Locally Inspired

  | Food For Thought, GM Report

It seemed as though summer would never arrive this year, least of all spring. But I noticed how we rejoiced in the smallest of signs as our world thawed out, from peepers to colors. Regardless of the length of winter’s release, every April, our store and town explode in crazily festooned pinwheels, symbols of support for our friends over at Kids Playce. Every spring, like so many cycles, our intentional entanglement with our community partners is announced like a blare of trumpets from these fun wind-driven splashes of color.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting with a class of nine young people who decided to take an international business class at Windham Regional Career Center, taught by Maribeth Cornell. They came to the Co-op to hear about another economic model in business, and along the way, they noticed things about international fair trade, how local producers and farmers interact with our Co-op, and how individual shopping decisions affect an industry and a community. These conversations always fire me up. Seeing young people who are curious about how things work, how cooperatives go about their business, and potentially where along the spectrum they wish to concentrate, can really inspire an old(er) person like me. I also derive inspiration from Lizi Rosenberg, our Education and Outreach Coordinator, every time I watch her interact with a class. She asks questions, listens carefully, and manages to work her students’ curiosities into the curriculum du jour. That, in a nutshell, is what I think we need to do every day, here at the Co-op. We ask questions, we listen carefully, and we think about how to engage and motivate you, our owners and reasons for being, to effect change in both small and large ways in our food system. If you have not experienced LIzi’s gentle leadership in one of the classes that she teaches, whether for children or adults, I urge you to do so. She inspires me all the time.

Speaking of inspiration, I also was blessed to be able to attend the annual ceremony for this year’s inductions into the National Cooperative Hall of Fame. Marilyn Scholl (from Putney, VT) was inducted into the Hall of Fame for her work with cooperatives in our sector, working for her entire adult life to support and provide food co-ops with the tools that they would need to best serve their members. Though she focused on governance, she also assisted in the reorganization of the National Co-op Grocers Association, and created multiple resources and toolboxes still in use today. Her passion for the cooperative model and her leadership in powerful collaborations have furthered the fortunes of the Brattleboro Food Co-op, the co-ops in Putney, Keene, NH, Springfield, MA, and countless others throughout the United States. Thanks to her work along with that of her colleagues at CDS Consulting Co-op, our Board of Directors has a system of governance that serves it well, and allows its members to learn, grow, and lead without getting mired in re-creating details of the structure of board work. One of our former board members made the point about how much more fun and effective service was on our board, partly because of the system and how it has been implemented in our Co-op. Have you considered board service? I urge you to come to a meeting and observe our Board of Directors at work. It’s a beautiful thing, and we have Marilyn and her colleagues to thank for the structure within which this dedicated and capable group works. They too inspire me, as do the many dedicated professionals I have come to know over the years who deeply believe in the power of cooperatives as a force for good. Other amazing cooperators honored included Rudy Hanley, a credit union manager who, by focusing on the particular needs of their membership in southern California, grew that organization into the largest credit union for school employees in the country. Another, Paul Bradley, created an organization based in New Hampshire (ROC USA), that stands ready to assist manufactured home owners to purchase the land on which their home sits when the landowner decides to evict the community that lives there. Many in and around our community know this problem well. Yet another Inductee, Rosemary Mahoney, has advised and steered cooperatives of all kinds over 30 years, some of whom include CROPP, which became Organic Valley; CoMetrics, the financial data compilator that enables co-ops to measure and improve their financial performances; National Co-op Grocers reorganization, and more. The power of cooperation to get things done, by and for those who need the services, is once again brought forward in these fine human beings’ work, all of which, due to their cooperative natures, depends on deep collaborations with many other smart and motivated people. To a person, they shared their honor with all of the people with whom they worked to get these notable accomplishments done. I add my humble thanks to their example and their vision.

And finally, a word of inspiration around food. This time of year brings long-awaited bounty in our store, from new fresh local items in our Produce department, to new cheeses in our cheese cases, to new craft beers, and, of course, to all the plant starts from High Meadows and Couch Brook Farms. After the Strolling of the Heifers moseys through town, all kinds of events lie ahead, to which fresh-picked items from the Co-op will be much appreciated: graduations, honoring fathers, summer family gatherings, and more. Celebrate the bounty of Vermont’s award-winning producers and farmers! Wow your friends and neighbors with some beautiful and tasty fare from just down the road. Remember, as you break bread, that all of us enjoy the richness of life in southern Vermont because of our interdependent practices around food production, sustainability, concern for community, and great inspiration. Thank you for your participation!

By Sabine Rhyne, General Manager