a word from the board

Why Should You Vote in This Year’s Election?

Why Should You Vote in this Year’s Election?

In short, because your vote matters, to all of us. As the primary governing force behind the Co-op, your Board’s eleven members make an impact every day. How? Partly, it is through carefully designed policies that define our Co-op’s core values and scope of operations; safeguard our financial well-being; track our performance; and ensure high levels of transparency.  It is also through working to understand the local, regional, national and global conditions that affect us now and inform the choices we’ll make in the future. We do this through strong, ongoing support of management, and a deep respect for our talented staff.  It is through a Board culture with high standards of collaboration, inclusion, discipline, and a sense of commitment that is reflected in its remarkably low turnover. (There is a shared sense of purpose that comes with making a difference.) Your Board prizes new ideas, pithy dialogs, great technology, humor, thinking fast and slow, and our four decades of cooperative history. It learns and communicates constantly, and knows the value of outside expertise. Its advice is sought by other co-op boards.  In the end, though, it all depends on you: your support, your participation, your vote. So please read those application essays, make your choices, and return your ballot. Give your Co-op the gift of four of this year’s excellent candidates and we’ll continue getting stronger together. Thank you.

 Tam Stewart is a Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board Member

On Plastic Bags and Nude Food

“There is absolutely no logic in wrapping something as fleeting as food in something as indestructible as plastic.”   Sian Sutherland

In the 1967 movie,  “The Graduate”, there is an often quoted line: “There’s a great future in plastics”.  Sadly, any plastic referenced during that conversation is likely still around. Plastic is just about indestructible and does have a great future in terms of longevity. Worldwide concern about the ubiquitous use of plastic is growing, however, and some locales have developed unique approaches to address the problem. A few factoids:

  • Scientists estimate that 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic have been produced worldwide since the 1950s when mass production began. Of that, roughly 6.3 billion metric tons have been thrown away, and only 9 percent of discarded plastic has been recycled.
  • A Dutch supermarket chain introduced what it billed as the world’s first plastic-free aisle in a store in Amsterdam. There, shoppers found groceries, snacks, and other items packaged in compostable materials or in glass, metal or cardboard.
  • The Church of England issued a Lenten challenge this year, asking people to avoid purchasing plastic products and packaging for a six week period as a way to raise consciousness about plastic shopping habits.
  • A number of countries have either eliminated plastic bags in grocery stores or charge customers for them. Follow-up suggests a significant reduction of plastic bags in the waste stream where these measures have been implemented.

A particularly good overview of the omnipresent plastic bag comes from Joseph Curtin, a member of the Irish government’s Climate Change Advisory Council, in the 3.4.18 edition of the New York Times. No matter how you feel about this, there is no question that the prevalence and permanence of plastic bags in our waste stream is a problem, and we can all do our small part to mitigate it. Plastic bags are not “free”. Stores pay for them and pass the cost on to customers. There are environmental and financial costs associated with the energy and resources required to produce, recycle, and/or remove them from the refuse stream.

In recent readings, I encountered the term “nude food”, i.e. food that is not packaged in any way. It is selected at the market, placed in a container you have brought with you, and remains unclothed until you get it home.  We have developed many automatic, unconscious food shopping habits that require some reflection. When buying fresh produce that is pre-packaged, or that we place in a plastic bag, we are actually purchasing two items. One we will use, the other will be thrown away. This makes little sense, as noted in a recent New York Times piece that quotes Sian Sutherland, co-founder of A Plastic Planet, an advocacy group that has pushed the concept of eliminating plastic bags. Ms. Sutherland notes, “There is absolutely no logic in wrapping something as fleeting as food in something as indestructible as plastic.”

If you want to do your part locally, there are many alternatives to using immortal plastic bags.  Google “alternatives to plastic bags” to become educated about an array of reusable products. Become mindful of bringing home some “nude food”. Some possibilities:

  • Bee’s Wrap, a reusable alternative to plastic wrap, is made in Bristol, Vermont and you’ll have fun discovering ways to use it.
  • Reusable silicone bags that have the see-through, flexible, and hygienic appeal of plastic
  • Heavy duty canvas or cotton grocery bags that can hold 40+ pounds
  • Linen bread bags touted to keep bread fresher than plastic
  • Muslin produce bags said to keep produce fresher than plastic
  • Nylon mesh produce bags that allow cashiers to access UPC stickers
  • Incredibly appealing cotton and polyester sandwich bags that would make brown bagging a much more esthetic experience
  • Bring a reusable tote bag with you when you shop and stash pre-used paper and plastic bags inside for produce or bulk products
  • Consider buying bread packaged in a recyclable paper bag
  • If you buy bulk coffee, those sturdy, lined brown bags that are provided can be reused, easily 10 to 15 times. Or just use an ordinary paper bag. It is better to store coffee in a glass and/or airtight container anyway, so you only need to get the coffee home and doesn’t using a new bag each time seems excessive?
  • If you have purchased something in one of those clear plastic “clamshell” containers, use it again and again for produce or bulk items.
  • To transport your “nude food” from store to home, enjoy the retro charm of shopping with a real basket from your home collection, or grab a small cardboard box from the array available at the front of the store. The latter is also great if you’ve forgotten your tote bag.

It’s our store, so let’s continue the conversation … it is an important one!

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

Are We Embracing the Entire Community?

Many cooperative grocery stores across the country are asking themselves whether they are embracing the entire community they serve. This is an especially important question for food cooperatives to explore because of their guiding values of democracy, equity, and equality. I am pleased to report that the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board stepped into this conversation at a recent monthly meeting and is committed to figuring out what we can do better to support our cooperative values of inclusion and accessibility.

For me, attempting to answer this question feels a bit daunting because my perspective is limited by my life experience. As a self-identified white woman and member of the dominant culture, I only know what I know. I need more information! Fortunately, the organizations that support food cooperatives (National Cooperative Grocers & Cooperative Development Services) have begun tackling this question and are sharing what they have gleaned thus far. Here is what I learned:

  • Many of the “new wave” food cooperatives have reached their 40-year anniversary. Middlebury Coop just celebrated this milestone!
  • In most food cooperatives across the county, nearly everyone involved, from board members, staff, management, and customer base is white.
  • Many people agree that racism is a societal problem yet they are challenged to recognize how long-held beliefs and biases could be informing individual and organizational values.
  • Being able to “see” outside dominant culture requires personal dedication to understanding how white supremacy works as a system that keeps people divided and oppressed.
  • Transforming organizations and institutions takes everyone’s participation.
  • Attempting to have meaningful and genuine conversations about race in food cooperatives will be challenging.

What I was surprised to learn is that the lack of diversity at our Co-op may not be just about the demographics of Addison County. I imagine that examining and assessing the organizational culture at the Middlebury Food Coop may be more challenging because of our demographics, but we have much to learn from other food coops in our small state and across the nation. The challenge for me personally is how to unearth/ recognize my biases and to “see” outside the dominant culture that I live and work in. I am eager to hear how others perceive/experience the Middlebury Food Co-op and to expand my perspective so that I can more fully engage in conversations about race and food cooperatives from a more informed place.

Please share your thoughts:  board@middleburycoop.com

Lynn Dunton is a member of the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board of Directors

Happy New Year! Happy Store!

Happy New Year!  While I reluctantly say goodbye to 2017 (the number happens to include all of my lucky numbers), I am ready for the spaciousness and opportunities this new beginning means.  Not just spaciousness in my personal life or opportunities for significant political changes in Washington D.C., but this new spaciousness in our expanded Coop.

I give myself extra time these days when I am headed in for my big weekly shopping at the Coop. I need time to absorb all the newness – and the deliciousness!  This spaciousness is so much more than I could have imagined.  The meats, the fish, the beer, the wine, the beauty supplies, the dairy and gluten free options – and did I mention the DELI?  I have found Zoodles(!) where the olive oil used to be; beer where the mocha almond drinks used to be and dried mango where the some of the chocolate used to be!  Not to mention the coconut chocolate chews and rice sticks at the checkout –  my family is ever so grateful for that move as it means I don’t forget to purchase these Barnicle family staples.  And there is so much more going on in this space.  The aisles are wide enough to smile at people while you reach for the blueberry hemp granola and did I mention the fresh fish and the expanded lines of turkey meat and chicken?  The store is now, more than ever, a foodie’s delight.  This extra space means so many more choices and very thoughtful merchandising and shelf organizing.  Things are labeled more clearly, the lighting is fabulous and wait  – did I mention the fish?   There are affordable options in almost every food category and I am able to still keep to my budget. Healthy foods have never been more accessible in Addison County.

As I reflect on the last two years on the board and what this expansion means I come back to the staff – to Glenn and his amazing team that has planned and implemented this expansion.  Their leadership, team spirit and fortitude for adaptation while working in a construction zone are commendable.

I have been a member-owner of the Coop since 1998.  At the time I lived down the street and got there by foot with my one-year-old in a stroller that did not fit in that tiny storefront along Washington Street. I’d proudly spend my meager grocery budget on organic produce and bulk items that kept my kitchen smelling delicious and my family’s minds and bodies healthy.  Twenty years later my almost 21-year-old and nearly 18-year-old drive themselves to the Coop to meet friends knowing it’s the best (and healthiest!) lunch in town.  I am very proud of our Coop. We’ve set the bar high as far as food choices for our community and we are now poised to respond to the demand for that food for a few more years.  Did I mention the new spacious seating in the deli area, oh and the fresh fish?

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

The Right to Food in the United States –  What can we do on the local level?

It’s time for the United States to support the human right to food.  Every person must have access to safe, nutritious, and adequate food obtained in dignified ways to be healthy and have an adequate standard of living. Our federal government should commit to respect, protect and fulfill the right to adequate food and nutrition, as almost every other country in the world has done. Recent assaults on federal food assistance by our government have stirred public outrage, as well as resistance from more moderate members of Congress.  But the problem goes deeper than threats to food access in the current administration – the solutions need to be made comprehensive and accessible.

United States opposition to the right to adequate food and nutrition (RtFN) has endured through Democratic and Republican administrations.  Nevertheless, post-World War II bipartisan programs in support of food and economic security were greatly improving hunger and poverty until they were reversed in the early 1980s. Combined federal and private food assistance cobbled together since that time has not been adequate to prevent steady or rising hunger and food insecurity in the U.S. on national and local levels.  In Vermont, the latest available data (2013-2015 average) tell us that 6.3% of households had low food security (reduced quality, variety, or desirability of diet) and 5.1% had very low food security (reduced food quantity or disrupted eating patterns because of not having enough money or resources). This problem is especially serious in households with children:  nearly 1 in 5 children in Vermont doesn’t have regular access to enough food for a healthy, active lifestyle.

We shouldn’t be surprised: private charitable food assistance, such as food banks and pantries, and government food assistance such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and WIC cannot end hunger and food insecurity.  These programs do not address the root causes of food insecurity such as racism, falling real wages, and rising inequality in income and assets. People at the front lines of hunger and food insecurity do not participate in the design and implementation of US programs.  Nor do these programs respond to chronic food insecurity by building robust, diversified, sustainable, and decentralized food economies. There is no popularly conceived, comprehensive plan in the U.S. with measurable benchmarks to assess the success or failures of the present approach. Therefore, our capacity to hold government actors accountable to progressively improving food and nutrition status is ultimately constrained.  All of these actions are part of putting the RtFN in action.  Countries endorsing the RtFN and taking steps to make it real (e.g., Brazil, France, all Scandinavian countries, Eastern European countries, Japan) have a lower prevalence of moderate and severe food insecurity than the US, even when their GDP is much lower than the US.  For a look at how U.S. food security is broken down geographically, please click on the graphic, below:

Although nobody expects action at the federal level anytime soon, support may be feasible at town, city and state levels. Democratic action is often most effective and possible when people know and encounter each other regularly, and can hold each other accountable. Middlebury and Vermont could support the RtFN, even without federal action, in many ways.  We could look for guidance to many other places around the world that have created programs in line with the RtFN, then develop a plan for eliminating hunger and food insecurity that could be a model for other cities and states.

To find out more about the state of food security in the U.S., please see the following resources.

USDA Economic Research Service

Hunger Free Vermont

Molly Anderson is MNFC’s newest member of the Board.  She teaches at Middlebury College about hunger, food security, food sovereignty, and ways to “fix” food systems.  She works to improve our food system with national and international organizations, as well as through MNFC.



Touring A Monthly Co-op Board Meeting

As co-op owners, you elect directors to the Board, who work on your behalf. Most of that work is done at the monthly board meetings, bi-annual board retreats, committee meetings, and several ad hoc meetings each month. On the fourth Wednesday of each month at 6:30 pm, you will find the Co-op Board of Directors around a table munching on tamari roasted almonds and sliced apples doing what they do best – guiding the health and well-being of this vibrant member-owned Addison County institution. As the Co-op Board President, it’s my job to compile an agenda for each monthly board meeting and post it, along with other reading or reference material, in the form of a board meeting packet. The content is collected from various sources; by the time the board packet is posted to our web-based collaboration tool, it’s a 20-50 page document.  Packets are posted the week before board meetings to allow for plenty of study time. Frequently, they contain financial data in spreadsheet form that requires special attention.  Here’s an example of a typical Board Meeting Agenda.

Meetings have a consistent flow from month to month and always start with a final agenda check. (Everything here that should be? Anything that shouldn’t?) We always discuss any matters brought to our attention by you either in person or through a conversation with a board member as our second agenda item. Next, we review the previous month’s meeting minutes and make any corrections or clarifications (although Victoria writes such good minutes, this doesn’t take long). Then we vote to accept them for the permanent record.

After these first few tasks, we often turn to monthly policy monitoring chores. Our system of Policy Governance involves adhering to policies that direct the activities of both the board and general manager. This is done through a regular schedule of monitoring to ensure compliance. Learn more about Policy Governance here. (http://www.policygovernance.com/model.htm) If it’s a Governance Policy (GP), we review it and decide whether, as a board, we are in compliance. (We usually are.) If it’s an Executive Limitation (EL), we review the report that Glenn has provided to demonstrate his compliance and decide whether we agree. (We nearly always do.) At around this point, we discuss the monthly “GM Report” for a while. This report is not about policy compliance, but is informative and designed to give the board insight into the “under the hood” workings of our co-op, as well as views of “the big picture”, such as what is happening regionally and nationally in the world of food co-ops and in the market conditions that affect us.

With any luck, we’re halfway through the meeting now and turn to a list of timely or topical agenda items. These might include updates from committee chairs; retreat planning; expansion project details; board training and education; and communication and outreach. The impressive part of a monthly board meeting is the quality and dedication each member brings to his or her commitment to representing the Co-op. By 8:20, we review next steps, tasks, assignments and due dates before we adjourn and head home at 8:30.

Tam Stewart is our current Board President.  Do you have any questions about the Board and how we do our work? Write anytime with comments, questions or suggestions: tam@middleburycoop.com.