The Board’s Yearly Retreat 2023

On January 28th, the Board of Directors of the Coop met for a day-long retreat. Greg Prescott, General Manager of the MNFC, and Michael Healy a facilitator from Columinate, a cooperative that consults and supports cooperatives, joined us. Michael has worked with us since 2004 and knows MNFC well.

Over the course of the year, a lot of our time as a board is taken up by our Policy Governance work. We monitor the monthly reports of the General Manager in light of the Coop’s Policies and Ends:

  • Healthy Foods
  • Vibrant Local Economy
  • Environmentally Sustainable and Energy Efficient Practices
  • Co-operative Democratic Ownership
  • Learning About These Values

We also discuss issues that we have identified as priorities. Over the last three years, for example, we have focused on JEDI work (Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion), a topic that we recognized as a pressing and crucial concern at our retreat in January 2020.

As Michael Healy wrote in his report, this year’s goals were:

  • Build a common understanding of the board’s and the General Manager’s roles in a strategic planning process, and make a plan for beginning that work;
  • Identify the board’s priority work for the next 12 to 18 months; and
  • enjoy each other’s company and build our sense of community and cooperation.

After two years of holding our retreats on Zoom, it was a real joy and relief to be physically in each other’s presence, in the welcoming meeting room of the Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Society. To mark the return to in-person retreats, we decided to hold a potluck lunch, to share a meal together; the culinary results were magnificent.

We started our day by sharing personal stories connected to an object that each one of us had brought. Then, helped by the presence and knowledge of Michael, we worked first in small groups and then all together to identify the priorities for the coming year(s):

  • Board recruitment, onboarding, and retention
  • Ongoing JEDI work
  • Board-General Manager relationship

Our next step will be to turn this list into actionable items and to make space for them in our monthly work.

 I always leave these retreats wishing that we had had more time to be together and brainstorm. For me, a rewarding aspect of our meetings is that they present the opportunity to connect more, both on a personal level and as a Board. The presence of Greg, our new General Manager, also makes a difference: the ongoing conversation with him is integral to our considerations because it helps us not get lost in abstract (albeit very interesting) discussions. It also reminds us that it is the work in the store (by our awesome staff) that allows us to be ambitious in our thinking, and allows the Coop to have the impact it has on the community.

Ilaria Brancoli Busdraghi is the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board Secretary