BOD: Looking Back and Moving Forwards

S.G. StratigosReflecting on the past two years, when I have served as board president of Bloomington Cooperative Services, I can honestly say with pride that the experience has been rewarding and extremely educational. I have great admiration for my fellow board members, past and present, and for the hours of board work they have done governing a growing multi-unit organization. Although board work is important for setting policy and taking on fiduciary responsibility for the co-op, credit for the implementation and manifestation of our vision belongs to the people who work in the Bloomingfoods family of neighborhood grocery stores. Kudos goes to our general manager, George Huntington, and his staff, for a job well done.

Over the past few years a lot of our board time has been absorbed by major practical decisions involving financial business issues and the philosophical nuances of working through the process of how best to govern a democratically principled organization. The last few years have been occupied with the financial health of our co-op business. After exhaustive financial and marketing research, and much discussion, we decided to convert the Encore into a neighborhood grocery store. At this point in time, it looks as if we made a good decision.

During my tenure as president much of our time has been spent on the structure of how we govern our organization. In 1997, we adopted a governance system based on John Carver's policy governance model. Since that time, every subsequent board has struggled to understand how this model can best serve BCS. Without belaboring the point, let me say that through many incarnations of refinement and policy governance training, we as a board now have a better understanding of how to use this model to develop a relationship with the general manager that ensures accountability and at the same time fosters a relationship of trust.

My hope for our present and future boards is that we now can spend board time looking at fulfilling the big picture goals (termed 'ends policies' in PG jargon). Unlike for-profit organizations, our ends do not include generating capitol gains for investors or the CEO of the company. Our ends (and our mission) talk about things like providing healthy, sustainably-grown food, creating educational opportunities for personal growth, greater community and cooperative involvement, and providing a safe and healthy work environment for our staff.

We live in an age when a greater number of people care about where our food comes from and about what is in the food we eat. We (the food co-op world) represent a clear alternative to the massive corporately controlled food system, driven by the chemical fertilizer and pesticide industry. Transporting food thousands of miles has huge environmental consequences in these days of higher and higher oil prices and the passed-on additional cost to every product. Industrial farming is subsidized by agricultural policies that support large corn and soybean farms that buy genetically modified seeds, petrol-based pesticides and herbicides, and sell their grain to Cargill and Archer Daniel Midland, producers of corn-based products like high fructose corn syrup - making the United States the most obese nation on earth.

This same commodity, corn, is used to feed the majority of cattle in this country. Cows are ruminants, grass eaters. They are being fed corn that they can't digest, and in order to keep them alive in inhumane conditions long enough to slaughter, are given enormous amounts of antibiotics - which remain in the meat sold in most conventional supermarkets.

I highly recommend the book The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollen to all of our member-owners. It takes a detailed look at the worlds of industrial farming, organic and sustainable agriculture, and their links to our food chain. The board of directors have all recently read this book and we hope to have a continued conversation about how our business can serve as an antidote to these methods of food production and distribution.

It is my hope that our co-op will continue to explore and support local food that is grown and produced within our bioregion, with an emphasis on organic. We will continue to insist that we support socially responsible companies. We will continue to place a high priority on how our decisions impact the environment. We will continue to educate our member-owners and the community-at-large about why we do what we do. The policies that the board of directors monitors must ensure that these issues are reflected in how we run our business.

This will be my final year on the board as an at-large member. I look forward to the continued collaborative environment that has been a cornerstone of our work as board members, in order to best serve the owner members of our co-op.

- Spyridon 'Strats' Stratigos, BCS BOD President 2005 - 2007