a word from the board

Interested in Getting More Involved in Your Co-op’s Governance? Run for the Board!

If you would like to be more involved in the governance of our cooperative, I encourage you to run for a position on the board of directors. As chair of the Board Development Committee, my aim is to share with member-owners how the board works, what we do, and what to  do if you’re interested in running for one of the four open board seats this spring. 

The board is composed of 11 members who are elected to serve three-year terms. The board is currently composed of member-owners who live all over Addison County and who have been co-op members for different lengths of time. We span a wide range of ages and have varying backgrounds, including farmer, gardener, teacher, professor, cheesemaker, financial professional, attorney, pastor, sales rep, mediator, parents and nonprofit directors. This diversity of backgrounds and skills makes our board stronger. What we have in common is a passion for the Co-op, our democratic principles, and the collaborative processes that guide our work together. No particular expertise is required. 

The board has three primary roles: 1) to represent the 6,000+ member-owners of the Co-op, 2) to oversee and support the General Manager and 3) to provide strategic and financial oversight for the Co-op. Board members craft and monitor policies that ensure our Co-op is meeting our mission and our ends. We meet monthly, with online conversations and some committee meetings in between. Board members receive a small annual stipend, a 10% discount, and access to professional training.

Each year we are committed to recruiting new board members to bring fresh voices and diverse perspectives to our team. Institutional knowledge from longer serving board members and fresh perspectives from newer board members are equally valuable. Our board strives to be actively anti-racist and inclusive. We welcome participation from community members who share a commitment to anti-oppression work.

I am currently in my first year on the board, and I have appreciated how knowledgeable the continuing members are and how generously they share what they know with those of us who were new this past year. When I participated in a national training for new board members, I learned how fortunate we are to have a co-op that is such a strong, thriving, growing presence in our community. We can’t take this for granted. Come join us on the board and help support the fine work of this organization!

There are several opportunities to learn more about the board this month: 

  • We are holding a Zoom Q&A session for prospective board members on Monday, February 12th from 7-8pm. Join current board members and MNFC’s General Manager, Greg Prescott, to learn about the board’s governing style and ask questions about the board’s responsibilities. RSVP to me at bhofer@middlebury.edu by February 11th at 6pm to receive the Zoom link.
  • Community members are always welcome to attend board meetings. Our next monthly meeting is on Wednesday, February 28th from 6:00-8:00pm. If you’d like to attend, please contact Board President, Amanda Warren, in advance: board@middlebury.coop.
  • From 5:00-6:00pm on February 28th, we’ll also be having an in-person meet and greet before the board meeting. Please RSVP by noon on February 27th if you’d like to attend – bhofer@middlebury.edu.

 

For more information about board responsibilities and how to apply, here’s a link to the board application packet: https://middlebury.coop/wp-content/uploads/2023/12/2024-Recruitment-Packet.docx.pdf, or you can pick up a packet by asking for it at the register whenever you’re in the co-op.

We are happy to connect with you outside of these meetings, too! If you are interested in learning more about what it’s like to serve on the board,, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at bhofer@middlebury.edu  or any of the other board members. 

Barbara is Chair of the Board Development Committee.

How Can I Talk to the Board?

Dear MNFC Member-Owners, shoppers, and community members, 

Have you ever wondered how to communicate with the Board of Directors, and why you would contact the Board? Meaningful conversation between community members and their elected representatives at the Co-op is one of the many reasons the cooperative business model is unique and powerful. However, with over 6,000 Member-Owners, it can be confusing to know how to start a conversation, or where to turn with a question, concern, or feedback about the Co-op. 

 

It may be helpful to understand some unique features of how MNFC works. The Board uses a model of governance in which the Board guides the fundamental direction of the Co-op by creating policies that set the purpose (the Ends) of the Co-op. The Board is also responsible for creating and monitoring policies that oversee the General Manager’s work. The General Manager is directly accountable to the Board for all of these policies, which are monitored year round according to a schedule; however, the policies are broad enough to allow the General Manager and Staff the greatest possible operational freedom to achieve the purpose set by the Board. Board policies are available on our website

 

Here are some ways to bring any kinds of questions, concerns, or feedback to the Board:

  • Email: You can email us at board@middlebury.coop. This email address is checked regularly, and exclusively by Board members, typically Board President, Amanda Warren. 
  • Phone: You can call us at (802) 388-7276 ext 377. This phone number is exclusively answered by Board members, again, typically the Board President, Amanda. 
  • Open Board Meetings: All Member-Owners are welcome to attend monthly Board meetings, which are usually held on the 3rd Wednesday of each month from 6-8pm. The schedule is posted on the website. The first five minutes are always reserved for “Member-Owner Business,” and then Member-Owners are welcome to attend the rest of the meeting to observe the Board’s work. Meeting agendas are available  at the customer service desk by register 6, and are published the week preceding the meeting. If you plan to attend, please email the Board ahead of time, so we know to expect you board@middlebury.coop. Our next meeting is on December 20, 2023.
  • Talk to a Board Member: You are always welcome to talk to any Board member and share your thoughts. Board members will then bring your questions to the Board as a whole. You can see who is on the Board by visiting our website. The Board takes all feedback seriously. You might wonder: who can talk to the Board of Directors? Anyone! Anyone who has a question, concern, or feedback about the Co-op can bring it to the Board–you don’t have to be a Member-Owner. 
  • Run for the Board: If you’d like to get even more involved, Board elections happen every May. Applications are due mid-March of each year. For more information, visit the website, or get in touch with the Board using any of the methods listed above. 

 

If you’d like to learn more, or read any of our Board meeting minutes, you can visit our website. We look forward to hearing from you. 

 

In cooperation,

Amanda Warren (she/her) on behalf of the MNFC Board of Directors 

board@middlebury.coop, (802) 388-7276 ext 377

Amanda Warren is President of the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board of Directors

Year in Review – News from the Board of Directors

Dear MNFC Member-Owners, shoppers, and community members, 

I am genuinely honored to share news of the MNFC Board of Directors’ work. Each time I engage in Board work, I am grateful for how this model of ownership and governance is different from conventional grocery stores–our Co-op exists to benefit our community and recirculate wealth, rather than the traditional model of extracting wealth to benefit a small number of shareholders. This is remarkable. Thank you for being a part of MNFC. 

I am also honored to share this news because I am deeply proud of the work the Board has done over the past year:

  • First, we focused heavily on building our working relationship with our new General Manager, Greg Prescott, in his first year on the job. 
  • Second, we allocated significant time and energy to justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) work. 
  • Third, knowing that several Board members were cycling off this year, we thought intentionally about recruiting new members.
  • Finally, as always, we continued to do our primary, ongoing work: we monitor policies that ensure MNFC meets the ENDS. We are also fiduciaries for the Co-op and monitor the financial conditions of MNFC. 

General Manager Transition 

Greg Prescott became General Manager in April 2022, and the Board actively cultivated a collaborative and strong working relationship with Greg over the last year. The Board creates and monitors policies that allow the GM the greatest possible operational freedom while still guiding the fundamental direction of the Co-op toward meeting the ENDS. In Greg’s first year, we focused on building trust and opening strong lines of communication by establishing shared interpretations and definitions of these policies. 

JEDI 

The Board hired Tabitha Moore to lead us through close to 20 hours of facilitated JEDI training between May and December 2022. Then, our JEDI committee began reviewing and editing our internal Board policies from a JEDI perspective. 

Board Recruitment, Onboarding, and Retention

Knowing that several Board members would be cycling off after lengthy terms, the Board mindfully recruited for this year’s election. We were proud to have an incredibly strong slate of seven candidates running for four open spots.

Ongoing Policy Monitoring & Fiduciary Responsibility  

Through our policy monitoring work as Board members, we have the privilege of witnessing the work of MNFC’s staff. This work is nothing short of incredible. Thanks to the combined dedication of the staff, and all of you shopping at the Co-op, we have had another profitable year and another year of making a positive community impact. The full details of the Co-op’s year and impact will be available in the Annual Report at the end of the summer and our Annual Meeting. 

Finally, this year, the Board hired an external financial auditing firm on behalf of MNFC. External financial monitoring is part of the Board’s fiduciary responsibility and does not reflect a lack of trust in the Co-op’s management. We complete audits every few years and financial reviews in between. The auditors’ findings assured the Board that MNFC’s financial reporting is consistent with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles and that the internal, operational control systems of the Co-op are strong. As Member-Owners, you can feel confident in the financial conditions of MNFC. 

Looking ahead, the Board has set three main priorities for this upcoming year: 1) thoughtful onboarding of new Board members and retention of Board members 2) an ongoing commitment to cultivating a strong working relationship with our General Manager, and 3) completing our review of our “Board Process Policies” through a JEDI lens, as well as committing to approaching all our Board work through from this perspective. 

Appreciation 

This year has been one of transition for our Board. Kate Gridley, Ilaria Brancoli, Nadine Canter, Molly Anderson, and Esther Charlestin all completed their time on the MNFC Board. All of them have been invaluable members of our team and have a combined total of several decades of MNFC Board experience. We will miss their voices in our meetings, and we look forward to seeing them in the aisles!

In cooperation, 

Amanda Warren (she/her) on behalf of the MNFC Board of Directors 

Amanda Warren is President of the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board of Directors

It’s Board Election Season Here at the Co-op!

It’s Board Election season here at the Co-op! Feeling confused about the election? Check out these answers to three of the most commonly asked questions:

I don’t know a lot about the Co-op…should I still vote?

Yes! You don’t need to have any prior experience or expertise to vote. If you’ve been inside the store, then you have the experience needed to vote.

We recommend you look for candidates who demonstrate a commitment to strategic leadership—leadership that supports the best interests of our Co-op as a whole. 

Why should I vote?

It’s very rare that you have the opportunity to make decisions about the leadership of a business, particularly one that plays such a significant role in our daily lives, such as a grocery store. When you vote, you have a direct impact on our community and local economy. 

We literally own our co-op grocery store together, as member-owners. Big-name grocery stores are owned by shareholders that do not live in our community–profits from these stores are extracted from communities. 

MNFC is different because we own the Co-op together–profits recirculate in our community, and all decisions are made locally by the Board of Directors and the Co-op Management Team.

Does my vote matter?

YES! Our elections are frequently very close races. Directors are often elected by a margin of only a few votes, and we occasionally have ties that result in run-off elections. Your vote really, truly matters!

Many thanks for your time! Please reach out if you have any questions. 

In Cooperation,

Your MNFC Board of Directors, 

board@middlebury.coop

(802) 388-7276 ext 377

The Board’s Yearly Retreat 2023

On January 28th, the Board of Directors of the Coop met for a day-long retreat. Greg Prescott, General Manager of the MNFC, and Michael Healy a facilitator from Columinate, a cooperative that consults and supports cooperatives, joined us. Michael has worked with us since 2004 and knows MNFC well.

Over the course of the year, a lot of our time as a board is taken up by our Policy Governance work. We monitor the monthly reports of the General Manager in light of the Coop’s Policies and Ends:

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

We also discuss issues that we have identified as priorities. Over the last three years, for example, we have focused on JEDI work (Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion), a topic that we recognized as a pressing and crucial concern at our retreat in January 2020.

As Michael Healy wrote in his report, this year’s goals were:

  • Build a common understanding of the board’s and the General Manager’s roles in a strategic planning process, and make a plan for beginning that work;
  • Identify the board’s priority work for the next 12 to 18 months; and
  • enjoy each other’s company and build our sense of community and cooperation.

After two years of holding our retreats on Zoom, it was a real joy and relief to be physically in each other’s presence, in the welcoming meeting room of the Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Society. To mark the return to in-person retreats, we decided to hold a potluck lunch, to share a meal together; the culinary results were magnificent.

We started our day by sharing personal stories connected to an object that each one of us had brought. Then, helped by the presence and knowledge of Michael, we worked first in small groups and then all together to identify the priorities for the coming year(s):

  • Board recruitment, onboarding, and retention
  • Ongoing JEDI work
  • Board-General Manager relationship

Our next step will be to turn this list into actionable items and to make space for them in our monthly work.

 I always leave these retreats wishing that we had had more time to be together and brainstorm. For me, a rewarding aspect of our meetings is that they present the opportunity to connect more, both on a personal level and as a Board. The presence of Greg, our new General Manager, also makes a difference: the ongoing conversation with him is integral to our considerations because it helps us not get lost in abstract (albeit very interesting) discussions. It also reminds us that it is the work in the store (by our awesome staff) that allows us to be ambitious in our thinking, and allows the Coop to have the impact it has on the community.

Ilaria Brancoli Busdraghi is the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board Secretary

 

 

Using a JEDI Lens in Board Governance

In recent years, your Co-op board has been actively grappling with issues of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI). This work has been the focus of a JEDI committee, multiple board retreats and training, work with consultants, and now an evaluation of the board’s policies. 

The board uses a system called Policy Governance to create the expectations and boundaries that define how the board and General Manager work together and delegate responsibilities. General Manager is empowered by the board to run the Co-op’s daily operations, while the board provides strategic leadership, financial oversight, and accountability for the GM.  Our policies are broken into categories: Ends, Executive Limitations, Board Process, and Board-Management Relationship. 

The Board Process policies address things like setting meeting agendas, making decisions, budgeting for board expenses, recruiting and training new directors, and running board elections. Over the next year, we’ll be auditing and updating these policies using a JEDI lens to make board operations more clear, inclusive, and equitable. 

This is already proving to be a rigorous, non-linear process. We’re learning to resist the idea that there is a “right” way and accept that we’ll need to continually revisit our policies as we learn more. Undertaking this audit is part of the board’s commitment to JEDI as an ongoing practice embedded in everything we do. 

If this work is important to you, too, consider running for the board! Applications for this spring’s election are due March 12. This work is ongoing, and being on the board isn’t the only way to add your voice. Member owners are welcome to attend any board meeting or contact any board member to share ideas, questions, or concerns. We invite your input! Do you think the Co-op should incorporate justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion into our Ends—our reasons for existing? You can reach us at board@middlebury.coop

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

Interested in Getting More Involved in Your Co-op’s Governance? Run for the Board!

Even though spring feels far away now, we are currently gearing up for our annual board elections and recruiting member-owners to run for the four seats up for election this year. As Board Development Chair, my aim is to share with all of our member-owners more about how our board works, what we do, and what to do if you’re interested in running for one of the board seats. 

The board is composed of 11 members who are elected to serve three-year terms. In May 2023, four positions will be up for election. With three board members stepping off the board, we anticipate welcoming at least three new board members this year! The board is currently made up of member-owners who live all over Addison County and who have been co-op members for all different lengths of time. We have a blend of backgrounds including teachers and professors, farmers and gardeners, community engagement specialists, financial professionals, artists, parents, and nonprofit directors. This diversity of backgrounds and skills makes our board stronger. Further, we all have in common a passion for the Co-op and our democratic principles.

You may wonder: what does the board even do? The board has three primary roles: 1) to represent the 6,000+ member-owners of the Co-op, 2) to oversee and support General Manager, and 3) to provide strategic and financial oversight for the Co-op. Board members craft and monitor policies that ensure our Co-op is meeting our mission and our ends. As you may know, last year the Co-op underwent a big leadership transition, with Glenn Lower retiring and Greg Prescott starting as our new General Manager. Your board is focused more than ever on maintaining our Co-op’s financial strength and community focus and continuing the smooth transition of leadership. 

Each year, we are committed to recruiting new board members to bring fresh voices and diverse perspectives to our team. Institutional knowledge from longer-serving board members and fresh perspectives from newer board members are equally valuable. Our board strives to be actively anti-racist and inclusive. We welcome participation from community members who share a commitment to anti-oppression work. The board is made up of community members who bring a variety of personal and professional experiences. No board member is expected to be an expert or to represent anything other than their own experience. 

I am currently in the first year of my second term on the board and I really enjoy serving on the board. My professional job with the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont is focused on building a food system that centers people and our planet, and I’m so grateful for the work the Co-op does to bring this vision to reality locally. I am honored to participate in the democratic processes of our Co-op and am excited to be able to support others in keeping more dollars and decisions local!

There are several opportunities to learn more this month! 

  • We are holding a drop-in Zoom Q&A session for prospective board members on Tuesday, February 7th from 7-8 pm. Join current board members and MNFC’s General Manager, Greg, to learn about the board’s unique governing style and ask questions about the board’s responsibilities. RSVP to board@middlebury.coop by February 7th at noon to receive the Zoom link.
  • Community members are always welcome to attend board meetings. Our next board meeting is on Wednesday, February 15th from 6:30-8:30 pm. If you’d like to attend, please contact our Board President, Amanda Warren,  in advance: board@middlebury.coop.
  • From 5:30-6:30 pm on February 15th, we’ll also be having an in-person meet and greet before our board meeting. Please RSVP by noon on February 14th if you’d like to attend – board@middlebury.coop.

Of course, we’re happy to connect with you outside of these meetings too! If you are interested in learning more, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me or any of the other board members  —we always love to hear from our fellow member-owners.

Erin Buckwalter is Chair of the Board’s Board Development Committee.

MNFC is Seeking Applications for New Board Members

The Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op is more than just a grocery store. It’s a community-owned, democratically-governed business that supports local farmers, provides jobs, keeps dollars in our community, and increases access to healthy foods. Our Co-op is stronger when all our community members are represented. Add your voice by joining the Co-op board! Serving on the board is one way that member-owners can participate in strategic oversight and make our collaborative, democratic organization thrive. Board members receive a yearly stipend and a 10% store discount, plus ample learning and leadership development opportunities.

Our board strives to be actively anti-racist and inclusive. We welcome participation from community members who share a commitment to anti-oppression work.  

Board elections take place every May and this year, there are four spots up for election. Apply by March 12, 2023, to run for the board. There are several opportunities to learn about the Board in the coming month! 

We are holding a drop-in Zoom Q&A session for prospective board members on Tuesday, February 7th from 7-8 pm. Join current board members and MNFC’s General Manager, Greg, to learn about the board’s unique governing style and ask questions about the board’s responsibilities. RSVP to board@middlebury.coop by February 7th at noon to receive the Zoom link.

Community members are always welcome to attend board meetings. Our next board meeting is on Wednesday, February 15th from 6:30-8:30 pm. If you’d like to attend, please contact our Board President, Amanda Warren,  in advance: board@middlebury.coop.

From 5:30-6:30 pm on February 15th, we’ll also be having an in-person meet and greet before our board meeting. Please RSVP by noon on February 14th if you’d like to attend – board@middlebury.coop.

Of course, we’re happy to connect with you outside of these meetings too! For details, visit middlebury.coop/learn/our-board, email Board Member Erin Buckwalter at board@middlebury.coop or reach out to any of the other board members.

 

JEDI Growing Pains

The Coop board has been actively engaged in justice, equity, inclusion, and diversity (JEDI) learning during the past five-plus years. Our learning has taken place through workshops, training, book group discussions, board retreats, and participation in the NFCA DEI Community of Practice group. In 2020, the board decided to form a JEDI Committee and appoint a committee chairperson to ensure the continuation of this important work.

I have observed and experienced that JEDI learning takes place on both a group and individual level. This is the beauty of the experience for me. Each board member brings a unique perspective that has been influenced by their own cultural and familial experiences since birth. These experiences have informed our individual sense of identity and how we perceive the world around us. My own learning and self-awareness have been greatly enhanced by the richness of multiple perspectives.  

My JEDI learning curve has been steep, and I don’t imagine it will end anytime soon. My learning journey began in a community meeting shortly after Charles Murray visited Middlebury College in 2017. This was the first time I heard the term “white supremacy” used to describe organizations and institutions. I honestly didn’t understand the reference and asked for clarity. The response I received was “figured it out yourself.” I share this experience because it was a learning moment for me despite the feeling of shame of not knowing. A participant at the meeting shared an article about structural racism with me and the invisible became visible.  

 In 2018, I had an opportunity to participate in an implicit bias workshop in Boston. We were a diverse group of participants which made my workshop experience especially meaningful and memorable. We engaged in an activity called “The Privilege Walk.” Our group of 40 participants formed a straight line across the room and were asked a series of questions. If we answered “yes” we took one step forward and if we answered “no” we took one step back. After the activity, we were asked to look around and share what we observed. The front and middle portions of the room were populated predominantly with white people and the back of the room was predominantly populated with people of color. This was my introduction to the term “white privilege.” This term is defined as the unearned set of advantages, entitlements, and benefits granted specifically to white people over other racial groups. Another eye-opening learning moment for me, my understanding of privilege was expanded in a way that increased my self-awareness about the advantages that I have experienced because I was born in a white body. 

There has been lots of research and much written about bias. I have learned that every human brain has biases that allow us to use prior knowledge and experiences to inform our decisions and actions in the present moment and that biases can be conscious or unconscious. Implicit biases are unconscious attitudes and social stereotypes informed by culture, media, and our individual upbringing that occur automatically and unintentionally. Implicit biases affect judgment and decisions and are often incompatible with one’s conscious values.

A few years ago, I had two experiences close together where I became aware of my own implicit bias about how I unconsciously defined the meaning of the word “spouse.” In each experience, I made a quick and unconscious assumption about the sexual preference of the person I was speaking with when they referred to their partner as “spouse.” I apologized immediately and was met with the kind words, “it is ok.” But my judgment and behavior were not ok and out of alignment with a conscious value that I hold. I am grateful for these experiences because they revealed a form of implicit bias that I held that was harmful and outside my conscious awareness. 

The Coop board recently met for a full-day JEDI retreat to continue our discussion about bias and structural oppression. When we began this training several months ago, the facilitator mentioned that our work together would be hard and painful. So true, and at the same time, it has been illuminating. I am grateful for the many opportunities that I’ve had to learn in the community and I attribute my personal growth to the many learning moments that felt exceedingly uncomfortable and shifted my perspective in meaningful ways.

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