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It is my pleasure to serve as our new Director of Cooperative Services. With the support of staff, I strive to advocate for Owners and to utilize the Cooperative Principles to foster healthy, sustainable food and community choices via Owner participation, education, and community outreach. In this global economy, being an informed consumer and good steward can be very complicated. The road to sustainability is a life-long journey and we will all travel it a little differently, as best we can. As Owners, we have a lot of work to do together to keep making better food, health, and community choices.

Speaking of you and me: the Owners, it’s National Co-ops Month, it’s Willy Street Co-op’s 39th birthday, and it’s a wonderful time to think about Ownership. In this new role, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about Ownership myself. During Willy Street Co-op’s humble 1973 beginnings, in the basement of Nature’s Bakery Cooperative as a buyer’s club, the reasons for Ownership between Owners were probably very similar because the Co-op was Owned by a small group of relatively like-minded individuals who could usually come to some consensus about dietary and lifestyle choices to pursue via their purchasing power. Flash forward, thanks to the investment from our first generation Owners, today’s Willy Street Co-op sports over 31,000 Owners with a vast variety of reasons to Own: a desire for affordable natural foods; a leaning towards a particular dietary lifestyle; a connection to community; supporting the local economy; an appreciation for cooperative structures; neighborhood convenience; a commitment to sustainable practices; the list could go on forever. With 31,000 Owners, there are 31,000 reasons to Own.

I chose to Own in August of 2000, three years after I started college. I was already an Owner of the historic Mifflin Street Community Co-op, but I moved east of the capitol, and so Willy Street Co-op became more convenient for me. It really seemed that pure and simple a decision at the time. In my early adult years, as I began to experiment in my own kitchen, I started to realize that food tasted better to me when it didn’t travel very far first, and it certainly tasted better when I made as much from scratch as possible. I also began to realize that I didn’t really like what I had to think about while shopping the big supermarkets: did I really need to select from 30 different brands of tomato sauce, and where did they all come from anyway? Why does the bakery department have such a strong sugary odor pumping through the store? And why would l want another plastic bag of rice when I can put it directly into my favorite antique jar? I decided to Own because I knew that you, the other Owners, had already thought about these things and so much more. Thanks to almost four decades of Owner-driven decisions, we now have two Willy Street Co-ops that smell naturally good, have fantastic bulk departments where we can use all of our favorite jars, and selecting tomato sauce is fairly easy. My journey to Ownership was born out of my quest for clean eating choices and a natural simplicity that looking back now really resembled an overall yearning for sustainability. Not only was Ownership able to provide that for me, it also gave me an avenue to deepen my food philosophies: provoking my individual responsibility to look at labels; continuously question the vegetables and animals I do or do not eat; learn how certain growing, farming, economic, and business practices affect the life, land, water, and habitat for ours and the next generations; and understand that I am my own best health and economic advocate. The best part of Ownership is that I am not alone. I have 31,000 other Owners supporting me in my personal health choices while I support theirs. Owning is pretty incredible stuff, if you ask me.

So why Own, and why Own in full? Because you take a stake in your health, and the health of the people in your community. Because you strive to eat and live sustainably and consciously, and your Fair Share Equity increases your Co-op’s economic leverage and buying power to do just that. Because you get a vote in who governs your store, who will advocate for the food and health choices you want to have, and what major investments in the future and growth of the Co-op we will make together. Because your shopping choices and feedback help your Co-op staff decide what food, health, sustainability, and community issues are the greatest priority. Because your economic backing helps keep your Co-op primed to support the greater community and continue growing our ability to do so.

If you are asked during our Equity Drive this month to consider paying in full, I say go all in, and make your co-op a stronger place to shop and a stronger steward for the community. You’ll be glad you did.

As a newcomer to the Co-op staff, I am very grateful for the help I have received getting my feet on the ground. Special thanks to Co-op Services: Dawn Matlak, Liz Hawley, Katie O’Connell-Jones, and Tamara Urich for being warm, welcoming, and very helpful and honest as I learn the many intricacies and values of our Co-op community; and to Anya Firszt and the entire management team, who have all been very patient and kind as I find my place.

I believe each Owner brings diverse strengths and desires to our store. We all contribute, in our own individual ways, to the larger goal of greater food sustainability. I look forward to continuing to share in our Ownership and to deepening my food and community connections with you.