Willy Street Co-op logo
e-mail the co-op

VOTE FOR THE BOARD
Candidate Statements


 

Jen L. Ahlstrom

What skills and experience do you bring to the Board?
I have been a member of Mifflin Street Co-op from 1998-2003, NASCO (North American Students of Cooperation) 1999-2004, Madison Community Co-op 1999-2003, MCC Board 2001-2002, and the WSGC 2003-present.   In addition to these cooperatives I have also been MULO President 2000-2002, WUD Art Committee Director 2000-2001,  WUD Executive Union Board 2000-2001, an organizing member of Hell-bound pineapple (uw arts group), a member of Design Madison, SLAC (Student Labor Action Committee), TWAT (The Wimmins' Art & Theater collective), and a student alternate representative to the UW Anti-Sweatshop Advisory Committee to the Chancellor.  I have also had experience working with diverse groups of people in the University community organizing events such as Arts Night Out - Nite LIte, 2000, and FIAT (Festival of Inter-Arts and Technology) 2002-2003.            

I am skilled at working with people from various backgrounds, a good and active listener, and am familiar with the workings of collective and cooperative systems.  I was a member of the MCC BOD during the SJC expansion, and purchase of the new Ofeck Shalom house.

What motivated you to run for a seat on the Board?
I am familiar with how cooperatives work, where and when they don't work, and am interested in taking a more active role in WSGC during this time as I feel that there will be more difficult decisions and growing pains to deal with due to the expansion.  i feel that it is a time of opportunity and change for the coop and would like to see the coop go in a positive and perhaps scary new directions with the opening of the second site.  I would ideally like to see the coop take full advantage of this growth opportunity by adjusting itself, it's inventory, services, community events and customer service to better suit the demographics of the new neighborhood community within the confines of the mission of the WSGC.

Besides my interest in the future of the WSGC what really spurred me to choose to run for BOD are the flaws I see in the current coop, in management, organization  and in customer service/interaction.  I feel that as a member-owner it is MY coop, and MY responsibility to do what I can to improve the problems that I see.  That is why I am running for BOD.

Give an example of something that you feel the Co-op could do better, and briefly describe how you might address it as a Board Member.
I would like to see the coop continue and expand it's home delivery services by adding both bicycle and hybrid or bio-diesel vehicles for delivery at each site.  I would like to see cash only or express lanes added AT ALL TIMES at both locations.

I would like to see the downtown location fill a natural, organic, local sustainable market that is under-served in the downtown area.  I would like to see the coop sell beer and wine at the new site, specializing in environmentally sustainable, local, organic, fair trade, vegan wines and beers.  There is a large, ever growing selection of these products available, and I believe that the coop could fill niche market by selling ONLY beer/wine that met the above standards.

Some simple thoughts that I have had to accommodate the growth of the coop to multiple sites, compete in the new downtown location, and to improve member services are:

*installing an online customer comment/complaint forum in addition to or instead of the yellow paper binder system
            -with multiple locations member owners may have similar issues at each site.  There is no reason to have separate paper forms to be filled out at each site.  in addition, the response to such complaints/comments can be difficult for members to receive notice of with the current binder system.

*providing online search options for vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, celiac-safe*, wheat-free, sugar-free, peanut-free, lactose-free (and other specialty diet) products the coop has.  Also have paper versions of this information available at each store and one trained customer service worker on duty knowledgeable in the differences between voluntary dietary restrictions and allergy/auto-immune dietary restrictions.
            *celiac-safe is more strict than simply wheat-free or even (especially local) products labeled gluten-free

that are not manufactured in a gluten-free facility and are not labeled as being produced on equipment or in a facility that may also process products containing gluten (as required by federal labeling laws regarding food allergy information).

Which of the seven co-op principles resonate with you right now and why?
The cooperative principles that resonates the most with me at this time is Member Economic Participation, as I made my equitable contributions to the WSGC and feel that the capital of the cooperative could be better reinvested in the co-op and/or better used to provide member services.  I feel like the new location is a good start, but to maintain financial sustainability, to provide a solid structure for future growth, and in turn to better serve the members I feel that some structural changes must be made to the management of the WSGC.  As the coop grows, the strength, structure and responsibilities of these positions must alter to accommodate serving multiple stores.

If elected to the BOD I would begin to look at alternative ways to manage the ever-growing coop.  From one store, to the addition of the OFK, Second Site, OSO, and online store I feel that the coop needs to recognize and slightly restructure to accommodate this and future growth.

back to top


Jeff Bessmer

What skills and experience do you bring to the Board?
My experiences in natural foods and the strong dedication I have demonstrated to the cooperative movements make me a good candidate for the Board of Directors. I have worked in many areas of natural foods—from an organic farm laborer to farmers’ market co-organizer, to my current position as an employee of Willy Street. I have been an officer of four housing cooperatives, obtained a college degree focusing in studying housing cooperatives, and have been a leader in social justice organizations—from feminist to green to workers’ justice organizations.

What motivated you to run for a seat on the Board?
I was encouraged by individuals in my life to run for this position. I also have a very strong interest in expanding the cooperative movement and sticking to its values. My strong work ethic, desire to represent members strongly and accurately (including Willy Street employees) and experience in finance in several contexts equips me to do an excellent job as a member of the Board. Educational programs, clear communication between the membership and the cooperative, and holding close to cooperative principles will help Willy Street maintain its leadership in the movement and expand our excellent community services and community focus.

Give an example of something that you feel the Co-op could do better, and briefly describe how you might address it as a Board Member.
I know that many customers and employees have raised the issue of member benefits—currently taking the form of a 10% discount on foods. I would like to work with the membership on this subject to study, implement, review and refine a more inclusive system of member benefits and participation to reflect the membership’s status as owners of Willy Street, and to reflect the membership’s values. To facilitate this and other improvements in Willy Street, I would like to also study, implement and review more robust and dynamic systems of communication between Willy Street members and staff. A more holistic system of membership giving feedback not only in the products and customer service we have, but also the guiding philosophy and structures which run Willy Street would greatly benefit our cooperative as a whole. While we do many things very well at Willy Street, there is always room for improvement.

Which of the seven co-op principles resonate with you right now and why?
The cooperative principle which resonates with me the most right now is “one member, one vote.” While this seems very simple at its face, it goes straight to the heart of a cooperative as a democratically owned and democratically run organization to benefit its membership. This principle also clearly reflects the more general cooperative value of fairness. While it is easy to be carried on the success of Willy Street and its coming expansion, it is also important to find a balance between our success and our community values and local, democratic focus. As a board member I will work hard to insure that Willy Street remains fair to its members, customers and workers as we grow into our new location and beyond.

back to top


Jay Denovo

What skills and experience do you bring to the Board?
As an owner/member, I have served almost 2 years on the WSGC Finance Committee. In the past I have served on the Board of Directors of several local housing, food and retail co-ops. I currently serve on the Boards of two community organizations—Dane County Bicycle Association and Akanishta Buddhist Center. My working career has focused on systems, financial management and organizational change in the roles of executive, manager, consultant, project leader and individual contributor. I have worked in energy, banking/credit unions, insurance, software development, state government and co-operatives. I hold a Master’s degree in Business from UW-Madison.

What motivated you to run for a seat on the Board?
My motivation is to help the co-op balance service among its members, staff, suppliers and community during a time of growth and change. The co-op has sustained me for almost 30 years by offering high quality natural foods along with continuing education about food and sustainability issues. Now that I’m retired from full-time employment, I offer my skills to help guide the co-op.

Give an example of something that you feel the Co-op could do better, and briefly describe how you might address it as a Board Member.
I marvel at the ruthless efficiency of the co-op’s largest competitors with respect to their supply chain logistics. I think this is an area where we can learn and improve without relaxing our commitment to local suppliers and high quality organics or compromising our cooperative principles. As a Director, I would encourage the staff to work cross-functionally and holistically, searching out appropriate “best practice” benchmarks for the co-op’s performance in key areas related to suppliers, logistics and flow of goods. Our goal should be to work towards turning local and organic into sustainable price and cost advantages with efficient, well-designed processes.

Which of the seven co-op principles resonate with you right now and why?
Especially as we work towards creating a financing package for the second store, co-op principle #3, “Member Economic Participation” is among my favorites. Sometimes it may be difficult to see the cause and effect relationship between our membership fair share equity contributions and the existence of the Off-Site Kitchen and second retail store, but our participation in growing the co-op’s equity has created the financial conditions that have made these improvements possible. Based on sound and sustainable business practices, we may choose to aspire to another aspect of principle #3—“benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the co-operative.”

back to top


Jim Doak

What skills and experience do you bring to the Board?
I have passion and dedication coupled with a strong background in food service including culinary and food business expertise. In my daily business life I focus on leading and creating strategies that are based on the needs and desires of the customers for my employer. I combine these skills of being both a leader, team contributor, and to be a creative problem solver on diverse projects and plans. I can contribute to the co-op as it grows to serve an even larger community by being a person who will listen to many perspectives, formulating strategy to grow the Co-op.

What motivated you to run for a seat on the Board?
Transplanted to Madison 2 1/2 years ago I have a great desire to serve my community. The Co-op exemplifies an important value I hold: a source for quality food and goods that contribute to the benefit of many local suppliers. Additionally the seven principles of the co-op and the diversity of people enrich my life and beliefs. I feel that collaboration with the board will be beneficial to me as well as the Co-op. I believe that being on the board is a chance for me to contribute my energy to the benefit of others.

Give an example of something that you feel the Co-op could do better, and briefly describe how you might address it as a Board Member.
It surprises me how many people outside the near east side have no idea what the Willy St Co-op is or why they should be members. Changing this perception is critical to any business that is growing and sustaining market share. The Co-op is a vital part of the Madison area and with the expansion of a second location there is a need to better promote the co-op throughout the entire city. I believe there is an opportunity to further share the values of the co-op’s philosophy of local and sustainable food sources, as well as a center for supporting the entire community. I believe that establishing a grass roots marketing effort to communicate the impact the co-op has and its services will help broaden its member base. A strategic approach to expanding community involvement with the Co-op will make a greater difference on society as a whole.

Which of the seven co-op principles resonate with you right now and why?
Concern for the Community: This really resonates with me since I feel we need to strengthen our communities and return to a time of helping and sharing in one another’s lives for the good of all. The re-centering of daily life is what makes us truly able to live and enjoy life instead of simply moving through it. By building a stronger sense of community, the co-op is able to be the catalyst for greater diversity of both culture and ideas. It is this ability for people to come together that allows all of us to grow while making our world a better place.

back to top


Kathleen Doherty

What skills and experience do you bring to the Board?
I have served public education as a middle school classroom teacher, staff development specialist, and UW teaching assistant, for over 16 years. I’ve volunteered at the Olbrich Children’s Garden, served on the Friends of the Dane County Farmers’ Market Board, and interned at Milwaukee’s urban farming initiative Growing Power. Growing Power’s  (www.growingpower.org) mission is to help “provide equal access to healthy, high-quality, safe and affordable food….by providing hands-on training, on-the-ground demonstration, outreach and technical assistance” through community workshops, their Rainbow Farmer’s Cooperative, operation of an urban farm, and a market basket/CSA program.

As for skills, I thrive on offering unconventional solutions to problem solving situations. I’m a critical thinker always interested in culling and organizing multiple perspectives. On the technical side, I’m a successful grantwriter, training consultant, and have used Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to address community development issues.

What motivated you to run for a seat on the Board?
It wasn’t until researching my Master’s thesis that I studied the alternative agrifood movement (AAM) from a global perspective. What I realized most was the underlying need to remove the word “alternative” from the movement. In keeping the movement “alternative” many community members are denied access due to demographic, geographic, financial, or cultural barriers. Thus, last spring, when the Co-op sought members for its equity task force I immediately volunteered. I saw that work as a first step in helping to open up the AAM, and I believe serving on the Board is a way to continue that important work.

Give an example of something that you feel the Co-op could do better, and briefly describe how you might address it as a Board Member.
The Co-op has long committed to supporting community projects involving children and young adults (i.e., Troy Gardens and Malcolm Shabazz High School). Where I’d like the Co-op to head is taking more of a leadership role in working with neighborhood youth at all stages of the food system similar to Milwaukee Growing Power’s youth corps program. In conjunction with the new Goodman (Atwood) Community Center’s flagship program for teens (running a café and catering company featuring local ingredients) the Co-op can begin educating the “next generation” to popularize and democratize the “alternative food movement.” The Co-op is uniquely situated to offer cadres of urban youth an opportunity to learn about food procurement, growing techniques, distribution, and food preparation through the Co-op’s retail locations, off-site kitchen, and the Eastside farmer’s market. Furthermore, its relationship with local producers could extend student experiences by teaching them growing techniques and sustainable agriculture methods.

Which of the seven co-op principles resonate with you right now and why?
Two principles I see as inextricably connected are: Education, Training and Information and Voluntary, Open Membership. I often tell my middle school students the knowledge they acquire is the one thing that regardless of their material circumstances no one can take away from them. The Co-op has the opportunity to offer the Madison community such knowledge through fundamental and transformative outreach emphasizing the entire food system: growing, harvesting, dissemination, and consumption. In doing that kind of education, training, and outreach, the Co-op will create an informed and diverse membership that is not just open in policy but open in practice.

back to top


Doug Johnson

What skills and experience do you bring to the Board?
I have been a member of the Co-op since 1981 and have been on the board since 1986. I served as the president for many years, throughout the time of our expansion and move into our current store. I also serve on the council of our neighborhood association (SASY) as well as the board of the Friends of Starkweather Creek, of which I was one of the founding members. I have served on all of the board’s committees at one time or another and I have experience and historical perspective on all matters relating to the governance of the co-op.

What motivated you to run for a seat on the Board?
I am running for reelection to the board because I believe in co-ops and the superiority of the cooperative way of doing business and I have enjoyed being able to participate at this level of the business. We are in an exciting time for Willy Street now, with the eminent opening of a second store, and I would like to continue to be involved on the board as we bring this project to fruition and as we look for other ways to improve the co-op and what it is able to do for you.

Give an example of something that you feel the Co-op could do better, and briefly describe how you might address it as a Board Member.
One of the key jobs of the board is what is often called “linkage” with the owners. We are always looking for feedback from you about what you want from the co-op and about how well it is serving your needs. Doing what we can to improve this linkage has been an ongoing goal of the board for a long while, but it is clear that this is something that is never “done” and that it is something that the board should be continuously trying to be better at. Ad hoc committees, focus groups, surveys and informal meetings are all things that we have used and I would urge the board to use these and other methods as much as possible in order to improve the decision making of the board.

Which of the seven co-op principles resonate with you right now and why?
All seven principles are important to what it is to be a cooperative, but I think that the essential one, the one which by itself most distinguishes us from other kinds of businesses, is the 2nd principle: Democratic Member Control. The ability of the patrons of a business to participate in setting policies and making the decisions about how the business is run is key to what makes us better. And the fact that each owner gets an equal voice rather than letting those who have invested the most money have the most votes, ensures that the business is run for the benefit of all of us, rather than for the profit of a few.

back to top


Renee Lauber

What skills and experience do you bring to the Board?
I have served on the co-op board for 10 years. I have learned much about the nature of cooperatives and helped plan the moves to our current store, off-site kitchen and the soon to open downtown location. Over the years, I have served on the executive, personnel, finance, owner relations and policy governance committees. For five years, I have been elected, each year, by the board to serve as board president. My background is in political science and environmental management (MS, UW-Madison). I administer the town of Dunn’s Farmland Protection Program. I have strong planning, organization and facilitation skills/experience.

What motivated you to run for a seat on the Board?
Several current board members have lobbied me to run again. We are a thriving cooperative in the midst of a significant expansion. This is a time for leadership consistency and I welcome the opportunity to continue working for the future of the co-op.

Give an example of something that you feel the Co-op could do better, and briefly describe how you might address it as a Board Member.
One of the most important roles of the board is to link/communicate with owners. The board spends most of its time planning for the future, evaluating policy and making financial decisions. More time could be allocated to getting and reviewing opinion and feedback from our owners. This will be especially important as we open our second retail location and increase our membership.

Which of the seven co-op principles resonate with you right now and why?
All of co-op principles are important to the success of our organization. Right now, with our neighborhood having just fought to keep our local schools open, concern for the community is the principle that resonates the loudest. I believe the co-op has a responsibility to the neighborhood and the community that supports it. Giving back to the community through our yearly grants, support of neighborhood festivals and food donations defines who we are. The co-op is one of the largest employers in our neighborhood and a financial anchor in our community. As such, we have a responsibility to set a standard and provide the best possible work environment and pay for our employees.

back to top


Ben Lindberg

What skills and experience do you bring to the Board?

  • Currently working as a strategic and financial analyst and system administrator at Waunakee Remodeling in Waunakee, WI;
  • Facilitated and published a study for a community-owned hospital relocation in St. Peter, MN;
  • Degrees in Geography and Business Management from Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota
  • Strong interest in community-based businesses and sustainable consumption;
  • Member of Willy Street Co-op since 2005 (when my wife and I transplanted from St. Paul; previously member of Mississippi Market Co-op in St. Paul);
  • I also bring enthusiasm, honesty and focus.

What motivated you to run for a seat on the Board?
I started thinking about taking on a more active role with the Co-op after an email discussion with current board member Cara Coburn. (Cara and my wife, Britta, met through the Legal Association for Women.) Cara described her experience to me, and I saw running for the board as an opportunity to contribute to the business and philosophy of the Co-op, and to support it as it expands into new territory.

Give an example of something that you feel the Co-op could do better, and briefly describe how you might address it as a Board Member.
As expressed in previous editions of the Willy Street Reader, payment methods throughout society are shifting to plastic at an added expense to the business. I’d like to explore alternative options including a line on purchase receipts stating the approximate credit card expense and a member campaign to encourage cash/debit payment. Additionally, the energy used in refrigerating items in grocery stores across the country has long been a concern of mine. I am willing to investigate other presentation methods while respecting barrier/access issues that can result in decreased sales. I would continue to emphasize and encourage locally-owned, small grocery stores, and help encourage members and shoppers to enjoy homegrown foods and seasonal cuisines through recipes, presentations and cooking classes.

Which of the seven co-op principles resonate with you right now and why?
Concern for the community. This could be interpreted in countless ways, but I see it as investing ourselves and our collective mission in our neighborhood and being conscious of our role in the broader—even global—market. In the Willy Street Co-op’s case, it is through fostering community ownership, offering responsible food options (from both local and international perspectives), and continued reinvestment in local partnerships and sponsorships. We should take pride in past accomplishments and further the traditions as the Co-op continues to grow and thrive.

back to top


Ankur Malhotra

What skills and experience do you bring to the Board?
I am a Management Consultant with Matador Consulting in downtown Madison. Previously, I was COO of an educational software startup in Madison. I have over eight years of experience in consultative and operational capacities working with member-owned/managed organizations, consumer retail, manufacturing and technology companies. An Engineer and UW-Madison MBA, I am skilled in business and strategic planning, market research, financial analysis, operations and project management. As a near east-side resident, I bring a deep commitment to making the Madison community thrive—activities include volunteering at the Wil-Mar Community Center, Co-op Task Force member, co-founder of MadisonMusicReview LLC.

What motivated you to run for a seat on the Board?
I have been a co-op member since 2000 and am motivated to represent the diversity that is embodied in the spirit of eastside/downtown Madison, making it a special place to live. My recent experience serving on a Board-appointed Task Force reinforced my desire to give back to the community and Co-op in a meaningful way. Moreover, with a second location downtown, new opportunities and challenges will be presented that I can help address. I hope to bring a fresh perspective to the team and believe that my business and interpersonal skills will be an asset to the Board.

Give an example of something that you feel the Co-op could do better, and briefly describe how you might address it as a Board Member.
I believe the Co-op could do more to reach out to diverse communities, including younger generations. The Co-op should look at actively expanding the membership base to be more representative of the vibrant downtown and Greater Madison community. The Co-op needs to explore and create more avenues for interaction and co-operation amongst members/potential members, create dialog with youth through user groups active in the community, partner with other co-op focused organizations (A MySpace page for the Co-op?; Awareness classes on campus—quick, easy, healthy meals made with local organic food?). As the Co-op expands in size and serves larger, more diverse populations, training and education to incorporate and employ best practices to provide the best customer experience also becomes a priority. As a Board member, I will reach out to all segments of the community and work towards creating and growing the Co-op’s presence beyond the physical store premises.

Which of the seven co-op principles resonate with you right now and why?
While I strongly believe in all seven co-op principles, education, training and information is the principle I feel most passionate about. It can be leveraged to impact outcomes, and facilitate action on other governing co-op principles. It can empower all stakeholders to contribute effectively to the development of the co-operative and the community. Growth brings new challenges and opportunities. The expansion downtown makes it important to reach out to the youth, other communities and businesses. For example, can the co-op increase use of local, sustainable organic produce by the area eateries? Influence students’ eating choices and habits? Involve parents, businesses and employees in making these choices? Moving forward, educating members and the community is critical for enhancing and creating further value in the Co-op.

back to top


Steve Ringwood

What skills and experience do you bring to the Board?
I am a self-employed computer consultant and bring with me the skills needed to run a successful small business. These include working with people to define their needs, negotiating contracts, executing and deploying projects, as well as the other skills needed to run my own business. I also volunteer at WORT, do sound for various events and recently rode in ACT 5, a four day bike ride to benefit Madison AIDS Network. Besides showing a commitment to the community they all involve working with other people in a cooperative environment to achieve a common goal.

What motivated you to run for a seat on the Board?
I have run for the Board twice before and currently sit on the Owner Relations committee. So part of the reason is I have a strong interest in seeing the co-op not only succeed by also stay true to the principles that make it great. Being elected to the board would allow me to be more active in helping the co-op face the challenges that are sure to come with the growing community. But even more so, this year I am motivated to run from the encouragement I have received from friends who have suggested I run once again.

Give an example of something that you feel the Co-op could do better, and briefly describe how you might address it as a Board Member.
I think something both the co-op and the board could do better is communicate how the co-op is working to maintain the principles on which it is founded. With the focus on expanding I have heard people mention that they think the co-op is losing touch with where it came from. While change is likely to happen with growth, I think the co-op is still strongly committed to the seven cooperative principles. But with all the work and communication about the expansion I do not think this commitment gets reinforced enough. I imagine there is still much that needs to be done for the expansion and I think the board and co-op need to make sure their commitment to the principles is communicated using these meetings and the Reader to show concrete ways this is happening.

Which of the seven co-op principles resonate with you right now and why?
While it is hard to pick just one, having just ridden in ACT 5, community is something that is strongly on my mind, so “Concern For The Community” currently resonates the most strongly. With so many businesses focused on what they can get I appreciate the co-op’s commitment to the community around them. From working with local producers to helping them find ways for their product to reach you and I, to seeing the employees are paid a fair wage and to giving back to the community in a variety of ways. As a member of the Owner Relations committee I got to experience the community grant process first hand, reading all the wonderful requests and helping to decide how the money was awarded.

back to top