Board News

Reflections on the Importance of Our Co-op

January is traditionally a time to rethink our priorities. The dark, cold winter with its inward-drawing energy asks us to take a look at ourselves, see how things are going, and make the adjustments needed to create the life we really want to be living.

This makes it a good time to look at the places which supply your daily nourishment. On your list of things which nourish you, we hope that one is your co-op food store, not just because it supplies delicious, whole, natural foods and numerous treats, but because it also supports the way of life you believe in. It encourages the local food producers who care about the health of the earth. It supports local organizations and events which bring people together in cooperative, peaceful and joyful ways. It provides spaces for you to meet with friends and enjoy time out with a cup of good cheer. It caters your feasts. It hires workers who do their best to help you and take the time to engage you in a friendly manner. It actively pursues and often achieves innovative ways to recycle, re-use and restore so that the stores become models of sustainable living in a modern context. And, perhaps, you know of an even more personal situation in which the co-op nourished your life.

Who is this co-op? It is you, our members and staff and all of you who shop at the co-op for even one of the above reasons. We, as a member-owned organization, can only be as good as our members, and from here, that looks pretty good. We are always open to improvement and have comment boxes in every store to receive your suggestions. Members are also welcome to attend board meetings and are informed monthly by email or newspaper about store specials, events, and relevant food issues. The board stays focused on the guiding principles of the co-op in order to strengthen its foundation and make sure overall goals are met.

As you ponder your life possibilities for 2012, we hope you will realize the importance of sustaining this source of nourishment, and, perhaps, becoming even more involved. That involvement can be just shopping co-op for more of your needs, becoming a member, volunteering when needed, or contributing financially to special projects when they arise.

We are all in this together to create a truly nourishing and cooperative world. Thanks for being part of it. You are living the change we are working for.

Carol Bridges, Secretary
BCS/Bloomingfoods Board

How Does the Board Make Decisions

You may occasionally wonder why something you think needs to be done is not done and some other project takes priority, using funds that, in your own opinion, could be better spent on the need you are perceiving. Good question; here is how it works.

First of all, the board, being fiscally responsible for the overall well-being of the co-op (as opposed to deciding whether to buy potatoes or beets) has a policy in place called the "Ends Policy." This is reviewed each year and is currently stated as:

"Because of BCS, people in Bloomington and South Central Indiana will have: a market for local, organic and healthy products, meeting the needs of consumers and producers; increased cooperative ownership that strengthens the local economy and community; a model of sustainable, profitable business; an increased understanding of the local food system and its importance."

In this past year, each board member also explored what is going on in other co-operatives around the world, from neighborhood stores to large factories and service organizations and even a prison garden center. We wanted to learn how others are using the co-operative business model in a way we have not yet thought of.

Our general manager brings us information each month regarding what is going on in the co-op world, how our own co-op is faring, and reports on one or more of our 23 policies covering everything from asset management to human relationships. He also brings us up-to-date on recent studies consultants have made at our locations as well as member-owner survey results. Our job is to look at these trends and fine-tune our direction so that we are going where our member-owners want us to go.

We also look at the annual Business Plan the general manager has created with the input of key staff and examine quarterly financial statements. Although the general manager makes most of the day-to-day financial decisions, the board must make sure that the co-op stays afloat and that any huge risks are very critically analyzed based on all of the above information. No huge financial decisions are made without a large amount of assessment by outside experts.

How do you as a member-owner have a voice in this process? First of all, you elect the seven board members to serve as your voice. You also have the opportunity to participate in surveys online to tell us what you think. You can read the e-newsletter and/or the Bloomingfoods newspaper to see what we are currently focusing on. You can put comments in the Comment Box at any of our stores. You can talk to staff face-to-face informally. You can attend the Annual Meeting and read the Annual Report. You may also attend any of the monthly board meetings.

Too busy and just want to shop? We are happy to have you do just that. Not everyone wants to be intimately involved even when they own the business. We simply want to let you know that we are here for you, working behind the scenes and doing the best job we can. We have just returned from our annual two-day board retreat where we set the tone for the year ahead. We will keep informing you as we go along and trust that you will continue to guide our decisions by participating in the ways that you can.

Carol Bridges, secretary
for the Board of Directors

Could It Be You?

Among our nearly 10,000 owner-members, we know there to be many competent people that are capable of co-operative leadership. Every April as the Board Candidate Packets are placed in our stores, we begin to imagine who might join us in our work of guiding Bloomington Co-operative Services in the coming years.

We savor our current board configuration while at the same time imagining new board members who would add their talents to the mix. Currently, we have people who are good communicators, come prepared to meetings, listen attentively and thoughtfully respond to all of the issues that arise. There seems to be an ease in accepting these responsibilities because each person has taken the principle of co-operation to heart in their own private lives.

There is an old saying that goes, "If you want something to get done, ask someone who is already busy doing things." These are the kinds of people you will be working with if you join the board. At the same time, laughter is one of our cherished policies.

It is always a risk to join a group or to open a group to the influence of new persons. What will it be like? Who are these people? Will I fit in? Many questions arise. So, we encourage you to come to one or two board meetings to get a taste of the current process. We meet once a month, share a Bloomingfoods dinner and make the fine-tuning adjustments in policies that keep BCS on course as a sustainable, profitable business providing healthy foods to the Bloomington area.

Currently, our emphasis is on increasing local food security in as many ways as we possibly can. We play a large role in supporting other local businesses, producers and growers who serve the community. If you would like to be part of our team, we encourage you to become a candidate for election. Your term would begin in November and run for three years. Pick up a Board Candidate Packet at any of the stores from a customer service person for all of the details. We look forward to meeting with you.

Carol Bridges, Secretary
for the Board of Directors

What If

Throughout history as it has been taught to us, there have been protest movements, some theatrical, some violent, some successful at making changes, some not. We have less information about mass movements which were of a totally positive nature. The story of cooperatives, however, is one which we can look to as an example of how to achieve long-term positive change, particularly the cooperative food store movement.

Instead of picketing grocery stores selling nutritionally deficient food products, people just decided to find the growers of good, organic foods, buy their wares, and sell them at a fair price in a cheap location. Anyone was welcome to purchase the foods if they contributed a little work or a small membership fee to cover the costs.

An emphasis was placed on listening to people's needs and values and making decisions in behalf of the good of all concerned. Quite a bit of emphasis was placed on educating people about the food web - who grows what, where, when and how - and why it is important to be in harmony with nature, the real provider of everything we eat.

In my own lifetime, I have experienced everything from the 1960's hippie start-up store with its barrels of grain and guitar-playing cashiers to our present gleaming streamlined, higher-tech operations. One thing we have not lost, however is the focus on why we are doing this.

In the '60's and '70's, the co-op was, in many locations, the only place people of different appearance (clothes, hair, skin color) could casually gather and feel accepted. It was definitely a "third place,"* the one place where you could be yourself, most likely run into friends, meet interesting new people, and share a moment or several hours engaged in physical and social nourishment.

As time went on, the corporate-giant stores caught on to the trends and took steps in the direction of offering more organic and local foods and enticing customers with low-priced specials and massive advertising. But, co-ops have held their ground. Once again, during tough times, most co-operators did not organize protests or riot in the streets. They did the one good thing that may not seem as exciting, but which usually works for the long run. They focused on their people.

We, in the co-op world, have one niche to fill. The corporate giants can keep doing what they are doing. I leave complaining about them to those still needing to be engaged in such activities, and their praises will continue to be spoken by their advertising teams. So be it. Freedom of choice. I wish only to suggest that we have a place they cannot fill. And that place, that Great Third Place, is only filled by people who truly value a way of life based on cooperating with other humans, plants and animals, giving each the simple nourishment they need.

"Fresh, alive, wholesome, fair." These are not just ad words. They are ways of life that we do our best to live by. And, knowing ourselves and how, as humans, we often screw up on something, our Great Third Place gives us some space and time to sit with others and talk it over. From the little cafe seating area to the open board meetings to the right to vote for who runs the place, to the suggestion boxes, to the in-store conversations between shoppers and managers, we welcome these interactions of community.

This co-op model is working well at Bloomingfoods. What if we kept on extending it into all areas of life? What if crowds gathered to help out a farmer, clean up a city block, feed the hungry, build homes for the homeless? Yes. In Bloomington, we have already begun. Let's keep celebrating what we have and making it just a little better every day.

"They say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one."

Carol Bridges, Secretary
for the Board of Directors

*Third Place: After home and workplace, people gravitate toward a third place in which they can feel a sense of community.

The Heat is On

As I write this article, the weather continues at over 100 degrees with people in various places experiencing power outages. It is both a time to count our blessings if we have not been negatively effected by these conditions and a time to prepare for possible future weather surprises.

As humans, one of our main needs is food. Now is the time to think about your "early retirement plan." Not your bank account for when you are over 65, but the time when you may be unexpectedly "retired" by not being able to fill your gas tank due to a power outage, being unable to get to your job or to the store, or to purchase the groceries you need because the supply ran out, or other even worse possibilities of which I am sure you are already aware. Stuck at home with whatever is on your shelves.

It is a good time to think about why you are a Bloomingfoods shopper. Is it because you own the place and elected people to make policies that will support local food growers and producers so that suppliers are nearby? Is it because you can trust the quality of the food you purchase there? Is it because it is the closest grocery store to where you live? Is it because you value the idea of cooperation in all its forms? Or, maybe you were just hungry.