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.
Each month, Co-op employees nominate colleagues they want to honor, and a committee comes together to vote on a winner. This month Sam, a cook and baker in our Commissary Kitchen, was selected. As her colleagues stated: “Sam has been such as asset to our department. She is extremely flexible working in the kitchen and on the Deli line filling in/covering shifts. This is very much appreciated.”
A few weeks ago I was faced with a tough decision while in the produce department. The conventional red bell peppers looked “perfect”: they were big, symmetrical and a deep, bright red. On that day, the organic peppers that I normally buy were a funny shape and dark red and green. I happily snapped up some conventional reds and headed home. To my dismay, when I got my peppers home and cut them up, I found my “perfect” peppers to be watery and lacking in flavor compared to the organic peppers I am used to.
Editor’s note: This March we successfully completed our first Annual Vermont Cheese Madness event. A delicious 32 Vermont cheeses from 26 different cheesemakers were sampled throughout the month. We presented eight categories for the bracket: cheddar, gouda, bloomy, blue, washed, alpine, tomme, and goat. Each day we offered two cheeses for customers and staff to sample and then vote The prize: a feature as our June Producer of the Month. On March 31st, Jasper Hill Farm’s Alpha Tolman was declared the overall winner. And so, Cheese manager Joe and Marketing manager Jon visited Jasper Hill last month to bring you this feature article. Enjoy, and thanks to all who voted!
Co-op shareholders, especially the ones who have been around since the very beginning of our Co-op in the mid-70s, are no strangers to reducing their use of packaging. In those buying club days, breaking down large quantities of grains, rice, produce, and cheese, we were focused on access to non-conventional foods in bushel boxes and fifty-pound bags. But even then, we sometimes broke things down into plastic bags.
I always find it interesting when hippies become entrepreneurs. Not that Allie Dercoli, owner and operator of FinAllie Ferments, is necessarily a hippie…she’s more like a combination of itinerant farmer, artist, electrician, teacher, and finally, chef, with a refined palate, innate resourcefulness, and a penchant for smelly stuff – which is an important attribute for someone devoted to crafting this delightfully pungent food. When she settled in Vermont in 2014, she wasn’t looking to start a business—she was looking for sustainable community and farming. FinAllie Ferments is simply the result of meeting the demand that naturally arose from her delicious supply of amazing kimchi and kraut.
I recently attended the Neighboring Food Co-ops’ Association annual meeting, and was captivated by the keynote speaker, Ruth Tyson, who is the Coalitions Coordinator for the Food and Environment program of the Union of Concerned Scientists. She was able to draw some very clear pictures of our agricultural food system and its prejudice. Ms. Tyson highlighted three relevant themes: Just, Equitable, and Sustainable. Finally, it seems we are beginning to connect the lines between food sustainability and social justice, and to illustrate this to a larger audience than before, as the results of consolidation and government misdirection become sadly obvious to most anyone who is paying attention. Her main takeaways for us were these:
Peter and Virginia Vogel founded Back Roads Granola with the goal of creating the best granola you have ever tasted. They have been entrepreneurs in one form or another for much of their lives, and in many ways their success story starts with Virginia and Peter’s skills: Virginia’s business savvy and sales and marketing experience, combined with her commitment to impeccable customer service, has led their strategy, branding, and sales approach; she and her team build relationships with every one of their current buyers, and are quick to respond on every level to satisfy their customer base.
Sustainability. The capacity to endure without contributing to wanton depletion. Economically, socially, culturally, and ecologically, we at your Co-op are charged with positive contributions to the longevity of our community. Specifically, I interpret this to mean that we provide the goods and services that are needed in the local community, and we operate a fiscally sound business in order to contribute to the local economy. A tall order, to be sure. For two years now, we have been able to make a profit, although that profit is well under 1% of sales. Still, being on the right side of that zero is part of our charge.
End 1: The BFC exists to meet its Shareholders’ collective needs for reasonably priced food and products with an emphasis on healthy, locally grown organic and fairly traded foods.
One of the most common shopper concerns board directors hear when we table is the cost of items at our Co-op. Some people, however, have discovered ways to shop at the Co-op without experiencing sticker shock. Whenever I talk with someone who has budget concerns, I recommend they get information about the Co-op’s growing Food For All program. If our conversation lasts a little longer, I share some shopping tips with them. I also talk with those whom I see frequently about buying strategies, recipes, better options, or I make recommendations about what to buy.
Cheese can be included as part of a healthy diet, and since it is so much a part of the local food scene here in Vermont, it must be recognized and appreciated. Vermont has the largest number of artisan cheesemakers per capita in the U.S., and many of these locally produced cheeses are sold at the Co-op. Unlike mass-produced cheese, artisan cheese is made in small quantities, by hand, from fresh, locally available milk from a variety of animals that include Vermont cows, sheep, goats, and buffalo.