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Board Retreat; Meet Jess Pernsteiner

It wasn’t our New Year’s resolution, but your Co-op’s Board of Directors has been working on our self improvement. In November, we met as a group for our annual two-day retreat focusing on our team dynamic. We are a fairly young Board with over half of us having served for about a year or less, so we spent some time getting to know each other and how we will work together. Rose Marie Klee of CDS Consulting joined us as a facilitator and helped us decide what we would like to achieve and how we might reach our goals. 

Two of the topics we worked through were how to better monitor our policies and how to monitor the Board’s performance. 

We as a Board recently reworked the policies through which we govern, and atthe retreat we practiced a new technique of monitoring compliance while reviewing an audit of the Co-op’s Human Resource Department. While it was so helpful to have the extra time to do this important work, you can tell this wasn’t a recreational retreat. 

Historically, our policies on evaluation of the Board focused primarily on only the President’s performance for the past year. Our new policies are expanded to monitor not only each of the members, but also how we all work together. We spent a large amount of time (although not enough, in my opinion) on how to monitor each Board member as well as our contributions as a group, on a more frequent and routine basis. We would like to be doing so in such a way that we can make improvements as we can (and need to) rather than waiting for the end of the year. 

As I said, we are a fairly young Board and I am happy to introduce one of our newest members. 



What are you most excited about in being a new Board member, and what do you see as the biggest opportunities and challenges the Co-op will face over the next few years? 

I’m most excited about the opportunity to learn more about the workings of the Co-op, and gaining a greater understanding of what Owners expect from their Board. This is my first opportunity to serve on any Board, and I’m also interested to see how this group of nine individuals can come together and function as one entity. I’m excited about the work that has been done with Willy North, and eager to see how the approach that has been taken with the third store serves the community. As the past Board has already seized the opportunity to open North, I think the current focus should be to understand what the Owners and members of the north side are looking for, and to ensure that North fulfills those expectations. 

How did you first learn about cooperatives? And what was the first cooperative you joined? 

I first heard of cooperatives when I became a member at REI about six years ago. I didn’t think much of what it meant to be an Owner at that time, and it wasn’t really until I joined Willy Street Co-op after moving to Madison in 2011 that I realized how important co-ops can be for a community. This was the start of my true relationship with co-ops, and needless to say, it has been a good one. Along with REI and Willy Street Co-op, I’ve also been a member of Group Health Cooperative, and employed at Just Coffee Cooperative. As I’ve gained a greater understanding of co-ops, I’ve felt that many communities could be improved by the presence of a few more co-ops or cooperatively-minded businesses. For me, it just reinforces the fact that by working together, collectively, we can have a greater impact. 

What do you rely on Willy Street Co-op for? And when you’re hungry, what are your top three Willy Street Co-op foods you must have? 

One of the most important things about the Co-op to me is the feeling of belonging that I have, every time I step through the doors. When I first moved to Madison in 2011, I had a very small network, and was really seeking for ways to connect and feel that I was a part of my community. I didn’t realize how quickly those feelings would come from becoming part of the Co-op.

Hmmmm, that’s a tough question for must-haves! I love the abundance of offerings in the bulk aisle, and am so grateful for all of the wellness items I can purchase on Wellness Wednesdays! Co-op made juices, particularly Green Zinger and Caribbean Queen, are staples if I even so much as think that I might be getting sick. I love that bulk NessAlla is on tap! Sassy Cow Chocolate Milk is an indulgence during Frisbee season. I think I’m secretly (or maybe not-so-secretly) addicted to the Vegan Cowgirl Cookies producedby Willy Street Co-op’s Production Kitchen. I also love the variety of locally sourced bakery—that I can pickup a Batch baguette or Stalzy’s roll right at the Co-op! 

What are your favorite food traditions? 

I love that food brings people together. Cooking with family and friends is always special, because it allows for us to slow down and better connect—with each other and the food that we are fortunate enough to have. I’ve had the opportunity to share food with others in many settings—living and traveling abroad, working for a homeless shelter, and with past jobs in food service. Each of these experiences has helped shape my understanding of our relationship to food and to each other. 

Is there anything else you’d like our Owners to know? 

I just wanted to again express my gratitude for being selected to represent my fellow Owners on the Board. I’ve been able to take in so much, but still have much to learn. I know that the Co-op is important to so many in our community, and I want to try to do my best to serve. I hope that Owners feel that they can contact anyone on the Board at any time with questions or concerns. I know that the biggest challenge is making sure that staff and Owners feel their voices are heard. Also, I would like to send a heartfelt thank you to all of the farmers and producers of the food and goods sold at the Co-op. Having spent a significant amount of time employed at farms, and participating in a Worker Share for a local CSA veggie farm, I know that farming is tough stuff. Whilefulfilling in so many ways, it is also difficult, demanding and exhausting. In our society, I’ve found that it’s too easy to forget the time and energy used behind everything that we buy; and frankly, gratitude is something that we can all spend a little more time on.

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