Concern for Community

  | Food For Thought, GM Report

For some of us, fall brings sports events worth watching, along with harvests and leaves. I too enjoy a few hours spent watching amazing athletes banding together in pursuit of championships. That’s why I happened to see a TV commercial for a very large national chain touting its support of nutrition in the school system, through the employ of chefs and the education of providers in the benefits of good, healthy eating for our youth.

I am glad that some of these multinational corporations are speaking truths about children and nutrition. I confess to more than a little skepticism when they tout their renewed sense of health with smaller cans of syrupy soda. I am irritated that, with their multi-million dollar advertising budgets, they have the wherewithal to shout their support of local school systems when cooperatives around the land have worked hard to support healthy alternatives in classrooms for literally decades. I reflect on a presentation I attended at a National Co-op Grocers meeting in September about effective storytelling in business, presented by Jonas Sachs, author of Winning the Story Wars, and videographer of The Meatrix and The Story of Stuff.

Community engagement is the story of cooperatives. We actively work every day to impact our communities in real, tangible ways, led by values that mean a lot to us. We recognize the work of our Co-op, whether it is tasted at the Empty Bowls supper every year, or seen in the parade of schoolchildren bouncing through the produce department with Lizi Rosenberg, our Education and Outreach coordinator. We even smell the work of our Co-op, in the magnificent spread of Scott Farm apples just inside the door, or seen in the video story of La Riojana, the Argentinian olive oil and wine cooperative of farmers.

Where we need to improve is in our ability to tell these stories effectively. How I wish for a huge budget to enable us to tell all the people who watch TV about the change that co-ops are making and also the change that we have already achieved. The ever-increasing percentage of organic food sold in our nation can be traced all the way back to all those families gathering to order organic produce by the pickup truck load back in the ‘70s. The need to buy products that were made close to home, only very recently trumpeted by our multinational competitors, has been a very noticeable effort of our co-ops for more than a generation.

The problem is that we constantly do all of this on a shoestring. Because we must compete, in an industry that has very thin margins to begin with and has historically been built on cheap labor and cheap adulterated stuff, we are definitely swimming upstream. But if we are careful about how we manage our assets, and we pay mindful attention to how grocery customers act and adjust our offerings carefully, I believe that we can succeed by some measure in the balance I constantly refer to, on which cooperatives teeter. Through partnerships with our community non-profits, work on Food for All with our fellow cooperatives in the Neighboring Food Co-ops Association, and purple Co-op Basics support from our National Co-op Grocers, we are addressing price-image issues on our shelves with good values every day. We continue to increase our sales of locally produced items year to year. We work hard to ensure that we have a good cooperative workplace with good benefits for our employees. In fact, here we are at our Annual Meeting on Friday, November 10, just down the street at NEYT, showing you how this past fiscal year we managed to produce some good results, all while advancing our goals. We are slowly beginning to tell our story more effectively, but must improve the way we message the work that we do. Please come to share in the good news, and come to share some good times with other owners who share the values of community involvement and support. Help us to tell this story: it’s an amazingly uplifting one!

By Sabine Rhyne, General Manager