Johanna Zalneraitis

  | Board Candidates

Johanna Zalneraitis

Johanna Zalneraitis

1.  Why would you like to serve on the Board of Directors of the Brattleboro Food Co-op (BFC)?
Since I have now purchased a home in Brattleboro (after 17 years in an apt. downtown) I want to increase my community involvement. I believe wholeheartedly in natural foods, and I want to gain more knowledge of how the Co-op works. I want to be an integral part in helping the Co-op be a successful business. I also want to get to know more people in my community. I’ve worked in another grocery store for almost 18 years, and we do not have a board. That’s fine, but I buy more groceries from the Co-op for many reasons, and I’m hoping to contribute to continuing to help the Co-op continue and grow. I want the Co-op to maintain being an anchor of downtown Brattleboro.

2.  What experience or involvement have you had with the BFC or other cooperative enterprises?
I remember back in my teenage years in the 80’s when the “Co-op” was more of a wholesale “order from a catalog” kind of business out of a little corner room in a building. My 2 sisters and I would only come up to Brattleboro for a night every week. I loved going to the Co-op, because it was like nothing we had in our town in Southern Massachusetts. I loved Brattleboro, so I started staying with my father for school vacations, and eventually the summer of 1988 when I was able to work in town (Yellow Square Gallery). I then came back and worked from January – August before I left for UMass Amherst. Finally, I was back for the summer of 1990 where I worked as an administrative assistant at a local business.

After graduating from UMass, no matter where I lived, I would drive over an hour to the Co-op to shop, particularly for bulk tofu. People thought that I was crazy, but I was vegan and I liked buying natural and organic food.

Zooming ahead to 2004 my father told me that there was an apartment available via my father’s landlord, Stephen Baker. I couldn’t pass it up even if it meant a 38 mile commute to work. It also meant no more commute to the Co-op, as I could walk there in two minutes from my apartment.

After becoming a member the increased discount if I worked two hours per month wasn’t my only motivation. I worked out of town. I started working with Dan Ridgway in Bulk, but then I found myself loving the cheese counter because it was exposed to the entrance where I would have more exposure to people. I even ended up with a standing “shift” on the first Tuesday of every month. That still stands today. 

Intermittently I have bagged and stocked shelves, too. I also pick up the order at Grafton Cheese every other week at this point. Before the new location opened I did help Sabine with cleaning and putting up shelf tags for incoming product. It’s a beautiful renovation, and I also helped maintain the grounds outside when inside member hours were still restricted during Covid -19. 

3.  What opportunities or challenges do you see in the future for the BFC?
I’m already impressed with all the work the Co-op does to support local businesses with money and/or food. The addition of the Round Ups are great as a reminder of the differences between the Co-op and other grocery stores. That being said, being a smaller grocery store it is challenging to keep profits high enough to stay in business. In this “season” of Covid-19 it’s even harder because gauging supply and demand has changed. Also the social landscape has changed. Interaction among everyone is different, and it can be difficult to maintain civility. I would love to see the Co-op promoting a little more compassion and understanding messages at the door. We’re all just trying to survive, but we need to all be as happy as we can during times of stress.  

4.  What qualities, skills, and experiences would you bring to your service as a BFC board member?
I might not know the intricate details about the functioning of the Co-op, but I want to learn. This is not just for the Co-op, but for the town, because without the Co-op downtown wouldn’t be the same. I know a lot of people in Brattleboro as I have been semi-living to now permanently over the last 30 years. I believe so many people want to see success and growth at the Co-op and I want to listen to all suggestions, hopes, and dreams.

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