a word from the board

Feeling Our Feelings About Climate Change

I don’t know about you, but I hate talking about climate change. When I hear a story on the radio about the latest record-breaking severe weather event, I want to plug my ears. Or when I read a news article summarizing the most recent dire scientific report, my eyes glaze over. I think to myself, “Yes, we already know. Everything is very bad and getting worse.” 

Can we take a moment to acknowledge that climate change just sucks

It’s a wrenching, intractable situation that feels crappy to even think about. Most of the time, I just don’t. But it’s not going away—and neither are my feelings about it.

I’m twenty-six. I’ve known about climate change for as long as I can remember, back when we called it global warming, and worried mostly about distant polar bears and coral reefs. I don’t recall when it changed from feeling like an alarming possibility to an unfortunate inevitability, but it has never felt acceptable to me. 

Growing up, I felt frustrated, indignant, and confounded as to how we could have gotten into this mess. Then in college, as I learned about the economic, industrial, and political systems that have driven the climate crisis, I got angry. I channeled my anger into a burst of climate activism—meetings, marches, protests—that never seemed to lead anywhere. 

And now? Honestly, I feel stuck. I don’t like feeling angry. The emotion and the activism didn’t sustain me. I’ve been told and I believe there’s a role for everyone in this struggle, but I haven’t found mine quite yet. 

I suspect that’s true for a lot of us.

Most of us aren’t activists or scientists who spend our days thinking about what the world is facing. Nor are we national leaders or corporate CEOs who have the responsibility and power to make major policy changes to address it. So where does that leave us?

You may notice I’m asking more questions than offering answers, but I’ll start here: I think we need to get real about our feelings. 

It’s the responsibility of our age to tackle the climate crisis head-on; to do everything we can to slow, reverse, mitigate, and adapt to it. But we can’t do any of that if we’re stuck feeling total despair or numbly ignoring it all. 

How I feel on a given day doesn’t really affect how changeable the situation is or is not. Except that it does. Our emotional state affects what we feel capable of doing—and therefore what we are capable of doing. 

While we continue taking everyday steps, as we’re able—voting for reps that take the problem seriously, voicing our support for needed policies, switching to renewables and energy-efficient everything—climate change keeps raging on. As we are bombarded with crisis after crisis, losses large and small, how are we going to keep our heads above water, emotionally? 

Acknowledging and accepting, for one. Not knowing about a problem doesn’t make it go away, just as knowing about it doesn’t make it any worse than before we were aware. I’m practicing bearing witness more and looking away less. 

Grief, despair, and anger are all appropriate responses to what’s happening to our world and our fellow human and non-human beings. Rather than stuffing those emotions down, I’m working on noticing, accepting, and really feeling each of these emotions as they come so that I can move through them. Recently, this has looked like taking time to process between listening to episodes of a podcast series about the origins of the climate crisis. I’m letting myself curse when the host points out something infuriating and allowing tears to bubble up at the heart-wrenching narratives of loss. Rather than forcing myself to listen to the next episode, then getting overwhelmed and giving up, I’m returning when I have the bandwidth to be present with the feelings it brings up.

And next? Let’s create and embrace the cultural transformations this moment demands. Taking climate action includes changing the way we live our lives. Many of the fundamental changes we need—resisting consumerism and rejecting the right of corporations to extract profit at any cost—aren’t fun or convenient. But I believe we have a lot to gain by having the courage to face the emotions and embrace the change!

Can we embrace real connections with each other by carpooling or taking public transit and accept the inconvenience?  Delight at the beauty we see when we take life at the pace of a walk or bike ride? Take satisfaction in buying used clothes, and making them last as long as possible? Accept the joys of giving and receiving by sharing tools, vehicles, homes, land? The nourishment of growing food and sharing it with others? 

It’s easy to feel that if I’m not participating in political activism or putting up solar panels, I’m not being part of the solution. That couldn’t be further from the truth. This thing is too big and far-reaching for anyone to be left out. I love the model put forward by Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson to help everyone find their personal path to climate action. She says to ponder three questions: What brings me joy? What am I good at? What needs to be done? Each of our unique roles can be found at the intersection of the answer to those three questions.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more information, see Climate Action Venn Diagrams.

I feel excitement and joy when I envision a world that has “solved” climate change, and my role in it. What I see is not just solar panels, heat pumps, and electric cars. It’s also thriving people who care for and are deeply connected to each other and the landscape. How about you?

I recently came across an interview with scholar, writer, and activist Mike Davis, who said: “I don’t think that people fight or stay the course because of hope, I think people do it out of love and anger.” Anger doesn’t sustain me. Hope comes and goes, depending on the day. But love? I think we all have experience acting out of love. And it sure does feel good.

This article first appeared in the Addison County Independent on September 15, 2022, as part of the Climate Matters: Perspectives on Change weekly column.

Ollie Cultrara works at two local farms and serves on the board of the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op. They are beginning a Master’s in Leadership for Sustainability at the University of Vermont this fall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Climate Matters: Our Agriculture Must Be Transformed for Survival

By now, most people have seen headlines from the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): This is our “do-or-die” moment. Nations need to collectively reduce their planet-warming emissions by roughly 43% by 2030 and stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere altogether by the early 2050s to avoid escalating catastrophic weather events. The U.S., the world’s second-greatest emitter of the greenhouse gases responsible for climate chaos, isn’t even close to being on track to get emissions into a safe zone. The Inflation Reduction Act will help somewhat, but we still have a long way to go and we’re running out of time.  The way we produce and consume food, especially the industrialized food system, which is highly developed in the U.S., is responsible for up to 37% of greenhouse gases; and climate chaos will wreak havoc in Vermont as elsewhere.

Agriculture and food-related businesses (from restaurants to supermarkets to composting) make a big contribution to Vermont’s livelihoods. Before COVID, about 65,000 Vermonters made their living from farms and food businesses. In New England, 219,000 jobs are indirectly a result of food system activity, at a total value of $71 billion. Food production in Vermont is concentrated on dairy, which accounts for approximately 70% of the state’s agricultural sales, uses over 80% of its working land, and helps to maintain our open landscapes. Beef and dairy cattle, however, along with pigs and other farm animals, contribute roughly 27% of methane emissions in the U.S., according to the EPA. Methane is relatively short-lived in the atmosphere, but it is over 25 times more potent at warming the planet than carbon dioxide. In addition to methane, manure applied to fields releases nitrous oxide, an even more powerful planet-warming gas; and additional emissions result from the production of fertilizer and running farm equipment.

The World Wildlife Fund claims that farmers must reduce their production of meat and dairy by a third in the next 10 years if scientific advice on limiting greenhouse gas emissions is to be met. Northern Ireland is already calling for a reduction of 1 million cattle and sheep to meet net-zero climate goals. But in the short term, if conventional Vermont dairy farmers reduce their herds, they move even closer to the bankruptcy cliff; and some argue that dairy production in other states will simply increase to compensate. On the consumer side, increasing numbers of people advocate for “plant-forward” diets, in which meat rarely if ever appears, or vegan diets that eschew meat altogether; and we now know that the production of beans, vegetables, and nuts emit less than half the greenhouse gases of animal products (with beef the biggest emitter). How can we make sense of this? What is a responsible path forward for producers AND consumers?

Producers face very difficult choices because their profit margins are so slim. Report after report tells us that agroecology or “ecological agriculture” that mimics nature, integrates cropping and livestock, incorporates agroforestry, and builds soil fertility is the best path forward. Agroecology is superior to the “climate-smart agriculture” touted by the U.S. government because it is also concerned with farmers’ livelihoods, good nutrition, restoring crop diversity and biodiversity, and building community well-being through investing in local and regional food systems. Yet agroecology is almost unknown in the U.S., although many of the practices that it encourages, such as organic agriculture, agroforestry, and rotational grazing on pasture, are growing in popularity and have strong environmental benefits. Scaled-up, agroecology would bring even more environmental and social advantages.

We would all benefit from more diversified agriculture in Vermont — diversification that will allow us to meet our fruit, nut, and vegetable consumption almost completely from Vermont products — as well as continuing to produce the meat and milk we consume. We ought to reduce red meat consumption substantially for health reasons and switch to pasture-raised meat. Dairy cows bred to beef bulls are a promising way to get better quality beef and diversify dairy farmers’ income. But the surest way to diversify is to make land, technical support, and financial support available to farmers who commit to using agroecology. Most young farmers are excited about its potential, while they are turned off by the prospects of conventional dairy farming. How about making farmland available to dairy farmworkers or other migrants who are fleeing regions made uninhabitable by climate disasters, lack of jobs, or conflict? Many migrants have farming backgrounds and are eager to contribute to their new homes. Food can help to knit together cultures as disparate as Somali Bantu and Yankee, as the Little Jubba Agrarian Common in Maine has discovered.

Climate chaos is a systemic problem that won’t be solved by individual actions. Shifting the responsibility to people who continue eating meat or don’t drive electric vehicles (yet) or haven’t replaced incandescent light bulbs with LEDs is an industry cop-out. These actions are all good, of course, but they aren’t nearly enough. The first thing that needs to happen is to stop drilling for oil and gas, stop pipelines and stop investing in extraction. This requires a big policy shift, based on the recognition that immediate change is essential for survival. It also requires major investments in reducing our need for energy (such as weatherizing and green roofs); subsidizing renewable energy (wind, solar and small-scale hydro in Vermont); and the infrastructure needed to live with renewables (free electric public transportation, standardized charging stations).

The food system also must re-orient to producing healthy food as locally as possible and paying its true cost, making sure everyone can access it by guaranteeing a livable wage to workers and an adequate safety net for children and others who can’t work, and protecting environmental quality so that future generations will have good food and a healthy environment. To accomplish this, we must wrest control from food industries so that farmers and communities can once again have real choices, decent prices for what is produced, and sound nutritional advice.

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Molly Anderson is the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Food Studies at Middlebury College, where she teaches and directs the Food Studies Program. She lives in Middlebury and serves on the Middlebury Natural Foods Coop Board and the Middlebury Conservation Commission. She is interested in food system transformation toward healthier, more just, and environmentally sustainable options.

A Lament for Vanilla

This article first appeared in the Addison County Independent on March 17, 2022, as part of the Climate Matters: Perspectives on Change weekly column.  There is no denying that food and the climate emergency are intertwined, a relationship made even more complicated by the geopolitical relationships between governments.  I find it daunting to consider how my daily choices are affected by things happening thousands of miles away and in turn, how my choices might ripple outwards.  I offer a reprint of this piece as a road map for considering how the foods we love and enjoy at the MNFC are situated within a deeper, global context.  For an excellent, in-depth exploration of food and climate, I also recommend this article from The Guardian.

Each time I make a dessert that calls for vanilla, I cringe a little.  A whole teaspoon, I find myself thinking, but that’s so much!  And then after I wince, I feel a twinge of sadness, because I think that in a few decades it is possible that vanilla, real non-synthetic vanilla, might be gone, or at least extremely rare.  We’ll only know it as something produced in a chemical factory, the taste becoming ever more like the smell of candles and body lotion.  I imagine how birthday cakes will seem slightly…off.  

As someone who cooks for a living, I think about food a lot, and I believed that I had considered how climate change would affect agriculture. I mean, I’m open to protein alternatives like insects, support local food systems, and try to make ethical consumer choices.  That’s good, right?  But I had never thought about what foods I would lose because of climate change until the fall of 2017. Around October that year, I placed a call to a vendor from work, looking to order a backup quart of vanilla, and I was warned that the price had gone up some. Now, price increases are normal in food service, an inevitability like taxes, but for vanilla to triple in price so quickly was unusual. Was this price gouging? An issue with shipping?  No, nothing so mundane as the logistics of commerce. It was the weather. Cyclone Enawo in Madagascar, and then Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico had decimated what some estimates placed at almost half of the world’s vanilla production.

We are going to lose some foods we currently find ubiquitous to the point of being boring —think about the last time you described someone as “vanilla.”  Or consider how every grocery store in America, whether it is in Miami or Minnesota, has bananas.  And coffee. And chocolate.  All of these foods are grown in a specific swath within 10º-20º latitude of the equator, an area that is going to look drastically different within the next few decades.  Vanilla extract is already an incredibly tricky thing to produce.  It comes from an orchid that takes years to grow in specific tropical climates and requires hand pollination for every single flower. There are lots of synthetic varieties, but none is as complex to our nose and palate as the real thing. The reality is that modern food systems often supply the majority shares of individual crops, like vanilla, from relatively small regions.  The production of many foods eaten worldwide is coming from just a handful of places. When those places are devastated by storms, rising sea levels, or drought, it means there is no other growing zone to pick up the slack.

And it won’t just be our diets that are affected. There are thousands and thousands of people working to grow, harvest, and process these foods so we can eat them year-round.  Imagine what their lives are going to be like when their jobs and homes are further impacted by climate change. We know that we are going to see devastating storms more frequently in tropical areas, and as temperatures rise, those areas closest to the equator will become the least habitable. The countries located in this area are among the poorest in the world, and they will be forced to bear the brunt of our pollution. It is a stark picture that can unspool from baking brownies in a warm kitchen and worrying about the cost of a flavoring.

It saddens me further to say that there is nothing we can do about this. Even if we as a species were to make climate the single biggest priority for every world government today, we are still going to see many of these foods become rare. That damage has already been done, and we can’t stop it from happening. Columns like this one often include a “call to action,” some step or policy that could make a difference. But in addition to pressuring world leaders and changing our lifestyles, we need to confront—often and publicly—that we have made irrevocable changes to our planet that cannot be fixed.

See, it’s not just about taking action now, though there is lots of room for that, too. We have to begin to make plans for the future that we are guaranteed to have, a future with large groups of climate refugees. The same people who now produce our vanilla and bananas and coffee have been placed in an untenable situation and we have to figure out how we are going to take care of them because we helped create that situation. Currently, it is a lengthy and expensive process to immigrate into the U.S., one plagued by bureaucracy and red tape. Climate refugees are an unavoidable part of our future, which means we need to work now to change immigration. In some ways, this idea does give me hope, because if we can finally be moved to take care of each other, then maybe we can take care of the planet.

A friend and I joke that if we were to transport our spice cabinets to the 15th century, we would be the picture of wealth and riches.  But I’ve started to change that daydream to imagine the riches my spice cabinet will represent to someone in just a few decades. Maybe it is silly to grieve for vanilla extract. But when I pour out each dark, fragrant spoonful, the flash of heartache I feel also comes with an awareness of what is to come, and what needs to happen.

Samantha Langevin is a Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board Member

 

Information and Its Roots Matter

This article first appeared in the Addison County Independent on March 3, 2022, as part of the Climate Matters: Perspectives on Change weekly column.  As the Communications Committee Chair for our Board of Directors, I organize the monthly contributions from our board members for the monthly e-newsletter.   Three of our current directors are writing for the Climate Matters column:  myself, Molly Anderson, and Samantha Langevin.  We intend to share these columns with you, our member-owners, to bring together the values and urgency of climate justice with those of social and food justice, and to show the deep alignment with our Ends:  “The Co-op exists to help our member-owners, customers and the community benefit from Healthy Foods; Vibrant Local Economy; Environmentally Sustainable & Energy Efficient Practices; Cooperative Democratic Ownership; and Learning About These Values.”

Information and its roots matter

By Nadine Canter

While it took me less than a minute to say yes to contributing to Climate Matters: Perspectives on Change, I am a reluctant columnist. I accepted this assignment because it is time. Time to share and attempt a similar path bravely taken by one of the greatest systems thinkers of our time, Donella Meadows (1941-2001).

Meadows resigned a professorship at MIT to become a newspaper columnist after a career in academia where she was notoriously famous for co-authoring the study and 1972 book, The Limits to Growth. The science behind The Limits to Growth showed that there was approximately 30 years left before planetary resources would be depleted. These results were based on data created from groundbreaking computer modeling at MIT generated by Meadow and colleagues in the early 1970s. While 30 years proved not to be a precise timeline, the conclusion— that a global economy based on the extraction of natural resources is unsustainable—is inarguable today. Then, critics in the scientific community of Meadows and her colleagues’ work attempted to discredit and vigorously challenge the results of the research.

For those of us still toiling to bring awareness to the same systemic problems, it is notable that Meadows and her colleagues were struck by the same curse we still wrestle with, the Cassandra Dilemma. The Cassandra Dilemma is the state of being a person whose valid warnings or concerns are disbelieved by others. The term originates in Greek mythology where the story goes that when Apollo was lovestruck by Cassandra, a daughter of the King of Troy, he gave her the gift of prophecy. When she didn’t return the feelings, Apollo placed a curse on her such that no one believed her predictions and warnings of future events. Environmentalist Alan Atkinsson wrote a 1999 book about this curse on the environmental movement.

The experience of being discredited forever changed Meadows. She lost faith in the Academy and saw the wielding of power in a whole new light. In time, she turned to where she believed she could have influence: she called it the Informationsphere.  She writes:  “A society that refuses to consider the idea that there are limits to growth is not going to bring forth a physical economy that fits within the constraints of the planet. A society that thinks there is an ‘away’ to throw things is going to find itself choking on its own waste. People who do not see nature as the support base for all life, including their own, will destroy nature and eventually themselves.” 

Thus, she launched a new direction for her life’s work by writing a syndicated newspaper column (and to note, she also founded an institute focused on sustainability). She created and shared 15 tenets to address cultural realities and constraints that prevent the human species from acknowledging patterns and practices that must be overcome or suffer the consequences. I devoured her column, which was published in newspapers from 1986 until her untimely death in 2001. I live and work by a similar tenet: we humans need to look carefully at our patterns and choices in order to stop depleting our natural resources through our extractive practices that poison us as we transform those resources into energy (food, fossil fuels, and so on) and material goods.  We are insatiable—driven by our consumptive ways that are ruled by a cultural story of scarcity.  In no way do I claim to be free of this same lifestyle.

In my 30-plus years of studying, practicing, and teaching about environmental issues in the context of the Information sphere, my interdisciplinary social science training (I have two degrees in Communications studying the social impact of mass media aka the Informationsphere) is rooted in the following: we obtain our stories (information) from many sources (aka modes) and the stories themselves come in codes with multiple meanings encoded by a creator and decoded by a receiver. Meanings emerge from contexts we typically cannot see, but that we co-create as our dominant social paradigm. This culture—the water in which we swim—forms and holds our worldviews. In most cases, it is manufactured for us by the same people/institutions who wish to extract our attention and sell it, as if our attention and money are infinite resources. They are not.

I am a reluctant columnist. I don’t want you to know my name. Does it really matter what I think? I want you to know and understand what you think about climate change and social justice, as one cannot happen without the other. I want you to know how to make sense of what you hear, read, and ultimately feel. I want you to be able to see the patterns and places where you personally feel empowered to make a change that is neither disruptive nor scary. I want you to be aware of your own power—including the power of the pen, the power of the purse, and the power of community—ideas I’ll address in future columns.  I want you to know that it is OK to follow and lead. That either/or is an expression of fear and limitation, and that both/and should roll off your tongue multiple times each day to support your ideas and visions, your neighbors’ ideas and visions, your personal expansion, and your capacity to love and experience pleasure.

Nadine Canter is a Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board Member

The Election Results Are In!

The votes are counted and the results are in!  Over 22% of our current member-owners participated in this year’s Board Election. We appreciate your participation in this important democratic process!  As promised, fifty of our voters will be rewarded with a $25 Co-o[ Gift Card! 

Now, please help us welcome returning incumbent Board Members:

Amanda Warren, Board President (Learn more about Amanda)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Erin Buckwalter (Learn more about Erin)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And please welcome new Board Member,

Gabriel Cole (Learn more about Gabe)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you so much for giving us your input, submitting your vote, and doing your democratic duty as Co-op Member-Owners!

Practicing Pronouns: How the Co-op Can Foster an Environment of Inclusion

A couple of years ago, I had an experience in the Co-op checkout line that made my day. The cashier turned to another staff person and said something like, “Can you show them where the extra boxes are for their groceries?” referring to me. I was thrilled. You see, I identify as non-binary and go by they and them instead of he or she. People often incorrectly assume I identify as a woman and use words like she/her/girl/lady/ma’am when talking about me. When the cashier chose to refer to me with the gender-neutral pronoun they, I felt warm and bubbly inside. I swear I floated out of the store that day!

There is a growing understanding in our culture that some people do not fit the labels of woman or man. These folks have embraced words like non-binary or genderqueer to describe their gender identities. (A multitude of cultures around the world already have more expansive understandings of gender beyond the man/woman binary.) Personal pronouns are part of a blossoming of language used to reflect the nuances of gender diversity. The most common gender-neutral option being used in English today is they

There are plenty of resources that explain how to use they, them, and theirs to refer to an individual. (One of my favorites is mypronouns.org.) But today, I’d like to talk about why. The flip-side of my warm-and-fuzzy experience at the Co-op is that for me, being referred to with the wrong pronouns (also called “misgendering”) is distracting at best and distressing at worst. Misgendering is part of a pattern of exclusion, discrimination, and violence faced by trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people—even here in Vermont. This contributes to disproportionate rates of mental illness, poverty, and homelessness experienced by trans people. Using people’s chosen pronouns—or defaulting to gender-neutral language when you’re not sure—is an active and impactful way to create a more welcoming environment and help reverse these trends.

Maybe this is the first time you’re hearing about this whole pronouns thing. Maybe you don’t know how it works and you’ve been too afraid to ask. Or maybe you want to be respectful but are uncertain about using they to refer to a single person. Wherever you are, there’s no better time to polish your pronoun skills. Beyond the mechanics, it comes down to having a loving and learning attitude. Here are a few tips: 

  • Practice: Build a habit of referring to people you don’t know with gender-neutral language. “Who was that person on the phone? What did they want?” If there is someone in your life who uses they/them pronouns, take time to practice using their pronouns when they are not around. Try practicing with someone you trust so you can remind each other when you make a mistake.
  • Be Polite: You will slip up. We all do! Correct yourself as soon as you notice, apologize briefly if you feel you need to, and move on. Dwelling on how bad you feel or how hard it is for you to get it right is inappropriate. 
  • Be Patient and Persistent: It takes time, intention, and repetition to re-train our brains. Keep at it, and remember why you’re working on this—you just may make someone’s day!

Our Co-op is by us and for us, the member-owners. By participating in our Co-op, we can put our values into action and lead the way in transforming dominant worldviews. We do this not just with our food choices, but in how we choose to show up in community with each other. The staff and board are already prioritizing efforts to embed principles of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion into the daily operations and governance of the Co-op. Shifting our language to be more inclusive of the diversity of our community is one small part of this ongoing work. Will you join us?

Ollie Cultrara is a Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board Member

In Memory of Louise Vojtisek, a Reminder to Pay with a Co-op Gift Card!

It is with an immensely heavy heart that I share the news that Louise Vojtisek, MNFC member-owner for 20 years, and Board member for 10 years passed away this winter. 

Louise was nothing short of essential and inspirational in her many years on the board. Louise was always first to volunteer for any task or committee, and she served as board secretary for many years. In her last term, Louise was a founding member of our JEDI Committee (Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) and she went above and beyond to extend this work through a monthly meeting connecting with representatives from other Co-ops. 

Personally, although I only had the privilege of knowing her for six years, she made a big impact. I will never forget nervously arriving at the annual meeting after being elected for my first term, and immediately being swooped up into Louise’s warmth. “I voted for you!” she said as she marched up to me and brought me into the fold. Just a year later, after my first child was born, Louise knew that I had no family close by or formal childcare, and she offered to help out. Louise will always be remembered by my family because she was the first person I ever left my first baby with as I rushed off for a work meeting. 

Passionate doesn’t adequately describe her commitment to our Co-op and local agricultural community. One of her most well-known contributions was the fervor with which she spoke about credit card fees. Outraged that over $200,000 leave our local economy yearly because of credit card fees at the Co-op, she wrote numerous articles, spoke at the annual meeting, and told everyone at her favorite Otter Creek Yoga class about the many benefits of using an MNFC gift card in lieu of a credit card. Because of this passion, we are re-running one of Louise’s articles in her honor. I know that I will never look at a Co-op gift card without remembering Louise Vojtisek.

– Amanda Warren, MNFC Board President.

From Louise’ original blogpost in 2021:

When you purchase food at the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op (MNFC), you support the hundreds of local producers who live in our area, and you are keeping the money in local circulation. And, as a member-owner, you own shares in this store and will receive an annual patronage refund based on your purchase history! The shares you hold represent your whole-hearted commitment to community-produced and distributed healthy foods.  

Did you know you can increase another aspect of “keeping it local” by simply adjusting how you pay at checkout? In past articles I’ve written to make folks aware of this topic, I noted that MNFC paid more than $100,000, then $150,000, and then the number was close to $200,000 in annual credit card fees! The fees have been increasing each year. Last year in 2020, we paid $272,161 in credit card fees! Consider that this startling amount of money is extracted from our local community and flows to out-of-state banks. Think about what could be done locally with these funds, either through increased community support, or improvements in customer services. While I certainly do not want to “guilt” anyone for using a credit card, there are options to consider for avoiding those fees. The use of checks or cash is one possibility, but this is not always convenient.

The easiest way to avoid the fees and using up checks or having cash on hand is to use an MNFC Gift Card for all of your Co-op purchases. This card can be obtained from any cashier, and you decide how much money you want on the card. Simply write a check for that amount, then use the gift card every time you shop. The card acts like a credit card with your money on it, but there are no fees. It is another form of “cash” and thus should be kept in a secure place. There is a number associated with each card that can be found on the back. I keep a photo of the id number of my card on my phone so it is always handy and secure. If you lose the card, the card can be deactivated if you have the number, and a cashier can look up your balance and apply it to a new card.  The gift card works just like a credit card or check or cash and is linked to your coop account.  The balance of the card shows up at the bottom of each receipt every time you make a  purchase so you can keep track. When the balance runs low, simply write another check or use cash to load the same card with more money! I tend to reload each month, and it keeps me on my food budget! I remind you that writing a check or using cash to add money to the card is the way to go; if you use a debit or credit card, it defeats the purpose.

There are several advantages to this process:

  • You can budget what you believe is reasonable for you to spend at the Co-op, say for a month’s time, and keep track of your spending.
  • Going through the checkout line is extremely quick and efficient. The cashier scans your card, you get a receipt, and you’re done! Nothing to sign, no check to write, no numbers to punch in, no waiting for change. The cashiers like the ease of this process and you’re apt to get some unsolicited positive regard from them.
  • During the surge of COVID, using the gift card minimizes contact involved with using common pens, dealing with the credit card terminal, and handling cash.
  • Finally, remember that an MNFC gift card is a wonderful way to give anyone a present, for any occasion. An MNFC gift card can encourage someone new to the Co-op to make their first visit and can introduce long time customers to this very efficient way of paying for purchases.
  • Most importantly, using a Coop gift card this way eliminates the credit and debit card fees the Co-op has to pay to banks and financial. Don’t forget, debit cards have fees as well!

Once you try it, you’ll wonder why you have not done this all along. It is such a quick and convenient way to pay for your groceries, and keep your dollars local – it is truly a win-win. This is how I have paid for my MNFC shopping for the last five years, and I intend to for the next five years and more! It’s a great intention to set for the rest of 2021, I encourage you to give it a go!  I think you’ll love it!

Louise Vojtisek was a long-time Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board Member.  She will be missed.

Who and How your Board Serves YOU

Our co-op stands out nationally. Financially, MNFC is notably robust.  Additionally, unlike many co-ops who struggle to recruit and retain board members, our board of directors is remarkably stable and there are consistently more candidates who run than available seats. As Board Development Chair, I’d like to share how our board approaches this unique quality of our co-op. 

As a board, we are constantly balancing two distinct needs: 1) authentic representation of the member-owners and 2) consistent leadership to support the general manager. Often, these two needs can feel at odds. We are committed to recruiting new board members to make sure we have fresh voices bringing diverse perspectives to the board room. We are also committed to supporting our general manager–our number one job as a board–and to achieve this, the institutional knowledge and unique skills that come from serving multiple terms on the board are invaluable. 

We have discussed term limits for board members and gained insight from our peer co-op boards that do and do not have term limits. Historically, the MNFC board has voted against term limits for two main reasons. First, we have seen organic, steady turnover of the board as a result of the democratic process. In the last five years, there have been six new members out of eleven total seats and every year has resulted in at least one new member joining the board. Second, we are aware of the perils of losing a keyboard member without a skilled successor–treasurer, or president for example–simply because their term is up. 

Diversity and inclusion are central to our work as a board. The board needs to feel like an open and inclusive space for all member-owners, and the diversity amongst member-owners needs to be represented in board seats. Beginning in 2019, we enhanced our recruitment process and expanded opportunities for prospective candidates to learn about the board. Moving forward, we will begin this process even earlier in the year, and provide mid-year opportunities for candidates to explore the opportunity to sit on the board. 

We want to hear from you. As a board, what can we do to improve this unique balancing act? Let us know: board@middlebury.coop 

Amanda Warren is Chair of the Board’s Board Development Committee.

 

Considering Supply Chains

Until recently, many of us never thought about supply chains… but suddenly we’re seeing empty shelves in markets again and getting worried.  Supplies of rental cars in some cities are so low that renting a car will cost more than your airline ticket, and some schools are having so much trouble securing food for students that they are discontinuing lunch service.  Even at the Co-op, we’re seeing empty shelves and can’t find goods that are usually in stock.  What’s behind the difficulties, and why are they happening now?

The large-scale issue is that the pandemic revealed the unsustainability of just-in-time manufacturing systems and persistent inequities in labor— including low wages and poor working conditions.  Labor shortages upstream have impeded the delivery of products to the end-user (us), and a glitch in the system can cascade down to affect many products and supply chains.  The food system hasn’t been designed with buffers that would help overcome shortages.  All incentives for business point toward keeping just enough stock on hand to deal with current demand, to avoid costs of storage.

During the pandemic, people shifted from buying services (including restaurant meals) to buying goods.  Thus demand increased, especially for imported goods; but freight deliveries backed up because there aren’t enough workers to load containers or drive and unload trucks.  In some cases, it’s an issue of wages that aren’t high enough to hold workers on the job; but workers also get called out to take care of kids who are sick or quarantined, and anybody with a respiratory illness has to quarantine until results come back from COVID tests.

What does this mean for us and our Co-op?  First, department managers haven’t been able to order the quantities of food they normally would.  The number of cases of product that can be ordered from our major supplier has been cut down to about 70% of pre-pandemic levels.  Then when deliveries arrive, we often discover that something ordered wasn’t available or can’t be supplied in the quantity ordered.  Special orders were discontinued because they cut into the case limit but only served individual member-owners.  This management decision was made to try to serve as many customers as possible.

What can you do, as a member-owner?  Not much!  This is a problem that needs to be worked out at the food distribution system level.  That will happen eventually, although the experts tell us that problems are likely to last through 2022.  President Biden recently ordered Los Angeles docks to begin working 24/7 to relieve the bottleneck of freight that is waiting to unload.  But California’s dock bottlenecks are just part of the problem with the supply chain.  And of course, with vaccine apartheid* continuing (which increases the risk of new and more deadly variants of COVID emerging), there’s no guarantee of a return to “normal”.   What we can do is be patient and recognize that Co-op staff are working hard to try to meet your needs.  And remember that all food supply chains rest on a healthy, biodiverse ecosystem.  So, protect pollinators in your yards and don’t cut down trees!  Pollinators are endangered, and trees are sequestering carbon.

*what the U.S. is doing with vaccines is just like food apartheid or racial apartheid.  Wealthy nations are gobbling up the vaccines and now moving to booster shots, while poor black and brown nations are less than 5% vaccinated.

Molly Anderson is a Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board Member

The Leaves They Are A Changin’

 

When I returned to Vermont as an adult it was “seasons” that I was most excited about, those regular markers to break a year with change.  Though my childhood self would completely disagree, spring and fall are now my favorites because they are nothing but change.  Their transitory nature can make them seem fleeting and all too quick, but it is that same nature that gives them a sense of movement, of things, happening.  It is incredible to see how quickly the static green buzz of summer can become crisp and swirling fall.   Each year I look forward to seeing those changes in the landscape.  There is a tree on my commute that I watch for each fall, trying to catch the exact day that it finally and completely is so orange it glows.

Autumn in particular also makes me think about other kinds of changes in our community.  In the kitchen I work in we have gone from 40 employees to about 7, an example of what basically all restaurants are experiencing.  We have seen the end of construction on Main Street, changes to our school district, stores close, and new ones open.  And while many facets of this have been difficult, I think (and hope) that as a group we are getting really good at adaptation.

Another change I think about is my transition onto the MNFC board this past June.  Almost immediately my appreciation for our local Co-op was deepened as I saw the hard work and serious thought that staff and board members give to the behind-the-scenes work of stewarding this community resource.  

Another big change is Glenn’s announcement to transition away from General Manager.  I, like many others, have a hard time imagining the Co-op without Glenn physically in the building.  He is just always there in my mind, in the way that as a kid you can’t imagine your teacher anywhere but physically in the school, even during breaks. 

But just like watching that one tree turn a perfect, blazing orange can be exciting, so too are the transitions around us.  What can we bring to our thriving Co-op with a new manager?  How can we get better at adapting to the next big change? What group of people can we assemble to make a new team?  I have no idea, but I’m excited to find out.

Samantha Langevin is a Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board Member