On the icy day of February 20th the Directors you elected to represent you gathered in the Goodman Community Center, surrounded by the spirit of the first week of protests at the Capitol. We set out to discuss your ideas for the Willy Street Co-op’s future, review our self-evaluation as a Board, and continue our conversation on building better connections between our Owners and their Co-op.
Despite the frigid weather, we were quickly taken back to this summer’s Annual Meeting & Party where thousands of Owners gathered to enjoy a day of festivities and embrace their ownership of this cornerstone of our community. During this sunny day we asked you what you saw for the next three to five years of your Co-op through direct conversations between Directors and Owners, through video interviews, and through questionnaires.
We gathered a wealth of information and your vision for a radiant future for this organization we own together. Over the following months we reviewed the hundreds of ideas we received and discovered that there were ten main concepts that you shared:
- Develop the local food system
- Make the Co-op more financially accessible
- Work more deeply with other cooperatives
- Partner with schools and other institutions in serving local/organic/natural foods
- Create programs to engage older Owners
- Engage our community to build shared vision
- Start a farm
- Create a warehouse
- Pursue green initiatives
- Open a third retail site
“Retreat,” however, is a bit of a misnomer. This process—the lion’s share of our meeting—was an intensive study and discussion of these ideas and how they might relate to our Co-op. We used the breadth and depth of experience of each member of our Board to delve into each of these ideas. For each one we asked: Which can our organization realistically pursue? Are any of these saying the same thing? Is Willy Street Co-op pursuing some of these already? After pushing and pulling between each other over these, we reached a consensus of three to hand off to Anya (our general manager) and the general management team (GMT).
In truth, many of us were most excited about the warehouse and farm options. However, we felt that this item covered both, and gave our management the flexibility to find what is an attainable goal and make recommendations to our Board.
While championed strongly by only a couple Directors at first, the Board quickly came to see that this is one of our organization’s most central values. It encompasses local, organic, fair trade, environmental stewardship and more. Because we are a retail grocery cooperative, we have a great power to impact these areas through our daily transactions.
This was strongly supported by all Board members, however it is one of the most challenging projects for a natural foods grocery co-op to pursue. On one hand we believe in conveying the true cost of food and we believe in small farms and a living wage for farm workers. On the other, our prices prohibit some of our Owners from purchasing a larger proportion of their groceries at our Co-op. Reconciling these two differences is a challenge that some co-ops around the country have faced, but results are very mixed.
From here, the GMT will investigate the potential of each of these ideas and report back to your Board of Directors who will make final decisions—but not without the input of you, our Owners. This is your cooperative.
Beyond strategic planning, we discussed the aggregate results of our Board self-evaluation. We condensed this feedback to a few salient points for improvement for the next year which we have delegated to our Board to pursue.
Finally, we furthered our ongoing discussion of ways to engage you, our Owners, in the governance and operation of our Cooperative. Of all grocery co-ops in the country we have one of the most successful annual meetings—our Annual Meeting & Party in the summer. I have mentioned that I’m an Owner of the Willy Street Co-op when I travel, and more than once I’ve heard “Oh, you’re the co-op that throws that awesome meeting and party with the Ferris wheel!” Indeed we are. But while our meeting is successful we want to get you more involved in your Co-op. Why? Willy Street Co-op is growing from being a retail grocery co-op to a wider organization with a greater reach and impact.
We want you as the Owners firmly at the steering wheel of this organization so we can champion your values through the success you have created. So look forward to more and different ways to engage your Co-op and as always—please tell us what you think about your Co-op and its future! The Willy Street Co-op is something we as members of this community have created to meet our needs and realize our shared vision. Let’s make it happen!