, are included in the agenda and are discussed at the full Board at each meeting.
Even though I’ve heard the mantra about October being Co-op Month for 35 years, and even though there is some absurdity around celebrating important concepts—or even entire cultures—for a month or a day, the act of acknowledging things that often get taken for granted or ignored can be productive. (We all know that, especially in the age of tweets, human beings now have the attention span of a flea, and this mechanism is one way to remind ourselves about things that are important and relevant.)
Approximately 80% of open land in Vermont is managed by dairy farmers which are predominantly small family owned farms. Leon, Linda and Abbie Corse manage 375 acres in Whitingham and Wilmington, VT with many of those acres being open pasture for their cows. They are the 5th and 6th generation in their family to operate this dairy farm. This family is tremendously important to our region as dairy farming in Vermont protects and maintains our precious open land that otherwise would grow to forest or be turned into real estate. Additionally, it is a robust economic driver largely due to their large scale purchasing of farm supplies from machinery to building materials to grain. The Corse Farm Dairy became certified organic through Vermont Organic Farmers in 2008 and began shipping milk to CROPP cooperative/Organic Valley since then; they are among the 2,000 or so farmers nationally that own the cooperative. A purchase of an Organic Valley product is a purchase for the Corse family. Organic Valley functions within a deeply regionalized product system; when you purchase Organic Valley fluid milk you are buying their product. Without their transition to organic and to farmer-owners of Organic Valley, the Corses have no doubt their farm would have gone out of business. October is National Co-op Month and we are proud as a food co-op to share one family story of dairy farming and how the cooperative model has supported their continued success.
Writing the September Food For Thought article by the end of the first week of August feels odd. I feel like summertime with all that means and involves is slipping away and soon it will be time for people to return from their holiday and for school to start. This summer seems to be going quickly.
Stonewall Farm is a historic farm located in Keene, NH. It was founded over 300 years ago and has been a working dairy farm for over 200 years. In recent years it has evolved into a nonprofit working organic dairy and crop farm supported by philanthropic donations. From protecting pollinators, to growing organic food, to implementing amazing methods of regenerative agriculture, they are focusing on mitigating the effects of climate change. Stonewall Farm offers the southeast corner of New England farm education programs for adults and children, organic dairy products, a gorgeous event venue, and fresh fruits and vegetables that are sold at local retailers such as our Brattleboro Food Co-op. With a team of six full-time staff and a board of directors, they are blazing a trail within our region.
As we continue to work towards the complex improvement of our downtown, I continue to think deeply about the rather wide-ranging views of what both compassion and reasonable accountability look and feel like. No doubt like you, I contemplate this on a personal level, on an organizational level, and on a community level.
A few years ago, I accepted a part time job running a fledgling program. It seemed perfect! I was committed to the mission, liked the hours, and was intrigued by the opportunity to build something from the ground up. Eighteen months later, the program was operating seven days a week, I was working full time with two staff, and the program was growing explosively. I jokingly told people I was the victim of my own success.
We recently honored the passing of a co-op hero—a quiet, tireless, inspiring fellow by the name of Bill Gessner from Minnesota. Bill did a lot of work for many co-ops considering expansion, believing that co-ops needed to grow and reproduce, as they are the best option we have to contribute to our communities through an empowering democratic economic model. Bill wrote a wonderful article printed in 2015 about the spirit of generosity as a foundational core value in cooperatives, which kept coming back to me last month as I struggled with the BFC budget.
Many of our shoppers have enjoyed Vermont Gelato for years but may not know that it has new owners. Mike and Jess Kull recently purchased the company in the fall of 2018. Since then they have worked hard to continue the consistency and delicious flavors one has come to expect over the years. Since acquiring Vermont Gelato they have taken pride in offering the finest gelato around while building on this wonderful product with new flavors and offerings, wider distribution, and a focus on customer service.