October is for Cooperation and Community

By John Tashiro, General Manager

Happy fall everyone and how the weather has cooled in the recent weeks, even experiencing our first frost! The breathtaking changes of the leaves and foliage in all their magical colors this time of year is just so spectacular and I’ve been enjoying all things harvest!

It was wonderful seeing and connecting with many of you at your Annual Member Meeting at ECHO last Thursday, October 3. Once again, we had another fantastic turnout of over 500 Members to celebrate the Co-op’s 2019 financial year and share our tremendous appreciation for you, our amazing Members over tasty food and wonderful conversation! During the presentation portion of the evening, we shared the exciting news that we recently reached a tentative agreement on a three-year contract after extended union negotiations these past few months. We appreciate the hard work of all involved and are proud to share that with this tentative agreement, our new wage scale outlines starting wages of $13-$20 per hour and maintains a robust benefits package, continuing the Co-op’s commitment to total compensation.

In addition to the presentation led by myself and our Board President, Faye Mack, we heard from the record number of Board candidates (thirteen total) who are running for four vacant seats. We also celebrated the work of Janet Carscadden, this year’s Don Schramm Community Service Award winner. Since 2012, Dr. Janet Carscadden has taken on much of the meal planning and organizing for the Old North End Community Dinner, a monthly free and delicious meal open to all and served prior to the Neighborhood Planning Assembly for Wards 2 and 3. Janet volunteers numerous hours every month making this event a staple of the Old North End community. She joined the team in 2012 and has since added an international theme to each mostly local and vegan meal. You can find a video recording of the business portion of the evening, including Board candidate speeches, on our website.

As a brief reminder, Board Elections are taking place now and voting is open through October 21. Voting for the Board of Directors remains a key component of Co-op Membership and offers an opportunity to effect change and live out the co-op principle of “democratic member control.” The Board’s guidance is critical to help steward the Co-op and we encourage you to learn more about this year’s candidates on our website.

Further, October continues to be a special time at the Co-op as it is both National Cooperative Month as well as Fair Trade month!

A time when we especially reflect on the many ways cooperatives across the various industries and sectors help to build stronger communities and more resilient local economies, the theme for this year’s National Cooperative Month is “Co-ops: By the Community, For the Community”, which celebrates how coops are people working together to make their communities and the world a better place for everyone Across the Northeast. Our partners at the Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA) reference how people have used food co-ops to improve access to healthy, local, affordable food, and build stronger communities. Although there are food co-ops like City Market that got their start more than 30 years ago, a new wave of startups have opened their doors in the past ten years representing renewed interest in food security and community ownership. Today, NFCA represents over 35 food co-ops and start-ups (including City Market) that are locally owned by more than 150,000 members, employ over 2,300 people and generate shared annual revenue of $340 million made up of sales of $93 million in local products.

Food co-ops are not alone in their contribution to more resilient local communities. On a national scale, from farmer co-ops to worker co-ops, credit unions to mutual insurance, and housing co-ops to energy co-ops, there are more than 40,000 co-operative businesses with 350 million members (many people belong to more than one co-op) thriving across the U.S. economy. These cooperatives generate $514 billion in revenue and more than $25 billion in wages, according to a study conducted by the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives. And because they are member-owned, co-ops are rooted in their communities and governed by the people who use them to meet their needs, rather than outside investors.

With Fair Trade month, organizations aim to raise the awareness and importance of fair trade, a transparent trading system that supports sustainable livelihoods primarily for small and disadvantaged cooperative farmers and producers and their communities in developing countries. The system helps address these cooperative farmers and producers who are most vulnerable and ensures fair prices, good working conditions, and long-term partnerships to fight against poverty and exploitation, climate change and the economic crisis. At the Co-op, we support and have close to 400 fairly traded items represented through bananas, avocados, nuts, flowers, chocolates, coffee, tea, sugar, soaps, shampoos, lotions and many others. These items have various Fair Trade certifications that guarantee your purchase helps improve the lives of several million small scale farmers and producers and their communities around the world. Later this month, a group of staff will be visiting the headquarters of Equal Exchange, a worker-owned cooperative that distributes fair trade certified products, to learn more about their relationships with a variety of small-scale farmers and their work globally to support the cooperative model. 

Last, but certainly not least, we have reached a significant milestone this month having surpassed $1 million in Rally for Change donations since the program’s launch in October 2014. Thanks to you, our Members, and our broader community’s incredible generosity, the Co-op has supported 77 individual non-profit partners over the last five years with these donations. These funds have helped support the growth of community gardens, increase access to healthy food, preserve farmland, and so much more. Throughout the years, Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf (now known as Feeding Chittenden) has been a consistent partner in this program having directly received over $475,000, in addition to weekly product donations. As a show of appreciation for the generosity of our co-op community, Feeding Chittenden will be onsite on Friday, October 18 with the Good Food Truck dishing up free samples and sharing information about their various programs. Swing by the South End store from 11am-1pm and the Downtown store from 2-4pm then to learn more and help us celebrate!

As always, a HUGE Cooperative thanks to all of you for your on-going support of the Co-op as we strive to see how best to serve you, our Members, our customers and the broader community as part of our commitment to be central to a thriving and healthy community. Look forward to seeing you at the Co-op.

With gratitude and in cooperation,