Now that Willy West has been operating for over a year, the employees have begun to understand each other in ways they didn’t when we first opened. We’ve become like one big family encompassing all three working sites of the Co-op. The family has seen its ups and downs, birth and death, happiness and sadness. Around the Co-op we share it all. It’s a very spirited group and they don’t hold back on their communications.
Many have expressed to me how much more free they feel to communicate here. When something sad happens there are plenty of people to commiserate. When some small victory brightens someone’s day those same people are there to celebrate. There is a great deal of creativity blossoming. New recipes in the Deli, a great new type of juice, interesting new milkshake flavors. These are mostly out of a commitment to use everything, waste nothing, and develop new uses for everything. Word travels fast here so it has been fun to see everyone share these ideas so we encourage the experimentation. I’m seeing a great deal of interaction with customers and I really appreciate that. As we become more a part of the community of Middleton, we are looking for new ways to participate.
In December I took part in “reality day,” which exposed the students of Middleton High School to the responsibilities of managing a household budget. I met many fine students and we talked about food and how much it costs to feed a family.
Recently, Middleton’s Sustainable Committee approached me about having Green Thursdays here at the store. Green Thursdays is an effort to educate the community about environmental issues and features a movie followed by a discussion. It is held on the first Thursday of each month. Last night was a wonderful event. There was a packed house, and we met in our lovely Community Room. That room is equipped to show movies. The movie we watched was called Fresh (freshthemovie.com). This fine documentary speaks directly to all the staff and most of the customers of Willy Street Co-op.
It reinforces all of the belief systems that drive us here. While watching, it I found myself wondering, “What more can we do?” Each week about 7,500 fine people pass through our doors and buy their groceries. While that is a wonderful number, honestly it’s not yet enough. This store can handle thousands more and when you compare 7,500 people with the customer counts at some of the nearby stores we seem pretty small in comparison.
After you watch the movie Fresh, you really wonder why those established businesses built on supply chains, factory farms, warehouses and large format grocery stores are still able to receive so much support from all of the people.
More and more families are realizing the value in local, simple, made-from-scratch foods that are offered by people who will put their own name behind their product. The commercial grocery business model is based on volume and economics of scale. It is not based on freshness! And the strained food systems sometimes suffer failures, recalls, and unexpected pressures in a just-in-time model.
The next time you’re in one of those stores ask them if you can see the farms where their chickens came from. Ask them what happens to all of their compostable material they generate. Ask them if you can see what kind of soil grows these crops. Ask them how much the water table has dropped where the intensive irrigation is.
These are interesting times aren’t they? The vast majority of people in America really don’t know where their food comes from. Not only do they not know where it comes from, they don’t know what’s in it. And that is something that we at Willy Street Co-op take very seriously. If you have the chance I recommend seeing this movie.
And I also recommend you come to Green Thursdays in the Community Room at Willy West on the first Thursday of each month. You get a chance to meet people who live in the community who have a lot in common—your passion for food, for green issues, and your desire to make a difference is bringing us together and we are proud to be part of that. It’s going to be very important going forward in America to spend money in ways that give us value. The bottom line is that we need to keep the money in our own communities, we need to spread it around locally, and we need to feel good when we consume what that money purchased.