Much has been said and written about the turn into this new year. At the Co-op, things are no different—our cumulative exhaustion is proof enough that things need to go better in this new year, as we will no doubt need to adjust several more times to new normalities. Still, I find that gratitude has actually been easier to come by in my own assessments, and I believe this to be true of lots of our community members and Co-op customers as well. Most Co-op shareholders have revealed themselves to be truly engaged owners, always adding a kind word and a thank you to the various folks with whom they interact. For some shoppers, that recipient is only the voice at the end of the curbside phone line or the quiet delivery person in the parking lot, since they are staying home and safe. For others who come in to shop, the thank-yous are peppered throughout the store to a wide variety of staff and have been expressed in surveys as well, and these words of appreciation are always welcome. We did get an amazing windfall in the last week of this extraordinary year: two of our long-time shareholders gifted every Co-op staff member with an amazingly large gift card in deep gratitude for the work that these fine folks have done throughout the pandemic, and for the role that the Co-op continues to play in our community with local vendors, non-profit partners, and indeed with all of our customers. “From always great food to perfectly sized Christmas trees, the Co-op has met so many of our needs this year in a safe way. May 2021 bring a return to normalcy and simple pleasures like a lunch with friends in the Co-op café.” We are stunned with the generosity of this gift, and ever so thankful to be doing our work in this way, intertwined with good individuals throughout our community. Our staff rocks. And so do our shareholders!
Speaking of generosity, we are embarking on a new way to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday this year, since having area non-profits sitting at tables to talk with patrons throughout the Co-op is not possible. This year, we are asking those non-profits to share their work, their vision, and their needs with you through social media and other technological venues. Again, your participation in physically volunteering to support their work is rewarded by your Co-op in credit for member work—a discount on your purchases—in gratitude. So many are doing such important work, and this year, we have all done more learning and discussing to better comprehend what we can do to further the cause of those who have been mistreated by our systems, our biases, and our cruelty. So get out there and make a difference! We will all benefit from this attention. Look for those short videos and conversations to inspire ways to get involved.
And we continue our plan to integrate more conventional and value-priced options throughout the store. Surely you have noticed this in the last month, though there is more work to do. You also have seen the changes in the Bulk department, and we will continue that modification as we move into self-serve less-touch herb and spice dispensers. We hope that you enjoy the added convenience and agency! Comments about the revamp have been positive so far.
Also, we are adjusting to new rules governing the use of the word “local.” The governor signed a bill last summer specifying that “local” was only to mean Vermont grown or Vermont produced. For us, as a border town, this unfortunately rules out some of our valued vendors that are within 30 miles of Brattleboro, but located in New Hampshire or Massachusetts. So we are working on new methods to support those growers as well with new nomenclature. Stay tuned!
Finally, in thinking about some of the notable changes over the last year in our family of vendors, one interesting transition involves fluid milk. Thomas Dairy in Rutland decided to close its doors as a result of the pandemic and the effect on institutional milk sales (UVM). The Thomas family spent over 150 years in this increasingly challenging business, but the final push from the unprecedented situation drove them out. In the meantime, Miller Farm in Vernon, a 100-year old family dairy, started packaging their organic creamline fluid milk, in addition to providing milk to Stonyfield Yogurt, and it is quite good.
These transitions in farming are not so unusual, but against the current backdrop of events, our support of local farms and vendors is all the more important. Even as you work to support local restaurants with takeout food, remember to choose local products as you shop. These folks are doing it all with far fewer outlets for their goods, so they need us.
May 2021 bring you more and more good things, including the appreciation of those simple pleasures we have come to know so much better.
See you in the aisles!
By Sabine Rhyne, General Manager