Take a few minutes to enjoy this interview with Sabine Rhyne, General Manager of the Brattleboro Food Co-op.
Flex and Reflex
Thinking about the last few months, it continues to amaze me how much change we have needed to absorb, and how much change will remain a part of all of our lives. Here at the Co-op, we all feel this personally—in about 150 different ways—and together as an organization. And yet, we are required to proceed, more or less, on a schedule that still needs attention. So we do our best, while having little idea of how things are going to develop or devolve.
As promised, we continue to adjust with the times, as restrictions are eased and needs change. We appreciate you following along and adjusting your own habits as we modify our hours, our department offerings, and more. It is hard to continually adapt ourselves to new situations, but that is part of what we need to do in this most unusual time.
You have no doubt heard a lot about the “essential workers,” which include your crew of Brattleboro Food Co-op staff, managers and workers alike, working hard to bring you food in a safer manner.
Fear has been on my mind lately. You’d think, after living several (some might say many) decades in this society, that I would not be surprised at the centrality of fear to our human reactions and decisions. In my continuing education about white supremacy and my privileged existence, the constant drumbeat of fear in the appallingly consistent steps that we have taken against populations of color is overwhelming. What in the world are we so afraid of?
It’s primary election season, with all of the attendant nervousness, activity, and exhaustion that this calls up for us, especially those who are active and working hard to get out the vote. This democracy has had more than its share of events and processes that have called into question the agency we have—or don’t—upon our form of government.
This time of year, we begin to work on our planning documents, from three-year plans to the more specific and detailed annual business plan that we prepare for the start of our fiscal year in July. As part of these annual rhythms, we assess trends in the industry, thinking about how our Co-op will fall in line or buck trends. As an engaged Co-op shareholder, it stands to reason that you would be interested in this information as well.
Despite it being January, it’s hard to know where to start, when we are looking at new beginnings throughout our lives. First and foremost, I want to express the thinking I’ve been doing since the week of the Annual Meeting, including the community conversation in which many of us took part. The most overarching emotion to convey is gratitude. Gratitude to the aggrieved parties who took the forum offered to shareholders to bring up concerns to the organization and to quite openly expose their hurt and dismay at the various transgressions we have made, the microaggressions we have perpetrated on people of color. Although our Co-op is an open and forward-thinking organization, we reflect the society we occupy, with all of its faults and challenges. So many of us have incorporated unconscious bias in our lives since we were small, since our great-greats were small, that we are terribly blind to the effects of our words and actions.
Every year, you may remember, I report to the Board of Directors how successful we have been in improving our performance related to our Ends policies. These policies are the “ends” that inspire the “means,” and we constantly evaluate and rededicate our decisions in light of those important concepts.
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.
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.)
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.