vote

Musings on Democracy as Practiced at our Co-op.

As I look at the myriad bills presented across the country right now designed to limit access to voting – and as I remember with horror the January 6 insurrection at our nation’s Capitol by folks refusing to believe the results of the November 2020 election – I find a glimmer of hope in how we practice democracy at MNFC.

What IS democracy? Many of us believe this is our ability to cast a vote. The history of our country is partially a tale of who has had the right to vote, how, and when. Years ago, I painted the posthumous portrait of Marilla Ricker (1840-1920) for the New Hampshire statehouse in Concord. A young widow, with property and means who paid taxes, she was not allowed to vote because she was a woman. She is known to have said, “This is taxation without representation!” at her little town hall in Dover, NH.  She walked in every year to try to cast her vote. A freethinker, she spent her life as a suffragist and also became the first woman lawyer in NH, as well as one of the first women in the nation to argue a case before the US Supreme Court. She died in 1920, just after the first election in which women were allowed to vote; it’s not known whether she was physically able to get to the polls to cast her vote.

We know intuitively that an active and healthy democracy is much more than voting, however. True participation has preconditions: the freedom to express one’s opinion, and the opportunity for active participation in the conversations and arguments around the issues and candidates for whom we cast votes.  Howard Zinn describes democracy as more than a series of votes: it is a series of actions.  We also know that the process by which we select our leaders matters.

At MNFC, collectively owned by US, we are our member-owners. We are our democracy.  our participation, our care, our questions, the flow of ideas as we develop policy and make decisions, all of this is integral to the cooperative model. Our board meetings are open to the public. I speak for the board when I say, we welcome all questions and concerns.

All member-owners have opportunities to engage and participate in conversations about our values.  I dream that the ways the coop model practices democracy could serve as a model for our country: no gerrymandering, no electoral college, fewer regulations on when and how to vote, no ID laws, no disenfranchising voters based on their color, race, or identity, no long lines because of closed polling places.

Every spring, member-owners are invited and encouraged to participate in our annual May election.  For the most part, the May election is exclusively focused on Board of Director elections. Each year one-third of the board is up for re-election and new candidates are encouraged to run through an extensive outreach process.

This year there is a record number of candidates (12) for the four open seats on the Coop’s board of directors. Of the 12 candidates, four are incumbents, all of whom served as we collectively navigated the stormy seas of the pandemic and resulting economy. Eight candidates are community members: farmers, producers, educators, coaches, health providers – each a member-owner of our vital organization — with a variety of perspectives and life experiences.

A board candidate does not need to be wealthy or “connected” to run. They simply need to be a member-owner, interested in the mission of MNFC, and open to exploring how the board of directors functions before choosing to run.

As a member-owner, we get to choose the design of our board of directors. Does the board reflect our community? Are there folks with skill sets (finance, legal, communications/ marketing/education, health, agriculture) that enhance the board’s intelligence? Is the board balanced by gender, race, socioeconomic status, and age?

And May right now is our election month.  Each member-owner votes for board candidates and access to voting lasts all month long – electronically – see below for more details.  Watch your regular mail for our annual report that includes the ballots with all the candidates’ profiles and instructions for casting your vote.

To vote, you need to be a member-owner. In my household of two, I am the member-owner. If my husband wishes to vote, then he needs to become a member-owner as well.

If you have any issues with the electronic interface – such as no computer or Wi-Fi connection —  please bring your ballot into the Coop with you on a shopping day and a staff member will help you go online to cast your vote in the store.

I relish the notion that we are member-owners of MNFC voting with our minds and hearts, not simply consumers voting with dollars. Thank you for being part of the conversation.

If you have any questions, or want to know more about any of the candidates, please don’t hesitate to contact Amanda at apawarren@gmail.com

We will announce the winners at this year’s Annual Meeting, held remotely on June 2, at 6:30 pm.  Click HERE to find out more.

If you are a member-owner, and would like more information about how to vote in this year’s Board of Directors Election, please click HERE to find out more.

Kate Gridley is a Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board Member

Read This: Your Vote Matters!

Bylaws and democracy – 

In August, we’ll be voting for the Board of Directors and the bylaws, again.

Last May 2019, the membership voted on the Board’s proposed new bylaws. That vote passed with members voting 623 YES (97%) and 19 NO (3%).   

Why are we voting on bylaws again?

Section 3.2 of the new bylaws explains that members can petition to request a special vote or meeting. In fall 2019, one member utilized this procedure, acquired the necessary member signatures on a petition, and presented it to the Board of Directors.  The petition requests for a vote on two bylaw changes which will appear on the August 2020 ballot for members to decide.  

What are the bylaw changes being voted on in August 2020?

  1. Shall the MNFC reinstate the wording “goods and services at the lowest possible cost” under Section 1.3: Objectives of the MNFC?
  2. Shall the MNFC reinstate the wording “Member-owners shall also be permitted to contribute services for additional discounts and other entitlements as determined by the Board” under section 2.2 Membership of MNFC?

Why did the Board propose bylaw changes in 2019?

Co-op leadership (Board + Management) found that the old bylaws were outdated in numerous ways, as a result of remaining mostly unchanged for nearly 40 years.  The goal was to make them clearer, simpler, and even more consistent with our values, and consistent with the best practices of our peer food co-ops.

What was the 2019 bylaw revision process?

Fall 2018 – a committee (board, staff, others) formed to review the old bylaws, as well as recommendations from peer co-ops and consultants, to create the first draft.  

Winter 2018/19 – 1) the committee shared draft for feedback with staff, past Board members, and legal counsel; 2) then the committee shared draft for feedback with the membership via email and social media.  https://middlebury.coop/2019/01/29/youre-invited-to-help-update-our-by-laws/

Spring 2019– 1) final legal review.  2) In March 2019 the Board unanimously approved the final draft and plan for member vote in May 2019.

May 1st, 2019 – annual report mailed to all members with information about board candidates and bylaw draft with highlights of significant changes.  Voting was held in May.  Bylaw vote passed by members with 623 YES (97%) and 19 NO (3%).  https://middlebury.coop/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/MNFC_annualreport_NOBALLOT_2019_WEB.pdf

 

Why does the petitioner recommend voting YES on the ballot?  Please see a statement from the petitioner, below:

Why Maintain Lowest Possible Cost?  

Affordability is important for many members and selling things at the lowest possible cost was only mentioned in the by-laws, not in any of the board policies, the co-op mission or ends statements. Since the co-op already endeavors to offer goods at the lowest possible cost, why not let people know about it and state it somewhere in our official documents to help prevent us from going backward on costs?

It’s not like the requirement to sell food at the lowest possible cost prevented the co-op from treating vendors and staff fairly while also balancing fair returns and wages for producers and staff. There’s no evidence that producers or staff were treated unfairly during the last forty plus years this wording was in the bylaws. The fact that many vendors and staff have worked with, or for the co-op for decades, suggests that they feel MNFC treats them fairly.

Why Keep The Volunteer Worker Requirement?

Volunteer workers are the most powerful way to develop a strong sense of ownership and build customer loyalty while reducing labor costs, and helping provide goods at the lowest price. A worker discount is also the fairest, most equitable way to provide lower costs. Coupons and special deals are wonderful, but sales on nuts or beef, are of little use if you have allergies or are vegetarian. Special deals also promote impulse purchases compounding the problem of hyper-consumerism, while worker discounts are used primarily for purchasing required items.

Potential liability concerns have been addressed through the reduction of volunteer worker participation. The co-op used to have lots of volunteers work daily.  So many people used to volunteer, that at one time MNFC hired a volunteer coordinator. Eventually, the 20% “super-worker” option was discontinued and now volunteer workers only receive a 10% discount.  Over the years, volunteer numbers were gradually reduced. Today the co-op typically prefers to have a maximum of two volunteers daily and work is limited to only packaging bulk items.

The co-op could also allow owners/members to volunteer in the community in return for a discount, as Onion River does, eliminating liability concerns while meeting the bylaw requirement.

Given the historical trajectory of reducing volunteer numbers, reducing the hours that can be worked, reducing the discount, and reducing job availability, it’s likely that at some point without a by-law requirement, the volunteer worker program will eventually be eliminated.

The Co-op Leadership recommends voting “NO” on this 2020 ballot for the proposed bylaw changes.

 

Why does the Co-op leadership recommend voting “NO”?  Below please find a statement from your Board of Directors:  –  The current Bylaw 1.2 states: The Cooperative will be owned by its members. The objectives of the Cooperative are to provide a democratic, member-owned cooperative organization; to provide healthy foods and other useful goods and services; to encourage patterns of production and consumption that are ecologically sound and healthful; and to serve as a center for activities, education, and services consistent with these objectives.

Lowest Possible Price: The phrase “goods and services at the lowest possible price” was removed in 2019. Lowest possible price is a strategy employed by our competitors, Walmart in the extreme case; a strategy we believe wreaks havoc on the community, economy, and environment. Our goal is to provide the fairest prices possible to customers, while also balancing other factors such as a fair price to farmers/producers, and fair compensation for employees, all while keeping the co-op financially sustainable.

The Co-op prioritizes affordability and is always working to expand healthy food access programs like Co+op Basics, Weekly Sale, Food For All, Member Deals, etc.

Member Worker Program  –  members can sign up to work in the co-op for a 10% discount.  We love this program and our member workers and plan to continue this program into the foreseeable future.  The bylaw review process removed this wording from the bylaws to allow flexibility in the future.  During the past 10 years, many of our peer co-ops have been forced to change their member-worker programs because of worker insurance liability or employee union contracts which do not allow non-union workers to do union work.  Our co-op may face similar challenges in the future, and we want to have the flexibility to make required changes if necessary.

This petition process highlights one of the many ways in which the cooperative model is unique – it is democracy in action! We thank you for your engagement and participation.

Cooperatively yours,

The Co-op Leadership: General Manager Glenn Lower, Board of Directors: R.J. Adler, Molly Anderson, Nadine Canter Barnicle, Erin Buckwalter, Ilaria Brancoli Busdraghi, Lynn Dunton, Sophie Esser Calvi, Kate Gridley, Tam Stewart, Louise Vojtisek, and Amanda Warren

 

Get Ready for E-Voting!

The Co-op is bringing our Board election process into the 21st century!  In August, when you receive your Annual Report in the mail, you’ll find directions to help you cast your online votes for our Board of Directors candidates and for proposed bylaws changes.  If you have shared your e-mail address with us and receive our monthly e-newsletter, you can follow the link that will be provided in the August E-News to cast your votes.  Your identity will remain anonymous and be confirmed by entering the last five digits of your member number, the first initial of your first name, and your full last name.  All of this information will be available on the mailing label of your Annual Report.  If you have any difficulty, please reach out to Karin @ karinmott@middlebury.coop or 388-7276 x307.

Members…Vote For Your Board of Directors by May 31st!

The candidates are ready and the ballots are in the mail…you should see one in your mailbox next week.  The ballot packet includes information about the election, candidate bios and photos, a preview of our Annual Meeting Celebration and our Annual Report.  You can link directly to everything but the ballot (the ballot will only be in your mailbox!), RIGHT HERE.  After you’ve filled out your ballot, bring it to any cashier to redeem your Coupon for $3.00 of Any Vermont Product (this will be attached to your ballot).  All ballots need to be in before 7 pm on May 31st.  Happy voting!

 

Last Week to Vote for YOUR Co-op Board of Directors!

By now, you have probably received a copy of our 2018 Annual Report for MNFC in the mail (yes, the “snail” mail).  In this publication, you’ll find updates from our Board President and General Manager about how the Co-op has fared in our first year of Expansion.  In addition, you’ll get to “meet the candidates” for the four available seats on our Board of Directors.  Included in your mailed copy of the Annual Report are Voting Instructions, Your Official Ballot, and a $3.00 Coupon (redeemable with your completed ballot).   Please bring your completed ballot into the Co-op by May 31st, so we have time to tally the votes and inform the candidates before our June 6th Annual Meeting.  Then, please join us on June 6th, 5:30-7:30 at American Flatbread to find out who won, get a first-hand account of how your Co-op is doing, and enjoy dinner on the Co-op!

 

 

It’s YOUR Co-op…Exercise Your Right to Vote!

This month, members will receive a copy of our 2018 Annual Report for MNFC in the mail (yes, the “snail” mail).  In this publication, you’ll find updates from our Board President and General Manager about how the Co-op has fared in our first year of Expansion.  In addition, you’ll get to “meet the candidates” for the four available seats on our Board of Directors.  Included with your Annual Report are Voting Instructions, Your Official Ballot, and a $3.00 Coupon (redeemable with your completed ballot).   Please bring your completed ballot into the Co-op by May 26th, so we have time to tally the votes and inform the candidates before our June 6th Annual Meeting.  Then, please join us on June 6th, 5:30-7:30 at American Flatbread to find out who won, get a first-hand account of how your Co-op is doing, and enjoy dinner on the Co-op!

 

Members…Vote For Your Board of Directors by May 26th!

The candidates are ready and the ballots are in the mail…you should see one in your mailbox next week.  The ballot packet includes information about the election, candidate bios and photos, a preview of our Annual Meeting Celebration and our Annual Report.  You can link directly to everything but the ballot (the ballot will only be in your mailbox!), RIGHT HERE.  After you’ve filled out your ballot, bring it to any cashier to redeem your Coupon for $3.00 of Any Vermont Product (this will be attached to your ballot).  All ballots need to be in before 7pm on May 26th.  Happy voting!

YOUR VOTE COUNTS!

Dear Co-op Member-Owners,

In May you’ll receive your Co-op Newsletter in paper format in order to provide all member-owners with ballots for voting in our 2016 Election for the MNFC Board of Directors. You’ll find the ballot  in this Newsletter, along with instructions on how to vote in this important election. Short bios with information about the candidates are included in this Newsletter’s insert.  Remember to come to our Annual Meeting to find out the results!

It’s YOUR Co-op…OWN IT!

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