Q: Hello, I am consulting with another local cooperative in the wellness/fitness industry and they are considering hiring a manager to run operations. Currently, every single decision goes through a board. We are wondering if you could share some information with me, either by email or in a face-to-face meeting, on how it works to manage in a cooperative structure. Thanks for considering!
A: Our Board uses the Policy Governance Model to oversee operations. A simple way to think of policy governance is to think of a means to an ends. Our Board provides the Cooperative with "Ends" to achieve. The Ends are documented in a policy and states the overarching results that they want the cooperative to produce. Then, the Board delegates the "Means" to achieve those Ends to our General Manager, who then is tasked with maintaining and hiring a workforce that can produce the results. The Board then monitors our achievement of their Ends via reports from the General Manager on both how we are achieving the overarching Ends and how we meet the terms of the sub-policies that stem from the Ends and their fiduciary responsibilities. As you know, we are a consumer cooperative, and consumers who are elected by the consumers who purchase an equity share of our business govern our Board. Operationally, the consumer-owners adopt the bylaws that we are to abide and elect our Board to represent their interests in our mission and to provide our Ends. So our employees and our business structure are beholden to those bylaws, the mission, and to providing the Means to achieve the Ends (and labor laws, of course!). Our staff is organized in a hierarchy, with a general manager overseeing operations; a team of directors overseeing specific aspects of the business; and various department heads, supervisors, and some skilled and some entry-level positions taking care of all the special details that make our Cooperative a great place to shop and work. The Policy Governance Model is one that many other cooperatives has adopted for Board governance, as it provides a clear separation between the Board's responsibilities and those they have delegated to general manager and her employees. As cooperatives are autonomous, our way of doing things is simply one way of doing them; there are other grocery co-ops and consumer co-ops who are organized differently or use other governance models to delineate responsibilities between governance and operations. For more information about the Policy Governance Model created by Dr. John Carver, please visit www.carvergovernance.com/model.htm. If you have other questions, please feel free to let me know and I'd be happy to see if I can point you in the right direction. Hope you're having a fantastic New Year. -Kirsten Moore, Cooperative Services Director
Q: There was an article in The Guardian newspaper today that I thought might be of interest to you all, if you have not already seen it. The title was: "Co-op to fight food waste with pre-closing time donation scheme." The sub-caption line was: "Retailer will give fresh produce to community groups two hours before stores close." It's about a co-op in the UK, but the ideas could be used here. I don't know what your policies are regarding "use by or before" dates, but I thought that these folks had a concept that you might want to consider, or at least be aware of. If interested, the story link is: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/may/17/co-op-fight-food-waste-... Kind regards to you all,
A: Thanks for writing to us back in May and sharing this idea. My apologies for not responding sooner. We appreciate your interest in this topic, and are pleased to report that viable food is first offered to the community before it ever goes to compost or landfill. Our current practice when we have a surplus of potentially viable product is to first offer it to employees to enjoy, and then contact Second Harvest Foodbank if there is still more available. They help us navigate whether the product can be donated and then whether Second Harvest will take it, or whether a neighborhood pantry in the area would benefit from the product more. Please let us know if you have any other questions or feedback. Hope you're having a great start to the New Year! -Kirsten Moore, Cooperative Services Director
Q: Please consider charging people for use of co-op paper bags and using the money for the “double dollars” donation. People who bring bags donate to this but it seems backwards and use of significant additional money instead of charging for bags and therefore encouraging people to bring their own bags. Very distressing to look around and see how many people are walking out with fresh paper bags.
A: Thanks for the suggestion. At this time, there are no plans to change the way in which we incentivize reusing bags. We have budgeted for many years to provide a reward for reusing bags, previously via a 10¢ credit for every bag reused and now by giving that 10¢ to the Double Dollars program, which has now raised almost $174,000 since April 2017 and allows Community Action Coalition of South Central Wisconsin to offer Double Dollars for SNAP benefits users at local farmers markets and the Co-op (it costs about $80,000 annually at current availability). Converting the credit program to supporting Double Dollars (which covers about 67% of the total funding, and makes up less than 0.001% of our operating budget) has been cost-neutral if not better financially for the Co-op. We spend much less on bags, we are in the rare position to independently support this valuable program for our community, and the program incentivizes specifically shopping at the Co-op and shopping with local farmers. We prefer to use an incentive like this to charging people for bags because, in addition to using less disposable bags, it supports more people in purchasing fresh foods while rewarding bag reuse rather than creating a barrier by charging a penalty. Please let us know if you have questions about this program. -Kirsten Moore, Cooperative Services Director
Q: I love the coop I shop Willy East & North. I am a Senior & on a budget. How about a Senior day discount. OR better yet, an ongoing discount for Seniors. Thanks!
A: Happy New Year to you! Many years ago, the Co-op did have a discount program for seniors, and it was decided through work and input from staff, the Board and Owners that it would be more equitable to our entire community of Owners if we offered discount programs based on financial need rather than demographics. The program was replaced by our Access Discount Program, which offers 10% off all product to any Owner that can demonstrate they are utilizing one or more of the following: QUEST, Medicaid (BadgerCare/Senior Care), WIC, Section 8 Housing, the Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition Program, Supplemental Security Income, Social Security Disability Insurance, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or FairShare CSA Coalition Partner Shares. If they are not utilizing one of those programs, Owners may also demonstrate eligibility by verifying gross income within the last year has been at or below 150% of the Federal Poverty Guideline. For more information about this program, please visit www.willystreet.coop/ownership/access-discount-program. We appreciate your concern for your budget, and if this program might work for you, we hope you will give it a try. Thanks for the suggestion! -Kirsten Moore, Cooperative Services Director
Q: Regarding your bulk spring water, I would like to know how it’s tested for quality. Also, has it been tested for containing micro plastics?
A: Thanks for asking! The bulk water we supply is from a reverse osmosis system, which we rent from Total Water Treatment Systems. They are Madison based and they are the service provider for Culligan water treatment equipment. The system processes water through the municipal supply through several stages:
1. The water runs through a water softener, removing calcium and magnesium.
2. There are two stages of carbon pre-filtration, which removes large particles that make it past the water softening stage.
3. The water is then filtered through a 5-micron spun polypropylene sediment filter. This removes ultra fine particles such as sand, rust, salt and mineral scale.
4. It's filtered through a semi-permeable RO membrane to remove up to 99% of total dissolved solids.
5. Then it goes through ultraviolet sterilization and another stage of carbon filtration, which removes odors, taste, discoloration and chlorine.
6. The resulting product water is then pumped through a constantly moving, closed distribution loop to further ensure there is no chance for algae or bacterial growth.
7. And then the water goes through a second and final ultra violet sterilization as the product water is being dispensed.
The RO systems receive monthly service, which includes 5-micron filter changes, coliform bacterial tests, and checking the ultraviolet sterilization lamps to see if they require changing. The carbon pre-filter cartridges are replaced monthly, and the entire system is sterilized annually. It is currently cost prohibitive for us to conduct full spectrum tests of the product water. Please let us know if you have other questions about the bulk RO water system, and I'll see what we can do for you. Have a great week! -Kirsten Moore, Cooperative Services Director
Nutrition fact consistency
Q: The bulk granola doesn’t have a consistent serving size on the nutrition fact (1/2 cup, 1/4 cup, 2 oz.) So I can’t compare them to each other easily. How about one consistent serving size? Thanks : )
A: We agree that it would be great if there were consistent serving sizes. We tried to standardize the serving sizes in the past and came across some barriers. Some of the manufacturers provide the serving as a weight (such as 1 oz., or 55 grams) and others provide it as a volume (such as cups). In order to come up with a conversion we would need to weigh various volumes of product and then manually do the conversion for each piece of information (since our system doesn’t automatically convert this information for us). This practice proved to be too labor intensive. There was also a high potential for error. For the sake of accuracy, and to make sure we are meeting people’s health needs, we chose to stick with using the nutritional information supplied to us from the manufacturer or our distributor. There may be an app you can find to help do the conversion yourself.
Thanks for taking the time to reach out! Please let us know if you have any other questions! -Matt McHugh, Logistics Director
Moving beyond expedience
Q: I love all you've done to add back more of a holistic feel to the store. It's feeling cozier.
I continue to insist that you move beyond expedience to become a truly visionary company. Visionary companies are more successful in the long terms. In addition to requesting the you exclusively source products with an ethical mission and compliance to that mission in the areas of social responsibility and ecological responsibility, I am asking that you become the first store in our community to go plastic free and/or use hemp or other plant-based packaging, including produce bags. There will always be excuses from those who lack vision. Don't be those people.
A: Thanks for your continued feedback and for noticing some things you enjoy about the Co-op! I’m glad to hear things feel more holistic and cozy these days. Your message was forwarded to me from Board President Jeannine Bindl. Expedience stems from a sense of self-interest, and the Co-op is not about that, we are about the interests of 35,000+ people in our community and seeking ways to meet their mutual interests and to allow some divergent interests of our fellow cooperative owners in our diverse community to coexist within our stores. Our cooperative is entering its 45th year and is considered a successful example in the cooperative community nationally and internationally due to our ability to remain a viable business open to the ever changing makeup of our ownership and surrounding region; our forward thinking and ability to adapt to a changing cooperative makeup and landscape is part of why we have a reputation for vision and have achieved long term success. We have corresponded previously with you about our product choices, and why as a cooperative committed to inclusion we do not choose an exclusive approach to what we put on our shelves: there is an ethic to providing products that represent diverse needs, be they physical, mental, financial, environmental, political, spiritual, or simply needing a store where people in the neighborhood can shop in one stop for themselves or their families (who may also express competing needs and values on their grocery lists). With regard to plastic, we appreciate your sentiment and agree that moving towards plastic-free is our social and ecological responsibility. But while 100% plastic-free not a commitment we are able to honestly make at this time, we are taking steps to move towards less plastic over time when feasible to do so. We do source some plant-based packaging when it is available to us, and we have highlighted these products in previous advertising and in the Reader. Speaking of which, you may find the cover story newsletter writer Ben Becker wrote for the Reader in July of value for learning more about this topic and some of the challenges the cooperative faces with regard to plastic use. You can find it at www.willystreet.coop/july-2018/future-of-plastics-at-the-co-op. This year, you may be pleased to hear we are working on a food waste and discarded materials audit of our stores, so that we can gauge statistically where there is room for further improvement and develop our further waste reduction goals from there.
We appreciate the opinions and values of our Owners, yours included. Thank you for encouraging us to continue to consider your needs and values as well as our social and environmental responsibility. We take it seriously, and we will continue to keep your voice, as we do the voices of our other fellow owners, in consideration as we further develop and change as a cooperative. -Kirsten Moore, Cooperative Services Director
Q: Talk with your attorneys. Bring back volunteerism @ the co-op. For those who have been co-op members across America since the 1970s-1980s, we remember the benefits of volunteering at the Co-op. Not only for discounts on food but for many of us, these were our communities, where visions emerged to create a better co-op, a better neighborhood, a better city or town. In the past decade, it seems so many newer members don’t have a connection about what it means to be part of a food co-op, how a food co-op is different than a grocery store, why it matters to look for the broom around the corner of the bulk aisle to sweep up what you just spilled, wipe up the herbs that overflowed your bag in the bulk herb section, to bag your groceries while the clerk rings up your shop (instead of just standing there waiting for her/him/them to finish. Bring back volunteerism.Find a way to make it work for all of us again. Thanks… from a member whose original member # was in the 600’s!
A: Thanks so much for your comment. I checked in with our new human resources director Brian Wolhaupter in responding. I appreciate your deep value for our Co-op, and desire to increase community within it. The legal issues cited for originally ending the volunteer program are still true under the Fair Labor Standards Act requiring services provided by volunteers to be used for public service, religious or humanitarian objectives. The US Department of Labor says cooperative members of a commercial business contributing time would be considered employees subject to minimum wage requirements. East End Food Co-op has an opinion letter from the US DOL on their website about the legal issues here: https://bit.ly/2CosnkC.
However, there are also many other reasons our Co-op prefers to be one that employs 100% of its workforce. We prefer to pay people a wage for their time as opposed to relying on volunteerism and providing a discount on food. We are so grateful to all of our Owners and customers, who allow us to be a thriving business in our community, and to provide employment to about 400 people across the greater Madison region. This is a contribution we make to the lives and communities we serve that can be made in no other way. A fully employed Co-op is also more efficient; with a specific group of people providing consistent, quality service; that value gets passed to everyone via better price tags.
Of course, we are also grateful to those Co-op owners who take a stake in our Co-op as well, by letting us know when there is a spill in the bulk aisle, by taking carts back to where they are stored, and making the Co-op a place where we can all visit with people we know when we shop, and share food together in the commons from time to time. With 35,000+ Co-op Owners, there will always be some of us who join simply to shop with benefits, and others who want a deeper involvement. The Co-op accepts and appreciates us all! Your desire to enhance community and serve others is a welcome inspiration to us.
For many, time is extremely valuable and very short. A volunteer program at the Co-op would benefit those with the most privilege of time to contribute, and those who may benefit from volunteering for a discount the most would gain much more from receiving a paycheck. This is in line with guidance from our food bank and pantry partners, who say it is poor practice to offer a program where people volunteer in exchange for food access. We encourage those interested in volunteering to explore the myriad of local nonprofits that accept volunteers and we would rather send those with available time to the businesses who truly rely on volunteers to function. Your time will help many, and spread the same gift of community you want to give here at the Co-op even further. If you are looking for volunteer opportunities that provide an opportunity to specifically connect with local food, you may find ideas at Fair Share CSA Coalition both with the organization and with local farms, REAP Food Group, or one of the many farmers’ markets, food banks, or pantries in the area.
No more mambo sprouts
Q: Will you be getting more Mambo Sprouts coupon books? Have they stopped publishing them?
A: After a few attempts to contact them, I’ve learned that they’re closing their doors. We’ll be sorry to see them go! -Brendon Smith-Communications Director