news from the board

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

What Does It Mean To Be A Member-Owner?

Are you a member? Do you have a co-op card? Are you a member-owner? Can I use my mom’s membership? What about my partner’s membership? Can I serve on the board if someone in my household is a member-owner? These are all questions that circle around on a daily basis, and as a board we recently discussed that there can be confusion on what it actually means—both literally and symbolically—to be a member-owner of the Middlebury Natural Foods Cooperative.

The confusion I see most often (and I’ll admit is what I also got confused about before joining the board!) is: who exactly is a member-owner? A member-owner is an individual. Although the benefits of being a member-owner, such as the physical co-op card, the weekly Member Deals in the store, and Co-op Connection discounts, extend to the member-owner’s household, a member-owner is one person only. This one person holds equity in the co-op in the form of the annual $20 membership payment, which accrues up to $300 in share purchases, at which point they have purchased a full share. This investment is also fully returnable if an individual decides to end their membership at the co-op for any reason. 

While individuals within the member-owner’s household receive the discounts and benefits, the member-owner themselves is the only person who can vote on essential issues and elections. A member-owner can sell their shares to another when they join households; however, that individual is giving up their vote. For this reason, many individuals in long-term partnerships ultimately decide to keep their shares so both members of the household can vote. Furthermore, the person who is technically the shareholder in the household is the only one who can serve on the board. 

Although it may seem simply like semantics, the term “member-owner” is enormously significant. Being a member is so much more than the discounts. As the MNFC website states: “Co-op membership is co-op ownership!” Unlike having a frequent buyer’s card at a pharmacy, or a membership to a gym, being a member-owner of the co-op means you own part of the business. 

Each year, if the co-op has been profitable, member-owners receive a portion of the profits directly back. This is called the “patronage dividend” and member-owners receive these checks in July. Although it may seem like a mouthful, the term “member-owner” is what the co-op’s staff and board members use both because it is the most accurate, and because it reflects such an important sentiment. As a member-owner, you literally own the store and are part of a community of friends and owners. By being a member-owner of the co-op you are voting with your dollars and making a statement about the importance of community-owned businesses. 

So is it worth it to be a member-owner? I’ve often seen people calculate how much they would need to spend at the co-op to “pay back” their membership fees through their patronage dividend. This is certainly an important question; however, it does not represent the full picture of what it means to be a member-owner. For me, voting with my dollars, and spending my money investing in a local and cooperatively owned business is a deeply meaningful use of my money.

Amanda Warren is the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board President

Behind the Scenes

Every business has a team of people working behind the scenes and the Coop is no exception. As Board Treasurer I would like to shine a light on the Finance Department and team members: Steve Koch, Grace Sauerwald, and Kerry Dashnaw and thank them for all their good work behind the scenes…especially during the pandemic.

A transition is underway this month in the Finance Department and I would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank Steve Koch, Finance Manager of the Coop. For the past 17 years, Steve has successfully led and managed the Finance Department and will be retiring in June 2021. Much change has taken place during this time. When Steve began working in 2004, the Coop had 1,580 member-owners, 32 staff members, gross sales of $4.2 million, and 3,000 square feet of retail space. Moving to the present moment, the Coop has 5,456 member-owners, 91 staff members, gross sales of $19.6 million, and 9,000 square feet of retail space. Did you notice that I express change in numbers? This was intentional because these types of changes have a direct and seismic impact on the Finance Department. More people, products, and data to track. In addition to the daily work of the office, Steve managed two rounds of member loans ($400,00 in 2004 and $1 million in 2017) and tracked construction costs for the new store and store expansions (large and small) over the years. No easy feat!

I have had the unique opportunity to work closely and collaboratively with Steve during the past six years in my role as the Board Treasurer. Steve’s deep historic and financial knowledge of the Coop has been a gift and supported the work that I do on behalf of the Coop Board. As an accountant myself, I am grateful for his attention to detail, his ability to converse articulately about complex financial matters, and most importantly his integrity that he brings to all his work. Steve, please know that you will be missed.

On behalf of the Board thank you for all the work you have done to leave the Coop in a strong financial position, and we wish you all the best as you step into the next chapter of your beautiful life. Have fun sailing, paddling, and working in your woodshop!

Lynn Dunton is a Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op board member.

Check Out Faster and Keep Your Dollars

When you purchase food at the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op (MNFC), you support the hundreds of local producers who live in our area, and you are keeping the money in local circulation. And, as a member-owner, you own shares in this store and will receive an annual patronage refund based on your purchase history! The shares you hold represent your whole-hearted commitment to community-produced and distributed healthy foods.  

Did you know you can increase another aspect of “keeping it local” by simply adjusting how you pay at checkout? In past articles I’ve written to make folks aware of this topic, I noted that MNFC paid more than $100,000, then $150,000, and then the number was close to $200,000 in annual credit card fees! The fees have been increasing each year. Last year in 2020, we paid $272,161 in credit card fees! Consider that this startling amount of money is extracted from our local community and flows to out-of-state banks. Think about what could be done locally with these funds, either through increased community supports, or improvements in customer services. While I certainly do not want to “guilt” anyone for using a credit card, there are options to consider for avoiding those fees. The use of checks or cash is one possibility, but this is not always convenient.

The easiest way to avoid the fees and using up checks or having cash on hand is to use an MNFC Gift Card for all of your Co-op purchases. This card can be obtained from any cashier, and you decide how much money you want on the card. Simply write a check for that amount, then use the gift card every time you shop. The card acts like a credit card with your money on it, but there are no fees. It is another form of “cash” and thus should be kept in a secure place. There is a number associated with each card that can be found on the back. I keep a photo of the id number of my card on my phone so it is always handy and secure. If you lose the card, the card can be deactivated if you have the number, and a cashier can look up your balance and apply it to a new card.  The gift card works just like a credit card or check or cash and is linked to your coop account.  The balance of the card shows up at the bottom of each receipt every time you make a  purchase so you can keep track. When the balance runs low, simply write another check or use cash to load the same card with more money! I tend to reload each month, and it keeps me on my food budget! I remind you that writing a check or using cash to add money to the card is the way to go; if you use a debit or credit card, it defeats the purpose.

There are several advantages to this process:

  • You can budget what you believe is reasonable for you to spend at the Co-op, say for a month’s time, and keep track of your spending.
  • Going through the checkout line is extremely quick and efficient. The cashier scans your card, you get a receipt, and you’re done! Nothing to sign, no check to write, no numbers to punch in, no waiting for change. The cashiers like the ease of this process and you’re apt to get some unsolicited positive regard from them.
  • During the surge of COVID, using the gift card minimizes contact involved with using common pens, dealing with the credit card terminal, and handling cash.
  • Finally, remember that an MNFC gift card is a wonderful way to give anyone a present, for any occasion. An MNFC gift card can encourage someone new to the Co-op to make their first visit and can introduce long time customers to this very efficient way of paying for purchases.
  • Most importantly, using a Coop gift card this way eliminates the credit and debit card fees the Co-op has to pay to banks and financial. Don’t forget, debit cards have fees as well!

Once you try it, you’ll wonder why you have not done this all along. It is such a quick and convenient way to pay for your groceries, and keep your dollars local – it is truly a win-win. This is how I have paid for my MNFC shopping for the last five years, and I intend to for the next five years and more! It’s a great intention to set for the rest of 2021, I encourage you to give it a go!  I think you’ll love it!

Louise Vojtisek is a Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board Member

Consider Being a Board Member…

Election season for the Board of Directors is upon us! I am frequently asked why I choose to be a member of the Co-op board.  We are all familiar with the refrain “voting with your dollars” as a shared value of conscious consumers.  I choose to spend my money at the Co-op because I believe in this slogan. And, I choose to be a member of the Board of Directors because I similarly believe in the concept of “voting with your time.” Being a member of the board allows me to “spend” my time committing to democracy.

Wendell Berry writes: “No matter how much one may love the world as a whole, one can live fully in it only by living responsibly in some small part of it.” In these unsettled times, participating in the democratic leadership of a cooperatively owned, local business allows me to practice living responsibly in my small part of the world. Our Co-op may seem like a small fish in the big pond of the globe—whether we buy organic, fair trade chocolate chips at the Co-op, or conventional chocolate chips from Amazon may seem dolefully inconsequential in the face of the massive social-justice issues our world faces. Participating in the democratic ownership of the Co-op, however, allows me to devote my dollars, time, and energy (the only resources I am fully in control of) to the pursuit of an alternative to our global status quo.

During our election season, I urge you to remember Wendell Berry’s concept.  Your decisions and interest matter – whether you are considering running for a spot on the board, or reading up on board candidates to vote in May.  Our Co-op may be small, but participating in the democratic process of our board elections allows us to practice living responsibly in our small part of the world, and thereby living fully in the world as a whole.

Board Recruiting Packets with details on the process of becoming and serving as a board member are available on the website here.  Applications are due March 15, 2021. If you have any questions about running for or serving on the board, please reach out to board@middleburycoop.com.  

Amanda Warren is a Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board Member

 

 

Update About Our Member Worker Program

For decades, one of the benefits offered to member-owners here at our co-op has been the opportunity to work in the store for an additional 10% discount.   Members have typically helped out in the bulk department, dividing large quantities of food items and packaging them into smaller portions.  Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, our member-worker program is temporarily suspended.  The reason is that in order to reduce staff exposure to the COVID-19 virus, we are severely limiting the number of people in our backroom.

Member-workers have been extremely understanding about this, but we are still asked when the program will return. The answer is that we love our member workers, as well as this program, and plan to bring it back as soon as we feel it is safe to do so.

This past August, during our annual election, there was a member vote about putting language about the member-worker program into the Co-op bylaws.  Even though this vote did not pass, the entire Leadership Team (Board and Management) wants to let you know that we are deeply committed to keeping this program going at the Co-op.  We know that it’s both an important way for members to earn an additional discount, and an important option for deeper member-owner engagement in this community-owned business. Meanwhile, you can be sure that when we feel it is safe to start the member-worker program back up again, we will make sure to let you know. Thanks for sticking with us on this.

For more info on the member-worker program, check out this link:

https://middlebury.coop/join/membership-categories/working-member/

 

The Year of Clear Vision

Every New Year, I learn a new slogan for the upcoming year. As the year 2020 approached, I began to see ‘the year of clear vision’ trending.

Seven months in, I see the truth in that slogan. This year has brought to light institutional racism in a way that has captured our countries attention.  This form of racism is embedded as a normal practice in our society. It has led to discrimination in the sphere of employment, housing, and education to name a few.  Throughout the year, I have had to be honest with myself, reflect on my experiences, reflect on the way I chose to raise my two black identified children, and reflect on the way I engage with my community.  My reflection has reaffirmed my desire to be a part of my community. I choose to do this by sharing my perspective gathered from my experiences as a young black woman, a mother, and a full-time professional – a perspective that is unique in our predominantly white population.

I am Esther Thomas, your newly appointed board member. My children and I moved to Middlebury a year ago and have fallen in love with this town and the Co-op.

Last year, I started a nationwide job search and on my list of non-negotiables, I had to find a market that would help support my whole food plant-based diet. After an initial Skype interview, I was invited to come to an on-campus interview at Middlebury College. During my stay in Middlebury, I visited the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op. As I walked every aisle, I noticed my household staples such as liquid amino, nutritional yeast, vegan ice cream, and the greatest wheat-free vegan cake – I knew if offered the position I could comfortably accept.

And, here I am.  Several months after becoming a Co-op member, I learned of the opportunity to possibly run to become a board member and I was thrilled.  I believed it was a great way to be apart of my community and share my perspective. When a position opened mid-year I was happy to accept the invitation to join the board.  As a new board member, I am still learning the ropes. I listen more than I speak but chime in when I deem necessary. It has been my pleasure and honor to serve you. I look forward to continuing my contribution.

Esther Thomas is a Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board Member

 

Our Invisible Neighbors

The Coop hosted a public talk last month by Dr. Teresa Mares, an anthropology professor at the University of Vermont.  Dr. Mares gave a presentation on farmworkers and food justice in Vermont.

In her 2019 book, Life on the Other Border: Farmworkers and Food Justice in Vermont, Dr. Mares explores the personal vulnerability and food insecurity experienced by migrant farmworkers in our state, and analyzes the inequities, fear, and invisibility experienced by those who sustain our dairy industry.  She speaks to these farmworkers’ humanity and resilience; their efforts to remain connected to the foods and customs that link them to their homes and families of origin.

While most of us take our ability to move freely about the state to shop for food for granted, nearly 95% of the migrant farmworker population in Vermont lacks personal transportation, despite the passage of legislation that allows state residents to obtain driving licenses regardless of citizenship status. Access to grocery stores (and healthcare) typically depends on the assistance and support of the farmers who rely on this workforce; or on volunteers.  This disenfranchised and vulnerable population is uniquely challenged to access these basic necessities. 

It is difficult for most of us to relate to these challenges and as a Coop Board, we want to understand our place as buyers and sellers of Dairy products produced in Vermont. In addition, there is a well-founded fear among migrant farmworkers that visiting a local grocery store, farmers market, or food shelf could result in detention or deportation. There is a reluctance to speak Spanish in these public spaces, and efforts are made to call as little attention to oneself as possible.

An estimated 1000-1200 farmworkers reside in Vermont, and it is calculated that nearly 70% of Vermont’s milk originates from dairy farms that rely on the work of migrants. Although these workers pay taxes and contribute to Vermont’s economic wellbeing and food security, there is an illogical disconnect between these farmworkers and their own access to food.  Work schedules can approach 70 hours a week, thus there is little time in the day to prepare and eat wholesome meals.

Dr. Mares’ presentation highlighted the following topics:

  • The reality and life experience of migrant workers and their families who sustain Vermont’s dairy industry include a deep connection to family, both local and beyond, along with considerable knowledge about agriculture. These are resilient individuals with a strong work ethic and a desire to be self-reliant, despite the challenges of limited access, choice, and opportunity.
  • Vermont is a border state and, as such, migrant dairy workers face many of the same dangers as migrants at our southern border. The reach of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) extends up to 100 miles from the Canadian border, thereby presenting very real obstacles to food security, a healthy diet, and the overall well-being of workers and their families.
  • Huertas means “kitchen gardens” in Spanish and the Huertas Project is a collaboration with volunteers and undocumented farmworkers that promotes growing and preparing food that has cultural relevance and helps diminish food insecurity. Participation in this project, which has largely been in Franklin County, has allowed workers to demonstrate their agricultural knowledge and skills, though gardens are often situated to reduce visibility from the road and therefore attract little attention.  Efforts to expand this project to Addison County are important.

Dr. Mares’ presentation concluded with a multitude of questions from the engaged group. Speaking for myself, this was a beginning step in education about the unseen group of hard-working people who underpin our dairy industry.  Next steps would include:

  • Learning more about how our agricultural system and immigration policies are misaligned and how this has an impact on our overall food system in the United States.
  • Exploring opportunities to become involved in actions that promote greater interaction with these invisible members of our community, and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion of these neighbors.
  • Investigating affiliation with existing local groups that have established trusted connections with migrant dairy workers and engaging in activities that would alleviate food insecurity and promote access to foods that meet the cultural preferences of Latinx workers and their families.

For more information about this topic, please see an earlier post on our blog:

Exploring Farmworkers and Food Justice in Vermont

Louise Vojtisek is a Middlebury Co-op Board Member

Living by the Seasons with Healthy Food

If the 40 degree morning temperatures and the large V’s of Canada Geese I have seen fly south since the end of August are any indication, winter is once again around the corner.  For me winter is uninvited, fairly predictable, and mostly a welcomed “guest” because I am ready for soups and curries, and cozy quiet evenings snuggled on my couch with a book. In the Chinese Medicine world, this time of year is marked by a turn inwards. Yang peaked a number of weeks back and we are now officially in Yin season, with Yang receding back down into the roots. We can no  longer reach for the sun for all our nourishment; we have to rely upon the foods that have gathered up the sun/yang energy to sustain us.  We go inwards, relying on the stores of summer’s natural vitamin D and the harvests that have been cultivated by the many local farms in our community.

Luckily, fall comes before winter.  Fall always brings such a mixed bag for me, the excitement of a new school year, the bounty in the gardens, the relief of hot, humid summer days, and also the loss.  The end of casual backyard barbecues with local brews and spirits, and a good corn hole competition, not to mention the local veggies straight from the farm to our plates.  My family and I are now thinking about curries and stews – warming foods. 

I have relied on the access to healthy foods at our Coop for more than 21 years.  I am so proud that one of our Ends commits our cooperative to the mission of providing healthy foods.  We all benefit from this commitment and access.  I know this access is a privilege; one I never take for granted.  As years have unfolded and the seasonal cycles change, so has the kinds of foods my body needs to stay healthy.  The foods that kept my microcosm healthy in 1998 are very different than what is healthy for my system today.  At the same time, my family’s eating patterns have also shifted significantly during this same time; my college kids even admitting that white refined sugar and mainstream processed foods really do make them feel sick.  So, come winter, all I want to do is go deeper into that commitment to eating healthy food.  Won’t you join me?

I am sharing a very simple curry recipe that my family regularly enjoys when the seasons turn Yin. It’s dairy and gluten free and can be made vegetarian or with pork, chicken or shrimp.  All the ingredients can be found, any day, at the Coop. How blessed are we?

Nadine’s Lentil Curry with rice

2 cans guar-free coconut milk

4 tablespoons red curry paste

1 quart veggie broth

3 medium carrots, chopped in 1 inch pieces

Half a green cabbage, shredded

2 cups broccoli florets

2 medium zucchinis, chopped in 1 inch pieces

1 cup red lentils, rinsed 3 times to remove starches

Optional

1 pound of chicken breast (or pork or shrimp) cut into ½ inch strips

and/or 1 pound of drained tofu, cut into ½ inch strips

  1. Combine coconut milk, curry paste and broth in dutch oven and bring to boil, partially covered
  2. Add all vegetables and lentils, and simmer for 25 minutes, covered
  3. Add meat option or tofu, simmer for another 20 minutes until cooked through, covered
  4. Serve over jasmine rice (or short grain brown rice for nutty flavor addition); finish with chopped cilantro, a hot sauce of your choice; a drizzle of toasted sesame oil and toasted curry cashews, and a generous squeeze of lime.

Notes:  Add 2 tablespoons of fish sauce and one tablespoon sweetener towards the end of cooking (I use granulated date sugar) for more of a Thai curry flavor.  And, if too thick, thin it down with more broth and/or more coconut milk.  If too thin, add more lentils, a bit at a time.  Adjust curry paste to taste.

Nadine Canter Barnicle is a Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board Member

 

 

 

Keeping it Clean AND Healthy

Would you believe it if I wrote that doing laundry has been bringing me joy recently? It’s true! Ever since I learned how to make my own non-toxic, low-waste laundry detergent, I feel immense satisfaction and joy knowing that I’m taking a daily step to keep my family healthy and reduce our footprint of single-use plastics.  
 
As fellow Co-op shoppers, I don’t have to tell you about the importance of minimizing our exposure to synthetic chemicals. For many families, mine included, it was easy to grasp why I would want my food to be organic to minimize the number of toxins I put into my body. Grasping the significance of non-toxic body, beauty, and household cleaning products, however, can be harder, and take more convincing. Many of us have brand loyalties dating back to our childhood, and we associate the smells of these products with cleanliness. 
 
Unfortunately, these smells are frequently a daily source of toxicity in our lives. Our skin is the human body’s largest organ. Therefore, what we put on top of our skin is just as important, as what we put in our mouths. Companies are not required to declare the ingredients of these “fragrances,” which are in fact derived from petrochemicals. These synthetic chemicals are carcinogens and are also known to disrupt the endocrine/hormonal system, which is important for everyone, but particularly young women and girls.
 
Luckily, our Co-op has a wide array of non-toxic household cleaning products, as well as body and beauty products. If you want to take it a step further, reduce waste, and save money, it’s easy to make your own products using ingredients from our Co-op. For a no-brainer switch, try making your own antimicrobial bathroom and kitchen cleaning spray. Combine equal parts white vinegar and water in a spray bottle, and add 5-10 drops of tea tree, lemon, or grapefruit essential oil. That’s it! 
 
And what about my joy-filled laundry detergent? After doing laundry every other day because of my daughter’s cloth diapers, I felt frustrated by the number of single-use plastic detergent bottles we were going through. Making my own has been absurdly easy, and effective even on stinky diapers. The main ingredient is baking soda, which is naturally derived, and is so abundant that we are at no risk of depleting our domestic sources! To make the detergent, I first picked up a used bucket from the Co-op to mix the ingredients in. You often see used feta cheese buckets from the deli by the door, next to the magazine swap area. Next, I repurposed a scoop from a finished container of protein powder to use as the measuring scoop. Zero waste! 
 
Here’s the recipe–it will last months, and costs just pennies per load. Add 1-2 tablespoons per load.
  • 2 cups baking soda (available in the Co-op bulk department)
  • 4 cups washing soda (A derivative of baking soda. Make your own by spreading a layer of baking soda on a cookie sheet and baking at 400 degrees for 1 hour. Or, purchase separately) 
  • 4 cups borax (a naturally occurring mineral) 
  • 10-20 drops of your favorite essential oil from the wellness department 
 
Amanda Warren is a Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board Member.

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