by Bob Crego
For the second year in a row, I have been asked to report on the major themes coming out of the Brattleboro Food Co-op’s Annual Meeting in November, and the process by which the BFC Board utilizes these themes to inform its work plan for the year ahead. Sort of like surveying the cupboard, along with the tastes and desires of those who sample the cooking before thinking of next week’s menu and writing a shopping list.
The Annual Meeting was a summing up of many years of thought and planning that went into envisioning and creating the new store. A panel discussion helped to reconnect shareholders to this process.
Mark Goehring, former BFC Board President, talked about the process that began at the 2002 Annual Meeting, which featured Michael Singer presenting his report, Preparing the Ground for a Regenerative Marketplace. The study considered such concepts as food security, peak oil, and the need for a building to be integral with its environment. This was the impetus for the BFC Board and shareholders to begin to reframe their thinking. No longer would the mission simply be about building and stocking a grocery store but rather taking a key role in creating a sustainable community.
Connie Snow, Executive Director of the Windsor & Windham Housing Trust, spoke about the tremendous community benefit derived from collaborating with BFC. The streetscape was returned to its original look, a single-use building became a multi-use building, and WWHT was able to create affordable housing downtown.
Gregg Gossens, of Gossens Bachman Architects and lead architect on the redevelopment project, talked about the design process, which included community input and a comprehensive focus on the impact of the building and the efficiency of its systems on the environment.
Alex Gyori, BFC General Manager, gave a long-term perspective to the project when he discussed decisions that were made in previous “redevelopment” projects, such as when the Co-op moved from Flat Street to Brookside Plaza. Alex also reminded shareholders how important the community has been throughout the life of the Co-op when he emphasized how the community and BFC stakeholders were constantly mined for resources and ideas. Any ideas that excite the BFC Board must be informed by ideas that energize and excite the community.
While we have much to be proud of in our new store, 2012 was nevertheless a challenging year for the BFC. Management and staff had much heavy-lifting in transitioning to the new store while recovering from a terrible tragedy, the union drive added tension to the air, and many shareholders have felt some dislocation over the changes. A number of shareholder questions and comments at the meeting were related to democracy, transparency, and inclusiveness—values central to the cooperative ethos.
Such was the backdrop to our board retreat, held December 1. Our activities that day produced a clear, concise work plan for 2013. The following is a summary of our plan in three areas that I feel are definitive of our responsibilities as board members:
Policy monitoring: We operate within a system called Policy Governance, whereby the board delegates responsibility for managing the day-to-day business of the Co-op to the general management and his staff. We then monitor the performance of the GM through a series of reports. Having received questions and comments from shareholders regarding staff-management relations, the board feels it is especially important to understand this policy, to evaluate how it is being measured, and, if necessary, to make adjustments to its metrics in order to ensure its responsibility to the BFC.
Championing the Co-op: The board is the Co-op’s face in the community; we need to promote all the resources and programming that the BFC has available for the community. We also need to reconnect with shareholders who may feel stretched and strained by the year we have had. We talked about being “ambassadors” –communicating our values to shareholders. In December the board began what we envision will be a series of tabling events or community discussions around cooperative values like self-help, democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity.
Strategic thinking: The board also reviewed BFC’s 100-Year Plan, touching on the progress it has made in contributing to the building of a regenerative, sustainable market and marketplace. We identified several areas that seem important to the future of the Co-op and the community and thus merit further study:
• In what ways can we best service the needs of the low-income community?
• How can we better meet the needs of our outlying communities?
• How to better understand our commitment to the term “regenerative” as it defines the ideal community which we aspire to build?
Small board committees will research each issue and report back to the larger group throughout the year.
Hopefully, by the end of 2013, we will not only have crossed items off our shopping list, but will have engaged in processes that are rewarding to our shareholders.
The Board of Directors will be tabling over the next few months in the Co-op, to discuss the cooperative values, and ways to express, enhance and practice those values. The next tabling will be on Saturday, January 12, from 2 to 4 p.m. in the Whetstone Café. Stop by and have a cup of tea!