In the June Reader I urged your participation in the Board of Director elections. We nudged it slightly upwards—from four percent to five percent. Next year I’m still hoping we can reach that elusive 10 percent! (Nationally though, voters improved their participation by two percent in the presidential election...up to 62 percent!)
This month I want to turn towards those 800+ of you who offered feedback via the 2008 Willy Street Co-op Reader survey. Specifically, I want to address those issues and concerns directed at the Board. To those who completed the survey: thank you! Your feedback helps us with our planning. For those who didn’t, we invite and encourage your future participation.
Let’s start with question number 10: “I participate in decision-making at the Co-op.” Fifty-four percent of respondents answered “yes,” 30 percent answered “no” and 15 percent answered “don’t know” or left it blank. I want to focus on those who answered “no.” This lack of participation could be for very different reasons—either you think everyone is doing a satisfactory job, or you don’t have the time or inclination to participate, or you don’t know how. If it’s the latter, we want to hear from you.
If you are interested in getting involved with Co-op operations, ongoing opportunities for involvement abound: completing surveys, customer comment cards (or at www.willystreet.coop/contact_us) and casting ballots. Less consistent and more need-based opportunities include participating in focus groups, task forces, the Community Reinvestment Fund grant application evaluation, and ad-hoc committees. As these are needed, they will be advertised in the Reader. Contact Lynn Olson, Cooperative Services Manager, ator 251-6776. If you are interested in Board-level decision-making, visit with us at the Owner Forum, e-mail us at:, or consider running for a Board seat this summer!
Now let’s look at question number 15: “I have sufficient avenues to communicate to the Board of Directors.” Forty percent of you indicated either “no” or “don’t know.” That’s troubling to me. Certainly if you have an issue for the Board, we want you to know how to communicate that to us. After all, this is YOUR Co-op.
When I was elected to the Board in August 2007, one of the most direct ways of communicating with the Board was to come to its meetings. There was time slated at the beginning of each meeting for Owners to speak. However, in the first year I served on the Board, I can count the number of people who came to speak on my left hand! Knowing we were looking for more feedback and direction, we changed our major feedback loop to be the Owner Forum. This informal time is slotted before our meetings at the demo/sampling area near the dairy case. There, two Board members await your feedback and comments. Since we began this in September, we’ve had twice as many Owners stop to talk to us than in my entire first year on the Board. Granted, that’s still not a huge number, but we’re thinking it’s a start. We meet on the third Tuesday of the month at 6:00pm, thus the Owner Forum begins at 5:30pm. Also, we have started hearing from more Owners via e-mail () and that is certainly an option for you. What are some other methods you would like to see developed?
Next, let’s look at question 16: “The Board of Directors is sufficiently visible.” Only 52 percent of respondents said “yes.” Definitely something we want to take a look at. Currently, Board members are present at a range of Co-op events: Willy Street Fair, Food for Thought Festival, movie showings, taste testings, the Annual Membership Meeting, etc. Where else would it be helpful for us to be? In person? Online? Blogging? Facebook? Please pass along your ideas to us.
The final question that strikes me, though not strictly Board focused, is number 13: “Persons of all ages and economic groups view the Co-op as an important resource for their well-being.” Nearly 12 percent of you said “no” and 26.2 percent of you said you “didn’t know” or left it blank.
Maintaining access for persons of all ages and economic groups is mission critical for natural food co-ops, including ours. All people deserve access to the most healthful and fresh food money can buy. For this reason, the Board and Co-op management rolled out the new Access Discount program which supports fair pricing for all Owners, while ensuring financial assistance to those who need it most.
This last survey question also made me think about a statistic I heard while watching Aaron Woolf’s documentary, “King Corn”—that we are in the midst of an 80-year trend where Americans are now spending just over 10 percent of their household income on food, down from 24 percent in 1929. You might think that change is profoundly positive. Yet according to the USDA, the number of food-insecure people in the U.S. continues to top 30 million people.
What’s really been happening with the percentage decline is a growing gap between the price of food and the cost offood. The price of food overall has declined in part due to federal agriculture subsidies, most notably on commodities. Meanwhile, the cost to the environment, our communities, and our national health has skyrocketed. Committing to food shopping at the Co-op and farmers’ markets—with their local and organic focus—narrows the gap between price and cost because their prices encompass environmental, nutritional, social, and economic issues rather than elevating and isolating the latter. Particularly during this economic recession, holding close that commitment may be more challenging for those across the economic strata. Yet we know in the short and long run, the commitment helps ensure true environmental protection, improved nutritional health, community cohesion, and a closing of the price/cost gap—a benefit to both producers and consumers.