Co-op members submitted the following comments and questions in connection to our recent Annual Meeting. The responses are from the Co-op’s General Manager, Kari Bradley. You can also read Kari’s update with an overview of this year’s Meeting and links to additional information. If you have questions or comments, please email us.
Member: “Please use captioning for future Zoom meetings.”
Kari: Thank you for mentioning that. We absolutely will do that.
Member: “I think we could review our buying guidelines. Given what I see on the shelves, I wonder if they could be crisper. I suggest they take a look at MNFC’s criteria.”
Kari: Thank you. Middlebury Natural Food Co-op’s buying criteria is fairly similar to ours. It provides a preference for certain types of products (namely local and organic) and disallows certain ingredients (primarily anything artificial). Our purchasing policies identify more positive values that we prefer (such as cooperatively produced or with reduced packaging), while theirs is more detailed about the ingredients that are not allowed. Overall though, I believe our approaches are “birds of a feather.”
Member: “I have learned of a Coop in MA (Franklin Coop?} that has adopted a Sociocracy Governance Model. Has HMC considered reviewing this governance option? Sociocracy is a cross between hierarchy and consensus that encourages all voices. Check out SociocracyForAll.org.”
Kari: I don’t believe the Co-op has ever considered the sociocracy model, and I personally am not familiar with it. I will share this suggestion with the Council, and we have the Franklin County Co-op as a resource if we want to explore further. Wikipedia provides this definition: Sociocracy, also called dynamic governance, is a system of governance which seeks to create psychologically safe environments and productive organizations. It is distinguished by the use of consent, rather than majority voting, in discussion and decision-making by people who have a shared objective or work process.
Member: “Grab & Go food is delicious. However, the plastic packaging of most items seems unfriendly to our planet. How about cardboard or other packaging that does not cause pollution?”
Kari: Unfortunately, grab-and-go packaging is notoriously reliant on plastic mainly because it is transparent, durable, food-grade, and relatively inexpensive. There are starting to be some alternatives on the market with less plastic, so we may be able to offer improvements in the near future.
Member: “Offer a discount for folks who use their reusable containers.”
Kari: That is a great suggestion. We just increased the discount on reusable coffee cups to 30 cents, and we will review other reusables soon.
Member: “Is anything being done to reduce the plastic packaging of items sold in the store? Is there anything I can do to make that happen?”
Kari: Thank you for emailing us. At this time, there are no Co-op wide initiatives to reduce plastic packaging. Induvial buyers evaluate products and take into account the packaging but no larger-scale efforts. Pre-pandemic, this was a priority, but given health and safety, labor shortages, supply issues, and other challenges, we are not particularly focused on plastic at the moment.
Individually we can all choose items with less packaging, including as much as possible from the bulk section with reusable containers. I hold out some hope that we can coordinate a letter-writing/advocacy campaign to pressure individual food companies to move away from plastics, but we would need to coordinate with other co-ops nationwide, and given the challenges, this is not the time to pursue that effort.
Member: “I have recently gotten involved more with Equal Exchange through a local buying club and attending their summits and workshops. I have grown to appreciate food justice and the importance of supporting small farmers and producers both near and far. What has been the relationship between the Co-op and EE and other alternative trade organizations? Who and how are partnerships and purchasing decisions made?”
Kari: Our co-op has a long-standing relationship with Equal Exchange mostly through purchasing their coffee and chocolate. Our purchasing policies call for our buyers to give special consideration to fair trade producers and cooperatives. Last year we sold over $1.5 million (about 6% of total sales) in products from other co-ops. Local products are obviously central to what we do, and we are proud to work with nearly 400 Vermont businesses.
Our team of buyers is responsible for working with vendors and making individual buying decisions. I would be happy to discuss this further with you. You can reach me at (802) 262-3219 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The following questions are for our Annual Meeting keynote, Nicole Dehne, the Certification Director for Vermont Organic Farmers, LLC. They have been sent to Nicole, and we will add her responses shortly.
Member question: “If one person eats mostly organic instead of food that is not organic, how much will that affect the carbon footprint. What is the practical impact for our world of moving to only organic food? Are any numbers available?”
Member question: “If no food was exported, how many people would VT’s food feed? Our population of less?”
Member question: “How does this program advocate for the farm workers? Farm labor is by, and large extractive, our country’s trade policies ensure economic instability in southern hemisphere countries, causing migrants to come here looking for work.”