a word from the board

It’s Patronage Dividends Time of Year – Just What Is This??

As explained on the Co-op’s website, “Patronage dividends are a traditional way for Co-ops to share profits back with their members. As Member-owners of the Co-op, you also own the profits, and a patronage dividend system allows us to share and reinvest those profits in a transparent, mutually beneficial way.”

The annual patronage dividend refund system is four years old.  This year, the Co-op Board of Directors voted unanimously to refund members 50% of the total patronage.  Last year’s refund was 40%. For a variety of reasons, General Manager Glenn Lower suggested we increase the refund to 50% for this year.  By early July, if a member-owners’ patronage dividend is more than $5.00, they will receive this refund in the mail.  Patronage dividends less than $5.00 will be combined and donated to the local food shelf.  Glenn and staff determined that pooling these small patronage dividends to make a meaningful donation in honor of these members was a better use of Co-op resources (time, paper, ink, postage) that would be expended to send these small checks through the mail.

Many of you have received these dividends in past years and wondered why and how this system works.  Member-owners receive a share of the profits from Co-op business in proportion to how much they purchased during the Co-op’s fiscal year (April 1 – March 31).  The more you shop, the more you are eligible to earn.  At the end of the fiscal year, if the Co-op is profitable, we as a Board of Directors review any anticipated projects and financial needs for the Co-op. We then use that information to determine how much of the profits to retain, and how much to give back to member-owners.  The amount retained stays in the Co-op, but please note, it belongs to the member-owners as a group and becomes part of what we own together as an investment in community ownership. The remaining profits are then returned by check or voucher to the member-owners. Law requires that at least 20% of patronage be returned to member-owners.

Nearly 80% of all sales this past year were to current member-owners! The return to each member-owner is slightly less than 1% of their purchases for the year. An estimate of the break down is below:

  • If a member spent $10/week=$4.70 will be donated to the food shelf
  • If a member spent $25/week=$11.74 in the patronage check
  • If a member spent $50/week=$23.48 in the patronage check
  • If a member spent $100/week=$46.95 in the patronage check
  • If a member spent $200/week=$93.91 in the patronage check

With 5,880 current member-owners, 3,717 members will receive a check for $5.00 or more, and the remaining patronage for the 2,163 members with a refund below $5.00 will be pooled for that donation to the food shelf. 

For more information about patronage, please see Your 2019 Patronage Dividends Check Explained

Sophie Esser Calvi is a Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board Member

The Election Results Are In!

The votes are counted and the results are in!  If you made it to this year’s Annual Meeting, you’re already in the know about the election.  But if not, here’s a quick synopsis of how it went:

Please welcome newly elected Board Member Erin Buckwalter.  Erin has spent her adult life working and volunteering in the Vermont food system and is passionate about connecting with people through food and agriculture.  She is the current Market Development Director at the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont.  To learn more about Erin, please see her candidacy statement in our Annual Report.

Also, please welcome returning Board Members R.J. Adler and Amanda Warren.  We look forward to working with you again this term!  

This year, Co-op Members voted to Update our By-Laws.  The votes were overwhelmingly in support of the recommended updates (see Annual Report to reference these) – with 97% of the votes returned in favor of the recommended changes.

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

Co-op Elections Process

It’s May! Spring is in the air! The flowers have bloomed after the April rains; people are planting gardens and opening windows for the first time. Of all the traditions and changes that come with May, though, I’m most excited about voting for my board directors at the Middlebury Coop!  While voting happens in May, the recruiting process happens throughout the year. Members of the Board Development Committee (BDC) typically start meeting with potential board members as early as November for the next year. As your board, we are always thinking about the future of the organization, and part of that is exploring who might be a good board member in the future. (Hey you- yes you- reading this- have you ever considered running for the board?)

This year the Board had a more formal “board recruitment/election” process starting in January. We started by inviting anyone interested in running for the board to come to an “Eat and Greet” conversation with current board members. There were three Eat and Greet sessions so members could come and learn about the board process, check out a board packet, and begin to wrap their mind around policy governance.  Policy governance is the formal set of rules the board abides by to make sure the coop is running smoothly. To be sure everyone interested had a chance to learn more about the board, we also set up a few sessions of tabling at the demo counter. We talked with dozens of potential new board directors!

The process to run for the board includes filling out an “application” that includes a short list of questions and meeting with a board member. The awesome staff at the coop compile the application Q/As into a ballot, which is sent out via snail mail as part of the Annual Report to all members. If you haven’t already received your ballot in the mail you will soon. This year we ended up with a slate of five candidates running for three seats on the board. If taking part in the most glorious tradition of democracy isn’t enough reason to vote, the ballot is also a coupon for $3 off your next shopping trip to the coop!

As you read through your ballot and consider your possible future board directors, consider this too: We will hold elections every May!  Do you think you would be a good candidate for the board? Come to a board meeting, or connect with one of us. We are always ready to have a conversation with you!

And as you ponder that, GO VOTE!

R.J. Adler is a Middlebury Co-op Board Member

RJ Adler ( Incumbent)

The Bulk Section: Truths and Fun Facts

I cannot think of anything negative about choosing the bulk option when shopping at the Co-op.  We are fortunate that our member-owned market offers so many products in bulk, allowing you to buy just the amount you need, as compared to pre-packaged options that often sit around too long and are then thrown away.  When you buy in bulk, you will save money, get into some “real food” cooking, be inspired to create your own combinations from soups to snacks, and cut way down on food packaging waste. Some products sold in bulk are locally produced, and most are organic and not genetically modified.  Food sold in bulk turns over quickly, so bins are monitored and refreshed regularly.  

While most of us know about the herb and spice selection, the wide variety of flours, nuts and seeds, and various grains and legumes in bulk bins, did you know:

  • You can purchase just the right amount of safflower or canola oil, vanilla and almond extract, and two varieties of soy sauce from bulk dispensers. Containers are available for sale, but the best option is to bring your own!
  • It is possible to buy your preferred amount of shampoo or conditioner, along with dish soap from bulk dispensers.
  • If you ask a staff member, they will refill your container with honey or maple syrup at a reduced, bulk price. Also, inquire about 15% bulk discounts sometimes available on case lots.

The variety of choices for prepackaged tea and coffee at the Co-op can be staggering, but there are additional savings to be had in the bulk section. When you select and/or grind coffee from the bulk dispensers, you are charged a price per pound or 16 ounces.  While the sale price of prepackaged coffee in grocery stores is often tempting, remember that these bags typically hold 10 to 12 ounces. Also, consider re-using those lined coffee bags available under the coffee bean bins. They are expensive but rugged and can transport your coffee home multiple times.

Probably my favorite bulk buy at the Co-op is peanut butter, especially now with the new nut grinders. There are salted and unsalted peanut options, along with almonds for almond butter. Bring your own container and get a staff member to help you determine its tare weight if you are unfamiliar with this process … you only want to pay for the weight of the nut butter, not the container.

Finally, consider creating your own combinations from the array of products you can purchase in small or large quantities in bulk. For example:

  • You can combine dehydrated vegetables, herbs, and legumes to create a meal that is both economical and delicious. A couple of my favorites are Lentil Soup with Carrots and Rosemary, and Lentil Chili, which also contains bulgur for a complete protein, from Arthur Schwartz’s What to Cook When You Think There’s Nothing in the House to Eat. This book is out of print, but grab it if you spot it at a used book sale. It is organized by ingredients and I’ve never had a bad experience with these recipes.
  • Make your own snack mixes for school lunches using nuts, seeds, rice sticks, and dried fruits. This can be cheaper than buying prepackaged and you know what is in the snack.
  • I’ve discovered that making granola is a very easy process and it makes your house smell great while it is baking in the oven. If you have access to Jane Brody’s Good Food Book, it contains a great recipe that is much lower in fat and sugar than conventional granola but is still nutty and delicious.
  • When you need to get something on the table quickly for an evening meal and select some protein and vegetables from the hot bar, consider making these go further with either couscous or bulgur from the bulk bins. These are staples in many ethnic cuisines and require very minimal cooking.

I hope you have some rewarding cooking adventures with novel purchases from the array of bulk foods available at the Co-op!

Louise Vojitisek is a Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board Member

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rising to the Call of Spring…Hope and Renewal

I think about culture and meaning all the time.  It’s pretty much at the root of my life’s work.  As a Board Member of the Co-op and chair of our Communications Committee, I tap into those roots to consider how we as an organization strive to provide healthy living options to nourish our community’s bodies and souls.  Spring fills me with light – and it’s not just the longer days, it’s because we all rise up to greet each other with a little more energy and a little more warmth.   To me, it comes down to these smallest interactions, human to human, living being to living being. 

Of late I have been considering how we come to know the meaning of our place, our responsibilities, our safe havens.  How do we as a community open to love and acceptance, and inclusivity?  I am so proud of what I see happening all around me.  I see so many of us leaning towards hope and doing our best to avoid being trapped by the manufactured cynicism and fear that dominate what Donella Meadows called” the information sphere”.

As a Co-op, our culture is all about interdependence.  Member-owners rely upon the sound business practices of our management team and board of directors to bring us healthy choices because after all “food is the most important pharmaceutical we have,” according to neuroscientist Richard Davidson in a recent On Being Interview.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.  And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”   Dr. King’s “we” refers to humans, but what if adjust the meaning of “we” to be inclusive of all living beings?   I am truly grateful for the local families and individuals who farm in Vermont braving the elements and uncertainties to bring us local meats, vegetables, fruits, and even some grains.  What if we thanked not only the growers of our food, but the food itself for nourishing us as Robin Wall Kimmerer points out is done in her native traditions.

And this month brings us spring in the lunar calendar – the well of hope to be replenished.  It’s a reward for getting through the darkest hours in the northern hemisphere.  The days are getting longer, the sugar maple’s sap is rising from the root to sweeten our lives.  I am so very grateful for this time of year where I can stand up tall, reach for the sky and plant my feet deep into the ground – so that my sap can rise with that of our fellow being, the Sugar Maple Tree.

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

You’re Invited to Help Update Our By-Laws!

Last year, your Board of Directors updated its Governance Policies.  In the process, we noticed that our Co-op’s bylaws could use some updating too. Together with our General Manager, we worked to make our bylaws clearer, simpler, and even more consistent with our values and with the best practices of other food co-ops. (For example, our current bylaws do not allow for recent innovations like electronic voting.)

The process of updating our bylaws was aided by a recently developed set of bylaws provided by our long-time consultants at Cooperative Development Services (CDS). This resulted in a set of proposed bylaws with the same basic meaning but written in clearer and more concise language. At the same time, we made a handful of additions and deletions and wanted to share them with you in advance of presenting the new bylaws for your approval in May.  Please read through the new proposed draft bylaws and send along your feedback to glennlower@middlebury.coop.  For your reference, the old bylaws are posted here.   We would love to have your feedback by March 24th.  We’ll include a final draft in the Annual Report and a ballot for voting on them. Here’s a list of significant proposed changes:

  • Allow for electronic voting as a convenient way to increase participation in the democratic process.
  • Add language to allow for runoff elections in the event of a tie (rather than the Board choosing between the tied candidates, as is currently written).
  • Provide language for reconciling the membership records for shareholders who have abandoned shares in the co-op. The three-year cut off for membership being inactive is a VT state law.
  • As our co-op has grown to over 5,000 member-owners, our goal is to reduce the required signatures for petitioning a special meeting, from 10% to “5% of the total number of member-owners or 200 member-owners, whichever is less.”
  • Add “employees and spouses or family members of employees may not serve as a Director.” Peer co-ops point out the inherent conflict of interest due to employee board members being the employer of the GM who is also their employer.
  • Remove “member-owners shall also be permitted to contribute services for additional discounts and other entitlements as determined by the Board.” Our goal is to continue the practice of member-working as long as possible, but remove it from the bylaws to allow flexibility in the future.
  • Remove “goods and services at the lowest possible cost”. It is our goal to provide the fairest prices possible to both members and customers, while also balancing other factors such as a fair price to farmers/producers, and fair compensation for employees, all while keeping the co-op financially sustainable.
  • Remove “non-profit”, because the Co-op is technically not a 501c3 non-profit. This language was from an earlier era and does not currently legally apply. The Co-op does make a profit (about 2%) most years, pays taxes on those profits and uses them to build a better community.

We’ve also planned a couple of open meetings to give you the opportunity to share your feedback with us in person.  The dates and locations of these meetings are as follows:

  • Sunday, Mar.17 at 9:00 am…cafe seating area. 
  • Sunday, Mar. 24 at 9:00 am… cafe seating area. 
 
RSVP is not required but would be helpful to glennlower@middlebury.coop

Cooperatively Yours,

The MNFC Leadership Team, General Manager Glenn Lower,  Board of Directors: R.J. Adler, Molly Anderson, Nadine Barnicle, Ilaria Brancoli Busdraghi, Lynn Dunton, Sophie Esser Calvi, Kate Gridley, Ann LaFiandra, Tam Stewart, Louise Vojitisek, and Amanda Warren

 

Flowing with the Darkness – Staying Well in the Yin Season

The winter solstice this month marks the return of spring – a movement toward light and growth.  We can use that returning light and growth, the rising Yang, to persevere in our own personal paths of truthfulness.  The Co-op Buying Criteria is a treasure that assures the products on the shelves in the store contribute to our personal wellness and do no harm to the environment.  Many of us are thinking about resolutions and new beginnings as we get through the frenzy of December, intending to establish our own set of criteria to help us make decisions for ourselves and our families that support our health and well-being. How can we create new and better habits to improve how we nourish our bodies and our minds?  How can we sustain the challenges our national politics continue to throw our way that are the opposite of nourishing?   

It is not uncommon these days to be in the Wellness section of the Co-op and hear the Wellness staff being asked for help with the growing options of products.  Member-owners ask, “Can I take that cream on a plane?”,  “How do I use this herb?”,  “What can I expect from these products?”,   “Will it help my….?”.  Talk about complex!  I, Nadine, admit to eavesdropping on some of these Q&A sessions, along with asking my own.  I even piped up to answer a question once, “Yes, I have friends who have taken CBD creams on airplanes, in checked bags, buried in socks.”  Hopefully, that member-owner did her own research before getting on the plane!  

As I worried about possibly sending someone to jail, it made me consider how we rely upon Glenn and the entire Co-op staff to do their research to support us, the member-owners and other customers.  They work to keep up with the latest trends in health and nutrition.  While they are certainly guided by our food buying criteria, they have to be able to sift through information and determine what trends are sustainable and worth marketing/selling at the Co-op.  Many products and services “claim” to be a solution, but since we are all so different, an herb that might work for me, might not work for the next person who pauses in the aisle wondering what product will help with a muscle ache. For instance, in my family, arnica works super well for my daughter, but I seem to have a mild allergy to it.  There are trends and fads in the Wellness arena and we count on the Co-op staff to do their homework so we can confidently pick the right herbal formula to help our kids’ earache or our achy joints.

The darkness of winter time is naturally a time to go inward, Yin. By nature, we must stay inside longer which can be challenging. This is a difficult time for many who do not enjoy cold weather activities or that lack of sun. I, Sophie, for one, struggle with this. Growing up in California did not build my skin for dark cold winters. Yet, after 7 winters, I embrace my winter wellness routine. The Co-op has definitely been a big part of supporting that. Knowing I can trust the products and the advice from the Wellness Department folks or get advice on how to make bone broth while I’m checking out has been a gift.

We have both found that our winter wellbeing, much of which was advised to us from our different practitioners, Nadine’s Chinese medicine team and Sophie’s naturopathic doctor and herbalist, includes similar practices.  To thrive in the winter, Sophie takes a high daily dose of vitamin D, which as many of us know comes from the sun which we are lacking in the winter.  We both suffered from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) for many winters; struggling because neither of us knew what to do. Not knowing the other one during these years, we found out we both spent the past years talking to a lot of folks and changed our practices so that now each of us welcomes the seasonal change, finding joy in the cold and darkness.  We both use teas, Epsom salt baths with essential oils, ayurvedic abhyanga massage, saunas with essential oils such as tar, vetiver, and eucalyptus.  And there are all those other winter comforts labeled by Scandinavians as Hygge – candles, soups, longer nights of rest, baking, etc.

We hope you are snuggled in somewhere cozy, sipping tea by a fire, cultivating your own wellness.  Happy Solstice!

Nadine Canter Barnicle and Sophie Esser Calvi are both members of our Co-op Board of Directors

Considering our Board of Directors Elections Processes – Can We Improve?

In September, three members of MNFC’s Board of Directors, Lyn Dunton, Kate Gridley, and Ann LaFiandra, attended a Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA) peer gathering in White River Junction, VT.  Folks, mostly directors and a few staff, from the following coops across New England attended: Brattleboro Food Co-op (VT), Buffalo Mountain Co-op (VT), City Market/Onion River Co-op (VT), Co-op Food Stores (NH), Fiddleheads Food Co-op (CT),Franklin Community Co-op (MA), Greenstar Co-op Market (NY), High Falls Food Co-op (NY), Hunger Mountain Food Co-op (VT), Littleton Food Co-op (NH),  Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op (VT), Monadnock Food Co-op (MA), Neighboring Food Co-ops (MA), Portland Food Co-op (ME), Putney Food Co-op (VT), River Valley Food Co-op (MA), Rutland Area Food Co-op (VT), Springfield Co-op (VT), Stone Valley Community Market (VT), Upper Valley Food Co-op (VT) and Willimantic Food Co-op (CT).  Our topics of the day were: Member Engagement Strategies, Successful Board Recruitment and Retention Strategies, and The Challenges and Rewards of Diversity and Inclusion.

MNFC stands alone in not only having a fully filled Board of Directors, but every year for the past several election cycles, we have had 7 – 10 outstanding candidates run for the scheduled open slots (terms at MNFC are three years, and with an 11- member board, 3 or 4 terms are up in each election cycle). To our amazement, we learned that there are co-ops whose boards are not fully staffed, and there are election cycles in which there are no candidates!  We also learned that many co-ops have embraced electronic voting – which has upped the percentage of members who participate in voting –and many co-ops have looked hard at their election processes.

  • We are looking at our election processes as part of our board work for 2018- 2019.  We’ll consider the following questions:
  • What does it mean to be a board member?
  • What kinds of decisions does the board make, what is the time commitment?
  • Who is NOT running for our board? Why not?
  • What are the barriers to running for the board?
  • How can we best orient future candidates so that they understand the job they are running for?
  • Facing a large slate of candidates, what will help our member-owners make decisions when casting their votes?
  • How do our member-owners know if a candidate is qualified?
  • How can we best present the slate of candidates?
  • Should we sponsor a Meet the Candidates Mixer?
  • How can we enhance the voting process to ensure more member-owner participation?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of moving to an electronic voting system

What Else Should We Consider?

I want to remind our member-owners that our Board of Directors meetings, 6:30 – 8:30 on the fourth Wednesday of every month, are open to you.  We want our processes to be transparent and we want to know what you are hearing and what you are thinking.  Member-Owner: this is a beautiful word. MNFC is owned by you, it’s members.   And the work of the Board, using Policy Governance (which is simply an operating system), is to act and make decisions on behalf of and in the best interest of the member-owners. Perhaps this work interests you? Please let us know!  To reach out to the board, contact us at board@middlebury.coop.

Kate Gridley is a Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board Member

Reducing Waste – Avoiding Plastic, Not So Easy

We on the MNFC board have been discussing plastics.  Yes, plastics  – does anyone remember The Graduate, or am I just dating myself?  Anyway, these discussions are in response to the answers from the leading suggestion in our annual meeting survey:  Reduce plastic waste (i.e. minimize packaging & encourage reusable bags).  Greg Prescott, our store Operations Manager, wrote an excellent letter in the August electronic newsletter on this topic: The Trashy Truth About Compostables.

One of the biggest culprits in our use of plastic both operationally and by member-owners and other customers is the plastic bags provided in the bulk and produce department. We go through around 20,000 bags per month. These bags are for anyone to take and fill with our wonderful bulk foods or produce. The problem is not many people seem to bring back their plastic bag for reuse.  The bulk department is designed around reducing our packaging footprint, but there is an environmental cost to using all this plastic in lieu of other packaging.  

In addition, the Co-op uses many plastic bags to prepackage bulk for customer convenience. The bulk department could consider switching to a plastic recyclable clamshell but this has potentially negative consequences including an increase in costs.  We can’t just stop offering plastic bags for customers in bulk and in produce, but we all can reduce what we use personally.  

There are ways that we all, as customers, can help reduce this plastic use.  We can bring own containers and/or pick up a mason jar now sold right in the store for $1.  Another alternative that is provided by the Co-op is to use the recyclable paper bags for bulk items and then transfer the food into the proper container when you get home.  You can find reusable drawstring Produce Bags for sale in the Produce Department, and at the registers.  

And then there is the checkout – we should ALL be using re-usable grocery bags or cartons to avoid taking paper bags to further reduce our waste footprint – there is a cost to recycling those bags.  You can bring in any reusable bag that works for you, and there are a variety of types of reusable bags available for purchase near the Co-op registers, too.  If you happen to forget your bags, we try to keep a stock of sturdy cardboard boxes available as paper bag alternatives.

Do you have a tip to share for how to remember to bring your grocery bags?  And have you tried the reusable to go containers at the salad and hot bar?  What do you think?  We’d love to hear from you.

As fellow board member R.J. Adler suggested in his Summer 2018 newsletter article, try to avoid buying or using any plastic the next time you shop – “It’s an eye-opening experience.”

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In other Board of Directors news, various board members are attending three workshops this fall.  The workshops include a Peer Network Training hosted by The Neighboring Food Co-op Association at Upper Valley Food Coop in White River Junction that took place September 15. At that workshop, Coops met to share information to support each other.  On October 13 the NCFA will be co-hosting a “Co-op Café” with CDS (Cooperative Development Services) entitled “Expanding the Vision of ‘We’”. And then in November, a networking event is planned to address unconscious bias.  If anyone is interested in what we have learned at these workshops, please send an email to board@middlebury.coop and we’ll be happy to share!

Ann LaFiandra is a Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board Member

 

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