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