May this update find you all in good health and spirits! This month presents an opportunity to look back on our 2023 fiscal year, my first full year as GM, and also share a preview of things to come in 2024. The team has certainly accomplished quite a bit in the last year. There isn’t space to share everything here, but there are certainly a few highlights worth mentioning!
Most importantly, however, I want to recognize our staff, the heart and soul of our cooperative, for a great year. It was a year that saw us say goodbye to some long-time friends and welcome new ones. We bid farewell to our long-standing Store Manager, Whitney Field, and our Finance Manager Ken McGee, who are embarking on new adventures after many years of dedicated service. We are immensely grateful for their commitment and leadership, and we wish them the very best in their future endeavors.
With every farewell comes the anticipation of new beginnings and fresh perspectives, and we have certainly welcomed our share of new faces. We are happy to welcome Meg Sellarole as our Store Manager, Anne Fletcher as our Wellness Manager, Josh Jones as our Facilities Manager, Anthony Santorelli as our new Chief Financial Officer (CFO), and Elias Abdul-Sater, who recently joined us as our Director of Food Services. We also had some familiar faces move into new roles and accept new challenges. Chris Dubis moved into Merchandising and Sarah Brennan will be leading our sustainability efforts in addition to her responsibilities as Board administrator. Erik Hansen assumed additional responsibilities for Facilities, Receiving, Safety and Wellness, and Supplies. Finally, Caz Clark has moved into our newly created Safety and Wellness department and has done great work advancing our efforts to create a safe and healthy shopping experience and building some great community relationships. I am very confident that we have an outstanding team ready to support the success of the Co-op for many years to come.
We are wrapping up our contract negotiations and the process has been positive, respectful, and reflective of a true spirit of partnership. I am very appreciative of our UFCW leadership, stewards, and staff who invested their time and energy to ensure that we reach an agreement that reflects our shared desire to address the needs and aspirations of our team.
We also made a concerted effort to catch up on deferred maintenance and invest in our physical infrastructure to ensure a pleasant shopping experience. Our team has been diligently working on improving the overall condition of our store, focusing on areas such as lighting, flooring, equipment, and fixtures. These investments will not only enhance the aesthetics but also contribute to a safer and more comfortable environment for all.
We accomplished a lot outside our four walls as well, establishing and strengthening several community partnerships. Groundworks Collaborative, a non-profit organization addressing homelessness and food insecurity in our community will be supported directly each month with a portion of our Round Up for Change program beginning in September. Groundworks’ mission aligns closely with our cooperative values and principles and our Board’s desire to ensure we are doing all we can to address income disparity.
Additionally, we are excited to partner with Potash Hill, created to preserve and manage the campus that has been home to the world-renowned Marlboro Music School and Festival since its founding in 1951. In their operations, Potash Hill and Marlboro Music are devoted to enriching the cultural life of southeastern Vermont, and to supporting the people, businesses, and economy of Marlboro and the surrounding region. The Co-op will be operating the central dining facility at Potash Hill, where it will provide meals for our tenant organizations, including the resident musicians, staff, and families of the Marlboro Music School and Festival. This partnership not only brings healthy, local food to guests from around the world but creates jobs and provides an additional outlet for local farmers as well.
We also partnered with Green Choice to pilot a new way for shoppers to get information about many of the products we offer. We are very interested in supporting them as we explore the full potential of this solution.
Most recently, we had the opportunity to visit the SUSU farm and reinvigorate our relationship. The SUSU commUNITY Farm is an Afro-Indigenous stewarded farm and land-based healing center in Southern Vermont that elevates Vermont’s land and foodways. We were able to provide support for their Juneteenth celebration and our visit led to many ideas for future collaborations that we are excited to build on in 2024.
Of course, we continue our partnerships with many other great organizations as well like Project Feed the Thousands, NOFA, NFCA, CFNE, and many other organizations supported by our shareholders through Round Up for Change.
Looking ahead, we have completed multi-year financial planning (pending the finalization of our next Union contract) and have several exciting things coming up. Our Annual Meeting is planned for September, and we are very happy to be returning to an in-person event. As shared at length over the past several years the time has come for us to restructure our discount programs to ensure financial health while increasing our focus on addressing income disparity. We are fully re-opening our community kitchen and expanding programming, expanding and resetting our Bulk section, planning our transition to compostable containers in Deli and Bulk, launching a new website for better communication and better support for online shopping, and of course continuing all annual events that have a big impact, like our river cleanup (in the past year we have led efforts that have resulted in over two tons of trash being removed from the river and the surrounding area).
We are positioned well for a great 2024 and I look forward to seeing everyone at our meeting in September!
By Lee Bradford, General Manager