March 2020

A Fine Balance

I have had the pleasure of serving as the Middlebury Natural Food Co-op (Co-op) Board Treasurer for the past four years. For me, this time of year always includes working with Glenn Lower (GM) and Steve Koch (Finance Manager) to develop the annual budget for the next fiscal year. The Co-op is no longer a buying club nor a mom & pop operation. It is a robust and thriving food cooperative that employs 115 staff members and serves 5,500 member-owners. I mention this because our Co-op has grown and evolved in the past 40 years into a complex organization.

Building an annual budget is a bit like putting a puzzle together. In the case of the Co-op, the process starts with projecting annual sales for the next fiscal year. Think of annual sales as the frame, or border, of the puzzle and the remaining puzzle pieces as all the competing needs and priorities that must be considered, sorted by color to make up the interior of the puzzle. Believe it or not, there is an art to building a realistic and financially sustainable budget!  It requires looking at past performance, current trends, and imagining a desired future state.

            The Co-op’s annual budget process is guided and informed by our Mission and End Statements:

Mission Statement:

The Middlebury Natural Foods Cooperative is a democratic, member-owned cooperative committed to providing healthy, competitively priced foods; encouraging ecologically sound and healthful patterns of production and consumption; and responding to members’ needs accordingly.

 Ends Statement:

Our cooperative exists so that Co-op member-owners, customers, and the community benefit from:

  • Healthy Foods
  • Vibrant Local Economy
  • Environmentally Sustainable and Energy Efficient Practices
  • Co-operative Democratic Ownership
  • Learning About These Values

The “Ends” guide day-to-day operations, inform decision making and serve as a constant reminder of the purpose of our cooperative. The Ends represent our cooperative values. As you can imagine, there are many competing priorities to consider and balance as we create a budget that aligns with our mission and values and is financially sustainable.

The Co-op strives to provide the fairest possible prices to customers and at the same time provide fair compensation to employees and fair prices to farmers/producers. During the past year, there has been a lot of discussion about the minimum wage on a local, state, and national level. The Co-op has followed this public conversation and recently committed to bringing the lowest-paid positions up to $15/hour by March 31, 2021. This decision was made thoughtfully and took into consideration the current and long-term impact on the budget. This is one example of the thought and consideration that goes into building a budget that reflects the Co-op’s commitment to staff and a vibrant local economy.

I will close with a simple graphic depiction that Glenn often shares at the annual meeting. Imagine $1 in sales and how it is sliced up by big expense categories.

         

As you can see, 65 cents of every dollar go toward paying fair prices to farmers/ producers and 22 cents provides fair compensation (wages & benefits) to employees. The remaining 11-12 cents cover other operating expenses (administration, physical plant, promotions, governance, taxes, loan interest, Patronage dividend) leaving a small net profit (1-2 cents of each dollar). The net profit is saved for reinvesting in the future community co-op.

Managing and operating within a financially sustainable budget is a bit like walking a tight rope. It requires focus, foresight, and commitment to balancing all the demands of running a business while embracing our Co-op mission and values.  

Lynn Dunton is a Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board Member

Spotlight on Butterworks Farm

Butterworks Farm is basking in the glow of the Member Deals Spotlight this week and all of their local, organic, grass-fed dairy products are 20% off for member-owners from March 26th – April 1st. Read on to learn more about this local farm worked by three generations of the Lazor Family over forty–six years to bring you high-quality products with a deep emphasis on regenerative practices that promote soil building, carbon sinking, water retention, and biodiversity:

Over forty years ago, Jack and Anne Lazor came to Westfield, VT fresh out of college with degrees in Agricultural History (Jack) and Anthropology (Anne). As long-time sustainable farmers and leaders in organic farming, they continue to play an important role in the dynamics and operations at Butterworks and beyond. Jack is a writer and frequent inspirational keynote speaker at organic farming conferences everywhere. He enjoys food, friends and pursuing his passions- sustainability and soil science. Anne keeps Jack and the farm running as Jack’s home dialysis technician and a caring presence for the entire team. She enjoys gardening, keeping chickens and ducks, the study of homeopathic medicine and upholds the homesteading spirit she and Jack started with 40 years ago. Their daughter Christine Lazor grew up at Butterworks and now has a family of her own. A deep love for the team, the farm, the animals, the products and the mountains keep her inspired as she and her family carry on the rich farming traditions that her parents began.

Their cows are a herd of very friendly and sometimes precocious Jerseys. Each has her own name and stanchion in the barn during milking. They choose Jerseys for their ability to produce milk on a  100% grass-fed diet. High fiber and mineral-rich grasses, legumes, and forages are available to the cows always in the lush, rotationally grazed pastures of summer and the sweet hay in the winter solar barn.

Their farming methods have evolved over the years. For the first forty years, they were grain growers and hay producers. Cereal crops such as oats, wheat, and barley, along with row crops like corn and soy fit neatly into their crop rotations with grasses and legumes. From the straw for the animals bedding to the grain the cows ate, everything was grown on the farm. Over the years, as their soil health and fertility increased, the quality of their forages improved until they realized that they could likely reduce the amount of grain that was being fed to the cows. By 2016, they had phased out grains completely and became a 100% grass-fed dairy, rotating the cows on fresh pasture every twelve hours.  

 

Jack Lazor shared on the Butterwork’s Farm blog that, “our transition to 100% grass-fed is well worth it.  Despite the fact that we will need more land and sharpened management skills to do this, we are very happy to promote more grass and less grain (and subsequently less tillage) on the land that we steward.  More grass means more fibrous root systems in the soil.  Less grain means less tillage and better soil health.  Less tillage means less burning of fossil fuels and less disturbance to the delicate balance of microorganisms in our soils.

“Our primary goal in farming is to take more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and through photosynthesis, lock it up in the Earth’s crust as humus and organic matter.  Higher carbon levels in the soil are the number one weapon that we as humans have to reduce and eliminate the effects of a changing climate.  We are excited to be trying something challenging and new.  Our farming practices were already focused on mineralization and soil health which has built a vibrant farm organism.  Our switch to 100% grass-fed dairying is taking us to new levels.  It is incredibly hard work, but so much fun and what we are learning we want to share with others in the process.”

 

Spotlight on Barbara’s

From March 19th – 25th our Member Deals Spotlight shines brightly on Barbara’s! During this promotion, member-owners can enjoy 20% off all of Barbara’s products, so it’s a great time to stock up and save! Read on to learn more about what makes Barbara’s shine:

At Barbara’s, they believe that being happy and healthy go hand-in-hand—which is why they’re passionate about bringing you the best tasting cereals and snacks. They believe in the goodness of whole grains and the healing power of laughter.

They believe that healthy food should be accessible to all because what we put in our bodies shapes how we feel, and how we show up in life.

At Barbara’s, they believe that few things are as meaningful as sharing food with someone you care about.

They believe in wholeheartedly putting their values into action, and that caring can change the world. They remain committed to bringing you only the most wholesome and simple ingredients and they encourage you to take a close look at what goes into their products. That’s why we list their ingredients on every box.

They believe in Non-GMO Project Verified and whole grain goodness. They know you’re concerned about GMOs, that’s why Barbara’s made a commitment to achieving the rigorous standards required to receive a Non-GMO Project Verified seal—consumers’ most recognized seal for GMO product alternatives.

They believe in transparency and enjoy making wholesome and nourishing food for you to share with your family. It’s their way of putting a little more care and kindness into the world. And they’re committed to providing honest answers to all your product, nutrition and ingredient questions—so you can make sure you are making the best choices for your family. Visit their webpage to check out their FAQs.

Barbara’s has been a long time proud supporter of Project Puffin and The National Audubon Society. Project Puffin dates back to 1973, when The National Audubon Society began to address the issue of a declining puffin population by restoring habitats throughout the Gulf of Maine. Project Puffin now has a seasonal staff of 50 people who work tirelessly on behalf of these beloved birds.

Spotlight on Lundberg Family Farms

This week, the Co-op Spotlight shines brightly on Lundberg Family Farms!  Member-Owners can enjoy 20% off their entire line of rice, rice chips, rice cakes, and risottos from March 12th – 18th! Read on to learn more about this family-owned company and their commitment to socially and environmentally responsible practices for more than 80 years:

Since the company was first founded by Nebraska natives Albert & Frances Lundberg in 1937, Lundberg Family Farms has remained a family-owned and operated company committed to producing the finest quality rice and rice products for your family, while respecting and sustaining the earth. Today, over 80 years later, the third and fourth generations carry on the family heritage by using eco-positive farming methods that produce wholesome, healthful rice and rice products while improving and protecting the environment for generations to come.

Founder Albert Lundberg, a survivor of the dust bowl, understood the importance of caring for the soil. He recognized that the dust bowl resulted from poor soil management and short-sighted farming techniques. With this in mind, the Lundberg’s made a choice to avoid growing typical conventional rice.  Their Certified Organic and Eco-Farmed rice is grown with a concern for the environment. They treat the soil, air, and water as important resources, respecting the delicate balances of nature. They are a proud participant of the Non-GMO Project, and positioned their company as an early leader in organic farming, energy conservation, use of renewable energy, providing safe and fair working conditions, and many other environmentally responsible and socially responsible practices.

Lundberg Family Farms was founded on the belief of “leaving the land better than you found it.” This belief originated on the farm and helped them become a leader in organic farming. Over time, this belief has been integrated into all operations, from growing rice to producing products. Sustainability is written into every job description. It is part of everyday work on the farm and in their facilities.

Lundberg Family Farms has been a TRUE Zero Waste Certified facility since 2016 and diverts 99.6% of their waste from landfills.

As they grow and expand, they will continue to implement energy conservation and renewable energy, waste reduction and resource efficiency, safe and fair working conditions, along with many other practices that are environmentally and socially responsible. Lundberg partners with the Sustainable Food Trade Association (SFTA), One Step Closer to an Organic and Sustainable Community (OSC2), and the Climate Collaborative (CC) to help reduce their climate impacts as an organization.

In March 2020 Lundberg will be launching a new recycling program for their flexible plastic packaging! This program will accept 8-ounce wild rice bags, 12-pound rice bags, rice cakes bags, rice cake films, rice chips, ready to heat pouches and plastic film from their risotto meals! They are working hard to get the program ready for you. In the meantime, they recommend stockpiling all of your Lundberg packaging so you can begin recycling on day one!! Click HERE to learn more about how this will work.

Answering your Questions About COVID-19 and the Co-op

PLEASE FOLLOW THIS LINK TO READ A LETTER FROM OUR GENERAL MANAGER ABOUT THE CO-OP AND COVID-19

Our members are rightly concerned about the Novel Coronavirus, now known as COVID-19, and have asked how the virus is affecting the Co-op. Here is a list of actions we are taking so far.  We will update this list as the situation changes:

  • As of Monday, June 15th, our store hours have returned to normal. We are open from 8 am – 7 pm daily. We are reserving the first hour of business for our most vulnerable community members. 
  • We are asking shoppers to please shop alone and limit shopping trips whenever possible.
  • Starting Sunday, July 5th we require all shoppers to wear a mask while visiting the Co-op. We have masks available for those who need one. 
  • Starting April 19, all Co-op Staff, per Vermont order, will wear masks in the store.
  • While gloves are not mandatory for shoppers, we do have them available for shoppers at our store entry. We also have hand sanitizing stations at the store entry and throughout the store. We strongly encourage you to use the sanitizer throughout your shopping trip.
  • Since March 1st, we have been matching all “round-ups” at the register for local food shelves, CVOEO and HOPE
  • On Saturday, 3/28, we installed protective plexiglass shields at our registers.
  • Starting Monday, 3/30, we will offer Temporary Emergency Online Ordering and Curbside Pickup from a limited menu for our most vulnerable shoppers.
  • Effective Friday, June 12th shoppers are welcome and encouraged to bring their reusable grocery bags. We ask that you please continue to leave your reusable bulk containers and reusable produce bags at home for now. We’ll let you know as soon as we’re able to accept these again.
  • Starting 3/16/20, our seating area will be closed.
  • We are increasing our sanitation practices throughout the store.
  • We are suspending our member worker program for the time being.
  • We are closing the hot bar and salad bar for the time being.  
  • We are putting all non-essential projects on hold.
  • All staff who travel outside Vermont are required to follow CDC and Vermont Department of Health quarantine requirements before returning to work. 

About the Virus

For complete information, visit these excellent and frequently updated pages from our friends at UVM Medical Center and Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center.

About the Co-op’s Response

We have many procedures already in place to help protect the safety of our employees, members, and shoppers—procedures we rely on to reduce the spread of foodborne illness and seasonal colds and flu every year. Learn more below.

The Virus and Food

According to the Harvard Health Blog, it’s not clear if the virus can spread through food. Even if so, it would be highly unlikely. Regardless, health officials cannot absolutely rule out the possibility of transmission from infected food handlers.

Food Safety at the Co-op

The Co-op’s food-safety program is the among best in the business.

Our employees must follow a strict set of standard operating procedures when handling products.

Many employees are ServSafe® certified. ServSafe® is a highly regarded food-safety training program administered by the U.S. National Restaurant Association. Many Co-op employees have the same level of certification as the managers of major restaurants.

Out of care for our community, our practice has always been for staff to remain at home when they are sick. All of our full-time and part-time staff accumulate paid time off to cover sick time. 

Supplies

You may have heard stories about grocery stores running out of food and household items as consumers horde the essentials. One of our strengths is that we source from multiple suppliers, many of which are local, and we don’t pull from a central warehouse. Therefore we have multiple avenues for securing products even when there are gaps in availability. This is one of the many moments when we feel grateful to work with so many small, local producers!

Trustworthy Resources

The internet is full of misinformation, and social media channels thrive on hyperbolic language. One of the best things you can do is stay informed with accurate information. We suggest the following, recommended by Harvard Medical School:

For regular news, trust sources with deep, award-winning health reporting. We suggest:

Work with Us

Finally, we ask all of our members, shoppers, and employees to partner with us in this. No matter how many food-safety protocols we may have in place, we can’t control shoppers who might come to the store sick or handle packages with germs on their hands. WHO has great advice here on how to be responsible in order to protect yourself—and by extension your community—from the virus.

 

 

 

Spotlight on Klinger’s Bread Company

Our Member Deals Spotlight shines brightly on Klinger’s Bread Company! From March 5th – 11th, member-owners can enjoy 20% off their full line of local fresh-baked artisan bread! Read on to learn more about this Burlington-based bakery and their time-honored baking traditions:

 

Rustic, Healthy, Hearty, Crusty, Chewy, Flavorful…
Just a few words overheard to describe the artisan breads of Klinger’s. Their hearth-baked breads were proudly brought to Vermont in 1993 by the Klingebiel families of Williston, Vermont and Salem, New York.

These flavorful, authentic European breads were developed by one of America’s premier artisan bakers. Their bakers have been thoroughly trained in the methods and subtleties of bread baking. The breads are made from starters which are allowed to develop over a thirty-hour period. Visit the bakery and watch their bread crafters at work. Amidst floured tables, you will see them mix the finest ingredients, hand shape loaves, and bake them with care in their French brick oven.

Klinger’s is proud to bring you the rustic, homemade taste of their signature artisan breads. Their goal is to produce breads with character and integrity, to make your mouth water with the aroma of loaves fresh from the oven, and to share the products of their labor with you again and again.

Featured Co-op Connection Business – Otter Creek Yoga

Do you long to be calmer and more centered? Do you carry the strain of the world in your neck, shoulders, and back?  Could you use a generous helping of self-care? Consider checking out our featured Co-op Connection Business – Otter Creek Yoga! Let them know that you’re a Co-op member-owner and your first class is free!

For over 10 years, Otter Creek Yoga has offered our community an oasis of calm and healing – a place to come home to your true self. Their beautiful, peaceful, sunny studio is located in Middlebury’s historic Marbleworks and offers daytime, evening, and weekend classes for all ages and all levels of experience. Click here for the schedule and click here for detailed descriptions of the classes offered.

The Otter Creek Yoga faculty includes a total of nine experienced, certified, skilled instructors practicing a variety of yoga disciplines, including two certified Iyengar teachers. Click here to read more about the instructors and the various types of yoga they offer. Director Joanna Colwell founded Otter Creek Yoga in 2006 and it was Addison County’s first yoga studio! Joanna loves being a full-time yoga teacher and sharing this practice with students of all ages and abilities. She’s especially interested in exploring the ways in which yoga practice can be a method of self-care and believes that our ability to care for ourselves positively influences how we care for our families, our community, and the world around us. She invites us all to “come take a deep, cleansing breath, and then another. Let go of what you no longer need. Breathe in compassion – for yourself, your family, and your world. Breathe out peace and calm.”

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