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GM Report: Connection, Co-op Style PDF Print E-mail

March 2017
by Sabine Rhyne, General Manager

It’s unfortunate, but often we don’t value what we have until it’s gone. We have at times in our larger co-op history witnessed ourselves taking the very existence of our co-ops for granted. After all, the Brattleboro Food Co-op and others of its relative age have now been around long enough that the youth of Generation Z (born in the late ‘90s and beyond) and millennials (born largely between 1980 and 2000) have always known it to exist. And to those young people, especially those commonly called Gen Z-ers, they seek more radical ways to upend the system, believing that brick-and-mortar stores are, well, “passé.” Well, perhaps they seem so on the surface. But still, we offer a much more interactive way to engage with the food system than any other food store that operates out of a building. And we provide an important space for our community and our staff: a solid place to work, shop, and meet.

Let’s remember that there is no more radical way to own a business than with thousands of other community members, all with an equal voice. And in this current environment of seeking connection, your opinion and voice have more weight than in any other food store, with the exception of other sister co-ops nearby. 

We’ve been telling you about our Waste Stream Task Force discussions over the last six months, and in this issue Beth Neher, our Board President, weighs in on some of that as well. We are now at the point when we are focusing on one particular way to reduce waste: shopping in the Bulk department. Over the years we have observed a shift to convenience packaging, despite the waste-stream benefits of shopping bulk. Over time, we have noticed a lag in sales in our Bulk department, even as people are looking for better prices, and this is frankly befuddling. Recently, I was having a conversation with some of our shareholder lenders, and we spent some time talking about this phenomenon. Many of them are longtime bulk shoppers, and they had some great ideas for us to consider. We would like to invite you to come and participate in a conversation about our Bulk department. If you are able, we’d like you to come either as a bulk enthusiast, or as someone not comfortable shopping bulk. We have ideas about some things to try, and are actively working on them; but we think there are more interesting conversations to be had, and we invite you to come and lend your voice to our research. We’ll be doing this on Wednesday, March 22, at 5 pm in our Community Room. 

Recently, I had a conversation with a shareholder who has been a fixture in our café criticizing the Co-op for the extravagant way that our vestibule doors open, letting heat out into the winter temperatures outside when people simply walk by our doors. We did some research about this, and ascertained that the heat in the vestibule is indeed heated by waste heat from our compressors. Nonetheless, we also planned to ask our door maintenance folks to adjust the opening when they came to do quarterly service on the doors, which was done at the end of January. I mention this because we were asked to resolve the situation by a signed petition literally 24 hours before the repairman arrived to adjust the doors. We really do listen, and we really do take action when we can do so. Sometimes we can’t fix things that require more resources than we have available, and sometimes we decide to accept the input, but not to change a practice, due to other reasons or policies. But your voice is indeed heard, and acted upon, unlike in many other places.

This is part of the need for connection, in my view. Our Co-op, with its long history, its large stature, and its high ideals, offers us so many ways to express ourselves and engage with each other. I can remember the wry discussions back in the day of needing to wear a button when shopping at the Co-op when one was in a hurry: “Just Shopping Today,” or something to that effect. Because you ran into everyone you knew when you went to the Co-op, and felt the need to stop and catch up, or commiserate/exult about some recent event! I find that this has really never stopped—in fact recently I feel it’s happening more and more. We are a community hub, we have lots of different folks shopping and working here, and somehow, we continue to knit ourselves together in this amazing way, especially when our world is shaken up beyond expectations. 

I want to share with you one more recent observation. Over a year and a half ago, we began a quarterly series of three-day staff orientations to more fully introduce our staff to our store, its departments, the cooperative movement, and much more. One segment that we introduced was an hour devoted to diversity and inclusion among ourselves as staff people, but also with all the customers who come into our store. With a nudge from a short and wonderful video with Jay Smooth, talking about how to have conversations about race, we usually have an amazing discussion among the 6 to 10 people in the room about their shared experiences and what we do, or could do better, to be open and learn from each other without falling into old pitfalls and patterns. This is just the beginning of a plan to address how inclusive our organization could be, but I have come away from each of these conversations with a renewed respect and fondness for so many of the people that I have the pleasure to work alongside. Only when we create a space for safe connection do we experience the richness that we can gain from each other. May our Co-op continue to provide this connection, however it is needed.