Posted by Laura Hagen, HWFC Member-Owner
UPDATE: April 13, 2016: Here is the Co-op Voice’s April, 2016 edition, with Q&A with all the candidates running for our Board of Directors on Sunday.
My blog theme this week is:
Why Vote on Sunday, April 17, 2016 at the HWFC Membership Meeting?
After each post, I hope you will come away having yet another really important reason for attending our co-op’s Annual Membership Meeting this Sunday, April 17, 2016 at St. Sophia’s Church (see here for details) when we elect our Board of Directors.
Do you know how fortunate we Member-Owners of this food co-op are?
We have the absolute ability to influence the co-op’s food purchasing & food labeling policies. We have the ability to express our wishes that the co-op purchase more locally-produced food, which is certified organic. We have the right to find out just where that grass-fed, grass-finished beef with the green label in the Meat Department comes from; we can find out the exact name of the farm (Sweet Tree Farm), we can even go visit that farm (Carlisle, NY, hop, skip and a jump west out Route 20) and speak directly with the farmers (Frank Johnson & Judy Pangman).
We have the ability to express our desire that foods which the Produce Department sells (fresh fruits & vegetables) which are labelled organic, will list the country of origin of these organic foods (Did you even know that this is now a critical fact to know?) We can request more locally-grown organic vegetables. We can query the Cheese Department and get exact details about that artisan goat cheese from Au Sable Forks, NY or information about the farm in Vermont which produces that aged, raw milk cheese which our family loves.
In the mood for a roadtrip? Go visit that farm in Au Sable Forks (Asgaard Farms), meet the goats and the couple (David Brunner and Rhonda Butler), which is creating award-winning goat cheeses from the Adirondacks. (I’ve been to Asgaard Farms; it is worth the trip! And you will learn about Rockwell Kent, to boot – a famous American artist who used to own the farm – while getting a stunning view of Whiteface Mountain – a view which Kent admired and painted.)
Let me run with the labeling issue. If we are dissatisfied with the lack of disclosure on a food we want to purchase (Is it organic? Is it certified organic? What country is it from? Who grew it? When was it harvested? What is its expiration date? Was this organic garlic from China irradiated at the border? How far away is the farm where this was grown? How do we know it is truly organic with no pesticides? Was fracking water used to water these organic strawberries from California? Does this “organic” honey from South America have high-fructose corn syrup added to it? Is this organic tea from China really organic or do we have a better chance with tea grown in Taiwan? Are there GMOs in these crackers or in this vitamin or herbal supplement?) we can ask the Manager to check and get us more information. We can make a labeling recommendation to that Manager. If the information we get back is not sufficient, if we don’t get the result we want, we can speak to the acting GM.
If we get less than the result we desire from store personnel, we can track down which Committee handles this issue (Nutrition and Education Committee) and start serving on that Committee. We can find out the history of the issue at HWFC through the Committee. We can share the knowledge we have gathered, so that the labeling policy is amended for the benefit of ALL HWFC shoppers, including our own family.
If pushing the issue through a Committee doesn’t work, to the satisfaction of our family, we can seek to bring the issue to the attention of Membership via articles in our brand new Member-Owned Co-op Voice newsletter (see here for more information and for the Voice’s premiere edition!), the Coop Scoop (I have high hopes for change here; what used to be a monthly Membership newsletter we all eagerly read has become a quarterly marketing tool), or petitioning Membership (tabling, clipboarding), for example, to raise awareness at the co-op.
Ultimately, if enough Members agree to the importance of the issue, if can be brought to the attention of Membership and brought to a vote at a quarterly Membership Meeting.
This all requires that you are able to work with, to co-operate with, other Members and Member-families which may have slightly different labeling issues than your own. You need to have patience for process. You need to know this will take time. You need to allow for other viewpoints. You need to feel comfortable educating your own Committee members, who may just not yet understand the critical importance, which you see, clear as a bell.
We, as Member-Owners of our co-operative are NOT powerless. We can influence. We can initiate change. We can be heard. We can educate. We can be part of a team of Members at HWFC which makes the labeling policy better for ALL families who shop at HWFC.
Labeling: “Biggest Box” Supermarkets Don’t Care
You cannot participate like this at your favorite local supermarket (let’s label this fictitious local supermarket “Biggest Box.”) You have been relegated to the role of shopper, customer. The Biggest Box corporate headquarters makes the decisions, they are passed down through the ranks to each US corridor or region, and the Biggest Box GM here in Albany has to deal with what corporate gives him or her to deal with. S/he may sign off that the tractor trailer delivered certain quantities of a product from a regional distribution center, but s/he has no influence over the sourcing or labeling of the product the semi’s delivered.
The employees of Biggest Box just do what they’re told; the GM turns a quarterly profit, the stockers unpack and stick a label on each item and get it on the shelves, the cashiers take the item and charge you for it.
Biggest Box may have a line of “natural” or “organic” foods. However, if you, as a shopper, want to have organic vegetables or beef & pork labeled with their country of origin at Biggest Box, or purchase local, pastured eggs that are guaranteed fresh (not three weeks old), you can bet you will have a difficult time making any headway.
The corporation has its national policies which are sent down the chain to be adhered to by the local outlet; ultimately, there may be investors to please, who expect to see a return on their dollars invested in Biggest Box. Biggest Box is profit-driven and pleasing one local family or even a bunch of local families is of no importance to corporate.
The Biggest Boxes out there have a top-down corporate structure. Things don’t readily spring from the bottom-up and flourish in this Corporate system! Foods are stored (how fresh is that food?) and trucked in from central warehouses (how much does the gas & travel factor raise your prices?) to each Biggest Box, because that is what is efficient, convenient and profitable for corporate. The product sourcing, the labeling policies, the choice of stuff you can buy, are replicated throughout the entire country, region-by-region and store-by-store and you – the customer – get what you get, take it or leave it.
It is likely that the Biggest Box in Albany, NY looks the same and sells the same “natural” and “organic” products, which carry the same labels, as does the Biggest Box in Brooklyn, NY, Brattleboro, VT or Bloomington, IN. Even the paper or plastic bags you get are branded and they all look just the same.
Folk Musicians Got it … Years Ago
Malvina Reynolds wrote this song about ticky-tacky boxes in 1962; listen to Malvina and Pete Seeger as each sings their own version. Join in, it’s been too long since we all sang!
Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky-tacky,
Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes all the same.
There’s a pink one and a green one and a blue one and a yellow one,
And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky and they all look just the same.
It would be a real shame if food co-ops were made out of ticky-tacky, now wouldn’t it?
COOL AMENDMENT: WATCH THE BEEF AND PORK YOU BUY!
We now have to be detectives when it comes to whole foods (to me, these are foods with, usually, one ingredient): meat, eggs, milk, cream, butter, olive oil, vegetables, fish, fruit. You now need to know where these foods come from; how they are produced, grown, watered; if they are from a foreign country, are they irradiated at the border; and what new laws and regulations are allowing yet more obscurity in the food labeling and/or production of the food.
For example, a big issue for me has become: just what is the certifying agent at the US borders which allows foreign-grown or foreign-produced foods to pass inspection and be blessed with the prized US label, “certified organic?” And, are they really irradiating that food!!!
Labels on our food nowadays serve more to obscure what is in the food, than to illuminate exactly what we are eating. Labels are designed to hide; this serves the needs of the corporations – making a profit from selling the food; it does not at all serve the needs of a family.
A very recent example regarding a whole food, is an amendment to the country of origin labeling (COOL) regulations. In December, 2015, slipped into the Federal Budget was a clause allowing an amendment to COOL regs.: see CFR, dated 03/02/16:
Removal of Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling Requirements for Beef and Pork Muscle Cuts, Ground Beef, and Ground Pork
This rule removes certain mandatory COOL requirements from retailers (as defined by the law and regulations) and their suppliers. Retailers are no longer required by the rule to provide country of origin information for the beef and pork that they sell, and firms that supply beef and pork to these retailers no longer must provide them with this information. In addition, firms in the supply chain for beef and pork are also relieved from the requirements associated with mandatory COOL, from cattle and hogs downstream to muscle cut and ground beef and pork sold at covered retail establishments.
We will no longer be able to ascertain where our beef and pork comes from, its source! This is a whole food! This means the beef and pork you purchase – or the hamburgers or steak or bacon you eat at a local restaurant – could well be coming out of China (well known for its highly contaminated, heavy-metal-containing foods, including foods labeled as “organic”).
Your right to know has just been taken away. The grocery stores, suppliers, wholesalers, when asked, can simply and legally say: I have no idea where this meat comes from.
Do you want to be eating any meat which comes out of China? This country’s agricultural issues with pollution and heavy metal contamination of the soil and water is well known. The 2016 COOL amendments have just insured that this meat may reach your table -at home, at a friend’s home or at a restaurant -and you will never even know it.
I note that at HWFC I can still determine the source of the locally-produced grass-fed, grass-finished beef which we buy every week from Sweet Tree Farm in Carlisle, NY. Thank you Sweet Tree Farm for farming locally and supplying this happy Paleo family in Albany, NY, through the Honest Weight Food Co-op! Thank you for honest, clear-to-understand labels! Thank you Frank & Judy from Laura & Tim! You are truly sustaining the health of our family with your superior farming practices & honest, transparent labeling.
This new COOL amendment may actually help local farmers like Sweet Tree Farm; my family is committed to only purchasing local grass-fed, grass-finished beef with a label on it which disclosed where it’s from, in this case, a family farm in Carlisle, NY.
Researching the source, content, and method of growing or producing the food you buy is no longer an option in 2016 America …if you care about the physical & mental health and well-being of your family and if your family, like mine, believes that food is our best medicine, which we “take” three times a day.
We, at HWFC, Can Work Together to Address Issues Like These
At HWFC we are supported in finding out where our food comes from and what’s in it and we can still get the highest quality, organic foods so necessary for our families. There are big problems at our co-op’s borders (some national “natural” and “organic” wholesalers and Big Food companies are more interested in muscling in and making money off of food co-ops than in protecting the food supply for our families), but we at HWFC are a group of aware shoppers who can work together to confront this threat, and others, which arise through dealing with the national food industry and its investors.
Biggest Box would shrug its shoulders and offer no help.
Many people shop at HWFC because we want safe, whole, organic foods; there are many like-minded Member-Owners at HWFC who will work hard, together, so that our food supply becomes even safer and healthier for our families.
We can be sure that our co-op is a member of organizations like the Weston A. Price Foundation” (WAPF), the Organic Consumers Association, the Northeast Organic Farmers Association (NOFA and NOFANY): several of my go-to places when I need accurate, up-to-date food information. We can bring to co-op committee meetings articles from people like Chris Kresser, a highly-respected acupuncturist who has an awesome website discussing, not only the Paleo diet, but cutting-edge research on food industry & safety issues, diet & nutrition. Kresser is a middle-of-the-road Paleo proponent who has awesome podcasts and reliable information. Chris Masterjohn is another favorite from the Paleo & WAPF world, with a PhD in Nutritional Sciences and support for a traditional, whole foods diet: see his two blogs, The Daily Lipid and Mother Nature Obeyed and his website, Cholesterol and Health.com. Cooling Inflammation is my go-to blog for easy-to-understand, scientific information on bacteria, gut health, immunity, and fermented foods, as is Mr. Heisenbug (who seems to have “bugged out,” but his archives are still awesome!) and Tim Steele’s Vegetable Pharm blog will have you amazed at all the stuff you did not know about potatoes and resistant starch (uh, oh, if you do not know what RS is, you better start your own research, double-time)! (Alright, can’t stand the suspense? Go, geek out.)
A reliable source I always hit when I am beginning research on a food-related issue is Dr. Mercola.
We can write articles and submit them to the Co-op Voice (HEY!, here is the Co-op Voice’s Premiere Issue!) or even start a blog with information of interest to HWFC Member-Owners (<Smile> and Welcome to Grassroots Action Is Important! See my first blogpost from November 1, 2015, here, started 10 days after it all began on October 22, 2015, with an innocent-looking piece of paper tacked up to the Board’s board at our co-op.)
We even have a second local, independent blog, Member-Owned HWFC, which we can hit for up-to-date information, here. Member-Owned is the place to go for (unofficial but accurate) Board meeting minutes which are posted, hot-off-the-press, immediately after a Board meeting; you’ll also find current info and perspectives of Member-Owners posted there.
Finally, we can keep an eagle-eye focused on the food purchasing policies and practices of our co-op. In light of events that transpired late last year at our co-op – with an out-of-control Board trying to end our Member-Owner Labor Program, remove Member-Owner power in the co-operative corporation, and change our bylaws & corporate structure – I am more inclined than ever to especially watchdog this issue at our co-op in the coming year.
SUPPORT LOCAL AND REGIONAL FARM FAMILIES AND LOCAL FOOD ECONOMY
The northeast has the fastest-growing population of small family farms in the United States; how lucky are we to live right in the middle of all that farming abundance!
And, unlike Biggest Box, small family farms are not part of the the national food “industry;” small, local, family farms are managed by families like yours or mine. They have a commitment to their local & regional communities, they have local friends & neighbors, and they are invested – with their time and dollars – in keeping the food supply high-quality and local.
It is my firm belief that the best answer for our families – and for HWFC – is to buy local & organic, as much as possible. We need to increase our relationships with local organic farmers, farmers who raise pastured pigs & chickens/eggs, farmers who raise grass-fed, grass-finished beef, organic vegetables and fruits, raw milk cheeses & organic dairy, organic fermented foods, honey from local beekeepers’ hives who use organic hive principles. We need to support the local farm families who have chosen to grow us food and who do so with integrity, honesty, hard work, and in the healthiest & most humane manner possible. Their products are local and, therefore, fresher than anything trucked in to us, including from CA and FL.
We HWFC families need to join hands with our local and regional organic, bio-dynamic, sustainable and “Farmer’s Pride” farm families and build the economic strength & co-operation between the HWFC city families and the country farm producers who support us and our food co-op.
COME AND VOTE LIKE ~620 OF US DID ON NOVEMBER 30, 2015!
Follow through on the incredible action a roomful of ~720 people took – with ~620 being active voting Members at our emergency Special Membership Meeting on November 30, 2015.
That is only 4+ months ago! Come. Show up. Bring dessert potluck. Be there to vote!
Do not allow the era of secrecy at Honest Weight Food Co-op to return. Don’t allow those who govern by stealth and secrecy to ever get a foot in the door at Honest Weight Food Co-op again. 
Retain our right, as Member-Owners, to know where our food comes from, what’s in it, who produced it and how it’s labelled. Keep this part of HWFC open & transparent by voting for a current Board which is actively practicing transparent governance.
Please come and vote next Sunday from the slate of eight (8) declared candidates, who have honored our candidates’ process and two (2) who joined in, late.
We know that Kate Doyle, Carolynn Presser and Saul Rigberg are committed to transparency and building trust with membership, and that they support a strong Member-Owner Labor Program. We elected Kate, Carolynn, and Nate Horwitz (who is currently not up for election) on November 30, 2015, at our historic emergency Special Membership Meeting. Saul was selected by Nate, Carolynn and Kate to join their team on the Board.
Come vote for Kate, Carolynn and Saul on Sunday night.
Follow through on the actions of the largest Membership Meeting HWFC has ever had in its history: select four more candidates whom you feel will complement this team and let’s come away from this meeting on Sunday with a Board whom we trust and who is responsive to Membership and who will govern with transparency and accountability to the Membership.
Ned Depew and Collin Thomas are (late) declared candidates. Ned’s bio is tacked to the Member-Owner Bulletin Board, at the back of the co-op.
Let’s not forget that the seven (7) people we elect on Sunday will be joining Nate Horwitz, President, and Daniel Morrissey, who are incumbents and not up for election this time ’round.
That will be our team!
Come and exercise your right to vote as a working, share-holding, Member-Owner of the Honest Weight Food Co-operative, Inc. We all need you!
Here are the meeting details for our Sunday, April 17, 2016 Membership Meeting, beginning at 4:o0PM (Meet the Candidates); 5:30 Dessert Potluck; actual meeting begins at 6:00pm. See you there!
BTW, did you personally call, this last weekend, five co-op Members whom you know and remind them to come to the meeting? And did you ask them to each call five?
“The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.”
John Philpot Curran 
 The four Board members who subsequently quit our Board on 01/05/16, 36 days after censure by Membership at our emergency Special Membership Meeting on 11/30/15 are:
Name Percentage of voters voting non-confidence & censure
Acting-President Deb Dennis (67.9%)
Treasurer Leif Hartmark (65.2%)
Roman Kuchera (67.8%)
Rossana Coto-Batres (58.4%)
Former President Bill Frye was unseated and Board Secretary John Serio was not re-elected to the Board at our emergency Special Membership Meeting on 11/30/15.