At our annual February board retreat, we discussed global trends affecting our world and how we as a member-owned co-operative business could also affect the future of the world we share. According to the International Co-operative Alliance, there are approximately one billion people who are members of co-ops worldwide. Ten thousand of them are BCS members. This is our moment in history to take giant leaps forward in creating fair systems of sharing Earth's resources.
There are numerous problems facing the world, many which could be grouped under the heading of "environmental degradation," something which affects every living thing. Crises loom. Historically, however, co-ops resist crises. People joining together in behalf of the interests of the whole have always solved their common problems.
How does this work? Usually, a situation presents itself which is not easily resolved by one's independent ability to work harder or longer, and when no government or social program is able to fill the need, people organize into co-operating groups. Holding to non-confrontational principles, these groups look instead at what is right and how to build on it.
We ask, "What is alive in us? How can we engage this aliveness, this vitality, in a way that benefits the whole?" After gathering information for our knowledge pool, we decide on our common purpose, crafting a vision from our minds and hearts. From there, we continue the process of planning, taking action, monitoring what we have done, then re-assessing the best ways to meet our evolving goals and continue the process.
You, as member-owners of your local co-op, are the people who depend on each other to make not only our food stores, but our whole community - all of its families, businesses and social institutions - a smooth-running system providing us all with a sustainable lifestyle. We do this best by making our vision of a just world compelling and by living our highest principles. (The Seven International Co-op Principles are listed in "Co-op 101" in this newsletter.)
Your co-op board ongoingly assesses how we are exemplifying the co-op principles as a business. We discuss how these abstract, general guidelines can be broken down into clear policies which can be measured and monitored. The General Manager and staff then have the job of figuring out how to operate within the policy guidelines while fulfilling the numerous daily tasks a business requires. This seemingly "small stuff" is huge. To make all levels work together, it is necessary that our co-op vision be as clear as possible.
Co-operating in today's fast-paced, high-tech world is more than just going next door to borrow a cup of sugar and later returning the favor. The stakes are high and the challenges immense; but we are now, locally, 10,000 member-owners strong in creating co-operative ways to make our world work well. And that is just BCS, one of many organizations dedicated to helpful purposes.
You are so important in making things happen. Not only every dollar you spend, but every time you talk to anyone about your values of making our local area a model of good citizenship ( a seemingly outdated but important word), you empower us all.
You are the juice. As you get excited about and support what is going right, others come on board. They bring their energy and resources into the vision, and the world we want happens. Do not underestimate your power to generate the real economy of people who come together easily, happily, resourcefully to pool talents and skills in behalf of each other. Worldwide, this is our co-op moment.
Carol Bridges, for the Board of Directors
I was recently asked how decisions are made by the co-op. This is actually not a very easy question to answer as it depends on which decisions about what. Generally, the board of directors is responsible only for the big overview of the direction of Bloomington Cooperative Services which is the umbrella organization under which all of the grocery store co-ops called "Bloomingfoods" function.
The General Manager of BCS hires managers of the grocery stores and sees to it that they are trained in all the skills required to run a store and manage employees. These managers make all the day-to-day decisions about things like which brand of ketchup to buy and how many varieties of cheese to carry. The board only specifies that these items should be organic and local when possible.
As consumers of these groceries, we tend to like the stores to carry the things we personally enjoy, and we prefer that the stores continue operating in the ways we are used to. We normally don't want anything to interrupt our routines and buying habits. There are always things we don't like and things we really love about the stores depending on how well the stores are filling our needs for convenience, pricing and choice of merchandise.
As member-owners, you have expressed year after year on the customer feedback forms you mail in (you do do that, don't you?) your opinions on all aspects of each store. Everyone in charge of decision-making pays attention to this feedback. Generally, you report a high rate of satisfaction with how things are run.
However, changes are sometimes necessary, and what would be thought of as an improvement to some is a disturbance to others. With the whole world changing faster than we can possibly keep up with, many of us drag our feet when something we have become comfortable with now has to change as well.
With new stores opening, there is a level of stress that takes place when an employee has to wonder about a job change. Will this mean a hoped-for promotion? Will I have to learn new skills? Am I valued for my real worth? Humans usually respond to change with either a flight or fight response. Flight can be just ignoring that anything will be different, avoiding facing the shift of situation and just becoming passive, a "whatever" approach.
Fight can take the form of resisting or criticizing. People deal with any perceived threat to their usual routine in a variety of ways. An analytical person might look at the situation as a problem to be solved. A visionary might need to see the Big Picture and how the change supports a larger goal. Another person just wants to know if everyone involved in the change will be treated fairly. And someone who likes order may just want to know what the new rules are so that she or he can get with the program.
It is important for managers to understand these different coping mechanisms so that stress is reduced and everyone's needs are met as much as possible. When employees are relaxed and informed about the changes, they can more easily assist customers and acquaint them with what is going on and why. You, as a member-owner can also make our growing pains more comfortable by being informed yourselves. Read the newsletters. Come to a board meeting sometime. Attend the annual meeting in the fall. Mail in those feedback forms that come with your vote for board candidates in the summer. Tell the store staff what you like about your shopping experience. Be a soothing presence. It is still true: all we need is love.
for the Board of Directors
"We're only secure when we can look out our kitchen window and see our food growing and our friends working nearby." – Bill Mollison, founder of the Permaculture movement.
It may seem odd that a store that sells groceries would be encouraging people to grow their own. But the two are not really at odds. Not only do we depend on independent growers and producers in order to stay in business, but, as a member-owned cooperative, we encourage people to do everything within their power to provide food for themselves and others.
There is an opportunity in every change. We humans often look to the shift of seasons, a holiday, birthday or a move to a new location to decide that it is time for a fresh start. Now that fall is officially here and we have a new store, new students in town and many new friendships beginning, it is a good time to remind ourselves of what kind of life we want to be living in this place we will be calling "home."
As a member-owned cooperative grocery, we are dedicated not only to providing each other with the healthiest food we can find but also sharing in the events that make us feel like a real community. That might mean helping local growers have a place to sell their wares, supplying concessions at a music festival, offering food to organizations that fee the hungry, and sharing knowledge with people who want to start their own cooperative ventures.
A focus of the board of directors over the last few years has been to learn more about other local cooperative businesses and how we might benefit each other. You will find our member-owners participating in biking events, clean-ups, plantings and just about every other earth-caring activity that comes to their attention.
Even if you are not a joiner, you can enhance our community spirit by making a small friendly gesture to someone in the store the next time you shop. At the top of your grocery list might be "thank the person who needs it most" or "treat someone special."
Our cooperative is more than just a "shopping experience." Healthy food includes the need for emotional nourishment as well. This is one of the places where hugging a friend in the aisle is okay.
Not too many generations back, the corner grocery was the place where everyone knew your name and probably remembered your favorite items. You shared neighborhood news and checked into who was doing well or in need. We may not be able to duplicate that level of familiarity, but we can still treat everyone as if they are our neighbors and as if we will know each other a very long time. It is this feeling that gives us permission to slow down, take notice of the good which surrounds us and truly appreciate all that we have.
Not everyone wants a run to the store to be a significant friend-meeting even. It is not efficient when you are in a hurry. But, personally, I am glad that many co-op shoppers make friendship their highest priority. Even when I don't run into folks I know, the place still feels welcoming. Judging from the current trend of constant cell phone and social media use, I think that whether we know it or not, we truly want and need many friendly encounters. Now is a good time to make them face-to-face while you pick up a few items at one of our stores. We are truly grateful for the spirit of co-operation that each of you bring.
for the Board of Directors