a word from the board

Our Invisible Neighbors

The Coop hosted a public talk last month by Dr. Teresa Mares, an anthropology professor at the University of Vermont.  Dr. Mares gave a presentation on farmworkers and food justice in Vermont.

In her 2019 book, Life on the Other Border: Farmworkers and Food Justice in Vermont, Dr. Mares explores the personal vulnerability and food insecurity experienced by migrant farmworkers in our state, and analyzes the inequities, fear, and invisibility experienced by those who sustain our dairy industry.  She speaks to these farmworkers’ humanity and resilience; their efforts to remain connected to the foods and customs that link them to their homes and families of origin.

While most of us take our ability to move freely about the state to shop for food for granted, nearly 95% of the migrant farmworker population in Vermont lacks personal transportation, despite the passage of legislation that allows state residents to obtain driving licenses regardless of citizenship status. Access to grocery stores (and healthcare) typically depends on the assistance and support of the farmers who rely on this workforce; or on volunteers.  This disenfranchised and vulnerable population is uniquely challenged to access these basic necessities. 

It is difficult for most of us to relate to these challenges and as a Coop Board, we want to understand our place as buyers and sellers of Dairy products produced in Vermont. In addition, there is a well-founded fear among migrant farmworkers that visiting a local grocery store, farmers market, or food shelf could result in detention or deportation. There is a reluctance to speak Spanish in these public spaces, and efforts are made to call as little attention to oneself as possible.

An estimated 1000-1200 farmworkers reside in Vermont, and it is calculated that nearly 70% of Vermont’s milk originates from dairy farms that rely on the work of migrants. Although these workers pay taxes and contribute to Vermont’s economic wellbeing and food security, there is an illogical disconnect between these farmworkers and their own access to food.  Work schedules can approach 70 hours a week, thus there is little time in the day to prepare and eat wholesome meals.

Dr. Mares’ presentation highlighted the following topics:

  • The reality and life experience of migrant workers and their families who sustain Vermont’s dairy industry include a deep connection to family, both local and beyond, along with considerable knowledge about agriculture. These are resilient individuals with a strong work ethic and a desire to be self-reliant, despite the challenges of limited access, choice, and opportunity.
  • Vermont is a border state and, as such, migrant dairy workers face many of the same dangers as migrants at our southern border. The reach of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) extends up to 100 miles from the Canadian border, thereby presenting very real obstacles to food security, a healthy diet, and the overall well-being of workers and their families.
  • Huertas means “kitchen gardens” in Spanish and the Huertas Project is a collaboration with volunteers and undocumented farmworkers that promotes growing and preparing food that has cultural relevance and helps diminish food insecurity. Participation in this project, which has largely been in Franklin County, has allowed workers to demonstrate their agricultural knowledge and skills, though gardens are often situated to reduce visibility from the road and therefore attract little attention.  Efforts to expand this project to Addison County are important.

Dr. Mares’ presentation concluded with a multitude of questions from the engaged group. Speaking for myself, this was a beginning step in education about the unseen group of hard-working people who underpin our dairy industry.  Next steps would include:

  • Learning more about how our agricultural system and immigration policies are misaligned and how this has an impact on our overall food system in the United States.
  • Exploring opportunities to become involved in actions that promote greater interaction with these invisible members of our community, and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion of these neighbors.
  • Investigating affiliation with existing local groups that have established trusted connections with migrant dairy workers and engaging in activities that would alleviate food insecurity and promote access to foods that meet the cultural preferences of Latinx workers and their families.

For more information about this topic, please see an earlier post on our blog:

Exploring Farmworkers and Food Justice in Vermont

Louise Vojtisek is a Middlebury Co-op Board Member

Living by the Seasons with Healthy Food

If the 40 degree morning temperatures and the large V’s of Canada Geese I have seen fly south since the end of August are any indication, winter is once again around the corner.  For me winter is uninvited, fairly predictable, and mostly a welcomed “guest” because I am ready for soups and curries, and cozy quiet evenings snuggled on my couch with a book. In the Chinese Medicine world, this time of year is marked by a turn inwards. Yang peaked a number of weeks back and we are now officially in Yin season, with Yang receding back down into the roots. We can no  longer reach for the sun for all our nourishment; we have to rely upon the foods that have gathered up the sun/yang energy to sustain us.  We go inwards, relying on the stores of summer’s natural vitamin D and the harvests that have been cultivated by the many local farms in our community.

Luckily, fall comes before winter.  Fall always brings such a mixed bag for me, the excitement of a new school year, the bounty in the gardens, the relief of hot, humid summer days, and also the loss.  The end of casual backyard barbecues with local brews and spirits, and a good corn hole competition, not to mention the local veggies straight from the farm to our plates.  My family and I are now thinking about curries and stews – warming foods. 

I have relied on the access to healthy foods at our Coop for more than 21 years.  I am so proud that one of our Ends commits our cooperative to the mission of providing healthy foods.  We all benefit from this commitment and access.  I know this access is a privilege; one I never take for granted.  As years have unfolded and the seasonal cycles change, so has the kinds of foods my body needs to stay healthy.  The foods that kept my microcosm healthy in 1998 are very different than what is healthy for my system today.  At the same time, my family’s eating patterns have also shifted significantly during this same time; my college kids even admitting that white refined sugar and mainstream processed foods really do make them feel sick.  So, come winter, all I want to do is go deeper into that commitment to eating healthy food.  Won’t you join me?

I am sharing a very simple curry recipe that my family regularly enjoys when the seasons turn Yin. It’s dairy and gluten free and can be made vegetarian or with pork, chicken or shrimp.  All the ingredients can be found, any day, at the Coop. How blessed are we?

Nadine’s Lentil Curry with rice

2 cans guar-free coconut milk

4 tablespoons red curry paste

1 quart veggie broth

3 medium carrots, chopped in 1 inch pieces

Half a green cabbage, shredded

2 cups broccoli florets

2 medium zucchinis, chopped in 1 inch pieces

1 cup red lentils, rinsed 3 times to remove starches

Optional

1 pound of chicken breast (or pork or shrimp) cut into ½ inch strips

and/or 1 pound of drained tofu, cut into ½ inch strips

  1. Combine coconut milk, curry paste and broth in dutch oven and bring to boil, partially covered
  2. Add all vegetables and lentils, and simmer for 25 minutes, covered
  3. Add meat option or tofu, simmer for another 20 minutes until cooked through, covered
  4. Serve over jasmine rice (or short grain brown rice for nutty flavor addition); finish with chopped cilantro, a hot sauce of your choice; a drizzle of toasted sesame oil and toasted curry cashews, and a generous squeeze of lime.

Notes:  Add 2 tablespoons of fish sauce and one tablespoon sweetener towards the end of cooking (I use granulated date sugar) for more of a Thai curry flavor.  And, if too thick, thin it down with more broth and/or more coconut milk.  If too thin, add more lentils, a bit at a time.  Adjust curry paste to taste.

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

 

 

 

Keeping it Clean AND Healthy

Would you believe it if I wrote that doing laundry has been bringing me joy recently? It’s true! Ever since I learned how to make my own non-toxic, low-waste laundry detergent, I feel immense satisfaction and joy knowing that I’m taking a daily step to keep my family healthy and reduce our footprint of single-use plastics.  
 
As fellow Co-op shoppers, I don’t have to tell you about the importance of minimizing our exposure to synthetic chemicals. For many families, mine included, it was easy to grasp why I would want my food to be organic to minimize the number of toxins I put into my body. Grasping the significance of non-toxic body, beauty, and household cleaning products, however, can be harder, and take more convincing. Many of us have brand loyalties dating back to our childhood, and we associate the smells of these products with cleanliness. 
 
Unfortunately, these smells are frequently a daily source of toxicity in our lives. Our skin is the human body’s largest organ. Therefore, what we put on top of our skin is just as important, as what we put in our mouths. Companies are not required to declare the ingredients of these “fragrances,” which are in fact derived from petrochemicals. These synthetic chemicals are carcinogens and are also known to disrupt the endocrine/hormonal system, which is important for everyone, but particularly young women and girls.
 
Luckily, our Co-op has a wide array of non-toxic household cleaning products, as well as body and beauty products. If you want to take it a step further, reduce waste, and save money, it’s easy to make your own products using ingredients from our Co-op. For a no-brainer switch, try making your own antimicrobial bathroom and kitchen cleaning spray. Combine equal parts white vinegar and water in a spray bottle, and add 5-10 drops of tea tree, lemon, or grapefruit essential oil. That’s it! 
 
And what about my joy-filled laundry detergent? After doing laundry every other day because of my daughter’s cloth diapers, I felt frustrated by the number of single-use plastic detergent bottles we were going through. Making my own has been absurdly easy, and effective even on stinky diapers. The main ingredient is baking soda, which is naturally derived, and is so abundant that we are at no risk of depleting our domestic sources! To make the detergent, I first picked up a used bucket from the Co-op to mix the ingredients in. You often see used feta cheese buckets from the deli by the door, next to the magazine swap area. Next, I repurposed a scoop from a finished container of protein powder to use as the measuring scoop. Zero waste! 
 
Here’s the recipe–it will last months, and costs just pennies per load. Add 1-2 tablespoons per load.
  • 2 cups baking soda (available in the Co-op bulk department)
  • 4 cups washing soda (A derivative of baking soda. Make your own by spreading a layer of baking soda on a cookie sheet and baking at 400 degrees for 1 hour. Or, purchase separately) 
  • 4 cups borax (a naturally occurring mineral) 
  • 10-20 drops of your favorite essential oil from the wellness department 
 
Amanda Warren is a Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board Member.

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

 

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