Saturday, February 18th, Willy Street Co-op Board Members gathered with General Manager Anya Firszt, and Executive Assistant Stephanie Ricketts for our annual Board Retreat. Each year we focus on a different management area, and for 2012 we gathered over breakfast and lunch to envision how we, the Board, could work with Willy Street Co-op management to set our strategic planning goals from our 2011 retreat into action. Our facilitator, Art Sherwood from CDS Consulting Services, led us on our way toward developing a greater understanding of our roles as we storm into the future of Willy Street Co-op 2020.

With the opening of Willy West in November 2010, a question loomed before the leadership team: how does a multi-site grocery cooperative leverage its growing size and influence to further its mission while upholding its Owners’ values. At our last retreat, the leadership team identified three strategic initiatives we thought would serve as guiding beacons for our activities for the next three to five years. Over the course of the last twelve months, Anya and her staff have developed or fine-tuned programming to meet the goals of these initiatives and we were wowed at the results! Here is a sampling of what they’ve accomplished.

#1: Green Energy Initiatives
Owners desire the Co-op to be a leader in sustainable business practices. They expect us to minimize our impacts to the environment. They look for us to be innovative in our management in the flow of resources.

The management team presented literally dozens of processes already in place to position Willy Street Co-op as a leader in sustainable practices, e.g., greener packaging in our Delis, the rain garden at East, and harnessing available solar power. You can read more thorough details in Deb Shapiro’s Board Report in last month’s Reader. Two new projects in 2011 toward this initiative:

  • Developed a Sustainability Committee to review current sustainable activities, perform an energy audit at each site, and identify items for improvement and ways to measure improvement.
  • Participated in SustainDane’s Mpower ChaMpion Program. This comprehensive program identified the Co-op’s energy profile and developed five projects in conjunction with MG&E (carpooling and office composting, for example) to reduce Willy Street Co-op’s carbon footprint and energy bill.

#2: Financial Accessibility
Owners express a desire for the Co-op to be affordable and provide meaningful job opportunities. Owners feel their purchases are limited at the Co-op because of the high cost of goods. Owners also inform us that they choose to pay a fair price to support our business model and local growers.

Our Ends Policy A4 is for Co-op employees to “work in a humane environment and are recognized and rewarded as being fundamental to a thriving community” and Willy Street Co-op management has gone a long way toward that end with staff discounts, financial health and loan programs. This year, we’d like to explore more options for how to make the Co-op a more financially viable option to the community at-large through:

  • Exploring Slow Money and Community Volunteer programs.
  • Continuing the highly valued vendor loan programs.
  • Reaching more nonprofits through our Community Reinvestment Fund.

#3: Local Food System Development
Our Owners have indicated that developing our local food systems is a project that they would like us to consider for the next three to five years. This would involve partnering with organizations with goals in the local food system development such as the UW and community organizations to maximize our collective impact.

Willy Street Co-op sponsors a number of farm-to-table/slow food programs in Dane County, such as REAP (Research, Education, Action and Policy on) Food Group, Dane County Buy Local and Wisconsin Eat Local Challenge and we are continuing to strengthen our ties with these organizations. Other notable progress on this initiative includes…

  • Participation in Principle 6 (P6), which promotes products that represent trade that is local (within a 150 mile radius of the Capitol or anywhere in Wisconsin), from a small farmer/producer, and/or from a non-profit or cooperative.
  • Strategic discussions about a mobile retail sales unit and facilitating local farm-to-school programs.

This is just a sample of what’s going on beyond the grocery store floor for 2012–13 at Willy Street Co-op! Needless to say, the amount of work put into these initiatives while running two thriving retail operations is amazing and the Board couldn’t be more proud of Anya and her staff for positioning the Co-op as a vital resource for our Owners, local farmers, and community.

Speaking of Owners! We’d love to hear your thoughts on where we’re going with our three initiatives and invite your feedback, either in-person at our next Owner’s Forum: 5:30–6:00pm, April 24th, at Willy West or email us at .

Monona Bootery & Family Shoes

Attorney Paul O'Flanagan

Grass fed beef

Fenske Holistic Healthcare Center

Isthmus Handyman LLC

Associated Housewrights