Co-op Staff

A Community Grows with Good Soil: Appreciating Our Staff

I recently took a trip to Northern California, and while there, I went to the North Coast Co-op in Arcata.  It’s a big store, which makes sense for a co-op with around 16,000 members.  As I wandered around produce and bulk, thinking about the dinner I was going to make, I kept thinking about how quiet the store was.  I noticed several customers talking to each other (FYI, a guy named James is about to quit working somewhere, and while it is too bad that he is leaving, the details are too juicy to share in public) and staff talking to staff (which apples to stock?  Did you get to the bananas?) but there were very few conversations between staff and customers.  Now, Middlebury and Arcata have similar energy and comparable politics and values.  Both are college towns that also rely on tourist dollars for their economies, and both are places with a similar emphasis on supporting local agriculture.  Employees in each store are polite and helpful and each space fills an important role in providing food. But this bigger store in a bigger city felt…different.  Why?  It can’t just be a question of scale, though that certainly factors in.  I’ve been pondering this question since I returned home, and the more I think about it, the more I come back to the staff at the MNFC.  It’s a store I’ve always thought has excellent customer service. Perhaps that customer service isn’t just about promoting the business, or increasing sales, but is also about building community. 

Shopping at the Arcata co-op has made me reflect on how I interact with our co-op staff, and how much we rely on the staff in our co-op to build the sense of community that we identify with the MNFC.  I can think of someone in almost every department that I know.  Some of those people I only know from the co-op, it is the only place we interact or see each other.  And I think that shows how important the MNFC staff are to building and maintaining our community.  It also is a good reminder for us member-owners on how we should treat co-op staff.  After all, there are 6000+ of us and 100 or so of them.  Think about those numbers the next time a cashier doesn’t need your member card because they have memorized your last name.

We’ve all heard stories of particularly heinous behavior towards people in the service and hospitality industries.  Employees of airlines, restaurants, hotels, and yes, grocery stores, are bearing the brunt of society’s frustration and anxiety over the last few years.  So I offer a challenge to anyone who is reading this.  On a future trip to the MNFC, tell a staff person something you appreciate about their work.  Or ask their name and say hello. Or strike up a short conversation.  Anything to help return that sense of community that they are preserving for all of us. 

As for the Co-op in California, maybe if I was there on a different day or time, or if I actually lived there, I would have experienced something different. I can admit that my observations could be totally false. But that doesn’t make my observations about our own co-op any less true.  People idolize small towns and describe the experience of going to a shop or store and being greeted by name as one of the perks of small-town life. Let’s celebrate that, and the reverse as well – going into your local grocery store and knowing the names of the people who know yours.

Samantha Langevin is a Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board Member

Celebrating our Graduates

Commencement is just one of the watershed events upended by the global pandemic, prompting schools across the nation to cancel or postpone graduation ceremonies or create a virtual alternative. While students, teachers, and public health officials agree that this played an important role in limiting the virus’ transmission, it leaves a lot of graduates feeling a distinct lack of closure. The rushed goodbyes and the mounting uncertainties about how it would all unfold put a damper on a period of time usually marked by celebration and revelry. Thankfully, these difficult circumstances also seem to have given many members of the class of 2020 a unique sense of camaraderie and many have found creative ways to honor this very special and unique time in their lives.

The Co-op is bursting with pride for two of our own who are celebrating graduations this year. Kelsey Buteau and Renee O’Connell are valued members of our Front End team and you may recognize their smiling faces from the check-out lines. Kelsey is graduating from Middlebury Union High School and Renee is graduating from Otter Valley Union High School. They each took a moment to answer a few questions about the challenges of graduating in the COVID era and the ways they plan to mark this momentous occasion.:


Congratulations on your graduation! How will you celebrate?

Kelsey: I don’t have a set plan for how to celebrate but maybe a cake and a day with my family and friends.

Renee:  I plan to celebrate with friends and family

Did your high school hold a ceremony?

Kelsey:  MUHS is planning on having a drive-through graduation ceremony. We will pull up in our cars, walk across the stage, and get our pictures taken. They also put signs up around the Middlebury green with our names on them.

Renee:  Otter Valley is also having a drive-through ceremony on the 13th of June.

What was the highlight of your senior year?

Kelsey:  I think the highlight of my senior year was getting closer to my friends. I went away for most of my junior year and when I returned I found that I had lost an old group of friends. I began to get closer to a new group of girls who have become my best friends. I am so happy senior year brought us all closer together  

Renee:  There were many incredible memories and highlights of my senior year. If I had to pinpoint one it would have to have been my fall choir concert.

What have been some of the biggest challenges of graduating during a pandemic and having your senior year cut short?

Kelsey:  For me, the biggest challenge is not having some sort of closure. I was looking forward to all of the big events at the end of my senior year, and it feels strange that they never happened. 

Renee:  There have been many challenges to graduating in a pandemic. I have missed out on some of the best things about being a senior. My softball season, the last three months with friends and teachers, spring concert, prom, etc. One of the biggest things for me was that I didn’t get the closure of saying goodbye. Say goodbye to my teachers, my friends, and the school that has been my home for the past four years. 

What’s next? Do you have plans for the fall?

Kelsey:  I am really excited to be attending the University of Denver in the fall! I have never lived in Colorado and I couldn’t be more ready! 

Renee:  This coming fall of 2020 I will be attending the University Of Southern Maine.

Needless to say, we’re so very proud of you both and we’re confident that you both have very bright futures ahead of you! Thank you for being an integral part of our Co-op family and congratulations on your graduation!