a word from the board

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

First Steps

I started on the board during a pivotal time in our nation, having my first zoom training with Glenn & Kate in June 2020.

In the same month, George Floyd was murdered. It brought light to a flame that is still burning—the Black Lives Matter movement. The world watched as a man screamed for life, his mother. and uttered his last words: “I can’t breathe”. Those 9 mins and 29 seconds caught on video shook the country, awakening awareness in some, and a reminder to others.

Some of us took to the streets to protest, others got more involved in their community, many just continued the work they were already doing, some ignored, and others remained numb. In our community, flames were caught. As a board, we began to discuss Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion–JEDI–as it related to the Co-op. 

As we mapped out what it would look like, the board decided to create a committee that would lead the charge. In March of this year, I became Chair of the Justice Equity Diversity Inclusion (JEDI) Committee for the Middlebury Natural Foods Cooperative. Since becoming chair, I observed the committee’s eagerness and desire to act and came up with a plan. Seeing this eagerness, I took a step back and reflected. I wrestled internally as I asked myself how we can “be the change” in this new space. How do we move the focus from deliverables and concrete results to regrouping and starting inward? Can we do this alone? Do we need facilitators? How do we create a safe space so we can process & be honest? Where do we begin?  

Thus, I heard the call – we began inward. This included a mix of activities that allowed us to work on our own biases hidden in plain sight. Our refocus became a process of unlearning together, learning together, sharing together, creating a safe space, to be honest, and process together.  

As a committee, we continue to connect, build trust, and reflect. Our first step was a retreat this June where we created a safe space for everyone to reflect on their own privilege and experiences. As the facilitator, I lead by inviting everyone to be present, talk about their own privilege and fears around this work through a series of activities.

This is just the very beginning; we know this is the work of lifetimes to repattern and know ourselves first.  We are invested in doing the work for ourselves, as a board, staff, and the Co-op. What will it look like years from now?  We have no clue, but we are committed to showing up together to keep taking that first step over and over to do the work.

Esther Thomas is a Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board Member

What Does It Mean To Be A Member-Owner?

Are you a member? Do you have a co-op card? Are you a member-owner? Can I use my mom’s membership? What about my partner’s membership? Can I serve on the board if someone in my household is a member-owner? These are all questions that circle around on a daily basis, and as a board we recently discussed that there can be confusion on what it actually means—both literally and symbolically—to be a member-owner of the Middlebury Natural Foods Cooperative.

The confusion I see most often (and I’ll admit is what I also got confused about before joining the board!) is: who exactly is a member-owner? A member-owner is an individual. Although the benefits of being a member-owner, such as the physical co-op card, the weekly Member Deals in the store, and Co-op Connection discounts, extend to the member-owner’s household, a member-owner is one person only. This one person holds equity in the co-op in the form of the annual $20 membership payment, which accrues up to $300 in share purchases, at which point they have purchased a full share. This investment is also fully returnable if an individual decides to end their membership at the co-op for any reason. 

While individuals within the member-owner’s household receive the discounts and benefits, the member-owner themselves is the only person who can vote on essential issues and elections. A member-owner can sell their shares to another when they join households; however, that individual is giving up their vote. For this reason, many individuals in long-term partnerships ultimately decide to keep their shares so both members of the household can vote. Furthermore, the person who is technically the shareholder in the household is the only one who can serve on the board. 

Although it may seem simply like semantics, the term “member-owner” is enormously significant. Being a member is so much more than the discounts. As the MNFC website states: “Co-op membership is co-op ownership!” Unlike having a frequent buyer’s card at a pharmacy, or a membership to a gym, being a member-owner of the co-op means you own part of the business. 

Each year, if the co-op has been profitable, member-owners receive a portion of the profits directly back. This is called the “patronage dividend” and member-owners receive these checks in July. Although it may seem like a mouthful, the term “member-owner” is what the co-op’s staff and board members use both because it is the most accurate, and because it reflects such an important sentiment. As a member-owner, you literally own the store and are part of a community of friends and owners. By being a member-owner of the co-op you are voting with your dollars and making a statement about the importance of community-owned businesses. 

So is it worth it to be a member-owner? I’ve often seen people calculate how much they would need to spend at the co-op to “pay back” their membership fees through their patronage dividend. This is certainly an important question; however, it does not represent the full picture of what it means to be a member-owner. For me, voting with my dollars, and spending my money investing in a local and cooperatively owned business is a deeply meaningful use of my money.

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

Talking with Megan Brakelely at The Knoll at Middlebury College.

Walking the TAM from either direction to The Knoll at Middlebury College is an other-worldly experience. From one direction the path meanders along open fields and through a little magical forest filled with fairies. From the other side, the path winds alongside another type of current (pun intended) day magic – large flat square objects that follow the sun transforming sunlight into electricity to support the renewable power portfolio of Middlebury College.  Once upon The Knoll the Labyrinth and Dalai Lama rock beckon the visitor to slow down and just be, surrounded by the vast perennial, vegetable, and flower beds. 

The Knoll is tended by Middlebury College students under the guidance of Megan Brakeley and other Middlebury staff.  Megan brings a great vibe and deep experience with farming to her tending of The Knoll similar to her predecessor Jay Leshinsky balancing and harmonizing the needs of non-human living beings with human living beings.  Megan graduated from Middlebury College in 2006 with a degree in Spanish and a minor in Environmental Studies. After seven years of learning from her students and the land through teaching and farming after graduation, Megan pursued a Masters of Environmental Management from the Yale School of the Environment.

I’ve known Megan since her days in the Center for Community Engagement at Middlebury, and have been witness to what she calls one of her superpowers, “navigating and advocating for different kinds of spaces.”   Whether you are a silphium (The Land Institute’s perennial sunflower) in need of some ground to call home, a student finding your “place” at Middlebury, or you are seeking an organizer with deep knowledge of sustainable farming who is calm and centered (Megan is on the Organizing Squad VT Releaf Collectively) you will not regret knowing Megan. 

As a mentor for students and a mentee of many others as she expands her connection to the BIPOC farming community in Vermont, she feels fortunate that Jay worked alongside her as she transitioned to running The Knoll. Megan brings a great laugh, a huge smile, and a deep knowing that is instantly comforting.  While many of us at the Coop know Jay from his many years on our Board of Directors, serving as president, Megan has been grateful for his stewardship at The Knoll.  The Knoll was founded by students just a couple of years ahead of Megan at Middlebury who also benefited from Jay’s wisdom.  “Jay is someone who holds experiences and lets them soften him.  He has a gentleness with others, is always curious, generous, generative, and creates space for others,” Megan reflected. Jay and Megan shared stories and tea during early morning meetings at the Wilson Cafe on campus during the transition. Jay shared the origin story of the Knoll with Megan at that time, which emerged from many voices and many hands to come into the shape it is today.

One of the things Megan brings to her work, and to these uncertain and even chaotic times, is curiosity about leadership.  What does it look like to support sustainable farming practices in Vermont – in the BIPOC community beyond her Middlebury College work?  How are these spaces held, how are they re-claimed?  Megan is stepping into her own as a leader, accomplice, and amplifier as she considers the current state of the world and her place in it.  She works for the shift believing in the work required to change the dominant power structures to create access, equity, and inclusion. “Leadership, representation, fresh ideas, and familiarity with reimagining and thinking outside existing hegemonies matters,” Megan observes. “What does it mean to ‘center voices’ in a holistic way where we also acknowledge past harm, work toward making amends, and do the real reparative work to actively resource the people who can transform and guide this work?”  These are ideas and actions the Board’s recently formed Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) committee is addressing.

And, how does all that relate to growing food in the role of the educator? Megan brings her questions and her insights “growing food means becoming intimate with multiple intelligences, seeds, dirt, weather, tending.  How can we as a community feed and nourish each other? What does it mean to be free and in service to each other and the land?”   

Recent good news is that the summer intern program will be back this summer at The Knoll where students collectively work the land taking the blank garden spaces and choosing as a group the story the land will share during a 16-week space.  “Working with natural systems is always an adventure, we work hard, are thoughtful, do our best, and then roll with what comes each summer,” Megan said.

Nadine Canter Barnicle is a Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board Member and a member of our Communications and Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion committees.