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Meet the Board: Holly Bender

Holly grew up in Vermont and Western Massachusetts, very close to dairy production and agriculture since her parents are veterinarians. “I really love the connection to people who make our food. Farming is hard work, good work, and I have a lot of respect for that.” Holly’s first experience with cooperatives was with New England milk co-ops and Randolph, Vermont’s White River Co-op.

Holly is Deputy Director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign in the Midwest, working to change our energy system from one reliant on coal-fired electricity to one built on local, clean energy. Holly’s strong commitment to the environment and local communities made her join the Co-op as soon as she arrived to Madison in 2011. She was elected to the Willy Street Co-op board last July. I talked to Holly as part of the Meet the Board series:

What is your favorite thing about the Co-op?
“When I go to the Co-op, I know what I pick up off the shelf was chosen or prepared with care. Those items were selected with an eye toward how far they have traveled and at what cost, and I always find healthy and nutritious food from producers that have implemented sustainable practices for people and the environment.

“When I think about where I want to spend my food dollars, I want to maximize the percentage of each dollar that stays in Madison. Unlike other stores with a corporate headquarters out of state, or Wall Street shareholders to please, the Co-op’s focus is to participate in a vibrant local economy. The Co-op invests ‘profit’ back to the community, and focuses on offering local products while also expanding its Owners’ food savvy through things like classes and lectures.”

What would you like Owners to know about you?
“I am passionate about the environment and in developing and expanding the Co-op’s leadership around sustainability because I know we can do better. For example, like most of us in Madison, the Co-op is a customer of MG&E, which generates a large portion of its energy from coal. The communities where those plants are operated face air and water pollution that cause them great harm so we can keep our lights on and our refrigerators running. One of the core principles of a cooperative is ‘concern for community’ and thus we have an obligation to evaluate when our benefit comes at someone else’s cost and to work for change. I want to take our sustainability work to the next level. I think the Co-op could become 100% clean (local) energy and I would be very excited to support that journey.”

What would you like Owners to know about the Board?
“This is a representative board that does its best to represent the Co-op’s 31,000+ Owners. Like any well-functioning democracy, we do our best work when it is informed by the Owners directly and the Board is always happy to hear about what you think the Co-op does well, and what it could do better. This year the Board is working to revise its ‘Ends’ policy, which essentially describes the highest purpose of the Co-op by outlining what is different in the world if the Co-op succeeds. Look for opportunities to provide feedback and ideas as the Board digs into this process in the spring.”

Thinking about the future, what opportunities do you see for the Co-op in the next three years?
“I see two issues that are connected: competition and growth. If the Co-op is successful, more people will seek out local sustainable food, and more businesses will try to fill that need. In some ways, the success of our work is our own challenge. As we prepare to respond to a growing desire for the products and the food philosophythat the Co-op has pioneered, we will need to grow.

“Competition has flagged for me the need to create a clear and compelling narrative describing what makes the Co-op different. Everyone should know why shopping at the Co-op creates value for our entire community, and how our model is different. I think competition is an opportunity to do what we do even better and I’m excited by that.”

How do you imagine success to look like three years from now?
“I see the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Co-op’s third store with proud stakeholders who represent a cross-section of the Madison community. This includes members of our community that are not currently served by the Co-op, in terms of geography and/or access to safe and healthy food. I see us having new members in the Co-op and forging new relationships with new communities. And we will already be thinking about the next step. Maybe even something different than what we have right now, like smaller ‘corner stores.’ With the bounty of our food resources in southern Wisconsin, we should not tolerate a single food desert in our community, yet they exist. I think the Co-op has a role to play in remedying that in the coming years.”

Run for the Board!
Board candidate packets are now available online and at the Customer Service desk at each store. If you are interested in running for the Board, please pick one up!
Edgewood CollegeNorthside Animal HospitalMonona Grove Nursery SchoolDan Krause

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