diversity

Honoring Vermont’s Inclusion Week and the Adoption of a Proclamation of Inclusion

Governor Scott has declared the second week of May (8th – 14th) to be Vermont’s Inclusion Week and has adopted a Proclamation of Inclusion, which makes clear that the State of Vermont condemns discrimination in all forms and welcomes all people who want to live, work and visit Vermont. Both proclamations acknowledge the work of many in state and local government and by community groups across the state while recognizing there is more work to do to consistently address racism and systemic inequities.

The intent of the Declaration of Inclusion is to indicate and reinforce the message to all visitors, residents, and those thinking about or planning to come and stay, that:

  • Vermont is a welcoming community
  • Vermont invites all to bring their families and friends, as well as their talents and skills
  • Vermont is a community of people who will treat them fairly, provide encouragement and support for their interests
  • Vermont will bring the full resources of the state, cities, and towns to ensure their well-being and security

“This is an important pair of proclamations because they recognize that being truly inclusive and welcoming takes work, and we have to keep building on it,” said Governor Scott in a press release. “The fact is, if we want stronger, more economically secure communities, we need more people and more diversity in Vermont. I hope this effort sends a message to anyone who wants to live and work in a safe, healthy, and welcoming state.”

 

The Proclamation of Inclusion reads:

 

The underlying principles of the Proclamation:

  • Highlight the fact that we as Vermonters are not fully aware of the systemic racism that is present in our majority “white” society
  • Raise consciousness about the importance of diversity, the positive effect that diversity can have on our economy, and on equity and justice
  • Emphasize the importance of preparing our youth to live and prosper in the more diverse society in which we all will soon be living
  • Tell the world at large that Vermont welcomes all people to our state, which is struggling to maintain its population and its ability to fund basic programs for its citizens
  • Attract people with myriad skills and traditions to Vermont to live, work, and raise families in a state that values and encourages diversity in its population
  • Focus attention on examining employee manuals, police protocols, and hiring practices to promote fairness and equity in applying legislation, ordinances, etc., within our towns and the state as a whole
  • Employ best practices in coaching municipal and state employees, including police, to value and respect all citizens

The Goal:

  • To have each Vermont municipality adopt and implement a Declaration of Inclusion.

Adopt means formal approval by the municipality’s governing body.

Implement means the enactment and furtherance of plans, policies, programs, procedures, and relevant training that support and advance the intent and spirit of the Declaration.

Evidence of Commitment:

Town Level

Inclusion in the town’s website, employee manuals, police protocols, newsletters, economic development marketing materials, etc.

State Level

Inclusion in major addresses by leading state officials, printed materials used to welcome visitors, policies and operating procedures, external communications, public relations pieces, etc.

Organizational Level

Inclusion in policies, operating procedures, and similar documents used by labor unions, law enforcement agencies, and academic institutions throughout the state.

These proclamations were developed under the framework of the Declaration of Inclusion, which was developed by a group of committed Vermonters and presented to municipalities throughout the state. To date, nine municipalities in Vermont, including Brandon, Franklin, Middlebury, Moretown, Pittsfield, Pittsford, Waterbury, Woodstock Village, and the City of Rutland, as well as the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, and several other organizations have adopted a form of the Declaration of Inclusion.

“These proclamations are part of the State’s broader efforts to make equity a foundational element of everything we do,” said Xusana Davis, the State’s executive director of racial equity. “They espouse our values, and our values underlie our policy, budgetary, and operational work. We look forward to making an impact with these declarations, and even more so, we look forward to living them out through our work across the state.”

According to the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, “A town or city adopting a Declaration of Inclusion is making a statement to its citizens and to others that this is a town that believes in treating everyone fairly, recognizing that “everyone” does not look or act alike, that we expect our municipal government to abolish any language in ordinances, hiring practices and police protocols that favor the white majority or diminish the rights of others. A town or city may not necessarily be reacting to a prior incident or situation but, in most cases, will just be doing what is right and fair for all citizens – present and future. A welcoming town thrives because it encourages diversity, which brings new vitality to the economy and increased tax revenue.

Has your town adopted a Declaration of Inclusion? What action are they taking to uphold their promises? Check out this handy guide generated by the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, which provides a tool kit to walk you through the steps of asking your town and/or organization to adopt the Declaration of Inclusion. 

Celebrating Inclusive Trade

Looking for ways to support BIPOC farmers and producers? Woman-owned businesses? LGBTQIA+ businesses? Veteran-owned businesses? Businesses owned by persons with disabilities? Look for the Inclusive Trade logo!

National Co-op Grocers (NCG) has launched this logo to highlight diversity throughout the supply chain.

“NCG believes supply chains should include a seat at the table for systemically underrepresented populations. Supplier diversity promotes greater innovation, a healthier competitive environment, and more equitably distributed benefits among all community members. NCG is committed to doing our part to create a more just society by cultivating partnerships with businesses owned by people who identify as women, Black, indigenous, people of color (POC), LGBTQIA+, persons with disabilities, and veterans.”

Our Weekly sale from March 17th – 23rd celebrates inclusive trade and features a lineup of hand-made meals from Inclusive Trade businesses including:

Of course, this is just a small sampling of the Inclusive Trade producers that our Co-op is proud to work with, so remember to look for the logo throughout the store! 

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

Racial Justice and Your Co-op

Sadly, the news is full of incidents of racial injustice across our country, including here in Vermont. Are you surprised by this? Check out this excellent program on VPR’s Brave Little State entitled, Why is Vermont So Overwhelmingly White?, and hear from several people of color living in Vermont sharing their often sad and shocking experiences.

At your Co-op, we are committed to supporting black, indigenous, and people of color in our community.  Everyone is welcome at the Co-op as we strive to create a safe and welcoming environment for customers and staff.  I’m happy to report that in our most recent data analysis of the random customer surveys connected to your receipts, in the last three months, 99% of 280 customers who answered the survey chose a 5 (out of 5) for saying they feel welcome at the Co-op.  Of course, we know there are still some people who do not always feel welcome, so we won’t rest on our laurels.  

I last reported on our work early this past summer when we held a fundraiser for the local chapter of the NAACP in Rutland, raising $25,000 to support their work. Since then, and despite the challenges of COVID, we have been busy educating ourselves about systemic racism and working toward becoming a more welcoming co-op for all members of our community.   

Here are some of the concrete actions we’ve taken in recent months:

  • Several board members and I recently participated in the six-month Abolitionist Challenge designed for food co-op staff and board members across the country. Each month we read a different book on racial justice, and then over 100 of us met to discuss these via Zoom.
  • As a regional spin-off from the group above, our Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA) convened a smaller group of GMs and board members to meet monthly to share what steps our co-ops are taking toward this community challenge. NFCA is made up of over 30 co-ops in New England.  Much of the talk is about how to lead in being more welcoming.  I appreciate Hunger Mt. Co-op saying, “we respect differences, honor each person, value unique stories, and seek to learn from each other.  We succeed when you feel this is your co-op.”  And City Market saying, “we have to start doing justice work for the demographics we have, whatever they are, and lead from a place of ethics and justice.”
  • The Middlebury Co-op Board of Directors just had their annual retreat in January which was focused on increasing education about racism and its impacts, then thinking about the next steps. We’ll talk more at the January board meeting and will report back to co-op member-owners.
  • On the national stage, food co-ops across the country are exploring how to work together to build a positive and inclusive culture that values a diversity of ideas, perspectives, and identities.
  • Despite the challenges of COVID with no in-person meetings, your Co-op managers and assistant managers began a series of trainings with Renee Wells, the Director of Education for Equity and Inclusion at Middlebury College, focused on how to handle microaggressions when they occur in the Co-op. Next, we plan to do trainings with all staff via Zoom in the coming months. 
  • Co-op staff have been having open conversations as well as book groups on racial justice and unconscious bias for the past two years. Recently we bought 10 copies of Caste by Isabel Wilkerson.  We believe that self-learning is a powerful first step toward an antiracist community. Other books we’ve explored together include White Fragility by Robin Diangelo, So you want to talk about Race by Ijeoma Oluo,  and My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem.

Since all white people are a product of racist culture, I realize we have a lifetime of work to unlearn racist attitudes and behaviors. I’m understanding more and more that we are on a life-long journey of learning that has no discernable end, but which is moving us closer to a more equitable and inclusive society.  We invite you to join us on the journey and share your ideas on how we might reach our goal of creating a welcoming and inclusive Co-op for everyone.

Glenn Lower is the General Manager of Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op

Celebrating Co-op Month!

This October, we’re joining co-operatives and credit unions across the United States in celebrating Co-op Month, observed nationally since 1964. This year’s theme, “Co-ops Commit: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion,” was chosen by the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA CLUSA) to promote how co-ops and their members are working together to build more inclusive businesses and more resilient communities.

Our Co-op is celebrating this special month in a number of ways. Throughout the month, we’ll be promoting some of our favorite Co-op-made products and brands. Check out our Weekly Sale and Member Deals displays all month long to find great deals on co-op-made products by Equal Exchange, Aura Cacia, Blue Diamond, Alter Eco, Organic Valley, La Riojana, and more. Be sure to check out the Addison Independent each week for coupons that will offer even deeper discounts on these great products. We’ve also dedicated the latest edition of our Under The Sun newsletter to our local co-operative food system and all of the people who make it shine. Finally, we invite you to check out a free screening of Food For Changea fantastic documentary by filmmaker Steve Alves, which traces the history of food cooperatives in the United States. We hosted a screening of this film here at our Co-op a few years back and it’s a treat to be able to offer a link for a free virtual screening in celebration of Co-op Month!

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are critical components of our work here at the Co-op and we remain dedicated to centering these issues so that we’re able to create a more welcoming, inclusive, and participatory atmosphere at our Co-op. After all, people have historically used food co-ops to improve access to healthy, local, affordable food, and build stronger, more inclusive communities and this valuable work must continue.  Most co-op grocery stores got their start during times of social and economic change, enabling people to access healthy food, support local producers, and provide good jobs.  More recently, a new wave of startups has been growing, representing a renewed interest in food security, and racial and economic justice. Today, the Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA) includes 40 food co-ops and startups, jointly owned by more than 150,000 members and employing over 2,350 people.  Together, these co-ops generate shared annual revenue of nearly $347 million, with local products representing close to a third of total sales. 

“Our vision for a more inclusive economy is one of shared prosperity and well-being, of empowering people to work together to build a better future for themselves and their families,” said Erbin Crowell, NFCA executive director and chair of the NCBA CLUSA board of directors. “And as co-operatives, we have to acknowledge that this vision cannot be achieved without also confronting the racism, inequality, and injustice in our society and its institutions.”

Our staff is actively engaged in the necessary work of better understanding how we can be a part of dismantling the systems of oppression in our country. One of the ways that we’re diving deeply into this critical issue is through a series of staff book clubs. Staff members selected one of three titles to engage with, including So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo, and My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies by Resmaa Menakem, then joined the corresponding book group so that we could engage in honest conversations about racism and the way it impacts all aspects of American life. Our Board of Directors is doing similarly engaging work, which you can read more about in this blog post by Board Member Erin Buckwalter.  We believe in the transformative power of this work and understand that it is necessary if we are to create the diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment that we envision for our Co-op and beyond.

Books that Co-op Staff Members are Reading and Discussing

Food co-ops are not alone in their contribution to more inclusive and resilient local communities.  From farmer co-ops to worker co-ops, credit unions to mutual insurance, and housing co-ops to energy co-ops, co-operative businesses thrive across the U.S. economy, where 350 million people are co-op members.  Nationwide, co-ops generate $514 billion in revenue and more than $25 billion in wages, according to NCBA CLUSA.  And because they are member-owned, co-operatives are rooted in their communities and governed by the people who use them to meet their needs, rather than outside investors.

Stop into the Co-op during Co-op Month to learn more about what makes co-operatives different.  And while you’re there, look for the “Go Co-op” signs on the shelves that identify products that were “co-op made”.  You may be surprised by what you find, including dairy products from Cabot Creamery Co-op and Organic Valley, fresh produce from Deep Root Organic Co-op, fairly traded coffee, tea, and chocolate from Equal Exchange, beverages from Katalyst Kombucha and La Riojana wines, seeds and bulbs from FEDCO, naturally fermented vegetables from Real Pickles, Northeast Grown frozen fruits and vegetables from your Neighboring Food Co-ops — and many others. Visit www.nfca.coop/co-opproducts for a more comprehensive list.

To learn more about the food cooperatives in your region and their collective impact, please visit www.nfca.coop.

A Yearly Get-Together – Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

On a cold Saturday on January 26th, the Board of Directors of the Co-op met for a day-long retreat, as it does every winter. Part of the group was also Glenn Lower, General Manager of the MNFC, Greg Prescott, Operations Manager, Karin Mott, Marketing, Education and Membership Manager, Emily Landenberger, Assistant Marketing, Education and Membership Manager, and Victoria Dewind, Board/Staff Liaison. Michael Healy was also with us. He is a facilitator from Columinate (a consulting cooperative) who has worked with us many times and who helps us stay on track and keep our eyes on our objectives.

Besides our monthly board meetings and the occasional committee meetings, once per year, we get together to delve deep into a topic that, over the course of the previous year, has been on our minds and that we would like to discuss and explore further. This year the topic was Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). Glenn, the managers, and the whole staff have been and are already doing a lot in terms of discussion and action to better serve the community. What we wanted to explore was how to look at the issue of DEI from the point of view of the board. Looking at our Ends, Policies, Executive Limitations, what more can we do to better support the staff of MNFC in their work for creating an increasingly diverse, equal, and inclusive store?

In the words of Michael Healy, the main goal of the retreat was “to decide whether we should amend the current Ends policy to more specifically articulate our values about diversity, equity, and inclusion.” It was a “safe strategic conversation:” We wanted to think and discuss an issue that is so thoroughly connected to what the Co-op does. For many hours we talked freely and we listened carefully, working in small groups and then all together. Having members of the staff there made all the difference: they gave us invaluable input and “kept us real” when we strayed in abstract territories… At the end of these conversations, we agreed that we should add specific language about DEI in our policies. This would make it a stated goal, on which the General Manager would have to report and that the Board of Directors would have to monitor. The work is not done, stay tuned.

Another goal for the retreat was to “enjoy each other’s company and build a collaborative spirit (but we could also say “cooperative spirit”!)”,  and enjoy each other we did! Every time I participate in one of these retreats, I am amazed by the kind of work and connection that happens when such a safe space gets created (and when delicious Coop food is provided!).

Ilaria Brancoli Busdraghi is a Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board Member

 

Celebrate International Day of Cooperatives!

The United Nations International Day of Cooperatives is celebrated annually on the first Saturday of July. The aim of this celebration is to increase awareness of cooperatives, the work we do in our communities, and the things that make our business model unique. 

The theme of the International Day of Cooperatives for 2019 is COOPS 4 DECENT WORK. We are shouting out the message that cooperatives are people-centered enterprises characterized by democratic control that prioritize human development and social justice within the workplace.

Cooperative employment is far from a marginal phenomenon. According to a recent estimate, cooperatives around the world employ or are the main source of income for more than 279 million people—almost 10% of humanity’s total working population!

Here’s a look at the cooperative impact in New England:

Together, the Neighboring Food Co-op Association includes more than 35 food co-ops and start-ups that are
 
  • Locally owned by 150,000 people (up from 144,000 last year)
  • Provide more than 2,300 good local jobs (up from 2,000)
  • Generate $340 million in shared revenue (up from $330M)
  • and sell over $93 million in local products every year (up from $90M)
 

Beyond these numbers, different studies have confirmed that, by comparison with employment in other sectors, cooperative jobs…

  • tend to be more sustainable over time
  • show a smaller gap in earnings between higher and lower-paid positions, and
  • are more evenly distributed between rural and urban areas.

Co-operative businesses granted equal voting rights for women almost a century before most parliaments of the world did! 

As businesses driven by values, not just profit, cooperatives share internationally agreed principles and act together to build a better world through cooperation. Putting fairness, equality and social justice at the heart of the enterprise, cooperatives around the world are allowing people to work together to create sustainable enterprises that generate long-term jobs and prosperity. 

As people-centered enterprises, cooperatives have an important role to play in the creation of decent jobs and the social and economic empowerment of local communities. The second International Cooperative Principle, “Democratic member control,” enables communities to own and govern cooperatives jointly through democratic control that brings about inclusive and sustainable growth, leaving no one behind.

As member-owned, member-run and member-serving businesses, cooperatives empower people to collectively realize their economic aspirations, while strengthening their social and human capital and developing their communities.

So on Saturday, July 6th join us as we celebrate a future in which human development and social justice are priorities! Through #CoopsDay, local, national and global policymakers, civil society organizations and the public, in general, can learn how cooperatives contribute to a decent working environment.

To learn more visit: www.coopsday.coop

 

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

NFCA Statement on Diversity & Inclusion

The Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA) is a co-operative federation bringing together 35 food co-ops and start-up initiatives throughout New England that are working together toward a shared vision of a thriving co-operative economy, rooted in a healthy, just and sustainable regional food system and a vibrant community of co-operative enterprise. Our Co-op is a proud member of NFCA and in light of recent occurrences of political, social, and economic division, the NFCA Board of Directors released the following statement to clarify our collective position on these events:

 

For over 170 years, the Co-operative Movement has stood for ideals of democracy, empowerment and inclusion — ideals that are at the heart of the America’s journey as a nation, and that we continue to strive toward today. From our beginnings, co-ops have celebrated human diversity and worked to bring people together to meet our needs and achieve our aspirations. In short, we believe that we are better when we are welcoming, when we lift one another up, and when we work together to make life better for everyone.

In keeping with the principles of the International Co-operative Alliance, our food co-ops work to ensure that our doors are open to all persons, “without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination.” As community-owned enterprises, we value respectful dialog, debate, and participation as expressions of economic democracy. As organizations of people who depend on a healthy planet to survive and thrive, we are committed to development policies and strategies that will sustain our communities over time.

Today, we are witnessing levels of political, social, and economic division that we believe do not reflect our ideals as a nation. While we honor differences of opinion, we are concerned that actions by this administration are fundamentally at odds with American principles of democracy, diversity and inclusion, as well as co-operative values of equality, solidarity, and caring for others. Specifically, we are seeing initiatives that we believe undermine human rights, immigration policies that exclude people based on their origin and religious beliefs, and initiatives that undercut efforts to slow climate change.

In this context, we reaffirm our commitment to being not just welcoming businesses, but empowering community enterprises. We seek to be a positive resource and influence, presenting opportunities for constructive dialog and collective action for change. And we will explore ways that we can reach beyond our walls, advocating for policies that will contribute to democracy and equality, advance human rights, and support environmental sustainability.

As a federation of community-owned food co-ops, we seek to empower people to enjoy healthier lives, build stronger local communities, and provide good jobs. We advocate for a deeper sense of corporate social responsibility that includes democratic ownership, the full expression of human diversity and the needs of future generations. In taking this stand, we acknowledge that we can always do better and must challenge ourselves to live up to our values and principles. By working together, we believe that we can help build stronger communities, a more inclusive nation, and a better world for everyone.

Sincerely,

The Board of Directors & Staff of the Neighboring Food Co-op Association