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!
The candidates are ready and the ballots are in the mail…you should see one in your mailbox next week. The ballot packet includes information about the election, candidate bios and photos, a preview of our Annual Meeting Celebration and our Annual Report. You can link directly to everything but the ballot (the ballot will only be in your mailbox!), RIGHT HERE. After you’ve filled out your ballot, bring it to any cashier to redeem your Coupon for $3.00 of Any Vermont Product (this will be attached to your ballot). All ballots need to be in before 7 pm on May 31st. Happy voting!
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 email@example.com. 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:
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
In September, three members of MNFC’s Board of Directors, Lyn Dunton, Kate Gridley, and Ann LaFiandra, attended a Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA) peer gathering in White River Junction, VT. Folks, mostly directors and a few staff, from the following coops across New England attended: Brattleboro Food Co-op (VT), Buffalo Mountain Co-op (VT), City Market/Onion River Co-op (VT), Co-op Food Stores (NH), Fiddleheads Food Co-op (CT),Franklin Community Co-op (MA), Greenstar Co-op Market (NY), High Falls Food Co-op (NY), Hunger Mountain Food Co-op (VT), Littleton Food Co-op (NH), Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op (VT), Monadnock Food Co-op (MA), Neighboring Food Co-ops (MA), Portland Food Co-op (ME), Putney Food Co-op (VT), River Valley Food Co-op (MA), Rutland Area Food Co-op (VT), Springfield Co-op (VT), Stone Valley Community Market (VT), Upper Valley Food Co-op (VT) and Willimantic Food Co-op (CT). Our topics of the day were: Member Engagement Strategies, Successful Board Recruitment and Retention Strategies, and The Challenges and Rewards of Diversity and Inclusion.
MNFC stands alone in not only having a fully filled Board of Directors, but every year for the past several election cycles, we have had 7 – 10 outstanding candidates run for the scheduled open slots (terms at MNFC are three years, and with an 11- member board, 3 or 4 terms are up in each election cycle). To our amazement, we learned that there are co-ops whose boards are not fully staffed, and there are election cycles in which there are no candidates! We also learned that many co-ops have embraced electronic voting – which has upped the percentage of members who participate in voting –and many co-ops have looked hard at their election processes.
We are looking at our election processes as part of our board work for 2018- 2019. We’ll consider the following questions:
What does it mean to be a board member?
What kinds of decisions does the board make, what is the time commitment?
Who is NOT running for our board? Why not?
What are the barriers to running for the board?
How can we best orient future candidates so that they understand the job they are running for?
Facing a large slate of candidates, what will help our member-owners make decisions when casting their votes?
How do our member-owners know if a candidate is qualified?
How can we best present the slate of candidates?
Should we sponsor a Meet the Candidates Mixer?
How can we enhance the voting process to ensure more member-owner participation?
What are the advantages and disadvantages of moving to an electronic voting system
What Else Should We Consider?
I want to remind our member-owners that our Board of Directors meetings, 6:30 – 8:30 on the fourth Wednesday of every month, are open to you. We want our processes to be transparent and we want to know what you are hearing and what you are thinking. Member-Owner: this is a beautiful word. MNFC is owned by you, it’s members. And the work of the Board, using Policy Governance (which is simply an operating system), is to act and make decisions on behalf of and in the best interest of the member-owners. Perhaps this work interests you? Please let us know! To reach out to the board, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kate Gridley is a Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board Member
People shop at the food co-op for all sorts of reasons – for bulk teas and spices, or the freshest possible ingredients for a special dinner, or maybe to support local farmers and food businesses, or to find a wide assortment of organic food to avoid feeding your family pesticide residues with their meals. Many of us shopping at the co-op are aware that our US food system has some deep problems, and we want to be part of a solution. We read about farmworkers dying from heat exhaustion in California, after making a long and dangerous trek to reach a job in the United States. We read about food deserts and gross disparities in health outcomes for populations in areas without good access to healthy food. We read about the growing dangers of antibiotic resistance to serious diseases — a problem that the World Health Organization tells us is comparable to climate change in its impacts on human health and caused in large part by feeding antibiotics to livestock to make them grow faster. These are all side-effects of ‘business as usual’ in our food system and a result of buying food at the cheapest possible price from all over the world regardless of how it was grown and by whom.
Participating in a member-owned food business that operates on cooperative principles is an important alternative to ‘business as usual’.
The co-op’s structure allows member-owners to have a say in what we buy and how the profits are distributed. Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op has been a great community partner by sponsoring or contributing to food access programs and events to raise awareness of healthier eating. But are we really addressing inequity? And why is that important?
Inequity, in contrast to inequality, is systematic exclusion from opportunities that would allow equitable outcomes. The US food system is founded upon and continues to be supported by exploitation – of the natural environment and people with little political power.
Our country was stolen from Native Americans, leaving a shameful legacy of broken treaties and people living on reservations with the highest prevalence of diabetes in the country. Much of US wealth was built on the labor of cruelly enslaved peoples, Native American and African, who even now have not been able to access a fair share of that wealth. Wealth is rapidly trickling up — or more accurately, flooding up — to the wealthiest people, with only three people in the US now controlling more wealth than the bottom 50%, according to Forbes Magazine. Through our foreign policies and trade agreements, we continue to exploit people and resources in other countries so that US citizens can enjoy exotic foods and items we consider staples year-round, although we can’t produce them on US land (coffee, tea, and spices, to say nothing about our insatiable demand for petroleum). Through our ‘cheap food’ policy, designed to prevent urban populations from revolting, we continue to exploit farmers and indirectly farmworkers who make wages far below the poverty threshold.
A common reaction among relatively well-educated people in the US is to buy food certified to be organic, eco-labeled in some other way (e.g., Marine Stewardship Council seafood) Fair Trade (international or domestic) or humanely raised. But we can’t buy our way to equity; and as long as racial and financial inequity persists in the food system, we are feeding ourselves on stolen labor and resources.
So how can we work toward greater food system equity? This merits a larger community conversation, and conversations about climate justice and farming issues in Addison County are a good start. Equity will require enabling real participation of everyone in making and implementing decisions about our food, and seizing control away from wealth-mongers, Big Food and Big Ag—agribusinesses that are far more concerned about a steady flow of profits than a steady increase in public health and ecological integrity. It will mean each of us developing more awareness of the ways that our own well-being comes at the expense of other people’s quality of life. It will mean not only buying good food, in a place like the coop where our purchases benefit our community, but participating in political forums to get money out of politics at every level and to fight for policies that provide the privileges of health and political voice enjoyed by the well-to-do to the least advantaged in our society.
And to ‘put the last first’ over and over, until our society is no longer marked by huge disparities in wealth, health, and political power – Molly Anderson
Molly Anderson is a Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board Member
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.
The votes are in! We have re-elected three long-serving and dedicated Board Members – Nadine Barnicle, Lynn Dunton, and Louise Vojtisek. Also, please welcome brand new Board Member, Sophie Esser Calvi! Thank you so much to everyone who took the time to vote in this election. We had a record turn-out, and are so happy that so many of you turned out to share your voice and your vote with your Co-op.
By now, you have probably received a copy of our 2018 Annual Report for MNFC in the mail (yes, the “snail” mail). In this publication, you’ll find updates from our Board President and General Manager about how the Co-op has fared in our first year of Expansion. In addition, you’ll get to “meet the candidates” for the four available seats on our Board of Directors. Included in your mailed copy of the Annual Report are Voting Instructions, Your Official Ballot, and a $3.00 Coupon (redeemable with your completed ballot). Please bring your completed ballot into the Co-op by May 31st, so we have time to tally the votes and inform the candidates before our June 6th Annual Meeting. Then, please join us on June 6th, 5:30-7:30 at American Flatbread to find out who won, get a first-hand account of how your Co-op is doing, and enjoy dinner on the Co-op!
This month, members will receive a copy of our 2018 Annual Report for MNFC in the mail (yes, the “snail” mail). In this publication, you’ll find updates from our Board President and General Manager about how the Co-op has fared in our first year of Expansion. In addition, you’ll get to “meet the candidates” for the four available seats on our Board of Directors. Included with your Annual Report are Voting Instructions, Your Official Ballot, and a $3.00 Coupon (redeemable with your completed ballot). Please bring your completed ballot into the Co-op by May 26th, so we have time to tally the votes and inform the candidates before our June 6th Annual Meeting. Then, please join us on June 6th, 5:30-7:30 at American Flatbread to find out who won, get a first-hand account of how your Co-op is doing, and enjoy dinner on the Co-op!
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.