What makes a grocery co-operative, like Willy Street Co-op, different from any other retail grocery outfit? Well, there are a lot of different reasons, as shopping at Willy Street Co-op is more than just a financial transaction of goods for money. For some Owners, it’s the sense of having a stake in the direction of the business. For others, it’s the fact that their dollars spent take root in the community and grow. Speaking for myself and my family, it’s the sense that we’re more than just machines that crank out varying amounts of money depending on what buttons you push. We deeply value the idea that the place where we buy our food thinks of us as a neighbor and friend to care about.
It was with these principles in mind that the Co-op Board, many moons ago, developed our “ends policies.” To quote John Carver, who developed the governance model we use at the Board level to evaluate the operations, “The ends concept—unique to Policy Governance—is a very special type of goal, one that designates the results for which the organization exists, the recipients or beneficiaries of those results, and the worth of the results.” At most monthly Board meetings, we review a staff report on one of our six ends policies to make sure that Willy Street Co-op is operating in a manner consistent with our Owners’ values. In October we reviewed our Ends Policy A1 for Fiscal Year 2012 (July 1, 2011-June 30, 2012) which states:
“Owners are provided information to make informed choices about food, agricultural practices, environmentally sound practices and the cooperative movement.”
Director of Cooperative Services Lynn Olson made a presentation on staff activities toward this end that knocked our socks off. And if you thought Willy Street Co-op just put food on your table, your mind will be blown, too! Let’s check the stats:
- Co-op Services sponsored 293 classes and presentations last year on food growing, cooking, preparation, and preservation, as well as free health, wellness and sustainable living classes serving 1,400 Owners. That’s up 44% from 2011! We had 124 classes at Willy East and 169 classes at West. A new class, “Saturdays from Scratch,” was introduced to resounding success. This free class is short-form (15-30 minutes) and focuses on cooking from scratch to emphasize the value of shopping the bulk aisle.
- The Eat Local Challenge continues to grow in popularity with over 600 people participating this year. Our month-long challenge in late summer is an opportunity for our Owners to tune into the wealth of local food producers deep in the heart of summer’s bounty, guided by the expertise of our staff and local partners.
- Willy Street Co-op shares its resources with other local and regional co-ops to further strengthen the cooperative network through presentations and consultations. Last year, staff consulted with eight groups, including its continued participation in the Principle 6 (P6): Cooperative Trade movement, which is a consortium of six grocery co-ops dedicated to informing consumers about the importance of supporting small-scale farming. Products at Willy Street Co-op will be considered as “P6 products” if they represent at least two of the three following criteria: 1) from a small farmer/producer, 2) local (grown or produced within a 150-mile radius of the Capitol or anywhere in Wisconsin), and/or 3) cooperative or non-profit organization.
- A remarkable benefit of being a Willy Street Co-op Owner is the knowledge that if there is a product recall, our staff has you covered. Once notified of a recall, the protocol includes: removing the product from the shelves, printing signage to inform shoppers, generating a list of Owners who’ve bought the product during the specified dates, generating a script, then calling those Owners to inform and offer a refund. During FY12, we notified Owners on nine recalls. If anyone has ever had one of those shoppers club cards from a large supermarket, perhaps you’ve wondered what they do with all that information. At Willy Street Co-op, you can be assured our Owners’ health and safety, not their ice cream-buying habits, are valued utmost.
- One of our most visible outreach efforts is our Community Reinvestment Fund, which is funded through unclaimed and abandoned equity money that has accumulated over past years. Specifically, our bylaws state: “the Co-op shall dedicate any funds (equity) remaining unclaimed to educational and charitable purposes.” Last year the Fund donated $20,000 to 16 nonprofits in Madison to fund developmental projects, educational projects, and events that are consistent with the Co-op’s goals. There’s no doubt that our grants (generally around $1,200) make a big difference for these small- and medium-sized organizations.
What’s more, the programs mentioned above are only some of what Willy Street Co-op does to provide Owners with the means to make informed choices about food, agricultural practices, environmentally sound practices and the cooperative movement! Whether it’s through nutrition sessions, farm tours, the Non-GMO Project, or feature articles in the Reader, Owner Education is an A1 priority for Board and staff. If you’d like to read the full report, please email