By Calvin Dame
BFC Board of Directors
A lot of us, most of the time, think of the Brattleboro Food Co-op as a place to buy food. That is totally understandable: the name of our enterprise is the Brattleboro Food Co-op; there is so much good food here, and we are delighted to take it home. For many of us, this is our primary source of the food that nourishes our lives.
Still, our name is the Brattleboro Food Co-op, which is a reminder that we are centered in this place, in this town, in this community. It is in our policies and, thus, our commitment to seek out and support local farmers and producers, to invest in and energize our town and our community.
And, perhaps most importantly, we are the Brattleboro Food Co-op. While it is easy to remember that we seek to make healthy food available to our members and community, it is also easy to overlook the importance of being an owner of a cooperative. A cooperative is about more than food.
One source I checked says that “Cooperatives are key to building an inclusive economy for all by empowering communities with ownership and a voice in the businesses that shape their (our) lives.” That is what we, as shareholders of the BFC, are doing. In joining together, we help to create and maintain a healthy food source, a responsible business, and a resource that makes our community stronger and more resilient.
My experience in Vermont food cooperatives began fifty years ago when being a part of a food co-op entailed breaking down bulk bags of rice and wheels of cheese into individual orders. Many BFC members still fondly recall those days of community effort, but our Co-op has changed and grown to meet more needs for more people and to be a stronger “voice in the businesses that shape our lives.”
While the breakdown work has changed, a healthy and successful co-op requires active members. The simplest activity, of course, is patronage. When we shop at the Co-op, we contribute to the Co-op.
Also, we still have a work option in place. And, recently, opportunities for active volunteer hours have been directed towards service to our community. One of the cooperative principles that guides our work is a “concern for community,” so hours invested in our Commitment to Community projects are service to the Co-op.
Another way to earn work credits is to serve on the Board. At a recent Board of Directors meeting, we did a quick exercise asking current Board members what they would tell a prospective Board member about service on the Board. We labeled these Board Recruitment Encouragements, and they proved to be instructive and, well, encouraging. The list was published in the April 1 Food For Thought. Our responses could be sorted into three categories: Education, Service, and Connection.
Education: “There is so much to learn about how the Co-op operates. It is so interesting”
Service: There is a part of us that yearns to be of use and to make a contribution. Making a contribution makes us feel better about ourselves and better about the world. “Being on the Co-op Board is my favorite way of giving back to the community.”
Connection: We also yearn for connection. “Service on the Board is an opportunity to contribute to an important institution in our community while working with some wonderful people.”
These encouragements were gathered with an eye toward connecting with people who might be interested in serving on the Board.
My purpose here is to remind us that membership in the Co-op provides all of us with the opportunity for Education, Service, and Connection in whatever fashion suits your life. If you are interested in Board service, do contact us at email@example.com.