October is Owner Appreciation Month!
Hello, fellow Co-op Owners. If you’re like me, you’re taking advantage of the great bounty of early autumn here in central Wisconsin. I’m still eating out of my (small) garden, eagerly anticipating CSA deliveries, and bringing extra bags to the farmers markets. Don’t forget to stop at the Co-op this month as well, where a whole host of special events, deals, and classes are being planned to celebrate and appreciate the Owners of the co-op. In addition to pie (on October 18th), keep an eye out for Owner-only flash sales and a DIY Fair with experts offering tips on growing, preparing, and preserving your own food. There will be music, samples, giveaways and more. I hope you are proud of this business we’ve created together, and that you stop by this month to celebrate another year of cooperation. -Holly Bender
Get to Know Your Board: Kathy Kemnitz (Interviewed by Holly Bender)
Holly Bender: How did you first learn about cooperatives? And what is the first Co-op you joined?
Kathy Kemnitz: Willy Street is the first co-op I joined, and is really my first experience with co-ops. I started shopping at the Co-op because of my interest in natural foods, but I was intimidated at first by the concept of Ownership and some of the lingo used at co-ops. As I became more familiar with the Co-op, I came to appreciate that it’s similar to some of the non-profits I was involved in because it is mission-driven, but it’s still a “for-profit” business that does good in the community by making money and then sharing it.
HB: You’re the only member of the Board that is also on staff at Willy Street Co-op. What unique perspective do you think you bring to the Board?
KK: I was blown away by the support I got from staff for my candidacy for the Board. I’m on the Board to represent all Owners, but the staff of Willy Street Co-op are some of the most engaged Owners we have. I work at East and am more accessible to staff and other Owners than the rest of the Board, and I look forward to having that regular interface with Owners on issues that they care about.
HB: Looking ahead, what is your sense of the biggest opportunities and challenges that face the Co-op in the next few years?
KK: Competition and expansion, which are of course related. As the Board and the Co-op community at-large continue to evaluate a third location, it’s important not to forget all of the other options for creating business efficiency. For example, we may want to look for a third site that also has warehouse capacity to create a central hub for central store goods. As we evaluate these options, we also have to pay close attention to maintaining a “one co-op” culture so that we grow and build together, rather than simply creating loosely linked businesses.
Competition isn’t bad, but it does require the Co-op to explain what sets it apart from the long list of stores that now carry organic foods. There is no grocery store in Madison that is owned by members of the community and that has the same commitment to local foods, local producers, and the local economy as the Willy Street Co-op. It’s truly what sets us apart.
HB: I think the entire Board has a passion for food and its place in our cultural experiences. What are your favorite food traditions?
KK: I’m a big label reader, and if my kids want to get something they have to know what all the ingredients are, and we avoid things that have more than ten ingredients. We also try to encourage new foods in our house. I grew up on meat and potatoes and Tang, and there was more focus on convenience foods in my childhood. My kids are 12 and 15 and they are open to trying lots of new things. Right now, we’re eating a lot of fresh produce at peak season, and I’m really looking forward to fall foods like squash. I put all types of squash into foods like muffins and pies and I just tell my kids it’s pumpkin.
HB: Finally, name three Co-op products you couldn’t live without.
KK: Skirt steaks, portabella mushrooms, and the Co-op’s house-made sausages. As the General Merchandise Manager for the Wellness Department at Willy East, I also have to give a shout-out to my favorite Wellness products. I really like all Evan Healy products, but especially the Argan Intesive Facial Serum with Boswellia; Host Defense Chaga, and Osha Root by Herbs Etc., which is great for cold season.