equity

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. 

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