GRASSROOTS ACTION IS POWERFUL! is a blog dedicated to American independently-owned, Member-Owned & operated, community food co-ops, their Member-Owners and families.
Last night, the Member-Owners of the Honest Weight Food Co-op held their quarterly meeting. Elections were held to fill a vacant seat on the Governance Review Council (GRC). The results of that election, as certified by Rita Nolan, Chair of our Elections and Nominations Committee, are as follows:
“166 Member-Owners were in attendance at last night’s Membership Meeting.
131 votes were cast so 33 votes is a 25% plurality:
Gene Reilly 103 Votes Rebekah Rice 26 Votes Nancy Van Deusen 1 Vote Russell Ziemba 1 Vote
Two (2) Provisional Ballots are awaiting verification but these votes will not affect the result.”
Gene Reilly is the newest member of our GRC. Congratulations to Gene and thank you for your willingness to serve a three-year term! I served with Gene on the HWFC Corporate Compliance Committee (CCC) and I can tell you he is very balanced in his decision-making process, focused, thoughtful, calm, and extremely easy and pleasant to work with.
Gene is the person from the CCC who recommended the term “time investment,” which is the term we now use to refer to the “work” we Member-Owners do at our co-op; his recommendation made it all the way into our bylaws!
Member-Owners, help Gene out by attending GRC meetings and supporting his work…
…errr, that is, time investment!
HONEST ELECTIONS AT HONEST WEIGHT
I was part of the team which made sure the “chain of custody” of the ballots was secure; that is, the ballot boxes were watched by a number of people from the time they were opened at the meeting, until the time they were placed on the table at HWFC, to be opened and ballots counted. I was also on the team which counted the ballots.
The ballot counting process which our Elections and Nominations Committee has developed is detailed, logical, clear, transparent and – most importantly – has multiple times where ballot counting is double-checked by “multiple eyes:” that is, there are multiple checks & balances.
A team of four people is initially involved in the physical count; each of the four checks the count of the others. Once the paperwork is signed off by the team of four, it is passed on to another team, which double-checks the work of the first team and tallies up the final vote count.
The Chair of the Committee was present at all times to answer questions about, for example, an unclear or spoiled ballot, so that the actual counting could proceed efficiently and without difficulty.
Member-Owners are invited and encouraged to witness vote counting at our co-op or to actually count ballots. Please do! It is important that we protect the sanctity of our elections’ process. We need to continually monitor the accuracy of our ballot security and our ballot counting and the certifying of elections so all are comfortable that the results are fair, accurate, transparent and that there is no possibility that the ballot boxes, the ballots, and counting have been tampered with in any way.
A process of hand-counted paper ballots, in public, with multiple people in attendance, with multiple redundancies, with a clear and verifiable, paper ballot re-count process, if and when necessary – according to a League of Women Voters member with whom I worked closely years ago – is still considered the safest way to conduct elections.
This is the process our Election and Nominations Committee has instituted for our co-op.
Thank you to each and every member of our Elections and Nominations Committee – Rita Nolan, Tom Spargo, and Karen Roth – for your hard work in developing this fair and transparent process which we can trust and which we can also verify.
MEANS Y. O. U.!
What is crucial to our food co-op is your participation.
The recent first-ever HWFC Coffeehouse (thank you Membership Committee and all the musicians!), our second Art Exhibit opening (thank you Honest Arts Committee and all the artists!), and our Fall Festival, Homegrown Happening (thank you to all the staff involved, the vendors, and all who participated!), are all testament to fantastic teamwork happening at our co-op, both among and between Member-Owners and our wonderful staff.
Thank you to every person who was a part of all those team efforts!
However, governance also needs team effort. Perhaps it is not always fun, like being involved with music and art. It is, however, vital and necessary.
More than ever, we need Member-Owners to fill vacancies upon the Board.
To that end, the Board will be holding a meeting this Sunday, October 29, 2017 at 5:00PM to fill vacancies upon the Board of Directors and upon the Executive Committee. Place: HWFC. Nominations are due by 5PM Friday, October 27, 2017, submitted to BoardAdmin-at-honestweight.coop or submitted in paper format in a sealed envelope to the Service Desk at HWFC. Please do not leave it to somebody else to do; right now we need new Board members.
Member-Owners, also, do not forget to thank Board members who have recently left our Board; they all put in hard work on our behalf. Thank yous are very, very important, don’t neglect to express your appreciation.
The name of my blog has “Grassroots” in it for a reason. You are one of the grassroots. Together, we families all keep our food co-op strong, resilient, transparent and democratic.
The fewer there are of us, the more chance for non-transparent actions. The more of us, the more roots to keep us grounded, co-operative, self-reliant, and strong.
We are all in charge of our mission which, remember – from our co-operative beginnings back in the ’70’s – is, at its basics: high- quality, low cost food.
From my perspective – for my family – being involved in protecting our sources of local, organic, high-quality, nutrient-dense food and building bridges to the local families which produce this food – is an extremely good investment of my time and energy.
Being involved in co-operative governance, to assure that end, is one of the ways to invest your time in our co-operative.
Wouldn’t you and your family agree it’s a sound investment?
GRASSROOTS ACTION IS POWERFUL! is a blog dedicated to American independently-owned, Member-Owned & operated, community food co-ops, their Member-Owners and families.
The HWFC Board of Directors has shared the results of yesterday’s GRC elections, as well as the vote tallies for the amendments to our Bylaws and the change to our Articles of Incorporation.
All three candidates who ran for the GRC were elected; the change to our Articles of Incorporation was approved and ALL of the 15 individual votes to amend our Bylaws were approved. To view the exact vote tallies, please see the HWFC Inside Scoop from this morning, October 24, 2016, here.
Welcome to Judith Brink, Chris Gockley and Tom Spargo, the newest members of our Governance Review Council (GRC)! They will be joining Jeff Marden and Chair Sandy McKay, which gives us a full complement of GRC members.
Wonderful potluck desserts, (as usual!), great conversations before and after the meeting, and interesting Q & A with the three GRC candidates. Congratulations to Board secretary Rebekah Rice for successfully moderating the section of the meeting relating to the Bylaws’ votes; a difficult subject which was rendered simple and intelligible and allowed for swift passage of all Bylaws’ amendments.
Thank you, thank you to all the members of the Membership Committee who prepared the meeting space, handled check-in, and cleaned up afterwards! Thank you to our Nominations Committee for successfully handling the election, and the GRC for its back-up support, and providing us with vote results which we trust and which are verifiable; a paper ballot system – with no proxy voting, no absentee ballots, no electronic, internet, paperless, non-verifiable voting – and with paper ballots counted and verified immediately afterwards.
In the past, I have had League of Women Voters members share with me, that this system is still considered the best, most secure, transparent, and safest ways to conduct elections. Let’s keep this gold standard as part of our democratic system at HWFC.
Special thank yous to Carol Ostrow and the Members of the Communications Committee who brought our HWFC 2015-2016 Annual Report to completion! We received our copies last night and Carol and the Committee members did a splendid job; a document we can all be proud of! The AR is not online yet, but here is where you can find it, when it is.
Thank you for a job well done, Carol! It is beautiful and a work to be proud of!
Thank you to each and every member of our Board of Directors who contributed to this very successful quarterly meeting. We appreciate your continuing hard work on our behalf!
Special thanks to ALL the HWFC Member-Owners who participated in our Bylaws’ revision process: the eight members of the Bylaws Panel; the Members of the Corporate Compliance Committee; the members of the Membership & Personnel Committees; staff Member-Owner Janet Sorell; and all the Member-Owner staff and staff members who continue to participate on Board committees, offering invaluable advice on Bylaws’ issues.
As you know, we will continue this process and have a second round of Bylaws’ revisions presented at the January, 2017 Membership meeting.
Inch-by-inch, row-by-row …step-by-step …one careful decision at a time, we are strengthening our Member-Owned and locally-owned and operated food co-operative and are one step closer to strengthening our connections to local organic farms, farmers, food producers and their families.
Finally, congratulations to the 145 Member-Owners and 8 Shareholders who attended our Quarterly Meeting last night. We were all part of the “participatory democracy” which keeps our locally-owned and locally-operated food co-operative strong, vibrant, healthy and robust.
Congrats to all of us for a job well done! Boy, have we come a long way in 365 days!
(If I have forgotten to thank anyone or any Committee, the error rests solely with me. Please, my “eternally vigilant” readers, let me know and I will amend the error post haste…)
HONEST WEIGHT FOOD CO-OP BOARD & MEMBER-OWNERS SEND LETTER OF SUPPORT TO LA MONTAÑITA FOOD CO-OP MEMBER-OWNERS
At our last Board meeting, the Board approved the sending of a Letter of Support to the Member-Owners of La Montañita Food Co-op who are Taking Back Their Co-op. Chris Colarusso is also gathering the signatures of HWFC Member-Owners (see Thomas Paine, here. She’s at it again, gathering up signatures!!) who wish to sign on to this letter.
So here, on the one-year anniversary of the date upon which the Member-Owners of the Honest Weight Food Co-op presented the (former) acting President of the Board a petition to call for an emergency Special Membership Meeting – October 24, 2015 – is our Letter of Support to fellow Member-Owners at La Montañita Food Co-op in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
As of October 18, 2016, the Member-Owners of La Montañita have surpassed their goal of 1,700 (1-7-0-0, seventeen hundred!!!) signatures needed on their petition to call for a Special Membership Meeting! That is amazing work!
Our Letter of Support has been received by the Member-Owners of La Montañita Food Co-op and has been posted on their website, Take Back the Co-op, under “New York,” here.
October 5, 2016
Greetings to Member-Owners of La Montañita Co-op, New Mexico, from the Member-Owners and Board Members of the Honest Weight Food Co-op, Albany, New York.
We celebrate your bold effort to take back your co-op, and we applaud your many efforts to reach out to other food co-ops nationwide to inform and support their struggles. We know you can succeed in taking back your co-op, because we took ours back.
Just a year ago our co-op found itself in what seemed like an impossible situation. A series of decisions had been made that a majority of our Membership could not support and that were not supportive of our Membership. In particular, these decisions would have caused our Membership to lose our decision making authority. We found ourselves petitioning for a Special Membership Meeting to recall the Board.
We had our Special Membership Meeting! We voted to recommend a change in our management structure. We approved a recommendation to evaluate and remedy concerns about our leadership team. We seated new members on our Board of Directors. At that time we did not fully understand our financial status, which we have learned also needed a turnaround.
Fortunately, we were successful in creating change. We have implemented a new leadership structure and hired new managers. Our Member-Owners have started an independent online newsletter, the Co-op Voice, which gives us back the direct voice we lost several years ago. We have had three strong financial quarters, and our financial picture is improving.
The Member-Owners and Board Members of Honest Weight Food Co-op respect you and the quality of the groundwork you have done. May your Special Membership Meeting be well attended, be peaceful, and above all, be successful in creating the changes that you will need to fully regain decision authority.
To honor our past, for the promise of our future, and true to our Mission Statement, we took action to exercise our rights and responsibilities as Member-Owners of Honest Weight Food Coop. We wish you great success.
The Honest Weight Board of Directors
Carolynn Presser, President Tim Corrigan, Vice President Rebekah Rice, Secretary Kate Doyle, Treasurer Ned Depew Rick Donegan Nate Horwitz Daniel Morrissey Saul Rigberg
The Garden Song, recorded by the likes of Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, Arlo honors Pete (Arlo: “I know everybody likes singing with Pete… He sings the song twice at the same time … once in front of the song and then once with everybody…”), John Denver and the Muppets, Peter, Paul & Mary and Makem & Clancy, was written by Dave Mallett, who can be heard singing it here. Called by some the “Homesteader’s Hymn” or just “Inch by Inch,” this song is a reminder to us food co-op families to thank all the local organic farmers, food producers and their families – and all of us who are gardeners – who honor & bless the earth and her bounty: we who “temper them with prayer and song...”
And thankgoodness for YouTube …and musicians!
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.
CORRECTION ALERT: The HWFC Membership Meeting on Sunday, 10/23/16 begins at 4:30pm with a Meet the GRC Candidates’ Session; 5:30pm is the Dessert Potluck; Meeting begins at 6:00pm at St. Sophia’s Church, 440 Whitehall Road, Albany, NY.
CORRECTION: The HWFC Membership Meeting on Sunday, 10/23/16 begins at 4:30pm with a Meet the GRC Candidates’ Session; 5:30pm is the Dessert Potluck; Meeting begins at 6:00pm at St. Sophia’s Church, 440 Whitehall Road, Albany, NY.
This Sunday, October 23, 2016 – 4:30pm Meet the GRC Candidates; 5:30pm dessert potluck; 6:00pm Meeting at St. Sophia’s is our quarterly Membership Meeting of the Honest Weight Food Co-op. Come! Show up! Be present! Vote! (See below for the message from our Board. Member-Owners see here for meeting details and agenda.)
It is critical to our participatory democracy at Honest Weight Food Co-op that you attend the Membership Meetings …not only for the great potluck desserts and for the community camaraderie, but also to be there to make your decisions, cast your votes, and be part of all of us deciding the future of our co-op, all at once, together.
We are voting on:
-critical Bylaws’ changes (see here)
-an important change to our Articles of Incorporation (see here, Meeting Announcement)
-three new Governance Review Council (GRC) Members (see here)
This is one of the places in your life where YOUR VOTE REALLY COUNTS and you get to COUNT THE VOTE if you wish to volunteer! This means: we are all in charge of the casting of our individual, paper ballots and we can participates in the legal vote counting or observing of the vote counting. We have got a democratic, fair, accurate and verifiable voting process going on here at HWFC.
I feel very secure about our vote counting process: paper ballots, cast and counted by all of us together in real-time (no absentee ballots, no proxy voting, no electronic, online, computer, paperless, NON-VERIFIABLE, hackable voting) in the same room, at the same time together. (See this story of another US food co-op which did not guard their democracy: “voting” just occurred last night, here.)
Our Membership Meetings, with voting, are held in the best tradition of the old time New England Town Meetings we’ve all studied in American history. The community meets …debates …and decides.
With all the shenanigans still predicted to occur in the upcoming federal elections (go see the latest the computer scientists have to say over at Verified Voting) it is safe to say that we can rely upon the elections at HWFC!
Thank you to our HWFC Nominating Committee (new proposed name: Elections and Nominations Committee) team for organizing and overseeing the process!
OCTOBER 24, 2015: THE PETITION IS RATIFIED
Now, in case you have forgotten, Saturday, October 24, 2015 was the day in our history when WE MADE HISTORY! On that Saturday, Member-Owner Chris Colarusso passed around for signature a now-famous petition to call for an emergency Special Membership Meeting (eSMM), to confront a crisis at our food co-op. 720 people showed up to that meeting: our largest Membership Meeting ever in our 40-year history, held on November 30, 2015!
The rest, as they say, is history. And we changed our history! Let us all thank Chris for taking the appropriate, right action at the right moment in time, so save our food co-op. Now Chris would be the first person to say there were many, many, many, many other people who helped out – and that is true! – but let’s honor she who is the Thomas Paine among us. Who was Thomas Paine?
…an English-American political activist, philosopher, political theorist, and revolutionary. One of the Founding Fathers of the United States, he authored the two most influential pamphlets at the start of the American Revolution, and he inspired the rebels in 1776 to declare independence from Britain. 
Chris (with help!) authored a “pamphlet” which altered the course and future of our co-op for the better. Let us not forget the power of pamphlets, petitions, signatures, democracy …and our own food co-operative history!
Thomas Paine (with a pamphlet?) …not unlike our HWFC eSMM petition
dated Saturday, October 24, 2015
and Handed To The Board of Directors On That Same Day, Duly Ratified.
SING YER HEARTS OUT!
And, on that note, it’s time for a song. As a musician who is also an HWFC Member-Owner, I’m hauling out – again, and with pleasure – the wonderful, singable The Ant Song, sung by Frank Sinatra and Eddie Hodges, which I first introduced right after the election results from our emergency Special Membership Meeting. Sing your hearts out!
Just what makes that little old ant, Think he’ll move a big rubber plant? Anyone knows an ant can’t Move a rubber tree plant!
But he’s got high hopes, he’s got high hopes, He’s got high apple pie in the sky hopes! So anytime you’re feeling low ‘Stead of letting go Just remember that ant…
Whoops there goes another rubber tree, Whoops there goes another rubber tree Whoops there goes another rubber tree plant!…
So, fellow ants, get yourselves to the meeting on Sunday! Together, move a rubber tree plant or two!
Here is part of a message from our Board of Directors about our meeting on Sunday, from the Inside Scoop:
Democracy in Action–Your Attendance Essential!
Our next General Membership Meeting will be Sunday, October 23, at St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church at 440 Whitehall Road in Albany, NY, starting with a dessert potluck at 5:30, with the meeting starting at 6:00. We look forward to seeing as many member-owners as possible attend because we will be voting on changes to two documents critical to our governance as a co-op: our Bylaws and our Articles of Incorporation.
For the past several months, a group of hard-working member-owners have been meeting regularly as the Bylaws Panel, diligently reviewing and examining and suggesting critical corrections, modifications and additions to our Bylaws.
The Bylaws Panel will be holding several more information sessions on the proposed changes so that everyone can ask questions and be informed before they vote. We encourage you to attend one or two or as many information sessions as you can in order to understand the proposed changes and how they matter and affect YOUR co-op. Check out the Bylaws web page at http://www.honestweight.coop/page/bylaws-15.html . Download the proposed changes from the links at the bottom of the web page.
High Hopes also known as The Ant Song, written by Jimmy Van Heusen with lyrics by Sammy Cahn. “It was nominated for a Grammy and won an Oscar for Best Original Song at the 32nd Academy Awards [April 4, 1960].” See Wikipedia,here. Accessed October 20, 2016.
GRASSROOTS ACTION IS POWERFUL! is a blog dedicated to American independently-owned, Member-Owned & operated, community food co-ops, their Member-Owners and families.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: UPDATE, BREAKING NEWS STORY, Thursday, October 6, 2016: Tonight in Sante Fe, NM at 5:30pm La Montañita Food Co-op is the sponsor of a Town Meeting for “questions, answers, and productive dialogue.” The invited guests are: Marilyn Scholl, the co-founder and current Director of CDS Consulting Co-op (CDSCC) and C.E. Pugh, the Chief Operating Officer (COO) for National Co+op Grocers (NCG).
A similar event occurred last night at the La Montañita Food Co-op in Albuquerque, NM. There are no updates as of yet.
La Montañita Member-Owners,go here to sign the petition to legally call for a Special Membership Meeting of the Member-Owners of La Montañita Food Co-op.
In a very surprising move, these two separate “.coop” corporations, National Co+op Grocers and CDS Consulting Co-op, are appearing together on the same stage at these two Town Hall meetings, to “focus on discussing what’s been going on recently at La Montañita:” special guests of the Board of La Montañita.
There are some member-owners who strongly disagree with some of our retail business initiatives and decisions, and a campaign has been started, which calls for a special meeting to replace the current member-owner elected Board of Directors and remove our general manager, Dennis Hanley.
The La Montañita Co-op Team is here to ensure member-owners, customers and the community-at-large that it has not forgotten its mission/vision: La Montañita believes in the shared benefits of healthy food, sound environmental practices and a strong local economy. And in the markets we serve, La Montañita provides increased access to, and purchase of, healthy food options for our diverse customer base.
In truth, our Co-op’s net income was very strong until 2013—an average of $649K in profit per year. We were not in financial trouble until we expanded three years ago. Guided by CDS Consulting, our board decided to open a new store on Albuquerque’s Westside, located in a strip mall near a Walmart.
That store loses ~$500,000 per year. Overall, it appears that La Montañita has lost between $2 million and $5 million due to an expansion that CDS Consulting, NCG, and UNFI profited from. So why are the GM, board, and senior staff blaming La Montañita’s financial challenges on something other than the real cause?
A National Takeover…One Co-op At a Time Across the country and at La Montañita, co-ops are changing their policies, products, and personnel. Over and over again, those decisions can be traced back to the influence of CDS Consulting and NCG…
Iowa City, IA — National Co+op Grocers (NCG) — a business services co-op for 150 independent, community-owned and locally-governed co-ops nationwide — today is responding to claims from the Santa Fe, New Mexico-based “Take Back the Co-op” campaign.
“We believe strongly in the cooperative principles and respect the rights of co-op owners everywhere to voice their hopes and concerns for the future of their co-op,” said C.E. Pugh, Chief Operating Officer, NCG. “However, we feel this campaign grossly mischaracterizes NCG, its purpose and its relationship with its member and associate co-ops, as well as the benefits offered by CDS Consulting Co-op and UNFI. We take issue with these false claims and want to provide clarity…”
It is noteworthy that NCG’s PR people felt it necessary to to issue a national press statement to the media about one of its member co-op’s Member-Owners grassroots’ fight to maintain control & ownership of their co-op. Have Member-Owner issues at U.S. independently-owned food co-ops become that much of a concern to this .coop corporation, founded in 1999 and “..represent[ing] 143 natural food co-ops operating 196 stores in 38 states, with combined annual sales of $1.8 billion…”? 
Interesting that an NCG corporate Press Release found it necessary to defend not only its own corporation, but two others, as well: that of CDS Consulting Co-opand – a brand new corporate player to this particular New Mexico “Town Meeting” food co-op story – United Natural Foods, Inc, UNFI.
NCG’s primary distributor is United Natural Foods, Inc., (Nasdaq: UNFI), founded in 1976, with whom it signed a primary distribution agreement in 2015, good through at least July 2021. NCG and UNFI have had a contractual relationship for ten years, since 2006. 
UNFI’s net sales for fiscal year 2015 were $8.18 billion.  “UNFI is the largest multi-billion dollar wholesale distributor of organic and “natural” foods in the U.S….” 
A 2009 Organic Consumers Association article characterizes UNFI as a “near-monopoly wholesaler.”  Four years later, in 2013, Wenonah Hauter, the Executive Director of Food & Water Watch, in an interview about her new book Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America, stated, “(UNFI) now controls the distribution of organic and natural products. Publicly traded, the company has a contract with Whole Foods and it is the major source of these products for the remaining independent natural food stores…”  This includes U.S. Member-Owned, independently-owned & operated, community food co-ops. 
Perhaps it is no coincidence that La Montañita, a member of NCG and the second largest food co-op in the entire United States, and its “La Montañita Co-op Team” – its Board and Management – are receiving immediate corporate support from NCG…
…and La Montañita’s rightfully-angry, grassroots OWNERS are, instead, the recipients of their very own NCG corporate headquarters Press Release. 
Corporations don’t send two of their top people – one, a co-founder and the current Director of the entire corporation, and the other, the Chief Operating Officer – to a couple of simple “Town Meetings.” It’s clear that NCG and CDSCC are there to address the uprising of the Member-Owners of La Montañita Food Co-op: the Member Owners who are Taking Back Their Co-op.
Why did both of these U.S. .coop corporations find it necessary to fly their people out to New Mexico and – together – take to the co-op podiums in Albuquerque and Santa Fe? This certainly confirms rumors we have heard from multiple U.S. co-ops in attendance, that La Montañita was on the lips of NCG Board members at the NCG Annual Meeting last week in Minneapolis.
But just what does CDS Consulting Co-op have to do with rumblings on the NCG Board? What’s the connection between these two separate .coop corporations?
Any why are they confronting this Member-Owner uprising …together?
‘NCG will provide the vision, leadership and systems to catapult a virtual chain of food co-ops to a position of prominence in the natural foods industry.’ – NCG Mission Statement
But how do you create a chain when you’re dealing with unique, autonomous member-owned co-ops? Some group would have to go to those co-ops and install the same bylaws, board policies, and the same kind of GMs. They’d have to promote the same produce, standardize all cereal aisles, and most importantly: disenfranchise the actual owners. They’d enforce uniformity, but convince co-ops it was their choice to do so.
A ten-year contractual relationship between NCG and UNFI is a matter of public record; not, perhaps, surprising that NCG would defend its primary distributor and industry-giant UNFI in its Press Release. However, it does raise the question: Is there also a contractual relationship between NCG and the eight-year old CDS Consulting Co-op, of which the public is unaware? 
It’ll be very, very interesting to hear reports about these two “Town Meetings” from the grassroots, OWNERS of La Montañita themselves.
If you go visit NCG’s website, La Montañita (Nob Hill) is currently one of the featured co-ops on their homepage: see here and here.
Please, everybody, send your Member-Owner good energy and powerful grassroots’ vibes to fellow Member-Owners in Albuquerque & Sante Fe who are now “the dragon being poked” at this US food co-op!
For “dragon” reference, please see this November 5, 2015 Albany, NY Times Union article, Honest Weight Food Co-Op Reverses Decision on Member Workers, by Tim O’Brien, containing the words of HWFC Member-Owner Jules Harrell (she, the heroine of the NYS DOL FOIL coup campaign):
Harrell said the [Board’s] actions [reversing a decision to stop members from working in the store to gain discounts], while welcome, may not undo the damaged confidence members have in the leadership.
“They have already poked the dragon,” she said.
How appropriate that foils and a fire-breathing dragon (“snuffling in baffled rage and injured greed” ) appear in this U.S. food co-op epic tale and saga …yet again.  This is the stuff of folk legend …yet it is real life for the families & Member-OWNERS, invested in saving American independently-owned, locally-operated, community food co-ops. Grendel, Grendel’s mother and that dragon, antagonists of the hero Beowulf from the epic tale, Beowulf (Nowell Codex, ca. ~ 1000 A.D.), have nothin’ on us and our (organic carrot) spears!
 Cummins Ronnie. The Organic Monopoly and the Myth of “Natural” Foods: How Industry Giants Are Undermining the Organic Movement. Organic Consumers Association, July 8, 2009. See here.
 Karlin, Mark. Our Food Is Being Hijacked by Monopolizing Corporations.Truthout, February 27, 2013. See here.
 Though not directly on topic, you are encouraged to read yesterday’s – the October 5, 2016 – New York Times Magazine Food IssueCan Big Food Change?, and the article by Michael Pollan, called Why Did the Obamas Fail to Take on Corporate Agriculture? Note Mr. Pollan’s references to “Little Food;” something we independently-owned, community food co-ops know a little something about!
 This corporate Press Release flew to Albuquerque and did its job. See these two media hits, both involving Albuquerque local reporter, Dennis Domrzalski, who – clearly – utilized this NCG Press Release and who – clearly, twice – expressed his bias against the La Montañita Member-Owners and their issues; particularly shocking for a reporter operating in the Indy Media field.
This same reporter also got significant facts wrong. Cooperative Development Services (http://www.cdsus.coop/home) of St. Paul, MN and Madison, WI, is a not-for-profit corporation founded in 1985. “CDS consists of two organizations exempt under Internal Revenue Codes Sections The activities of Cooperative Development Services, Inc. are classified as exempt under Section 501c6 and the activities of Cooperative Development Fund of CDS are classified as exempt under Section 501c3 The 501c3 organization is classified as a public charity…” See here: the 2012 IRS Form 990 for Cooperative Development Services, Inc. and here: the 2014 IRS Form 990 for the Cooperative Development Fund of CDS. Both organizations list the same corporate address in Madison, WI.
The predecessor of CDSCC, according to co-founder Marilyn Scholl, is CDS: see here and here, (go to 6′ 56″). On CDSCC’s website: “Like many organizations in its infancy, CDS Consulting Co-op started with one consultant working in collaboration with Cooperative Development Services in St. Paul, Minn. … CDS Consulting Co-op became a cooperative in 2008 after a mutually beneficial 21 year affiliation with Cooperative Development Services.”
CDS Consulting Co-op and National Co+op Grocers have a working relationship, the full extent of which remains unknown to the public.
CDSCC names NCG as an affiliate on its webpage footer (along with CoMetrics, Cooperative Grocer Magazine, the Food Co-op Initiative and, possibly (it is not clear), the International Cooperative Alliance.
Both .coop corporations, CDSCC and NCG, sponsor the Cooperative Grocer Network (formerly know as Co-operative Grocers’ Information Network, CGIN), along with the National Cooperative Bank (NCB) (see page footer). The Cooperative Grocer Network publishes the Cooperative Grocer Magazine.
CGIN is a not-for-profit, 501(c)(6) trade association, chartered in 1998. The CGIN website states: “In 2007, CGIN contracted with National Cooperative Grocers Association to assume responsibility for the management of CGIN.” NCG, a “business services co-operative”, managed CGIN until 2011, when the contract was moved to Triangle Park Creative, which also published the Cooperative Grocer Magazine for NCG. The Cooperative Grocer Magazine, still published by “Triangle,” has been, since 2012, a publication of CGIN, now re-named the Co-operative Grocer Network. See CGN history here and membership information here.
A March 11, 2015 article in the international Cooperative News, entitled US Co-op Grocers are Sharing Data for Mutual Benefit, interviewing NCG Chief Executive Robynn Shrader and acting Chief Executive Tim Ferguson of CoMetrics (another partner with NCG, offering a shared data platform for NCG member co-ops) states, “The NCG has partnered with Cooperative Development Services [sic] and the National Co-operative Bank [and the NCB Development Corporation] for Food Co-op 500, an initiative to start-up new food stores.” [emphases added]
The Food Co-op 500 “a program to increase the number of retail grocery cooperatives from the current 300 to 500 in 10 years” and which was founded in 2005, led to the formation of a new 501(c)(3) not-for-profit in 2010, the Food Co-op Initiative, with the subheading, New co-ops start here.
Founding partners of the Food Coop Initiative include National Co+op Grocers, CDS Consulting Co-op, Cooperative Development Services, National Coop Bank, National Coop Bank capital impact, USDA Rural Development and the Blooming Prairie Foundation.
 Tolkien, John Ronald Reuel, ed. Christopher Tolkien. Beowulf A Translation and Commentary, together with Sellic Spell. London: Harper Collins, 2014. The quote is taken from the publisher’s Book Overview on its U.K. webpage. Please see here, here and here.
May this American Indy food co-op saga eventually include the honest, generous and pleased Hrothgar bestowing gifts…
…or not. Participatory democracy has no room for kings, be they despotic …or benevolent.
GRASSROOTS ACTION IS POWERFUL! is a blog dedicated to American independently-owned, Member-Owned & operated, community food co-ops, their Member-Owners and families.
UPDATE, BREAKING NEWS STORY FROM LA MONTAÑITA FOOD CO-OP IN NEW MEXICO, Wednesday, October 5, 2016, please go here.
REMINDER: HWFC Member-Owners, don’t forget the Board meeting Wednesday evening, October 5, 2016 at 6:00pm at HWFC (the Board will not meet Tuesday because of the holiday). See you there! The Quarterly Membership Meeting will take place on Sunday, October 23, 2016 at 6:00PM; we are voting on Bylaws changes and elections for the GRC. Here is the schedule for Bylaws Panel Information and GRC Meet the Candidate Sessions. Here are the proposed Bylaws’ changes.
ALERT: Because of a co-op Annual Meeting Notice from Bloomingfoods (which I just received in the mail), I am holding off on highlighting the awesome work of the Member Owners of LA Montañita Food Co-op in Albuquerque, New Mexico who are taking back their co-op, like we at HWFC are doing. Some Member-Owners of La Montañita are readers of this GRASSROOTS ACTION IS POWERFUL blog so, a SHOUT OUT OVER THE MILES to fellow Food Co-op Member-Owners in the Land of Enchantment!Here is their September 6, 2016 Press Release.
La Montañitahas just posted a brand new page with information from “Workers, managers, board members, and member-owners from 15 different co-ops in 12 different states…” and they have posted a “Whistleblower Letter” from Mimi Yahn, here.
Monday, October 3, 2016
COUNTDOWN: 16 more days until another U.S. independently-owned, community food co-op says another good-bye to a piece of democracy.
DEMOCRACY’S VOICE FURTHER STIFLED
I am very sad to report that democracy’s voice is about to be further stifled at another U.S. food co-op: Bloomingfoods (B’foods) in Bloomington, Indiana. It is in process right now, and will be completed on the evening of October 19, 2016.
I have been blogging about the threats to participatory democracy and Member-Ownership at two U.S. co-ops: the Honest Weight Food Co-op in Albany, NY (HWFC) and B’foods. I started blogging about HWFC in early November, 2015. Posts about Bloomingfoods began in April, 2016. Information keeps creeping in about the same thing happening at other U.S. independently-owned community food co-ops. The latest report comes from the Member-Owners of La Montañita food co-op in Albuquerque, NM. Please go read their September 6, 2016 Press Release, their “Whistleblower Letter” from Mimi Yahn, here, and a brand new page with information from “15 different co-ops in 12 different states…”
This blog itself, GRASSROTS ACTION IS POWERFUL!, would not have been if not for the seminal journalism work of Mimi Yahn, an independent author / writer and fellow food co-op Member-Owner from Vermont. In two articles and a Letter, Ms. Yahn laid out the disturbing threats to democracy and Member-Ownership of the co-op, which she experienced at her food co-op, the Putney Food Co-op (be sure to view Reader Comments, below each article):
On June 14, 2016, I wrote a blogpost called GRASSROOTS ACTION: Indiana Food Co-op Closes Storefronts. HWFC Forewarned – Reducing Overhead Critical. Now this post qualifies as a book, or even a mini-series! I am warning you to make a pot of coffee or tea to accompany the read …and I make no apologies. This story is worth telling and it is worth reading if you cherish local, independently-owned, community food co-ops, and democracy.
This June 14th blogpost compares actions & events at HWFC and B’foods; actions which are threatening the Ownership rights of the local Member-Owners of these food co-operatives. It is my opinion – having personally been there on the front lines with a bunch of other Member-Owners – that HWFC Member-Owners fought hard, with dedication and co-operatively for their food co-op, for democratic action, and for their legal rights as the Owners of the co-operative corporation …whereas it appears that the Member-Owners of B’foods are unaware of the peril.
It is hoped that grassroots action will light a spark in Bloomington and Member-Owners will rescue the treasure that is their 40 year-old, locally-owned, community food co-op!
Here is a story of yet another chink in the armor of the Ownership rights of B’foods’ Member-Owners and it concerns, of all things, a party: the 40th Birthday Celebration and Annual Membership Meeting on Wednesday evening, October 19, 2016.
IT LOOKS LIKE DEMOCRACY & SOUNDS LIKE DEMOCRACY…
The invitation to the Bloomingfoods Annual Meeting came by mail and starts out like any other co-op invitation I have received over the years:
Bloomingfoods’ 2016 Annual Meeting Postcard Announcement to co-op Owner-Members
The back side of the postcard has all the usual co-op’y things you’d expect to find at an Annual Meeting:
Your vote counts Your voice matters Vote like your co-op depends on it!
The invitation clearly mentioned good food, drink & music, always an important part of any co-op gathering!
The tag on the bottom, in particular, caught my attention:
MARK YOUR CALENDARS NOW!
Vote for fully revised and modernized bylaws beginning March 20, 2017!
Upon checking the B’foods website, I found that these are the voting procedures for this Annual Meeting:
Please visit VoteBloomingfoods.com for election details, and to vote in the 2016 annual election.
Voting will begin on Tuesday, September 20th and will run through Wednesday, October 19th.
In an effort to increase ease of voting and voter turnout, there are three ways for you to vote in this election:
VOTE ONLINE: If you want to vote online, you are in the right place. Simply read through the candidate statements, the proposed Articles of Incorporation/Bylaw changes and get to know the possibilities for Positive Change, then when you are sufficiently prepared, you can log your vote online. Your Bloomingfoods member number is your user name. Each number can only be used once. Your password is your first name or zip code.
TO VOTE ONLINE AT THE ANNUAL MEETING (Oct. 19th): You may vote on your smartphone, tablet or computers we provide at the meeting. We will not be taking paper ballots at the meeting, but staff will be available to assist you with voting if needed. Online voting from any venue must be completed by Oct. 19th.
TO VOTE IN-STORE: Place your ballot in a specially marked election envelope – seal the envelope, print your name, zip code, and member number then sign and place in a ballot box located in the store by 12:00pm on Wednesday, October 19th.
IT LOOKS LIKE DEMOCRACY & SOUNDS LIKE DEMOCRACY …BUT IS IT DEMOCRACY?
Let’s get right to it. Here are the problems:
Did you know that a room has been selected which has limited capacity of 300?
Why couldn’t a larger meeting room have been found?
Wouldn’t a co-op want to be inclusive rather than limit the number of Owner-Members celebrating its 40th Birthday?
What if you already voted …and just want to attend this 40th Birthday Party to celebrate with your fellow Owner-Members? Not allowed?
B’foods website states: “Please note that the Wonderlab has a 300 person capacity. If we exceed capacity, admission is based on a first come basis, by order of RSVPs.”
This statement is contradictory. Is the capacity 300 …or is it more than 300?
RSVPs?! For an Annual Co-op Meeting?!
Did you know that you have to RSVP ahead of time to be assured admission?
Nowhere, on the mailed invitation, does it tell you: “There will be an online RSVP required for this event.” (See Owner News-September 2016, here.)
How many people will simply show up at the door on the 19th, and be told: Sorry, room’s full to capacity …and you were supposed to RSVP ahead of time, online.
The absence of this statement on the “Notice of Member Meetings” (Section 4.4 in the Bylaws) calls into question the validity of the notice itself.
Did you know that you will have to RSVP ahead of time online to be assured you can cast your votes at this Annual Meeting?
Why is any sort of limit being applied to the rights of Owner-Members to vote?
What about the voting rights of the people who will be turned away at the door?
Why is the 40th Birthday Annual Meeting being held on a Wednesday night?
Why not a Saturday or Sunday, when many more people, families & kids could attend?
Wouldn’t a co-op want to be inclusive rather than limit the number of Owner-Members celebrating its 40th Birthday?
Electronic, online, internet, paperless voting and (absentee) paper ballots at storefronts are being used between September 19 – October 19
Do you trust electronic, internet, online, paperless voting?
Do you trust the count of the (absentee) paper ballots being accepted at storefronts?
Do you trust any vote counting that cannot be verified by Owner-Member watchers, in real-time at the Annual Meeting, with the full quorum of Owner-Member voters present at the same time watching & verifying a paper ballot count?
Voting at the Annual Meeting: “You may vote on your smartphone, tablet or computers we provide at the meeting. We will not be taking paper ballots at the meeting.”
Do you trust electronic, online, internet, paperless voting?
Do you trust (paperless) computers you are being asked to vote upon?
Why aren’t paper ballots being utilized?
Do you trust any vote counting that cannot be verified by Owner-Member watchers, in real-time at the Annual Meeting, with the full quorum of Owner-Member voters present at the same time watching & verifying a paper ballot count?
The bylaws don’t allow the Board to authorize the acceptance of paper ballots in the storefronts:
Section 4.12 The Board may authorize voting by mail or electronic ballot in conjunction with, or in lieu of, a meeting of members. [emphasis added]
Who is responsible for this serious error?
Did you know that a quorum will legally consist of the 300 Owner-Member voters who attend this meeting and the (unknown …is it 500? 600? 700? more?) number of Owner-Members who vote by paper ballot (in the store) and electronically on the internet, in advance of the meeting?
This invisible, non-present, non-verifiable quorum may have already carried the vote before the 300 voters granted “admission” to the actual meeting cast their votes – in person – on Wednesday evening, October 19th.
Do you have any means at all of verifying that this legal majority of invisible, non-present, non-verifiable quorum members actually voted the way you will be told they voted?
Isn’t it essential to be provided with proof of the actual quorum number required, ahead of the election? (Of course, since you will be absolutely unable to verify the vote itself, having the legal number for quorum disclosed actually becomes irrelevant.)
Bylaws changes are being made
This is always a red flag where Member-Owner control of a food co-op is under attack!
Do you know what these changes are?
Are your rights as Owner-Members under attack?
Are rights being granted to employees of the corporation which might conflict with rights of the Owner-Members of the corporation?
2nd red flag: what does “Vote for fully revised and modernized bylaws beginning March 20, 2017!” mean?
The Articles of Incorporation are being “simplified”
Have you compared the old Articles to the new “simplified” ones?
There will be an online RSVP required for this event.
Please note that the Wonderlab has a 300 person capacity. If we exceed capacity, admission is based on a first come basis, by order of RSVPs.
An Owner-Member is required to RSVP to be sure to be granted “admission” into their own co-op’s Annual Meeting! This statement – all by itself- is shocking.
After 300 people are granted admission, you get in the door “by order of RSVPs received”!!!
An Owner-Member has to RSVP in order to be guaranteed the right to cast votes at their own Annual Meeting!
What about your voting rights if you are turned away at the door?
Only 300 people are being allowed to attend the Annual Meeting… …which is also the 40th Birthday Party?!
(Does that 300 include non-voting family members, kids, friends, further limiting the number of legal voters able to cast a vote?)
WHAT?! REALLY!? ARE YOU KIDDING?!
They “forgot” to tell people on the mailed Annual Meeting announcement that they are required to RSVP online, ahead of time???!!!
WHAT?! SERIOUSLY, ARE YOU KIDDING ME?
So what is the plan? Are the Board and Management going to turn away the OWNERS / VOTERS of the co-operative who show up on the 19th and WHO WEREN’T TOLD THIS ESSENTIAL FACT ON THEIR MAILED ANNOUNCEMENT: “THERE WILL BE AN ONLINE RSVP REQUIRED FOR THIS EVENT?”
All the electronic, online, internet, paperless ballots – for those who vote before the meeting – are non-verifiable; the (absentee) paper ballots are also subject to manipulation.
Only electronic, online, paperless ballots are being used at the Annual Meeting itself!
The reasons being given for electronic, internet, paperless, non-verifiable voting (and absentee ballots) are that it’s “an effort to increase ease of voting and voter turnout.”
Has nobody on the Bloomingfoods Board or in Management (or their consultants) ever heard of VerifiedVoting.org – you know, the bunch of computer scientists who first raised the warning about paperless, electronic voting back in 2002 – and who continue to do so, to this very day? With additional warnings about the insecurity of internet voting! Given the massive number of reports since 2002 about the insecurity of electronic, paperless voting, and internet voting, let alone the complaints about the security of absentee, paper ballots, do you trust this non-verifiable process?
On the Verified Voting website, in this May 30, 2014 article, Verified Voting Blog: Hack the Vote: The Perils of the Online Ballot Box, by Pamela Smith and Bruce McConnell, it states:
…online voting is fraught with danger. Hackers could manipulate enough votes to change the results of local and national elections. And a skilled hacker can do so without leaving any evidence.
What does “ease of voting” high “voter turnout” matter …if the vote can be hacked?
I have absolutely no confidence in this system of ballot gathering & counting whatsoever.
To quote one of the many national voting rights’ advocates, who arose after the U.S. 2000 elections, Lynn Landes:
Voting is the linchpin of democracy. And democracy demands transparency, not trust.
WHAT ABOUT THIS ISSUE OF QUORUM?
What do the current bylaws say is quorum at the Annual Meeting? What number of Owner-Members establishes that a meeting and its elections are legal? 300 voters seems awfully low to me for quorum for this co-op…
Establishing quorum is an essential element of a democratic process.
See what B’foods Owner-Member Ann Kreilkamp has to say about this issue of quorum at her blog, Exopermaculture, in an April 30, 2016 post labeled: Bloomingfoods and Me; Part 2.
Here is what the B’foods Bylaws say about a quorum at Member Meetings:
Section 4.6 – Quorum at Member Meetings: Except as otherwise stated in these by-laws as to particular circumstances, the presence of ten percent of members entitled to vote at any meeting shall constitute a quorum. Unless one-third of all members are present at a membership meeting, the only matters that may be voted upon are those described in the meeting notice. [emphasis added]
However, they also say:
Section 4.12 ‑ Voting by mail or electronic ballots: The Board may authorize voting by mail or electronic ballot in conjunction with, or in lieu of, a meeting of members. In such event, the notice of the meeting shall include a copy of the issue to be voted upon, together with a ballot and a postage paid voting envelope with an online link as an electronic voting option and notification of the date by which ballots must be returned. Ballots must be returned in a sealed envelope which is authenticated by the member’s signature or sent electronically to a verifiable online site. If mail or electronic ballots are used in conjunction with a meeting of members, votes cast by those ballots shall be counted together with votes cast in person at the meeting. If mail or electronic ballots are used in lieu of a meeting of members, a quorum shall consist of the number of ballots returned. A vote cast by mail or electronic ballot shall be equivalent to presence in person by the member at a meeting of members. [emphases added]
First of all, a careful read of the bylaws shows that the B’foods Board was not, in fact, authorized to accept paper ballots in the storefronts; this process is in violation of the Bylaws:
The Board may authorize voting by mail or electronic ballot in conjunction with, or in lieu of, a meeting of members. [emphasis added]
As to quorum: for this Annual Meeting, if B’foods has – hypothetical case – 10,000 active, members in good standing (eligible to vote), a quorum at this meeting would be 10%, or 1,000 Members. If only 300 voters are being allowed to vote at the Annual Meeting itself, that means that a minimum of 700 ballots will have to be cast before the meeting itself – to meet quorum.
Again, assuming a quorum of 1,000, that’s 700 voters who will be casting a ballot either electronically, online, on the internet, with no paper back-up to verify the vote or placing (absentee) paper ballots (gathered at the storefronts), which, themselves, are subject to manipulation.
Owner-Members are being expected to simply:
trust they are being told the accurate number for quorum
trust the tallying of electronic, online, internet paperless ballots & (absentee) paper ballots
trust that, in fact, there is a legal quorum because at least (in this hypothetical case) 700 ballots were received in advance of the meeting
If there are only 300 voters allowed “admission” at the Annual Meeting, that means that (given the hypothetical figure of 1,000) 700 non-verifiable ballots will have already carried this election before any voters even cast (an electronic, online, internet, non-verifiable) vote on the evening of the Annual Meeting itself.
So, your vote, which you plan to cast in-person at the Annual Meeting, already, right now, may not even matter?
Maybe I read the Bylaws re. quorum wrong; maybe I missed something. THAT IS ALWAYS A POSSIBILITY! Or, maybe B’foods legal quorum is only 300?
WE NEED PROOF OF QUORUM.
There are way too many non-verifiable variables associated with this election – with its implicit reliance upon trust not transparency – which are under the direct control of the Board & Management. 
WHY LIMIT THE SIZE OF THE ROOM … FOR A 40th CELEBRATION??
Shouldn’t ‘the more the merrier’guide actions here?
Grassroots advocate’s take: any possibility for grassroots action and/or grassroots voting action by the Owner-Members at this Annual Meeting has been handily eliminated by the Board …by simply booking a smaller meeting room …on a Wednesday night …and requiring advanced, online RSVPs to get in the door …and “forgetting” to state that fact on the official mailed announcement.
There are plenty of large meeting rooms & halls in this town which is home to a large, major state university and with plenty of churches with large meeting spaces.
This is the plan for Bloomingfoods’ 40th Birthday celebration and Annual Meeting?
Owner-Members, you need to show up, en masse, at your Annual Membership Meeting …and bring the press …or, if they decline, bring a bunch of citizen bloggers with cameras.
Bloomingfoods’ Owner-Members,this is your Annual Membership Meeting!
“MODERNIZED” BYLAWS UP FOR VOTE IN MARCH 2017: THIS SPELLS REAL TROUBLE
The proposed changes to the bylaws for the October 19th meetings appear innocuous. Please go check for yourself. Here and here are the proposed changes.
However, this is whatreally worries me. The mailed invitation states on the very bottom:
“Vote for fully revised and modernized bylaws beginning March 20, 2017!”
Better go read independent author and fellow food co-op Member-Owner Mimi Yahn’s concerns about “modernized”, “streamlined” and “boilerplate template” bylaws. That March, 2017 bylaws’ vote – that’s the one that’s really, really worrisome. If these same non-verifiable, hackable voting procedures are used again in March, 2017, passage of these “modernized” bylaws could end up being a slam-dunk, with nobody the wiser.
Could this current election process be a dry-run for that much more important March 2017 Bylaws’ overhaul, which could formally & permanently dismantle the legal power & control of the local, Owner-Members of this co-operative corporation?
And here in Progressive Vermont, here in Putney, one of our most cherished institutions — the Putney Food Co-op — is in the process of being co-opted by a large corporate entity.
The first many of us learned of this was at the October annual meeting when members were asked to vote some changes to the existing bylaws. Most of us trusted that the board of directors had merely tweaked and, as they termed it, “updated” some of the wording.
However, thanks to the diligent efforts of a staff member, we discovered that what was being proposed was a major overhaul not just of the entire bylaws, but of the fundamental direction and governance of the Co-op.
The proposed bylaws represent a shift away from cooperative, member-controlled governance to an entity modeled on hierarchical corporate structure and control.
We also learned that behind this fundamental shift is a large national consulting firm, CDS Consulting Co-op, which has created standardized templates of uniform governance, bylaws, corporate structure, purchasing decisions, store design, labor management, membership management, public relations, hiring decisions, board training (promoted as “professionalizing” boards), and a range of other decidedly un-co-op-like services to create a single model for all co-ops…
…The proposed [bylaws’] version … is a bare-bones corporate model, a boilerplate one-size-fits-all template that can apply as easily to the Putney Co-op as it can to a Whole Foods or Pepsico subsidiary.
At the Honest Weight Food Co-op in Albany, NY, just over the border from Ms. Yahn’s Putney, VT co-op, on the other side of the Green Mountains, yet another food co-op’s democratic structure was being dismantled. Our Board and Management were working secretly and feverishly – with the help of $500,000 (!!!) of our co-op’s collective savings and a passel of lawyers, consultants, and a Strategic PR firm. They were utilizing CDS Consulting Co-op (and had been since 2009): the same group of national, “expert” .coop consultants Mimi Yahn noted were being utilized by the Putney, VT co-op Board.
Our Board was intent on ending our Member-Owner Labor Program, subverting our right to vote, changing our bylaws, and, ultimately, dismantling local, Member-Owner control & ownership of our co-operative.
The Board was working hand-in-hand with upper Management, our three person “Leadership Team,” disregarding the separation of powers which – in a democratic structure – should exist as a check & balance between these two entities.
They were secretive, cunning, efficient, disingenuous and very, very organized.
Not only did they have a Strategic PR firm on retainer, whose spin-meisters expertly spun those messages being delivered to Member-Owners – while also conducting secret, “astroturf” (fake grassroots) campaigns – but they had even hired a very professional & credentialed Organizational Development Consultant: an expert in “organizational change.” In hindsight, we now believe he was hired to massage the messages getting to Member-Owners and “ease our pain” in saying good-bye to the old (democratically-run) co-operative corporation …and welcoming in the brand new, “better,” (hierarchical, Board-controlled) corporate structure.
At Board-sponsored Info Sessions (ushering in these new, modernized bylaws), we Member-Owners even had Kübler-Ross “five stages of grief” comments tossed our way:
We’re here to help you. We can all get through this […the co-opting of your co-operative corporation right out from under your very noses…], together.
Any information getting out to us Owners was very carefully controlled. And, understand, all the skills & advice of this slew of advisors & consultants was being lobbed – repeatedly – against the Owners of the co-operative, a fact we only pieced together long after this campaign had begun!
We Owners were the proverbial lobsters thrown in cold water, with the heat being ever-so-slowly raised; quietly, incrementally, and inexorably, our democratic structure was being eroded around us, and most of us – content & complacent in our trust of the Board – weren’t even aware it was happening.
The CDS Consulting Co-op Co-operative Board Leadership Development (CDSCC CBLD) program teaches the Board and its Management how to function as an efficient team: a team which does not include the Owners of the co-operative. (Listen to CDSCC co-founder and Director, Marilyn Scholl here; within the first two minutes she has repeated the message “strong and powerful” Boards and GMs, with no mention of Member-Owners.)
Cooperative Board 101 Leadership Development is just one of a staggering array of protocols, trainings, services, templates, and policies our co-op has been instructed to utilize, which begs the question: Does the board’s allegiance lie with the member owners or with a paid consultant?…
…one of the most disturbing “essential elements” is the ironclad tenet that the board “speak with one voice.” Dissent is allowed only as part of the discussion leading up to any decision; once a decision is made by the board, all members must support the decision no matter what.
To ensure absolute loyalty, board members are required to sign a code-of-conduct agreement (template provided by CDS); violating the code by speaking out against a board decision, for example, is forbidden: the board member must resign….
…In reality, policy governance works well in hierarchical structures; however, it undermines the fundamental philosophy of the cooperative paradigm. Cooperatives can only exist — and thrive — through participatory democracy, diversity of thought, member engagement and, above all, the ability to value and encourage dissent as a normal and even necessary part of healthy governance practice.
True democracy demands that we value and strengthen community by being questioning individuals who speak up…
What was the HWFC Board’s bylaws’ model? The CBLD ‘Fresh Start’ Bylaws Template offered by CDS Consulting Co-op.
These “boilerplate,” “modernized” bylaws were being foisted on us, by our Board, through a “cooked” Bylaws Task Force (BTF) process, expertly managed by that same Organizational Development Consultant. Two CDSCC consultants – Thane Joyal and Mark Goehring – were part of the BTF as “subject matter experts.” They were also part of a Bylaws Research Team and they were paid to create a brand new document for our BTF called Member Labor Programs at Comparable Co-ops and Related Resources.
This document, provided to the 27 members of the BTF as bylaws’ reference material, had, however, little to do with bylaws …and everything to do with getting rid of Member Labor at food co-ops!
The only bylaws reference material on this list: the CDSCC ‘Fresh Start’ Bylaws Template. (See here and here.)
(Here is my advice: stay away from the ‘Fresh Start’ Bylaws Template! Keep your current bylaws and work to strengthen Member-Owner control, ownership rights and democratic process. Instead of listening to CDS Consulting Co-op, begin by researching the articles of Laddie Lushin, Esq., a nationally-recognized expert on co-operative corporation law, who – unlike the consultants at CDS Consulting Co-op – supports democratically-run food co-ops, Owner rights, Member-Owner Labor Programs, and transparency in co-operative governance.)
At HWFC, once we Owners uncovered what was going on, it was a battle zone.
We found evidence that Member-Owners and employees, with their differing perspectives & roles, were (unbeknownst to each other) intentionally being pitted against each other, destabilizing relations, sowing fear and creating a culture of mistrust: this tactic secretly wielded to meet the ultimate endgame goals of both undermining or removing Member-Owner power & control in the co-operative …and controlling employees. This tactic has all the appearance of a planned “psych-ops” maneuver, and its effects among human relations within a community food co-op are brutal.
One-on-one stories shared between fellow food co-op Member-Owners here in the northeast – shared only in person and often with great hesitancy – attest to the silent ravaging of food co-operative communities across New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont.
These diverse communities – actively practicing “peaceful co-existence,” trust, participatory democracy, and “co-operation” – are ill equipped to defend against an intra-community assault of this nature.
Somebody appears to have carefully studied the structure and functioning of the web of human relations & behavior within a food co-op’s diversified community …and knows how to efficiently, effectively (and secretly) rip it apart.
But, as it turned out, we at HWFC had a passel – a boatload! an army! a legion! – of energetic, talented, skilled and determined Member-Owners on our side, including Member-Owners who are also employees of our co-operative.
Defenders of food co-op democracy!
Stories of: multiple, secret Board Executive Sessions, a secret lobbying contract with a Strategic PR firm (with connections to a top-10 NYS lobbying firm), two Board law firms (one with offices parked down in Washington D.C.), a secret, national AP interview, gag orders, Freedom of Information Letters, a secret letter & meeting between Board reps and a high-ranking official at the NYS Department of Labor, a generous, anonymous donor and gaudy, dayglo-orange T-shirts screaming Let’s Chat!, multiple, late-night meetings getting the charges drawn up against Board Members, a staunch, determined, petite Member-Owner clipboarding, all alone at 9am in the parking lot, in the freezing late-November rain! (because Management refused to let her stand inside), top Management blocking Owners from simply talking to other Owners, food co-op Owners threatened with police removal by Management for peacefully petitioning at their own co-op! …and other tales of sordid corporate intrigue – and bravery!…
…all taking place at a US food co-op – a broccoli & organic yogurt kind of food co-op, for goodness’ sakes! – just upriver from (why are you not surprised?) Wall Street.
American indy food co-ops have sure made it onto somebody’s corporate radar screen and onto somebody’s Board room agenda.
Reporting out of New York’s capital, our local paper, the Times Union, and ace reporter Tim O’Brien had a field day! Just 3 miles or so east of our co-op, the New York State Legislature, and its latest scandals & tales of corruption, sometimes found itself in competition – in the pages of the TU, that is – with stories of the latest Honest Weight Food Co-op Board shenanigans.
(About that NYS Legislature? Go ahead, Google U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. Also try: Speaker of the NYS Assembly Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. Silver has been sentenced to 12 years in prison; Skelos to five years; Skelos’ son to 6 1/2 years. Now U.S. Attorney Bharara is looking at Governor Cuomo’s people. See this NYPIRG doc: Capitol Offenses: A Review of the Criminal Conduct, Self-Dealing and Ethical Lapses of New York’s Public Officials. Go, Google “Three men in a room” and “Stay tuned.” Have fun, you don’t have to live here. Figures we’d have to fight corruption at our food co-op.)
CDS Consulting Co-op, and their CBLD ‘Fresh Start’ Bylaws Template, were utilized by the Boards of both the Putney Food Co-op and the Honest Weight Food Co-op. The Putney Co-op Member-Owners sadly caved in. HWFC Member-Owners, however, fought back and ditched anything having to do with CDSCC: its CBLD Program with its empowerment of the Board-Management axis to the exclusion of the Member-Owners of the co-operative, its ‘Fresh Start’ Bylaws Template, “Policy Governance,” secrecy as a way of doing business in our co-op, mandated gag orders (politely called a “non-disclosure agreement”), and all of its national .coop consultants’ “expert” co-op advice.
It was a narrow escape, let me tell you!
Once we were on to them, our co-op Member-Owners got rid of that Board and, within six months, the members of the three-person Leadership Team (top Management) were all gone.
Housecleaning continues to this very day. It truthfully reminds me, a J. R.R. Tolkien lover, of Frodo, Sam, Merry & Pippin returning home to the Shire, after a long and arduous journey, only to be confronted by the ruffian Sharkey & his minion Wormtongue – and being forced to “clean house” before they can all relax and have a pint and a pipe of Longbottom Leaf. That’s where we are at, The Scouring of the Shire here on the banks of the beautiful Hudson River, just south a bit from the majestic Adirondack Mountains and just north a piece from Rip van Winkle’s ancient Catskills: cleaning house at our food co-op. 
Except instead of a pint & a pipe, I look forward to a steaming pot of jade oolong and a bowl of fresh organic fruit, topped with local, organic, whipped cream (with a touch of vanilla & some local honey). Shared with a bunch of other Member-Owners at, of course …a co-op potluck dinner.
It’s time …it’s time to haul out that song which this GRASSROOTS! blog introduced right after our November 30, 2015 emergency Special Membership Meeting and its 720 attendees: The Ant Song. Join Frank Sinatra & Eddie Hodges in singing all about high hopes!
Whoops, there goes another problem kerplop! Grassroots action, baby!
And it’s coming up on our one-year anniversary here at HWFC, a day we Member-Owner’s will never forget: October 24, 2015. That was the day, a Saturday, when Member-Owner Chris Colarusso got a petition signed – in an hour and a half! – by enough Member-Owners to legally call for an emergency Special Membership Meeting of the legal owners of the Honest Weight Food Co-op, Inc.: to levy charges against the Board of Directors and elect new Board members, to vote non-confidence in Management and to vote for a change to the Management structure, and to unambiguously affirm our right as Owners of the co-operative to maintain our Member-Owner Labor Program and, thereby, our Ownership rights to vote and express operational control in our co-operative corporation.
Back to the present day. Bloomington, Indiana. Bloomingfoods.
4.d.iii. The CDS template will be used for bylaw review. 
The June 30, 2016 Minutes, under “Bylaws Review Update,” reveal:
3.c.ii. Beebe has mapped the proposed changes of the first 4 articles to the CDS template.
MARK YOUR CALENDARS NOW!
Vote for fully revised and modernized bylaws beginning March 20, 2017!
SOUNDS LIKE ANY OLD TOP-DOWN NASDAQ CORPORATION TO ME
Do you own shares in some publicly-traded corporation? Do you receive those annual reports wherein you are asked to cast your vote? Do you, usually, throw them away because, well, it doesn’t seem to matter? The Board candidates are strangers, you don’t own enough shares to really make a difference and the whole thing is so, well, so anonymous, so far-removed from your life. So corporate, so Wall Street.
The voting procedures for the October 19, 2016 B’fooods Annual Meeting are mirrored on this hierarchical structure. You give the corporation your money (share purchases). The Board decides what’s best for the corporation and, once a year, asks for you to bless its actions with your vote. Shareholders in that top-down corporation (may) vote from afar, via online, internet voting or mail-in ballots: quick, fast, impersonal, (insecure & hackable), and anonymous. Throughout the year, you wait for that Board to give you a return on your investment.
You, the Owner-Member of a local, grassroots community treasure – a 40 year-old food co-operative made up of people & families! – have been manipulated into voting via this process of corporate anonymity. Separate and far-removed from each and every other Bloomingfoods’ shareholder, you are being deprived of the fundamental power of democratic action: all gathering together in a room, all at the same time, rubbing shoulders with your neighbors, discussing the issues, arguing & finding agreement, voting together, verifying that vote count, together …and celebrating your co-operative decision-making actions, together.
This is a sacred, community process.
Given that only 300 in-person voters are being allowed in the door at the Bloomingfoods Annual Meeting (and these ballots are electronic and non-verifiable), the majority needed to carry the elections (to meet quorum) may well be from this large group of invisible, anonymous shareholders, voting electronically on the internet or with (absentee) paper ballots at the storefronts with a vote gathering & counting process which is not in any way, shape or form transparent or trustworthy.
Have I repeated that often enough for it to get through?
The Board and Management control the process. There is NO transparency.
Let me re-state it a different way: the vote count is hackable and you will have no way of knowing it has been hacked or proving it has been hacked.
Democracy at your food co-op has been hijacked.
GIVE ME THOSE OLD-FASHIONED, VERMONT-STYLE, “TOWN MEETINGS” ANY DAY
Where, at this Annual Meeting, is the dialogue, where are the discussions, the debates, and the democratic process of a quorum of the co-operative corporation voters, all making decisions together, at the same time, in the same room?
Where is the real-time, transparent voting & vote-counting process being supervised by both Member-Owners and Board members and anybody & everybody else?
Give me our hands-on, democratic – and sometimes messy – food co-op quarterly meetings at HWFC, where we exercise real democracy: we get to talk, listen, debate, respectfully disagree, find common ground, jump up and down & yell (and respectfully ask to be seated), make eye contact, listen to multiple viewpoints, shake our heads, nod in assent, seek to understand, smile, get upset, share food, get home – sometimes – at midnight or later…
…and all cast our paper ballots together and witness (and even participate in) the transparent paper ballot counting leading up to verified & trustworthy vote counts and election results.
Yes, sometimes it is “messy” (that word often paired with “democracy”), sometimes it is contentious, sometimes it is very frustrating, and sometimes people yell.
But, we are – together and co-operatively all in the same room – all part of a real democratic process …which election results we all verify & agree to, together.
WHO PLANNED THIS MEETING and WHO DESIGNED THE VOTING PROCEDURES?
Image on Bloomingfoods’ 2016 Annual Meeting Postcard Announcement to Co-op Owner-Members
Who is advising B’foods’ Board to hold these annual elections so that the process undermines democracy?
Are there any outside consultants advising the Bloomington Board about this Annual Meeting election process? If so, who are they? Are they under current contract?
Does the Bloomingfoods Board and/or Management have a current and executed contract with CDSConsulting Co-op of Putney, Vermont? For how many years has there been a contractual relationship between Bloomingfoods and CDS Consulting Co-op?
Who decided to keep the quorum from all being fully present at the meeting together (splitting the power block) and insured that part of that quorum (the invisible, anonymous, non-verifiable, electronic, online, hackable, advance votes) will, in all likelihood, carry the vote?
Who made the decision to allow (absentee) paper ballots to be gathered in the storefronts, a process in violation of the bylaws?
Who made the decision that “There will be an online RSVP required for this event?“
Who forgot to place on the official, mailed Annual Meeting Announcement: “There will be an online RSVP required for this event?“
Who made the decision to hold the Annual Meeting and 40th Birthday Party on a Wednesday evening and hold – what should be a huge, Bloomington-wide, family celebration! – in a room limited to 300, entrance of which is “by order of RSVPs?”
Who designed a voting process which is hackable, non-verifiable and not trustworthy?
Who is trying to control the vote – that is, the election results – at this Annual Meeting? Or, is the Board, perhaps, simply unaware of the hackable, non-verifiable nature of the voting processes it has implemented?
I invite anyone from the Board of Directors to answer the questions I have posed in this blog; questions I pose as a voting, Owner-Member-in-good-standing of Bloomingfoods.
I pose these questions as an Owner-Member who cherishes American, locally-owned and controlled, independent, community food co-ops.
I SEE THE SHELL OF AN ANNUAL MEMBERSHIP MEETING
I see the party, the food, the fun, the music. That’s all a shell without the discussion & voting with the quorum all in the same room, in real time, together, followed by a verified vote process which all may witness.
Where is the democratic, co-operative governance directed by the Owner-Members of the co-operative corporation?
Invisible, secret, non-transparent, controllable and hidden. That is the shell of democracy. Controlled by the corporation and its Board, supported by Management and devoid of oversight by the Owner-Members of the co-operative.
The democratic process with verifiable vote results has been taken away from Bloomingfoods’ Owner-Member voters. Yes, there is an energetic & warm invitation and a party and food (for a special, limited number of people who happen to be free on a Wednesday evening, and who remembered (or who knew to) RSVP online ahead of time.) But true, cooperative, member-controlled, participatory, democratic governance. No, that is absent.
Let’s remember, with a capacity of 300, there will be some Owner-Member voters who will be turned away at the door. They won’t be granted “admission.” They won’t get to vote.
The democratic process at this co-op has been replaced …with something else. Something not at all related to democracy.
Go back and re-read the invitation, above. What do you think now? Warm & inviting? Or something else?
Does Your vote count? Does Your voice matter?
And we didn’t even discuss what’s in those bylaws’ changes or how the Articles of Incorporation have been “simplified.” But I really think it’s this announcement which is the sleeper:
Vote for fully revised and modernized bylaws beginning March 20, 2017!
For me, this one action takes the cake: “forgetting” to tell people – to whom you mail a party invitation, for a meeting which includes voting – that “There will be an online RSVP required for this event.”
Was this simply an error?
And, has it gotten to the point at Bloomingfoods that the Annual Food Co-op Meeting – a hallowed event at most U.S. community food co-ops – is viewed as simply another “event” of the corporation?
Here, Bloomingfoods’ Owner-Members, goRSVP here, so you can vote on Wednesday evening, October 19th (or at least secure a chance to) …not that I think it really even matters.
And please, think about all those B’foods voters, who may be turned away at the door on the 19th …and prevented from exercising their franchise …such as it is.
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 
 See the October 6, 2016 blogpost, RIP Bloomingfoods?, written by this former 1970’s Bloomingfoods’ worker member:
It looks like Bloomingfoods is about to be the next hybrid coop and corporation to fall. In this case the picture above foreshadows the story to come. The picture above of the only Bloomingfoods I knew when I was a worker member in the late 1970s, was abandoned by the powers that be just like they abandoned coop principles earlier.
 Tolkien, John Ronald Reuel. The Return of the King. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1965. Book Six, Chapter VIII, pp.277 – 300.
 Bloomington Cooperative Services. Board of Directors January Meeting. Thursday, January 28, 2016. I. E. “Opportunities for CBLD training were announced (board members should consult writeboard Board Participation in CBLD Workshop signup).”
Bloomington Cooperative Services. Board of Directors February Meeting
Thursday, February 25, 2016. 5. iii. “Beebe spoke with Leslie and Paula about looking at the bylaws and getting the template from NCG. 1. Leslie says CBLD has a new template out in the next 10 days and compare.”
Bloomington Cooperative Services. Board of Directors May Meeting. Thursday, June 30th, 2016 Minutes. Under “Bylaws Review Update: 3.c. ii. “Beebe has mapped the proposed changes of the first 4 articles to the CDS template.“
 Bloomington Cooperative Services. Board of Directors May Meeting. Thursday, June 30th, 2016 Minutes. Under “Bylaws Review Update: 3.c. ii. “Beebe has mapped the proposed changes of the first 4 articles to the CDS template.“
Next blogpost will highlight the awesome work of the Member Owners of LA Montañita Food Co-op in Albuquerque, New Mexico who are taking back their co-op… …just like we at the Honest Weight Food Co-op in Albany, New York are doing!!! Some Member-Owners of La Montañita are readers of this GRASSROOTS ACTION IS POWERFUL blog; their work is truly awesome and I look forward to sharing that news with you.
SHOUT OUT OVER THE MILES TO FELLOW FOOD CO-OP MEMBER-OWNERS IN THE ~~LAND OF ENCHANTMENT!~~
GRASSROOTS ACTION, BABY!
See the latest edition of the HWFC Co-op Voice, here.
Thank you to my many loyal GRASSROOTS ACTION IS POWERFUL! readers who urged me to get back to blogging! And hello to RP, who is a brand new GRASSROOTS reader from HWFC …who has a special interest in protecting herself from MSG.
After more than a two month hiatus in blogging, GRASSROOTS is back! This blogpost is the first- Number 1 – in the promised series of They Added WHAT To My Food?! No, dude!, the companion series to My Food Comes From WHERE?! Oh, there which was posted on June 12, 2016.
And, of course, all information provided by this blog is intended solely for consumer educational purposes only and is not intended to offer medical advice, nor substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment of any disease or condition by your doctors and health care providers. Discuss any information with your doctors and health care providers, first.
So, without further ado the first installment of:
They Added WHAT To My Food?! No, dude!
You’ll note my last three blogposts were following Congressional voting on THE DARK ACT here, here, and here.
It passed. It is law. Done deal.
Blogging ceased for a while as this darkness descended. The blog went cold.
It is a dark day for those of us in the U.S. who value and who need high-quality, organic, safe, locally-produced, non-GMO food for our families.
BIG FOOD and BIG ORGANIC won this round. They get to further taint and poison our food supply …and now we will be eating GMOs and not even know it.
Ethical moment: do you want to give your family’s hard-earned food dollars to any of these “organic” corporations?
Consider boycotting members of the Organic Trade Association – don’t buy their food – and ask your food co-op to immediately drop out of the Organic Trade Association if it’s a member, as well. And make sure you tell the OTA why.
Will eating dinner over at a friend’s home have to be politely declined …or prefaced with a question-list of the foods the host or hostess is using to prepare dinner?
Yup. Unless you (politely) simply act the good guest and eat the GMOs and be done with it.
Will the labels on “natural” and “organic” foods tell you more about what’s in your food so you can make wise and safe choices for your family?
Will brightly colored boxes of cool-looking “natural” food – you know those enticing packages of crackers & cereal & cookies & soy or wheat protein products – screaming statements of health and vitality – offer a guarantee of non-GMO safety for our children, our families?
Will your children be exposed to GMOs in the lunch food they buy at school?
Ditto: play dates, Boy Scouts & Girl Scouts, summer camp, after school events, sports events…
Will buying food at a U.S. locally-owned food co-operative guarantee safe and GMO-free food?
THE DARK ACT gives BIG FOOD and BIG ORGANIC carte blanche with labeling. Merriam-Webster defines carte blanche as “permission to do something in any way you choose to do it.” That’s the permission Congress gave to BIG FOOD and BIG ORGANIC…
…and we consumers and our families now have virtually no way to defend against GMOs entering our bodies, harming our biomes, killing (or mutating the genes of …this is the really scary part) our own symbiotic bacteria, harming our immune systems, putting glyphosate (Round-Up) in circulation (in our soil, in our food supply, in our water supply, and in our bodies – a lot like the “pink” in The Cat in the Hat) and causing autoimmune disease and cancer rates to further skyrocket in the U.S.
If you continue to eat any (non-organic) wheat products whatsoever (bread, bagels, cookies, pasta, cereal, crackers… ), you are likely ingesting Round-Up:
Unbeknownst to most consumers is the fact that just before harvest, a vast majority of conventional wheat grown in the U.S. is doused in Roundup herbicide [as a desiccant], which ends up poisoning your favorite breads, cereals, cakes, and pastries. … The latest U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) figures show that, as of 2012, 99 percent of durum wheat, 97 percent of spring wheat, and 61 percent of winter wheat is doused in herbicides prior to harvest. 
And those who are vegetarians and vegans? Given the high percentage of processed vegetarian products and non-meat proteins which are made from processed (non-organic, GMO) soy and processed (non-organic, GMO) wheat, the only choice to make is to either eat 100% organic …or abandon being a vegetarian or vegan.
Let’s not even talk about the effect upon our seed supply…
They can now – legally – hide GMOs in our food supply and they don’t even have to tell us.
SMARTPHONES TO THE RESCUE…?
The whole point of the DARK ACT was to keep the name “GMO” off of the packaging & list of ingredients of food products. GMOs are present – or they might be present – (there’s the kicker) – you just won’t know it from reading the label.
But if you are among the lucky who own a Smartphone, you can find out – have the secret revealed to you. How? Have the Smartphone read the “QR code” printed on the label: that square, black & white, boxy, squiggly thing.
There will also be 1-800 numbers and websites …but none of this is required to even kick in for the next two years! Notice the information about the presence of GMOs has been handily separated & divorced from the actual food product, itself.
So, you have to own a Smartphone (a huge percentage of seniors, people with disabilities and low-income Americans do not own Smartphones) and have access to the Internet (a huge percentage of senior, disabled, rural and low-income Americans do not have access to the Internet). Furthermore, does the store or co-op you are shopping in have Internet …and what if the the connection is spotty throughout the store ..and what if your battery is about to die …and what if you forgot our Smartphone in the car…
And who the devil is going to have time to stop and check every single QRcode for every single item we buy while we are busy shopping??
Can you just see a busy Mom or Dad with two kids, juggling the shopping cart after work, as well as the Smartphone …as s/he dutifully tries to read QR codes in a busy foodstore or food co-op aisle?
It almost appears that this DARK ACT / QR Code system of checking our food supply was designed to fail, doesn’t it? Fail consumers, that is.
It certainly does not fail the needs of BIG FOOD, BIG ORGANIC or BIG AG.
It is well-known among IT people that QR codes can be hacked, so will we even be able to trust what the QR codes reveal if we can get in and through the above labyrinth successfully? And, did they tell us that accessing the QR code could place Malware directly into our Smartphones …i.e. you could damage your Smartphone and need the paid services of a computer technician to repair the damage …if it can be repaired?
So we are supposed to use our $500 Smartphones to access their data – about the stuffthey put into their food product – and risk our Smartphones in the process?
Does this seem a lot to you like Alice in Wonderland down-the-rabbit-hole?
And just what are you supposed to do if you are one of those millions of American who lives on a low or fixed income, who is a senior, who lives in a rural location, or who has a disability …and who does not own a Smartphone or have Internet (estimated to be 1/3 of the population)?
Doesn’t it seem like whole classes of people got left out in the “consumer protections” offered in the DARK ACT?
What should they do? Grin and bear it? Stop shopping for food? Or simply eat the stuff…
What Dark Act supporters do not reveal is that the Dark Act lacks any enforcement mechanisms or any penalties for violations, making the labeling clauses (effectively) voluntary. And, there is a two-year time period allowed for implementation. So, in the next two years, there will GMOs in your food, with nothing on the labels …and absolutely nothing at the other end of that Smartphone, 1-800 number or website….
FOOD LABELS DO MORE TO OBSCURE THAN REVEAL
The alert and aware organic food consumerand co-op Member-Owner knows that the modern function of food labels is to allow BIG FOOD and BIG ORGANIC to be able to successfully hide what is in the “natural” and “organic” food they are selling to us.
“Revealing” is not the primary goal of a food label anymore.
Add the DARK ACT’s QR Codes – a work-around to actually placing the word GMO directly onto the food product packaging itself – to that long list of deceptive labeling …i.e. ways to hide the cheaply produced chemicals, invisible additives, flavor enhancers, preservatives, food coloring, inferior food, old food and – let’s call a spade a spade – poisons, which are added to the food we buy for our families.
You need to become a detective to uncover the invisible ingredients which modern “natural” and “organic” food labels cleverly obscure.
PROCESSED FREE GLUTAMIC ACID: aka MSG
We all know that MSG no longer appears as an ingredientt in food because BIG FOOD and BIG ORGANIC know that we know that MSG is “bad.” That is, we consumers got wise! Therefore, we began carefully reading labels and avoided purchasing food with “MSG” listed as an ingredient.
MSG is a neuro-toxin or an excitotoxin, a class of chemicals / chemical messengers, which excite brain cells into such frenetic activity that they can die. It is classified as a “flavor enhancer,” which means BIG FOOD and BIG ORGANIC can use cheaper, inferior ingredients and the MSG “fools” your brain into perceiving more taste / flavor. MSG also instantly creates food cravings when it hits your mouth and, eventually, your gut: sending instant messages to your brain to desire more of the product. You will want to eat/buy more of that food product – not because it is healthy and your system needs it – but because they know how to chemically create craving (and addiction) in a human mouth/digestive/brain system.
How handy for the bottom line of your favorite BIG FOOD or BIG ORGANIC food corporation: a proven way to sell more product!
Because there were enough alert consumers – who stopped buying foods labeled as containing MSG – they deep-sixed using the term “MSG.” Gone. Erased. Vanished.
They did not, however, stop using MSG in food.
They devised a work-around. They devised a method to add MSG to processed food – which they are under no obligation to disclose to you – by including it as a component of an ingredient, which require no disclosure on the label (in other words, the MSG remains hidden to the consumer). BTW, MSG should properly be referred to as ‘processed free glutamic acid.’ The term ‘MSG,’ in the US, refers specifically to the chemical which is 99% pure; most processed food manufacturers utilize MSG at less than 99% purity, so they cannot call it MSG. MSG, or monosodium glutamate, was developed in 1908 and patented by the Ajinomoto company. (Ajinomto currently holds the patent on another excitotoxin, aspartame, and is the world’s largest producer of both aspartame and MSG.)
Let me reframe this for you: BIG FOOD and BIG ORGANIC have over 50 different ways to label processed free glutamic acid – without using the term “MSG” – or without having to disclose on the label that there is processed free glutamic acid present.
Only if MSG is 99% purity or greater is an ingredient required to be labeled as MSG. Any ingredient that has less than 99% MSG purity is labeled something else. 
They have developed 50 very effective means of camouflage, especially useful in processed foods labeled as “organic,” where we – especially – don’t expect to find added chemicals and poisonous ingredients. In fact, most of us are even willingly to pay more for that “organic” guarantee.
That list of, roughly, 50 names keeps changing & enlarging; a smart & savvy family simply must stay on top of information about the newest & latest industry additives – and their labels – which are being developed with the purpose of hiding the presence of processed free glutamic acid from consumers.
…oops! whoa nelly! – I got carried away there by Paul Simon’s music, for just a second… Sorry. What I meant to type was:
BIG FOOD and BIG ORGANIC have created 50 ways to hide a poisonous chemical in the food you buy: 50 innocent & innocuous-sounding ingredient names, which disarm you into opening your wallet and giving them your hard-earned family food dollars...
Food co-op shoppers, be on the alert for this anonymous MSG, camouflaged in your family’s favorite natural andorganic ice cream, soups & stocks, crackers, cookies, chips, pasta sauce, cereals, juices, milk & dairy products, heavy cream, non-dairy drinks, processed soy & wheat protein products… …virtually anything with a label is fair game.
For decades, I knew to avoid the following – even at my food co-op – because they always contained processed free glutamic acid: soups, soup stocks (including “organic” soups & stocks), gravies, salad dressings, soy sauce, mayonnaise, mustard & catsup, and anything which had in its list of ingredients:
If these terms are listed in the ingredients I never purchase or eat that food; years of bad experiences taught me that lesson.
If a food label boasts that the food is “MSG free!” it’s pretty much a dead giveaway that it has processed free glutamic acid in it: less than 99% sleight-of-hand in the labeling business covers that base for the industry, and it is one sure way I know to avoid that food.
The practice of industry stating “MSG Free!,” “No MSG,” or “No Added MSG” is illegal if that product actually contains ingredients with glutamate. Unfortunately, the US FDA has a poor track record of enforcement.
In the last decade, many more processed foods – including foods labeled as “organic” – have had hidden processed free glutamic acid added in. Eating out at restaurants has become virtually impossible; shopping (only) the perimeter of our food co-op was our family’s only option.
My family’s solutions …our “work-arounds?”
Stop buying processed food: 100%
Eat organic: 100%
Cook from scratch: 100%
Eat out: hardly ever
Read labels: 100% of the time
Periodically re-research organic food industry MSG labeling practices
SO WHAT ARE THOSE 50 NAMES FOR MSG?
Before you dig into the excellent consumer sites I have researched, familiarize yourself with this cleverly-worded U.S. FDA Q & A about MSG here and this Wikipedia entry about monosodium glutamate. These are two really good examples of what I consider industry-friendly spin & propaganda about MSG. 
Leaves you feeling warm & fuzzy about MSG doesn’t it?
This section wouldn’t be complete without hearing the industry spin from The Glutamate Association, “…an association of manufacturers, national marketers, and processed food users of glutamic acid…” Here are The Glutamate Association’sBenefits of MSG. You decide: fact… …or propaganda?
The International Food Information Council Foundation (IFIC) – another influential industry rep – describes the benefits of MSG here in, Monosodium Glutamate (MSG): From A to Umami. Here is the list of the companies from the food, beverage and ag industries which support the work of the IFIC.
…[Truth in Labeling is] a non-profit, all volunteer organization dedicated to the proposition that in the United States of America, every consumer has the right to know what is in or on his/her food, drink, pharmaceuticals, dietary supplements, cosmetics, protein drinks, and vaccines. 
Highly recommended are the 2013 books by Adrienne Samuels, The Man Who Sued the FDA and It Wasn’t Alzheimer’s. It Was MSG. Adrienne details her late husband, Jack’s and her powerful crusade to uncover and publicize the toxic effects of MSG. The Samuels’ have, for decades, also: maintained an accurate, up-to-date list of the names of ingredients which contain hidden MSG; alerted others to the scandalous lack of peer-reviewed research on its effects upon the human body; attempted to compel the FDA to require the labeling of this excitotoxin hidden in processed foods, protein powders & shakes, pharmaceuticals, vitamins & supplements, bodycare products, toothpaste, suncscreen & insect repellents, pet foods, in vaccines, in enteral feeding materials, and some fluids administered intravenously in hospitals (!), and in sprays used on farms on fruits and vegetables… …and pervasively found in the U.S. organic food supply.
Be prepared to be shocked at the long list of additives which contain hidden processed free glutamic acid, as well as the modern food processing techniques which release processed free glutamic acid as a result of that processing.
(For example, perhaps you already knew that the ubiquitous guar gum, xanthan gum, and carrageenan (here, here and here) contain processed free glutamic acid? These ingredients often show up in milk & dairy products… Go ahead, go check the ORGANIC yogurt, heavy cream, sour cream, milk, and ice cream which you buy… Just recently I noticed at our co-op that Organic Valley milk products had eliminated “carrageenan” in their heavy cream and substituted it with “gellan gum.” Both have unknown levels of processed free glutmaic acid in them; however, gellan gum is a term unfamiliar to many people, whereas carrageenan has been receiving bad PR in the news lately. Out with the old (and tainted term), in with the new!
Glutamic acid (E 620)2
Glutamate (E 620)
Monosodium glutamate (E 621)
Monopotassium glutamate (E 622)
Calcium glutamate (E 623)
Monoammonium glutamate (E 624)
Magnesium glutamate (E 625)
Any “hydrolyzed protein”
Calcium caseinate, Sodium caseinate
Yeast extract, Torula yeast
Yeast food, Yeast nutrient
Whey protein concentrate
Whey protein isolate
Soy protein concentrate
Soy protein isolate
Anything “protein fortified”
Soy sauce extract
Anything “enzyme modified”
Anything containing “enzymes”
Anything containing “protease”
(1) Glutamic acid found in unadulterated protein does not cause adverse reactions. To cause adverse reactions, the glutamic acid must have been processed/manufactured or come from protein that has been fermented.
(2) E numbers are used in Europe in place of food additive names.
Modified food starch
Lipolyzed butter fat
Brown rice syrup
Reduced fat milk (skim; 1%; 2%)
most things “low fat” or “no fat”
anything “vitamin enriched”
certain amino acid chelates (Citrate, aspartate, and glutamate are used as chelating agents with mineral supplements.)
The Truth in Labeling Campaignlist, above, states:
MSG reactions have been reported from soaps, shampoos, hair conditioners, and cosmetics, where MSG is hidden in ingredients with names that include the words “hydrolyzed,” “amino acids,” and/or “protein.” Most sun block creams and insect repellents also contain MSG… …Binders and fillers for medications, nutrients, and supplements, both prescription and non-prescription, enteral feeding materials, and some fluids administered intravenously in hospitals, may contain MSG.
Truth in Labeling also states:
The term organic offers no protection: “There are a number of ingredients identified as organic that, organic or not, will contain processed free glutamic acid (MSG). Autolyzed yeast, yeast extract, textured soy protein, and anything hydrolyzed are examples of ingredients that may be made from organic produce, but will never-the-less contain MSG…”
And vegetarians and vegans, please do not fall for the Public Relations / Marketing game that has created all the media hype about “umami,” the so-called fifth taste. The Truth in Labeling Campaign states:
Is umami a fifth taste? Ponder the question if you like. But remember as you do so that fifth taste or not, umami is also a clever contrivance/device/public relations effort to draw attention away from the fact that MSG is toxic. 
Several years ago, after eating an “organic,” vegetarian lunch salad at my food co-op, I was almost instantly struck down with MSG poisoning: a highly unusual, shocking reaction. I had carefully read the label and thought I was safe! Which ingredient was it? It was the fake bacon bits, which, it turned out, were listed on the label as “hydrolyzed vegetable protein” (aka “texturized vegetable protein” or TVP), an excitotoxin:
The innocuous sounding “hydrolyzed vegetable protein” is even more dangerous than MSG; it contains three excitotoxins (glutamate, aspartate and cysteic acid) and several known carcinogens. 
These days, we eat real bacon, which we process ourselves, a hogbelly which comes from our food co-op, the Honest Weight Food Co-op (HWFC); the source is a local farm in Vermont, which has pastured animals, from farmers we know and trust. (I’ll track down the name of the farm and post it… …we plan to visit that farm in the near future and thank the family for feeding our family.)
WAS IT THE CITRIC ACID, THE CALCIUM CHLORIDE OR THE SEA SALT …OR ALL THREE?
The ingredients which I, personally, most recently discovered may now contain hidden processed free glutamic acid include non-organic calcium chloride, and/or non-organic citric acid and/or non-organic sea salt.
How did I find this out? Well, for dinner one day, we purchased a bottle of Muir Glen Organic Tomato Basil Pasta Sauce at our co-op – the Honest Weight Food Co-op – after carefully reading the label. There were only three non-organic ingredients listed on the label: calcium chloride, sea salt and citric acid (it is assumed water need not be “organic”).
A bottle of General Mills’ Muir Glen organic pasta sauce with the industry-coveted green, white & brown “USDA Organic” National Organic Program (NOP) Seal
Here is the list of ingredients of this organic pasta sauce:
Ingredients in this Muir Glen “Organic Pasta Sauce” which are not organic: (water), Sea Salt, Citric Acid, and Calcium Chloride
After ingesting this Muir Glen Organic product – and after recovering from processed free glutamic acid poisoning – I sent Muir Glen, which is owned by General Mills, BTW – an email.  A long-delayed response (Sales & Marketing and Product Liability must have agonized over my explicitly clear & accurate questions) from SmallPlanetFoods@smallplanetfoods.com – which, instead of answering my questions about the presence of processed free glutamic acid in either or both the non-organic “calcium chloride” and the non-organic “citric acid” – cheerfully invited me to call their 800 number to discuss my concerns.
Note the absence of any reference to MSG, processed free glutamic acid, or …an answer:
Dear Valued Consumer:Thank you for taking the time to contact us. Food quality is a primary focus at our company.Please call us at 1-866-896-0829 between the hours of 7:30am - 5:30pm CST, Monday - Friday.We ask that you please have the following information available when you call:Reference Number: ...I look forward to hearing from you. As a valued consumer I hope you will continue to use and enjoy our products.Sincerely,Norma StoneConsumer Services
Not a thing in there in print from Muir Glen that: a.) gave me the answers I needed or b.) could attach any liability, whatsoever, to this corporation.
In other words: we’ll do our level best to protect our corporation and the devil be damned about your family’s needs.
So, I did my own research. I now know that modern, industrial citric acid is being produced from GMO corn and an end result of its production is the presence of processed free glutamic acid. No, modern, industrial citric acid does not come from grapefruits, lemons or limes. I bet you thought it did, too!
What about the non-organic “calcium chloride?” I thought calcium chloride is the “safer” salt they tell gardeners to use on their icy, winter sidewalks? What in the world is this stuff doing in tomato sauce? I leave it to you, intrepid researcher, to begin your search here and here, with a quote from Wikipedia …as a hint:
The extremely salty taste of calcium chloride is used to flavor pickles while not increasing the food’s sodium content.
So, my alert reader, did you now start wondering if non-organic “sea salt” – as an added ingredient to organic foods – can legally contain processed free glutamic acid, aka MSG? Better start your research. Sea salt is added to virtually every processed, organic product I looked at.
I only thought of that possibility after I had dashed off my email to General Mills’ Muir Glen.
NEWLY-ADDED INFORMATION: Who knew that there was a “Tomato Sauce Scam?” According to the Food Identity Theft website, the first ingredient on your tomato or pasta sauce label should simply be “tomatoes.” If not, look to see if the product contains
…reconstituted industrial tomato concentrate – tomato paste and added water. Tomato sauce remanufactured from concentrate is a highly processed food that’s cheaper to make and more profitable for companies who are trying to pass off the stuff as the real thing. 
Well, let’s go back and re-examine that Muir Glen organic pasta sauce label. First ingredient, we don’t find “tomatoes” listed, but rather
Tomatoes in Juice∗, Tomato Puree∗ (tomato paste∗, water)…
What does “Tomatoes in Juice∗” really mean? Is it just tomatoes? Who knows, I don’t have a clue! But that second ingredient states explicitly that it is tomato paste and water, that is, “reconstituted industrial tomato concentrate.”
All these years of being “Valued Consumers” of Muir Glen, all these years of buying their organic pasta sauce …and we’ve been eating a slurry of reconstituted industrial tomato concentrate.
Can these two products – “Tomatoes in Juice” and “Tomato Puree” – contain hidden processed free glutamic acid? Who knows? I’d say let’s email Muir Glen and find out …except they are already known for their email non-answers to their “Valued Consumers.”
Now, carefully read what the label says on the back of this “organic” product:
“At Muir Glen we’re all about delicious, wholesome food grown naturally and without synthetic chemicals…”
This label states “At Muir Glen we’re all about … food grown naturally and without synthetic chemicals…”
Note, it does not assert: All the ingredients in this organic pasta sauce were grown organically or All the ingredients in this organic pasta sauce were grown without use of synthetic chemicals.
Just what, exactly, does “grown naturally” mean? It simply asserts, vaguely, “At Muir Glen we’re all about…” What does “all about” mean? We’re “all about” what, exactly?
And it certainly does not and cannot state that there are no synthetic chemicals added to this product …because there is at least one synthetic chemical added to it: citric acid is manufactured in a lab, it is definitely not organic, it is from a GMO source (!) and it contains processed free glutamic acid.
Just what does this information on the Muir Glen label reveal to you – the “Valued Consumer,” as to the safety of this “organic” processed food and the ingredients contained in it? …about the reasons that it gets to have the coveted USDA National Organic Program (NOP) label? …about those three innocuous-sounding ingredients – citric acid, calcium chloride and sea salt – which are clearly (not) ∗starred∗ as being “organic?”
Nada. Rien. Bubkes.
If this is an example of what’s hidden in foods with the USDA Organic “National Organic Program (NOP) Seal” label (which we consumers pay more money for!), imagine what’s in the non-organic foods which do not have the benefit of the NOP protections!
General Mills’ Muir Glen adroitly danced around the processed free glutamic acid issue. Obscured labeling… …obscured email response… …obscured processed free glutamic acid in so-called organic pasta sauce.
And as to their label’s statement: “We welcome your questions…”? Sure they may welcome your questions. That does not at all mean that they will answer your questions…
…’cause I still don’t know if it was the non-organic citric acid, calcium chloride, sea salt – all three – or some combination thereof, which contain(s) processed free glutamic acid. And now I have the new information about “Tomatoes in Juice∗” and “Tomato Puree∗ (tomato paste∗, water)” – aka “reconstituted industrial tomato concentrate” – to research: just what in the world is in these two processed (“organic?”) ingredients used in Muir Glen’s processed “organic” pasta sauce?
You see how labels have been carefully crafted to not serve the needs of us consumers and families? …to, rather, hide, obfuscate and keep invisible?
I had better start growing my own (organic) tomatoes, canning them, and making my Aunt Dotty’s authentic, family-recipe, tomato sauce which comes directly from her mother’s family in Italy…
BIG ORGANIC corporations, like General Mills’ Muir Glen, which adroitly demonstrate that they care more about hiding their products’ ingredients – by attempting to fool & deceive with both labels and email replies – than about truthfully disclosing those ingredients to their “Valued Consumers” …will lose that “industry-coveted” spot in my fridge, on the shelves of my kitchen pantry, and on my dining room table.
THE ORGANIC FIREWALL HAS BEEN BREACHED
Here is the familiar (and BIG ORGANIC industry-coveted) green, white & brown USDA NOP Seal you see on the labels of U.S. organic foods
Has General Mills’ Muir Glen breached the firewall of the federally-recognized term “organic”as defined in the USDA National Organic Program (NOP)? Can foods labeled as “organic” contain non-organic citric acid, which contains processed free glutamic acid, an excitotoxin? Can they also contain GMO’s? (For if the citric acid being used in a product labeled as “organic” is sourced from GMO corn, that organically-labeled food now contains a GMO product …which is also an excitotoxin.)
And just what, exactly, is in “reconstituted industrial tomato concentrate?” Does its processing create processed free glutamic acid, and / or is processed free glutamic acid added to this highly processed “organic” ingredient?
As best I can ascertain, many of the material facts which families need are not required to be disclosed on that “consumer-friendly” label, with the green, white & brown NOP Seal, and Muir Glen’s oh-so-carefully spelled-out list of ingredients.
How many other BIG FOOD and BIG ORGANIC corporations follow these same consumer-deceiving labeling practices?
How many other processed foods labeled as “organic” contain additives sourced from GMOs …and/or contain processed free glutamic acid?
…and, heaven help us, is sea salt now in that list of additives allowed to have processed free glutamic acid added to it, without disclosure of that fact?
It’s well-known that common table sale contains hidden MSG in the anti-caking agents. But sea salt?
This becomes mind-boggling, especially if you are a Mom or Dad with a child or children who have auto-immune diseases or any sort of disability, or if you, yourself, have chronic health issues, a disability or are highly sensitive to processed free glutamic acid and need to take care when sourcing your food.
~~~~End result of this story: we are taking our business elsewhere. If Muir Glen does not feel it has to fully disclose ingredients in its products nor answer our questions, we don’t have to buy those products. My family will no longer buy products made by General Mills’ Muir Glen.
We are also considering x’ing off any and all General Mills’ organic products (forget Cascadian Farms and those Paleo-friendly Lärabar fruit & nut bars; General Mills owns ’em both: thank you Dr. Howard for your research, Who Owns Organic.)
We will find a local source of organic tomato sauce at our food co-op, the Honest Weight Food Co-op, HWFC, which does not promote deceptive labeling with their “Valued Consumers.” (Thank you to the HWFC Nutrition and Education Committee for being aware of and sensitive to these labeling issues and for beginning work on updating our Food and Product Manual as re. MSG.)
Such nice sounding names, too: Muir Glen …Small Planet Foods …Lärabar with that continental & oh-so-clever-looking umlaut above the a.
§205.605 is the list of “Nonagricultural (nonorganic) substances allowed as ingredients in or on processed products labeled as “organic” or ‘made with organic (specified ingredients or food group(s)).'”
§205.606 is the list of “Nonorganically produced agricultural products allowed as ingredients in or on processed products labeled as ‘organic.'”
Ah ha, correction, I did miss something; I just found citric acid. It wasn’t listed under the “c’s” but under the “a’s” for acid. It says:
“Acids (Alginic; Citric—produced by microbial fermentation of carbohydrate substances; and Lactic).”
It even specifies that the citric acid is “produced by microbial fermentation,” so it is clearly not allowing the natural citric acid, with which we are all familiar, which comes from citrus fruits like grapefruits, lemons, limes, & pineapples. This is the industrial, produced-in-a-lab kind of citric acid.
So, this is the citric acid which contains processed free glutamic acid. And it is allowed in products labeled as organic.
There is a second, allowable use for citric acid, as well, under §205.605:
(b) Synthetics allowed:
Acidified sodium chlorite—Secondary direct antimicrobial food treatment and indirect food contact surface sanitizing. Acidified with citric acid only.
So, in addition to allowing citric acid to be added to organic foods, it can also be used, secondarily, as “direct … food treatment.”
What, exactly, is “direct antimicrobial food treatment?” Is citric acid sprayed on organic foods? Are organic foods, say vegetables and fruits, washed or soaked in citric acid?
Is that “direct … food treatment” use of citric acid required to be listed on the label? Or are all of our organic foods – our fruits and vegetables – potentially, being treated with citric acid, with no requirement to disclose that fact to consumers?
Now that you’re over there, look at how many ingredients – found on our processed free glutamic acid lists – are also found as “allowed” ingredients in “organic” food!!!
OMG. WE ARE IN TROUBLE. BIG FOOD AND BIG ORGANIC ALREADY GOT TO THE FEDERAL REGS. WHEN DID THAT HAPPEN? IT IS CONFIRMED here and here: PROCESSED FREE GLUTAMIC ACID IS CONSIDERED AS “ALLOWED” IN U.S. FOODS LABELED AS ORGANIC.
Confirmed: I found carrageenan, xanthan gum and guar gum. There are more ingredients – on these two USDA NOP lists – which are also found on our lists of ingredients containing processed free glutamic acid!
These are the names of ingredients which likely contain hidden (unknown amounts of) processed free glutamic acid which are allowed to be used in foods labeledasorganic, under the USDA National Organic Program or NOP. This list was cross-referenced with available lists of 40+ ingredients which contain hidden processed free glutamic acid:
-Acidified sodium chlorite - Secondary direct antimicrobial food treatment and indirect food contact surface sanitizing. Acidified with citric acid only.
-Acids (Alginic; Citric - produced by microbial fermentation of carbohydrate substances; and Lactic)
-Enzymes - must be derived from edible, nontoxic plants, nonpathogenic fungi, or nonpathogenic bacteria
-Flavors, nonsynthetic sources only and must not be produced using synthetic solvents and carrier systems or any artificial preservative
-Gelatin (CAS # 9000-70-8)
-Gellan gum (CAS # 71010-52-1) - high-acyl form only
-Gums - water extracted only (Arabic; Guar; Locust bean; and Carob bean)
-Starches. Cornstarch (native).
-Whey protein concentrate
-Yeast - When used as food or a fermentation agent in products labeled as “organic,” yeast must be organic if its end use is for human consumption; nonorganic yeast may be used when organic yeast is not commercially available. Growth on petrochemical substrate and sulfite waste liquor is prohibited. For smoked yeast, nonsynthetic smoke flavoring process must be documented.
The category of “yeast” is very, very troubling. According to the Truth in Labeling Campaign, it can include (but is not limited to): brewer’s yeast, nutritional yeast, yeast extract and autolyzed yeast. These ingredients are very common in foods labeled organic, especially yeast extract and autolyzed yeast, which are quite common in vegetarian/vegan plant-based protein sources. In fact, these same plant-based protein sources are highly processed and often contain multiple sources of hidden MSG.
As for that non-organic sea salt: I couldn’t find it on the federal USDA NOP non-organically produced “allowed” lists anywhere …it shows up everywhere in processed “organic” foods …and we don’t, for a fact, know its source, how it is processed, or if anything is being added to it, like processed free glutamic acid.
Maybe there is some other list where sea salt shows up as safe for human consumption, like the GRAS list (generally regarded as safe)? More research is needed.
Is General Mills’ Muir Glen out of compliance with federal USDA organic labeling standards with this “non-organic sea salt” ingredient?
Somebody needs to send General Mills’ Muir Glen an email…
SUGAR BEETS, THE FOOD USED TO “GROW / FERMENT” MSG IN A LAB, ARE ROUND-UP READY® and GENETICALLY-MODIFIED
I am currently researching the U.S. sugar beet industry because one method of producing MSG is to use sugar beets in a lab as the sub-strata to grow processed free glutamic acid through a process of bacterial fermentation.
Yet, I could find no reports on the internet of any testing being done on the effects of this brand new chemical MSG brew – a byproduct of GMO bacteria ‘eating’ GMO Round-Up Ready® food – upon either lab rats …or humans, their central nervous systems, glutamate receptors/systems, their guts & their biomes.
Just what does this stuff do to your own gut bacteria which are a large part of your immune system? I would like to know.
This – the use of GMO Round-Up Ready® sugar beets – may explain why there are thousands and thousands of anecdotal reports on the internet – over the last ten years – of people reacting even more severely to the hidden processed free glutamic acid (MSG) in our food supply.
As I learn more, I will post about this alarming issue.
FAMILIES, HERE’S YOUR ASSIGNMENT:
“To avoid eating foods enriched with free glutamate requires that the consumer is aware and understands all the precursors to MSG, the food processes that generate MSG, and the many different ingredient labels that contain MSG.”
We are going to specifically zero in processed free glutamic acid contained in foods labeled as “organic.”
1. Print out – or archive on your Smartphone – (after all, we won’t need those Smartphones for reading GMO QR codes for at least another two years) these lists of ingredients which contain processed free glutamic acid. Bring with you when you shop and don’t buy any foods which contain any of these ingredients:
2. Print out – or archive on your Smartphone – the two lists of USDA National Organic Program’s “substances allowed as ingredients in or on processed products labeled as “organic:” §205.605 and §205.606.
3. Compare the lists from #1 and #2, above. Don’t buy organic foods which contain any ingredients with processed free glutamic acid in them.
DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH!
I already mentioned my favorite, top-notch consumer websites to go to, to find out about, not only GMOs, but MSG – processed free glutamic acid – and how they hide it: Truth in Labeling, their FB Page and blogs about MSG, aspartame, and excitotoxins (here is Jack Samuels from Truth in Labeling, presenting at a 2008 Weston A. Price Foundation event), Battling the MSG Myth, and a new (to me) list from Australia, the Food Intolerance Network.
Add to this list this incredible Ted-X Santa Cruz Talk by a mom and biochemist, Katherine L. Reid, Ph.D. entitled, Your Ecosystem on MSG. She documents how she began healing her daughter’s autism behaviors by carefully weeding out the processed free glutamic acid in her family’s food.
Could that be read another way? Did the presence of processed free glutamic acid in processed food cause autistic behaviors …and did the removal of processed free glutamic acid return her daughter to health? Go watch the YouTube video of this Mom’s compelling story…
And visit the website of the brand new nonprofit Dr. Reid founded, Unblind My Mind, where “We believe every healing journey begins with a closer look at what we are eating!” Boy, is that right up my alley!
Here is an example of an MSG Truth Alert, from their May 4, 2016 FB page:
I’d like to warn you all about a product called Umamix. It is a blatant attempt to mislead the consumer. The product is basically straight glutamate taken from the sources of glutamate I am always warning you about = seaweed (the food MSG was first isolated from) plus concentrated tomato, mushroom and sea salt. They are trying to sell this as a substitute for MSG, but basically it is MSG without the sodium part. 
(So, my suspicions about sea salt were right!!! I will read MSG Truth’s FB page and report back what I learn about innocent-sounding “sea salt.”)
Is MSG included as an ingredient used in those sprays of water all the supermarkets and food co-ops use to keep their produce hydrated? Better find out. You have to keep ahead of industry as an alert, informed consumer of organic food.
Mike Adams, the Health Ranger, who hosts a very reputable website, has a 2012 article / video about MSG in vaccines, entitled “New Health Ranger video exposes the truth about MSG, mercury and formaldehyde in vaccines,” here. He has a very recent article, June 17, 2016, entitled “Gluten-free food FRAUD exposed in new Health Ranger video: They’re loaded with MSG and GMO,”here.
Mike Adams, “known as the “Health Ranger,” is an outspoken consumer health advocate, award-winning investigative journalist, internet activist and science lab director.
He is the founder and editor of NaturalNews.com, the internet’s most-trafficked natural health news website. He is also the creator of CounterThink.com, FoodInvestigations.com, HealingFoodReference.com, HonestFoodGuide.org and several other websites covering natural health topics.
Adams is a prolific writer and has been called “the best health and natural products writer on the scene today.” (by Ronnie Cummins, founder, Organic Consumers Association)
Adams’ new book, Food Forensics, The Hidden Toxins Lurking in Your Food and How You Can Avoid Them for Lifelong Health, just published in July, 2016, appears to be just the ticket for those of us concerned about those invisible, non-labeled ingredients in our food supply, which can harm us. His book promo states:
This book, Food Forensics, is Big Food’s worst nightmare. It exposes the toxic chemicals and heavy metals that Big Food manufacturers are using to POISON you … this breakthrough book is such an important victory for grassroots food consumers (and why Big Food is terrified that this book might succeed…)
Mike Adams has created a website, Science.NaturalNews.com, which archives scientific articles & studies (the food industry won’t willingly publicize); he has made it extremely easy to search.
Knowledge is power. First step: get the knowledge.
LABELING: BIG ORGANIC’S 21st CENTURY CORPORATE “WORK-AROUNDS”
Let’s take a minute and recap. How do the labeling strategies for MSG compare to the brand new labeling strategies for GMOs?
Well, in both cases, BIG ORGANIC is the worst offender – moreso than BIG FOOD – because it grabbed the coveted term “organic,” knowingly added dangerous chemicals to those foods – a fact which it is desperate to hide – and then it slapped on a higher price tag, to boot.
Boy are we suckers, or what? (No, by way of kindness to us, we are honest & trusting people who have been taught to simply believe what we read on food labels):
With MSG, their corporate labeling divisions devised a slick strategy of removing the “offending” term “MSG” from food labels and replacing it with (anywhere from 50 -129) terms that serve to keep families in the dark as to the presence of MSG. There is still information on the label – it’s just anonymous, camouflaged, in code.
With GMOs and the Dark Act, BIG ORGANIC was complicit in taking the “offending” term, “GMOs” right off of the label! Being anonymous and camouflaged wasn’t good enough …GMOs are outright gone from the label – utterly invisible, in fact, non-existent. Gone. Erased. Vanished. (“Out of Sight, Out of Mind:” is that the name of that particular spin doctor campaign or multi million dollar PR, Marketing and Lobbying Plan?)
What’s next? Let’s just get rid of labels entirely, they’re in the way?
So, BIG ORGANIC didn’t work to create more healthy, nutritious organic food; rather, it put its corporate energy into becoming more adept at hiding what it doesn’t want you to know.
So, add GMOs to that list of “since it’s invisible and not listed on the food label / product it must be ok to eat and my family is safe.”
You – my alert, vigilant, they-can’t-pull-the-wool-over-my-eyes family food guardians & watchdogs – are forewarned! What are your family’s “work-arounds” to BIG ORGANIC going to be?
ARE WE ARE ALL BEING DOSED WITH MSG 24 / 7?
You now understand that MSG aka processed free glutamic acid is present in virtually all processed foods, including processed organic foods. If we eat these processed products, we are being dosed – daily – with an excitotoxin which – in the tiny amounts present in whole, unprocessed, unadulterated foods – our bodies are designed to process; however, when confronted with the toxic levels of “free,” unbound glutamate (“manufactured free amino acid produced in food and/or chemical manufacturing plants” ) – ingested cumulatively at breakfast, lunch and dinner – our systems cannot cope.
BIG ORGANIC, especially, needs to be exposed for this practice of secretly including MSG aka processed free glutamic acid in its products labeled as “organic.” It is deceptive and harmful to us, our children and our families. Since they won’t stop… …WE NEED TO STOP BUYING THEIR PRODUCTS.
SENOMYX: “YOU THOUGHT MSG WAS BAD?”
While you are over atTruth in Labeling and their FB Page, look up the American bio-tech company, Senomyx …the newest way to introduce chemicals (via taste) into our food supply. Senomyx is busy getting a bunch of patents on human taste. Yes, you read that correctly!
Senomyx seeks patent protection to cover our discoveries, including:
Receptors, and nucleic acid sequences encoding receptors, that are involved in taste
The use of taste receptors to identify flavor ingredients
New compositions and uses of these compositions as flavor ingredients
As of December 31, 2015, Senomyx is the owner or exclusive licensee of 530 issued patents and several hundred pending patent applications in the U.S., Europe, and elsewhere related to proprietary taste science technologies. We intend to continue to pursue comprehensive intellectual property protection for our evolving technologies. 
Check out the Senomyx website here and their “roster of collaborators,” here. Why am I not surprised that the Ajinomoto company – you know, the one which invented MSG back in 1908 – is one of Senomyx’s “collaborators,” as well as PepsiCo, Firmenich and Nestlé.
A 2005 NY Times article by Melanie Warner reveals additional BIG FOOD involvement:
Kraft, Nestlé, Coca-Cola and Campbell Soup have contracted with Senomyx for exclusive rights to use the ingredients in certain types of food and beverages, although the companies declined to identify those categories. 
How many of those Senomyx “collaborators” have “natural” and “organic” corporate arms or subsidiaries? How many of those are utilizing Senomyx proprietary products in their “natural and/or “organic” lines? How would you know?
You know what one (just one) of the side effects of these group of chemicals is purported to be? Temporarily shutting down or disabling your body’s innate ability to perceive bitter / poison through taste.
Our human system was designed with an innate alert system to warn us if something we are about to eat could poison us. Lifesaving measure! Senomyx products can possibly disable this in a human body?
Doesn’t this warrant further investigation?
Here ya go: Senomyx’s latest Press Release dated August 31, 2016: SENOMYX ANNOUNCES APPROVAL OF BITTERMYX® BB68 AND SWEETMYX® SR96 FLAVOR INGREDIENTS IN CHINA.
Vegetarians and vegans, I’d be alert – their sights are set on you:
Bittermyx BB68 is used to reduce the bitterness of certain ingredients and can be used to reduce bitter taste associated with hydrolyzed soy and whey proteins… 
Hydrolyzed soy and whey proteins are on all the consumer ‘hidden MSG lists’ I consulted. A chemical used to cover the bitter taste of another chemical? Do I have that right?
What about all the “organic” foodstuffs our food co-ops are getting from wholesalers like United Natural Foods, Inc. (NASDAQ: UNFI) , which are sourced from China?
…This regulatory approval allows Senomyx to pursue commercialization of these flavor ingredients in China in a wide range of foods and beverages. These ingredients are available to flavor houses through Senomyx’s direct sales Complimyx® line and can also be commercialized by two Senomyx collaborators in certain product categories… 
After reading this Press Release, are you still going to buy any “organic” foods for your family which are sourced from China?
If this sounds way too sci-fi for you – shades of Robert Heinlein, who would advise it’s time to get off the planet, time to find a new one – just go read what Dr. Mercola has to say about Senomyx here and here, and, as well, the take of Truth in Labeling and their FB Page, and Mike Adams’ Natural News.
And don’t expect to find a lot of information on the Web about Senomyx (NASDAQ: SNMX). There appears to be – what is, in this day and age – a virtual news blackout on the Internet relating to this corporation and its patented products …the corporation which is pursuing “comprehensive intellectual property protection for our evolving technologies.”
One day, will a farmer selling an apple have to pay a fee to this corporation because their patent on the taste of “apple” is owned by them?
“CLEAN LABELS” – THAT’S ALL BIG FOOD & BIG ORGANIC CARE ABOUT
“We are helping companies clean up their labels,” said Kent Snyder, chief executive of Senomyx.
I bet you you thought I was kidding when I said “Revealing” is not the primary goal of a food label anymore.”
Score 1 for the GRASSROOTS ACTION blog!
If you care about “clean food” you’d better get cracking and start researching ’cause this stuff – GMOs, processed free glutamic acid, Senomyx patents – ain’t going away, in fact, it only aims to get worse.
Protect your family.
HERE’S WHAT TO DO: CAVEAT EMPTOR
The ethical question an alert and informed consumer, family member and food co-op Member-Owner will be compelled to ask is: will I park my family’s food dollars with these “natural” and “organic” corporations which are silently and invisibly putting GMOs, processed free glutamic acid, Senomyx patents, and a host of other additives, preservatives and chemicals into my family’s food?
Quite simply, and because you are a Member-Owner of a food co-operative, you will intuitively resonate with these answers:
Know the source of your food …and stay tightly connected to it.
Eat whole, nutrient-dense foods.
Support local organic farmers and organic farm families as much as possible.
Don’t buy any foods with more than 5 ingredients. Read ALL labels.
Carry those lists of ingredients containing processed free glutamic acid with you and don’t buy food which contain any of those ingredients.
Limit or eliminate your purchase of all processed foods: i.e. cook “from scratch.”
Insist on the fresh produce / meat / cheese which you buy being labelled with its place or origin (i.e. is the “organic” vegetable from China (non-trusted source) …or is it from a local, truly organic farm 30 miles away?)
Ask your co-op to develop a policy of doing farm visits: that is, a team of co-op Member-Owners/employees actually conducts regular farm visits to verify the quality of the food.
Join NOFA-NY: the Northeast Organic Farmers’ Association.
Finally, get back to being active at your locally-owned food co-operative.
BTW, HWFC Member-Owners, do your research: does the newly-revised, proposed HWFC Food & Product Manual(coming up for a vote very soon) contain adequate language about our buying policies on processed free glutamic acid? …GMOs?
HWFC MEMBER-OWNERS GET INVOLVED!!
Honest Weight Food Co-op Member-Owners, attendance at Board meetings has fallen off dramatically! We are not out of the woods by any means. You need to stay active, stay current with what is going on in governance and participate in governance.
For example, do you have any idea what has been going on with current bylaws’ revisions? Do you know that you are going to be asked to vote on new bylaws at the October 23, 2016 Membership Meeting? Are you aware that there are important changes being proposed to our bylaws? Do you know what they are? Do you agree with them? Do you have questions …suggestions?
All the 720 people who showed up at our emergency Special membership Meeting on November 30, 2015 need to get re-involved! A co-operative’s backbone is its Member-Owner participation.
Without our Member-Owners’ participation we will become just another one of those nice, cool, über-hip, friendly, natural foods’ grocery stores …and not remain a vibrant, locally-owned, locally-operated and active, grassroots food co-operative …which is tightly connected to its regional organic farming community.
Seriously, folks, the quality of your food is at stake and HWFC is one place we, as consumers, can effect change and can exert control over buying practices, sourcing and the quality of the food we buy. And we can demand that more local, organic food show up on our co-op’s shelves and in our bins …and we will be listened to! Why? Because WE are the ones in control of the sourcing & quality of food our co-op buys …all of us, together.
And, seriously, there are some undercurrents at HWFC on our Board which need attention. Member-Owners, you are needed to keep balance, add your energy and viewpoints and contribute your time, effort and reason!
Get back up on the HWFC horse! See you at the next Board meeting, Tuesday, September 20, 2016 at 5:45pm at HWFC.
(NOTE: All information provided by this blog is intended solely for consumer educational purposes only and is not intended to offer medical advice, nor substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment of any disease or condition by your doctors and health care providers. Discuss any information with your doctors and health care providers, first.)
 Meyers, Ronald L., CNC. EXCITOTOXINS Death by Profit Margin. 2004. See: http://www.wnho.net/excitotoxins_death_by_profit_margin.pdf
 Here is the complete text of my email to General Mills’ Muir Glen:
Dear Sir or madam:
I would be very appreciative if you would answer the following questions for me. We have been longtime customers of your products, particularly because they are organic. My questions pertain to the ingredients in your product “Muir Glen Organic Tomato Basil Pasta Sauce:”
1. Why do you include two products (aside from sea salt) which are NOT organic? Those two products are: citric acid and calcium chloride.
2. Why don’t you include organic citric acid and organic calcium chloride?
3. Do you add any MSG to this product? Do you add any monosodium glutamate to this product?
4. Do any of the individual ingredients used in this product contain MSG or monosodium glutamate?
5. Does this product contain any processed free glutamic acid and/or free glutamic acid?
6. Does the citric acid contain any processed free glutamic acid?
7. Does the calcium chloride contain any processed free glutamic acid?
8. What, if any, is the percentage of processed free glutamic acid in this product?
9. Why do federal organic regulations, as they pertain to food, allow your company to add non-organic citric acid and non-organic calcium chloride to a product labeled as organic?
10. Why does Muir Glen add citric acid and calcium chloride to this product?
11. Would Muir Glen consider making a line of organic tomato sauce which contains no citric acid?
12. Would Muir Glen consider making a line of tomato sauce which contains no calcium chloride?
Thank you for your time. It is my hope that your responses will continue to allow me to purchase your organic products as we have used them for years.
 Samuels, Adrienne, Ph.D. The Young are Particularly at Risk for Brain Damage from Ingestion of MSG: Data. Truth in Labeling website, accessed September 15, 2016. See: http://www.truthinlabeling.org/Proof_TheYoung_TY.html
 Warner, Melanie. Food Companies Test Flavorings That Can Mimic Sugar, Salt or MSG. New York Times, April 7, 2005. See: http://www.nytimes.com/learning/teachers/featured_articles/20050407thursday.html as posted to the New York Times’ Learning Network, “a blog for parents, teachers and students that is freely available outside of the New York Times digital subscription service, and does not require registration.”
GRASSROOTS ACTION IS POWERFUL! is a blog dedicated to American independently-owned, Member-Owned & operated, community food co-ops, their Member-Owners and families.
WE HAVE A BUDGET! WE MEMBER-OWNERS ACCEPTED A 4% REDUCTION! (YAHOO? <smile>)
The results from last night’s Honest Weight Food Co-op Quarterly Membership Meeting and Budget vote are as follows (I’m echoing official vote tallies from this morning’s Inside Scoop)
Budget Passed, Discount Passed
224 Members checked in, along with 2 Shareholders, and 3 Provisional Voters
Vote to adopt the 2016-2017 Budget: 196 Yes, 23 No
Vote to approve member discount reduction ending June 30, 2017: 184 Yes, 36 No
Congratulations to our Board, Treasurer, Finance Committee, and acting GM and his staff, for putting together a plan which we all agreed to live with. The presentation last night (and in all the Budgetary Presentations leading up to last night) was superb! Jim Guzewich got a solid round of applause. One Member stated, it was the best financial presentation we can remember in many, many years. Clear, concise, factual and well laid out. Thank you!
And thank you to our Membership Committee for – once again – doing a superb job of organizing the meeting! We appreciate your hard work!
Not only are there -0- planned employee lay-offs in this budget, the staff is getting a 3% raise (based upon brand new staff assessment tools, which go into effect on July 1). The 3% is intentionally graded: the staff on the lowest salary tiers (where the majority of our staffing is) will receive the largest of the salary increases (again, based upon new employee performance criteria); those who make more per hour will see a lower increase (based upon the new employee performance criteria).
The budget includes for likely increases to the cost of staff health and dental plans; thus protecting two important benefits to our employees at HWFC.
There is a freeze on new employee hires, which is a necessary belt-tightening measure.
This budget did an excellent job of protecting our current employees at HWFC, given the economy, and given that many local employers within this industry are either not giving COLAS and/or raises, they are giving less than 3%, or they are downsizing.
We should be proud that we voted for a plan which managed to do these things for our employees!
Member-Owner employees and Member-Owners who work weekly took the brunt of the cuts in the budget: a 4% cut, with our 24% discount going down to 20%. However, it will pop back up to 24% in the 2nd Q (from October 1- December 31) to account for increased holiday shopping. It will drop back down to 20% from January 1 – June 30, 2017.
If we all do our parts – and that is a tall order! – we can see that 24% go back to permanent status on July 1 , 2017. Keep that as a goal and watch each quarterly budget report like a hawk! Hey Owners, we gotta “watch the till” and keep us moving in a positive growth direction!
Quite a change to the Member Meeting last June, don’t you think!
One of the most important parts of the evening, for me, was when Chris Colarusso and Rita Nolan stood up and reminded us about our situation one year ago. It was last year – at the June Membership Meeting and Annual Budget Vote, that Chris and Rita stood up and warned us not to vote for a decrease in our Member-Owner discount, as that (former) Board was requesting of us.
It took them a great deal of determination and grit to be allowed to get on that agenda (and they were only allowed, I think, ten minutes); and they took a barrage of criticism at the meeting from a select few. (You may remember the shouting …and those microphones “mysteriously” dropping-out …at inopportune moments for (only) the Member-Owner speakers). (Did they think we were born yesterday? And, hey, I’m a musician, I know from microphones!)
Never-the-less, that was the wake-up call for some of us; that moment, last June, when two lone individuals stood up, together, bucked the crowd, went against the prevailing wind of the reigning Board & Management ..and shouted a warning cry across the hull of our co-op.
Except they did not shout. They spoke simply, eloquently and passionately.
That took a great deal of courage. Chris and Rita, thank you.
Chris reminded us that it was only four months later – in October, 2015 – that we petitioned for an Emergency Special Membership Meeting and she said, “We wouldn’t be here today if we hadn’t done that.”
She got a solid round of applause for that. We know.
I remind everyone reading today, that is was Chris Colarusso who brought that petition for an emergency meeting to challenge the machinations of an out-of-control Board & Management, to the Member-Owners on the morning of Saturday, October 23, 2015.
Chris then went on to assure us that the budget we were being presented with this time, this year, was factual, accurate, complete, verified …and trustworthy (unlike last year’s, as we now know).
She and Rita recommended – one year later – that we all vote for a cut to our Member-Owner discount and that we support the budget.
We listened to them. We believed their words last June, and voted no to a reduction to our discount …and we believed their words this June. We voted yes to a 4% cut and we supported the new budget.
Every once in a while, in life, you are witness to a moment, moments – fleeting and ephemeral – which are remarkable in their power to positively affect and change human life …to positively and greatly change a community for the better.
And, sometimes, just sometimes, you are aware of those moments.
Such a moment happened last night, when Chris and Rita stood up, when I reflected back to them standing in that same spot last year…
…and I realized: these two people – whom we are all blessed to know! – quietly took a stand and moved an entire food co-op.
GRASSROOTS ACTION IS POWERFUL! is a blog dedicated to American independently-owned, Member-Owned & operated, community food co-ops, their Member-Owners and families.
YIKES! I meant to post this yesterday and got heavily involved in my garden and planting! So, here is a last minute reminder!
Come to the quarterly Membership Meeting – and Annual Budget Vote – of the Honest Weight Food Co-op tonight, Monday, June 27, 2016 at FUUSA, First Unitarian Church, 405 Washington Avenue, Albany, NY: dessert potluck at 5:30pm, Membership Meeting from 6:00-8:30pm. (Member-Owners, see Meeting Announcement and Budget Presentation.)
Please print the Budget Presentation Sheets and READ THEM!!! and bring them with you. And please also read thisexcellent summary by Jessica Rae, entitled Approve the Budget on June 27th!
Don’t read my most recent blogpost, GRASSROOTS ACTION: HWFC Forewarned – Reducing Overhead Critical, here …because you will still be reading an hour later. Skip down to the bottom, to this heading, and read:
IS HWFC OUT OF THE WOODS YET?
Long story short? No, we are not “out of the woods.” After attending one of the excellent Budget Presentations this week, by our acting GM, Jim Guzewich, I plan to vote YES on reducing the weekly Member-Owner & employee benefit/discount of 24% down to 20% (it does not at all make me happy; it is, however, necessary).
I also plan to vote YES on the budget. Our Board, our Treasurer, our Finance Committee and our Acting GM and all his staff all did an excellent job preparing it!
See you tonight at the Dessert Potluck at 5:30PM at FUUSA! (not St. Sophia‘s this time!)
NOTE: I returned home from a 2nd visit to Bloomington, Indiana. This is an updated & expanded version of the blogpost from April 27, 2016 entitled GRASSROOTS ACTION Needed by Bloomingfoods Food Co-op Owners in Indiana.
Learning from the experience of a similar US food co-op may help HWFC Member-Owners make needed overhead reduction decisions. This is not a short post and it has important implications for HWFC.
So, go grab that pot of tea, coffee or kombucha …and prepare for a story which will, hopefully, motivate passage of the carefully prepared HWFC 2016 – 2017 budget on Monday, June 27, 2016 at FUUSA, 405 Washington Avenue, Albany, NY: dessert potluck at 5:30pm, Membership Meeting from 6:00-8:30pm. (Member-Owners, see Meeting Announcement and Budget Presentation.)
Please attend one of the Board’s five remaining Budget Information Sessions at HWFC:
Tuesday, June 14 2:00-4:00
Thursday, June 16 11:30-2:00
Wednesday, June 22 11:00-2:00
Wednesday, June 22 4:30-7:00
Thursday, June 23 2:00-3:00
Saturday, June 25 12:00-2:00
Caroline Beebe, board president, said … about what the co-op needed to do to stay in business. ‘…It’s better to right size the business than to remain overextended and risk closing altogether.’ Bloomingfoods’ Press Release dated April 26, 2016[i]
Both the Elm Heights store and the commissary kitchen employ up to 50 workers, who are represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. While a press release states that the fate of the staff is a high priority for the organization, the co-op cannot guarantee that there will be no layoffs. WFHB April 27, 2016 [ii]
Bloomingfoods’ Elm Heights store, opened on August 15, 2013, suddenly closed its doors in May, 2016, after being open for less than three years.
This is a story about the devolution of Bloomingfoods Market & Deli, a Bloomington, Indiana food co-op founded in 1976, the same year as Honest Weight Food Co-op (HWFC), and with a similar number of shareholders. It is also about HWFC, located in Albany, New York’s capital, and a group of Member-Owners fighting that same fight. Bloomingfoods’ 40th anniversary is this July 23rd, our 40th celebration is this Saturday, June 18th.
In addition to being a 37-year Member-Owner of HWFC, I have been a Member-Owner of Bloomingfoods Food Co-op (B’foods) since 2008. I lived in Bloomington for several years and my first action when arriving in Bloomington – a beautiful, friendly, mid-western university town – was to join B’foods. It had grown from the original, downtown, funky, converted, two-story home on Kirkwood – to having three storefronts and operation of a commissary kitchen. In 2013 it added two more storefronts, Elm Heights and a small location at Ivy Tech Community College.
With Indiana’s lower cost of living, B’food’s prices were much lower than prices I paid at HWFC (ignoring our 24% weekly Member-Owner discount). I was impressed with the large selection of local Amish foods, usually the lowest priced foods. B’foods also hosted local Farmer’s Markets and was proud of its connections to local farms. I had no difficulty purchasing local, organic fruits, vegetables, pastured eggs & meat.
I didn’t have the time to really get involved. Member Labor only gained me a 10% reduction in purchases; I could just as easily take advantage of the 10%-off once-a-week Member Day and one monthly Wildcard Day. Also, a Member-Labor Program was not actively promoted nor advertised.
In 2013, I returned back home to Albany, NY, resumed Member-Work and shopping at HWFC, albeit in the brand new, shiny, chic-chic store on Watervliet Avenue.
FAMILIES IN ALBANY, NY SUCCESSFULLY DEFEND THEIR LOCALLY-OWNED FOOD CO-OP
On October 23, 2015, the former Board of HWFC posted a paper notice on their bulletin board and made a direct threat to the legal power of the Member-Owners by attempting to end our Member-Owner Labor Program (MLP); this despite the fact that our bylaws prohibit this action by the Board. This would have removed us from store operations and, consequently, ended our right to vote. Without these two rights, Member-Owners would lose their legal control of the co-operative corporation. [iia]
Concurrent with ending our MLP and our disenfranchisement as voters, was a strategic push by the former Board to add 12,000 new, non-working “shareholders” and a second strategic push for bylaws’ changes: to cement Board control and eliminate Member-Owner control & ownership rights. This board was paying two law firms, national co-op consultants, a Strategic PR & Lobbying firm, and an Organizational Change Agent (I kid you not) to assist them in their agenda. The Board contracted with the national firm of co-op experts, CDS Consulting Co-op (CDSCC), for their Co-operative Board Leadership Development (CBLD) program. On its website, CDSCC states, “CBLD s an award-winning innovative program designed to support your board and general manager (GM).” [iii]
CDSCC has advised many food co-op Boards and GMs across the country, including Bloomingfoods, which appears to be a current CDSCC CBLD client [iiia]. Strengthening of Member-Owner power and control of a food co-op is not part of CDSCC’s CBLD advertising: quite the contrary. Here at HWFC, the Board and Management were behaving as one unit, to the utter exclusion of Member-Owners. Thankfully, CDSCC’s CBLD ‘Fresh Start’ Bylaws Template, was never brought to a vote nor ratified by our Membership; these bylaws severely undermine, and in some cases, eliminate Member-Owner control & ownership of the co-operative.
Kate Doyle, a Member-Owner from HWFC, who is also an attorney and who is now our Treasurer, explained the actions of our (now-former) Board this way:
The [former] Board [sought] to terminate worker owner participation and control by:
A.) Expanding voter rights (read “control”) to non-working members [aka non-working shareholders] so as to eliminate worker owner control and place us under the case law cited above, thus effectively ending our existing [Member-Owner Labor] program.
B.) Placing all power and decision making in the Board and Management, thus [disemboweling] the cooperative, leaving only the corporate structure.”[See [iia]; also see [xi]]
The Strategic PR Firm even developed catchy slogans – to match the Board’s political agenda – which Board members began (noticeably) utilizing one day at a co-op meeting: “One member, one vote!” was one (to convince Owners to yield our vote – that is yield our control, power & ownership rights – to non-working “shareholders” – and thereby, to the Board/Management axis); “The law trumps the bylaws!” (to convince Owners that our bylaws somehow violated NYS labor law and needed urgent change) was another.
(Beware, they may be recycling these catchy [and expensive, our Board paid big bucks for ’em] slogans at your co-op…)
It was uncovered that more than $500,000 (!!!) had been spent by the former Board on a push for bylaws’ changes and to “eliminate member labor and [on the] strategic planning to design its replacement!” [iv] $500,000 of our collective co-op savings was spent-down by that Board to pay two teams of lawyers, an expensive Strategic PR & Lobbying firm, that Organizational Change Agent, and that firm of national co-op “experts,” CDS Consulting Co-op, to help them in their stealth agenda of separating ownership of our co-operative from us, the Member-Owners!
$257,000 of that – alone – was spent in six months (July-December, 2015), just on legal fees! This former Board was spending $42,833 a month on two law firms, to assist them in legally ending our MLP, changing our bylaws, and eliminating the control & ownership of our co-operative corporation by its rightful owners, the Member-Owners.
They were attempting – in stealth – a bloodless coup of our co-operative corporation …what has all the earmarks of a classic corporate takeover attempt.
One of the first moves our new Board members took was to place an immediate moratorium upon the use of all consultants. This halted the whisperings of all local and national consultant experts, including CDS Consulting Co-op, into the ears of any & all leadership at HWFC.
(Please see this January 7, 2016 GRASSROOTS ACTION blogpost, subheadings (FORMER) BOARD: WHAT HAPPENED TO FIDUCIARY RESPONSIBILITY TO CO-OP OWNERS?; Bylaws Secrecy, National .coop Consultants, and MLP (Crops Up Yet Again); SECRECY BECOMES THE WAY OF DOING CO-OP BUSINESS; JUST THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG IN LEGAL AND CONSULTANT FEES?; TAKE TIME TO REFLECT: WHAT – and who – IS UNDER ATTACK, SPECIFICALLY?; TAKE TIME TO REFLECT, AGAIN)
Our bylaws were not altered and current Board counsel has advised that our MLP is defendable – given our current bylaws – and supported under NYS law.
It was that small piece of paper tacked up to the Board’s bulletin board on a Friday in October – October 23, 2015 – which pulled the trigger on their secret plan to end Member-Owner control & ownership of our co-operative corporation. The following morning, Member-Owner Chris Colarusso came to a co-op meeting with her small piece of paper: a written petition for an emergency Special Membership Meeting.
It took Chris only 1 ½ hours to get the required number of Member-Owner signatures for a legally-binding petition of the Membership!
Democracy ultimately prevailed.
We Owners held that emergency meeting and, ultimately, got rid of that Board of Directors; top Management (three-person “Leadership Team”) were all gone six months later.
Had those ‘Fresh Start’ Bylaws – pushed on us by the national team of consultants from CDS Consulting Co-op – been in place at our co-op, we could have held that emergency Special Membership Meeting. However, according to the CDSCC CBLD ‘Fresh Start’ Bylaws Template
Article III 3.2. Decisions made at any special meeting are advisory only. [iva]
We Member-Owners would have been legally unable to stop the Board (and Management) in their bid to assume control of our food co-operative corporation. Member-Owners would have become “Paper-Tiger Owners:” Owners in name only.
It was a narrow escape.
We all owe a large debt of gratitude to Chris for her unerring & clear-thinking ability to gauge the temperature of the times …and act at the exact right moment demanded by the tsunami overpowering and undermining our co-op’s strong, local, family & community footing.
We Member-Owners families of HWFC should all be very, very proud that we successfully defended our co-operative from attack: in this case, initiated from the inside, and guided from the outside by national “expert” .coop consultants & a seemingly broader national agenda to thwart and eliminate local control & ownership of US food co-ops.
This story is an incredible testament to the living, breathing power of local families supporting each other and using real community, real co-operative, and real grassroots action, all of which are alive and well at this American, independently-owned food co-op, near the banks of the historic Hudson River, in Albany, NY.
We successfully defended what is ours.
STUNNED AT CHANGES TO BLOOMINGFOODS
In March I visited Bloomington. I was stunned at the state of Bloomingfoods. The first thing I discovered was the closure of B’foods’ flagship, funky & well-loved first storefront on Kirkwood! [v] This store “on the alley” had closed its doors in February 2015. [vi][vii]
Next, what shocked me were the overall higher prices. In tandem, Member discounts had been so reduced as to be meaningless. [viia]
I called my husband back home and we compared the prices of the same products: foods like organic, bottled tomato paste, coconut & olive oil, Coconut Aminos. Everything was more expensive than at HWFC.
This was a complete reversal; this mid-western food co-op was charging higher prices than an upstate New York co-op!
Gone was the large selection of locally-grown or produced Amish foods. I could find no Amish cheeses at the Near West Side co-op and only one type of raw milk cheese: a goat cheese. There was a reduced selection of local, Amish cheeses at the Eastside store.
I have grown accustomed to the large and varied selection of regional & artisanal, raw milk cheeses we have at HWFC and it was very disappointing to not be able to get what I needed.
Bacon (not pastured) and organic butter were simply not affordable! More in evidence was meat from (national?) suppliers, with brand names I was unfamiliar with. I could find no local, grass-fed, grass-finished beef …in a food co-op in the midwest! I was told I had to special order it.
Fresh vegetables & fruits did not always list the country of origin, ditto on nuts, seeds and dried fruits, leaving me to have to find a staffer to ask where the food came from. Foods labeled as “organic” from China were not at all uncommon.
And sauerkraut? Again, this is the mid-west, Indiana is home to Amish, Mennonite and plenty of German & Swiss families; sauerkraut is one of the four basic food groups! The price for live, locally-made sauerkraut was $10.89 for a pint!
I talked to Member shoppers, several staff, and community members. A staffer, when I asked what was going on with prices and a change in atmosphere at the co-op said, “I don’t know man, it’s almost like we were taken over or something.” A floor manager cheerfully said they had a new GM and they were tightening their belts. A friend who has friends who are personally invested in B’foods, stated her friends were afraid for their financial investment (loans) to the co-op.
I found blogger and media reports about disgruntled employees, Member-Owners being denied entrance to and participation in B’foods Board meetings, and a Board which was hostile and non-responsive; stories reminiscent of our co-op’s experiences in Albany, NY in the fall of 2015. [viib]
Staff felt so mistreated by Management and the Board that unionizing activities were begun in the fall of 2014. Please read this detailed accounting of the process in a two-part series at The Ryder called The Unionization of Bloomingfoods Part I, by Robert F. Arnove, Chancellor’s Professor Emeritus of Education at Indiana University, and Part II, by Robert F. Arnove with Peter LoPilato. [viic]
AN ACADEMIC CO-OP RESEARCHER ATTEMPTS GRASSROOTS ACTION
In a popular Bloomington blog,The Electron Pencil, we learn in the April 20, 2015 post, Hot Air Food Facts:
Signed by 161 people, the task of the Change.org online petition? To “bring in external assistance.” In one of his messages to his supporters at Change.org, Dr. Taylor stated,”Keep it up folks! Alone we can do so little, together so much!” [Despite its .org domain suffix, Change.org is not a nonprofit, it is a for-profit business, see: viie][viif]
In an April 14, 2015 WFHB podcast interview with Joe Crawford, Dr. Taylor, introduced as an academic “researcher who studies this topic,” explicitly recommended that Bloomingfoods call in National Co-op Grocers (NCG):
[Joe Crawford]: …What that petition calls for is an audit of the co-op to give the membership quote ‘in depth objective analyses of operational, governance and financial issues within the co-operative…’
[Dr. Taylor]: …The audit that I’m calling for, it’s different than a standard audit because this is in co-op world, as we shall say. Bloomingfoods is part of the National Cooperative Grocers Association. It’s the association of food co-operatives. They have teams that can come in and do a top to bottom peer review or peer audit, however you want to say it, of the organization, to assess its fiscal health, its governance health and its operational health…
…I am somewhat known among the food coop community [at Bloomingfoods] and the staff, management and administrative folks all have a high level of trust in me. Over the last six months they have confided in me. They have asked me to work behind the scenes to avoid these things from becoming public and from these ruptures from happening. The problem is that things have gotten so bad that it’s forced my hand, I’ve now had to come public with this knowledge that I have accumulated over these last few months. It’s something I did not want to do… [viig]
His recommendation and the online petition had been communicated to the B’foods’ Board, verified in his April 15th message at Change.org:
The Board of Bloomingfoods meets tonight. I was assured that the petition is indeed on the table! Let’s hope the board does indeed call for assistance from National Co-op Grocers! [viih]
…we have asked for the assistance of one of the leading cooperative professional organizations, the National Cooperative Grocers. NCG has scheduled a site visit at the end of April. Many cooperatives across the country have benefited from such site visits, and we are looking forward to both the process and the positive results. [vii i] [viij]
In this same announcement, the Board announced the resignation of its President, Tim Clougher.
On June 8, 2015, B’foods GM for more than 20 years, George Huntington, resigned. [viik]
NCG ASSUMES TEMPORARY CONTROL
The situation at this forty-year old, formerly thriving and vibrant, locally-owned food co-op, beloved by Bloomington families – and a lot like HWFC – had gotten so dire that, in June, 2015, Bloomingfoods’operations were (temporarily) taken over by National Coop Grocers (NCG): Paula Gilbertson, NCG’s Development Advisor, as acting GM, assisted by NCG’s Chief Operating Officer, C. E. Pugh. [viii]
Member-Owners of Bloomingfoods had lost control of their locally-owned, locally-operated food co-op.
Last summer, many employees were laid off, including significant numbers of managers. The media indicated more layoffs were anticipated; that, in fact, did happen. [viiia] B’foods 2015 Annual Report called for “reducing the workforce by 25%.” [ix]
Although a contract with the brand new employees’ union, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) Local 700, was ratified during the summer of 2015 – finalized while NCG’s Paula Gilbertson was acting GM – and went into effect July 29th, it did not prevent layoffs from occurring. [ixa][ixb] In fact, there is great disappointment in that the union promised more than it delivered. I was told the union rep (who is not located in Bloomington) is often unavailable; communication is difficult. So, what promised to be a boon and support to (non-managerial) staff had not materialized, as anticipated.
Discussions included acknowledgement of the fact that B’foods had over-extended itself by opening not one, but two new outlets in 2013: the brand new Elm Heights store and a small venue at Ivy Tech Community College.
In August, 2015, store items were listed for sale at an online surplus auction site, presumably from the Kirkwood store, which had closed in February. [x]
It was also during this summer, that B’foods’ Member-Owner Labor Program (MLP) – called the owner volunteer program – was discontinued; Member-Owners were down-graded to “volunteer” status and were eliminated from working in the stores.
Downsizing & restructuring of this co-op, by NCG, was implemented as B’foods began its search for a new GM. Tony Alongi, former Director of Finance for the Hanover Consumer Cooperative Society, Hanover, NH, began working for B’foods as its new GM on March 1, 2016. [xa]
Staff layoffs continued.
WHAT HAPPENED TO B’FOODS MEMBER-OWNER LABOR PROGRAM?
On April 10 – curious about B’foods Member-Owner Labor Program ending – I emailed Bloomingfoods and asked what had happened. This is, in part, the reply I received from Jean Kautt, Marketing and Member Services Manager, Bloomington Cooperative Services Inc.:
We discontinued our owner volunteer program last summer for several reasons (this was publicly announced at our annual meeting in October )…
…Nationally, most co-ops have had to discontinue their volunteer programs due to changes in labor laws, tax laws, and insurance liabilities. It has gotten very complicated in the past 40 years! After conferring with our legal advisor and our labor union representative, it was apparent that we were no longer able to offer the volunteer opportunities we had in the past. We are still exploring other ways for our owners to be active at the co-op, and with a national network of almost 200 co-ops to share information with, there are some good ideas out there…
First, it is inaccurate to state that “…most co-ops have had to discontinue their volunteer programs…” Many US food co-ops continue to support a co-operative corporation structure whose backbone consists of co-op Owners working in the co-operative and in the storefront; HWFC is one such food co-op, and many of us here in Albany look down-river to Brooklyn’s Park Slope Food Co-op as a superlative example of a Member-Owned, Member-Operated food co-op.
Park Slope is very sound & stable: truly & unambiguously owned and operated by the Owners of the co-operative corporation. It is so fiscally successful, in fact, that it pulls in more money, per-square-foot, than Whole Foods: $6,500 per-square-foot average in 2010 for Park Slope vs. $838 for Whole Foods! [xb]
Second, I’ve been a Member-Owner of a vibrant food co-op for almost 40 years (in NYS, where things are always more complicated) (and despite NYS “complications” BTW, Park Slope Food Co-op which is here in NYS, founded 43 years ago, is doing just fine and HWFC, upriver, founded 40 years ago, is also doing just fine, albeit busy cleaning house, at the moment); things have not become any more “complicated” over the last 40 years, such that fundamental, legal changes to the corporate structure of a food co-op and eliminating Member-Owned, Member-Operated food co-ops from the American landscape are the only answers to perceived “complications.
Third, I was instantly sensitive to the use of the terms “volunteer-owner,” “volunteer program” and “volunteer opportunities.” The word “owner” was on its way to disappearing: being replaced by “volunteer.”
The Owners of a co-operative corporation are distinct & legally very different from volunteers in a co-operative corporation.
A nationally-recognized expert on co-operative and nonprofit law from Vermont, Laddie Lushin, Esq., in his 2009 article, Co-op Member Labor Programs Under the Fair Labor Standards Act: A Matter of Economic Reality, recommends, as a first priority, to not utilize the word volunteer, when strengthening your food co-op’s Member-Owner Labor Program! He states:
Never refer to the program or its participants as volunteers. Member-workers are compensated, and the program cannot meet the required eleemosynary [charitable] purpose. Using volunteer terminology thus prejudices the co-op’s legal posture by suggesting a basis for exemption [from the FLSA] that is clearly bogus.[xi]
Yet, here, we find Bloomingfoods’ descriptors intentionally waving this red flag! According to Mr. Lushin, use of this terminology – “volunteer” – could, and very probably will land an FLSA issue at a co-op’s doorstep…
…unless those “volunteers” – now a co-operative liability – are removed from volunteering / working on the floor or in the co-op itself.
The information in Ms. Kautt’s email conflicts with the minutes from B’foods October 18, 2015 Annual Meeting. In those minutes we find no mention of the ending of the “owner volunteer program,” rather, the statement by “NCG Consultant Paula Gilbertson and the Bloomingfoods’ Consumer Services Department:”
Bloomingfoods Ambassadors Volunteer Program. We are extremely limited on in-store volunteer opportunities due to labor law and other factors, so we are introducing the Bloomingfoods Ambassadors Program to allow our owner-members to volunteer with organizations in – line with our ENDS statement for a discount/incentive at Bloomingfoods. [xii]
At this point, the word “Owner” has disappeared from Bloomingfoods’ Program PR. Just what are the “labor law and other factors” limiting the “in-store volunteer opportunities” of the Owner-Members of this food co-op in the brand new Ambassadors Volunteer Program, as stated in these Bloomingfoods’ Annual Meeting minutes?
In Ms. Kautt’s April 2016 response…
After conferring with our legal advisor and our labor union representative, it was apparent that we were no longer able to offer the volunteer opportunities we had in the past.
…just why did “conferring with our … labor union representative…” result in Bloomingfoods “… no longer [being] able to offer the volunteer opportunities we had in the past…?”
What does the one have to do with the other?
Bloomingfoods’ “owner volunteer program” was replaced with the “Ambassadors Volunteer Program.” This new program has not only eliminated the word Owner, it also eliminated the Owners themselves from participation in day-to-day, on-the-floor co-op operations. These two actions together gravely threaten the legal control and ownership of the co-operative corporation, held by B’foods’ Member-Owners. [see iia and xi]
Why did the Board wait until October, at the Annual Meeting, to announce a change which had, apparently, occurred “last summer“ …notably, during the same time period the new union contract was in final negotiations and when B’foods’ operations had been temporarily taken over by two national NCG representatives?
It is very troubling – according to Ms. Kautt’s April 2016 email – that B’foods’ brand new labor union does appear to have agreed that B’foods could “…no longer … offer the volunteer opportunities we had in the past… .” Did the UFCW Local 700 at B’foods, in fact, agree with Management & the Board in ending the “volunteer opportunities” (Member-Owner Opportunities) in B’foods stores, thus benefiting its own union membership and undermining the control and ownership of the co-operative corporation by the local Member-Owners?
Is this email from Ms. Kautt accurate?
NATIONAL AP STORY STRIKES “PR GOLD” …IF YOU WANT TO SPREAD LABOR LAW FEARS & END LOCAL CONTROL & OWNERSHIP OF US FOOD CO-OPS
Owned and controlled by the people they serve, co-ops have a long & respected history in the US. [xiia] Ownership and the right to control the co-operative corporation; contributing family resources by owning a share, working in and shopping at the co-operative; Member-Owner Labor rights; voting rights; “worker-owner participation and control,” are all fundamentals of a co-operative corporation. [see iia] Yet at these two US food co-ops – one in NYS and one in Indiana – we find the same vague, undefined, frightening & threatening language being wielded – “changes in labor laws, tax laws, and insurance liabilities” and “labor law and other factors” – as a tool to peel away the control & ownership of a co-operative from the Member-Owners.
At HWFC, yet another of the plans the former Board implemented was a secret operation to attempt to get the NYS Department of Labor (NYS DOL) to issue a written opinion that Member-Labor at NYS food co-ops was, somehow, in violation of (unnamed) labor laws or illegal; this was to be used to frighten Member-Owners into willingly ending our MLP. A secret, hand-couriered letter to the NYS DOL acting Commissioner (to learn its contents, we had to FOIL it); secret two and three-hour Board Executive Sessionswith upper Management, lawyers, and an expensive Strategic PR consultant – from which Member-Owners were excluded; and an actual meeting with a NYS DOL Deputy Commissioner and staff on December 2, 2015, which was kept secret from Member-Owners and newly-elected Board members, and which took place two days after our historic emergency SMM, demonstrate just how crucial implementation of this agenda was to this Board. [xiib]
(A reminder of one of the former Board’s expensive PR slogans, repeatedly thrown our way – “The law trumps the bylaws!” – is an apropos injection at this point.)
One of the last acts of acting-President Deb Dennis (and that Strategic PR firm which she had hired) – before she quit the Board on January 5, 2016 – was to participate in an interview for an AP article, Will Work for Food? Co-op Programs End Amid Labor Law Fears, by Michael Hill, which hit national newsstands on Sunday, January 3, 2016. (Also see here and here.) She disclosed the fact of the early December interview to Membership, after the fact and only because a sharp Member-Owner had witnessed the subsequent photo shoot at our co-op on December 15th …and called Ms. Dennis out at a heavily-attended Board meeting that evening.
At this same Board meeting Dennis disclosed – when pressed – that the Strategic PR & Lobbying firm working for her Board – under (then) current contract for $20,000 – had put her in touch with AP reporter, Michael Hill.
And, it was at this same Board meeting that Nate Horwitz – who had also been interviewed by Hill (via telephone) – expressed public shock at Dennis’s disclosures; she had also neglected to tell him about this upcoming AP story: that it had been brokered by her PR Firm and that she had already been interviewed & photographed. She blind-sided him, this well-liked, longtime, former HWFC employee – who was easily elected to the Board by a majority of voters at our emergency SMM – and who assumed her seat as HWFC’s Board President at this very Board meeting.
On Sunday, January 3, 2016, Ms. Dennis’s photograph was front & center in newspapers all over the United States.
This article received premiere national coverage through the AP; in fact, US news outlets are still purchasing & printing it. It transmitted a “labor law fear-mongering” message, specifically targeting US food co-ops. Its opening sentence clearly spins the PR agenda:
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) – Food cooperative programs that allow members to scoop rice, sort organic vegetables and ring up sales in return for grocery discounts are fading fast amid a changing marketplace and fears of violating labor laws.
Bloomingfoods appeared in the article:
Bloomingfoods of Bloomington, Indiana, ended its limited program recently after implementing its first union contract for employees.
Interesting that Bloomingfoods got a mention in a national AP article about US food co-op Member-Owner Labor Programs “fading fast.” And, here is evidence, once again, that unionizing at B’foods had something to do with ending the Member-Owner Labor Program – the “in-store volunteer opportunities” – of the Owners of this Indiana food co-operative.
This article – readily pulled up on internet searches – is “PR Gold” for those national .coop corporations & consultants which are spreading labor law fear and using it as a tool to end Member-Owner Labor Programs at US food co-ops.
A state Labor Department spokesman told the Times Union in November no co-op in New York had ever been cited for minimum wage violations, and the question of whether members should be paid would depend on how ownership is structured. [emphasis added]
The Laddie Lushin, Esq. article, Co-op Member Labor Programs Under the Fair Labor Standards Act: A Matter of Economic Reality, cited above, would support this NYS DOL statement:
…there is a considerable body of legal authority in four different aspects of the FLSA–predominantly of the highest courts and of remarkably consistent content–that supports the nonapplicability of the FLSA to a properly structured and limited member labor program. [emphasis added] [Please see p. 11, here:[xi]]
It remains a puzzle how Michael Hill, a sharp AP reporter – local to the Capital Region – missed a relevant quote like this from the NYS DOL; the TU’s Tim O’Brien sure didn’t! (My admiration for local, dig-into-it reporters invested in their local community (see the grassroots advocate’s wish for same here) just went up a notch!)
Additionally, how could he (Hill) pen an article in which he interviewed the acting-President of the Board of HWFC …and fail to highlight the historic HWFC emergency Special Membership Meeting, held on Monday night, November 30, 2015, attended by 720+ people, which had taken place just two-three days prior to his interview: a meeting whose very reason for being was Member Labor at a US food co-op?
Did Dennis neglect to tell him the vote tally? Or, with those kind of election results, did he realize it would ruin her credibility as a reliable source representing HWFC?
Hill did not fail to highlight a (much smaller, secret) meeting between “Honest Weight representatives … [and] … state labor officials…” He is referring to the meeting which took place on Wednesday, December 2, 2015, – planned for by Dennis before our emergency SMM and held two days after – between a NYS DOL Deputy Commissioner and his staff & HWFC attorneys / Board representatives …a meeting which Deb Dennis kept secret from Member-Owners and our three newly-elected Board members!
It seems that news of the largest Membership Meeting ever in our co-op’s 40-year history just wasn’t news-worthy enough.
Additionally, 85.7% of HWFC Member-Owners voted to disapprove the Board’s decision to “…end member labor…”; news which would have fit in nicely as a counterpoint to his article, focused as it was, on US food co-op Member-Owner Labor Programs “fading fast.”
This news was quite literally “hot off the press” yet it never made it into this AP article.
A quote in his article, “‘…the potential risks of [HWFC] being found out of legal compliance [by the NYS Department of Labor] were high…'” comes verbatim from the December 3, 2015 Inside Scoop (a Board publication, controlled by Dennis at that moment in time): in the form of a Memorandum from HWFC’s Governance Review Council co-chair, Ursula Abrams, entitled HWFC Meeting With The New York State Department of Labor.
It has subsequently been uncovered, by our new Board through a review of corporate records – that this Inside Scoop Memorandum was written by that same PR firm hired by Deb Dennis’s Board. (Please see the section labeled SECRECY in my December 19, 2015 post, GRASSROOTS ACTION and Bylaws (Again) ARE POWERFUL!)
So, that Strategic PR & Lobbying firm got its professional, paid-for spin published in this national AP “news” article by reporter Michael Hill; spinning a web of labor law fears for all US food co-ops to read.
You can argue, successfully, that this reporter had no way of knowing that a document, a Memorandum, provided to him by the person he was interviewing, Deb Dennis, had, in fact, been written by a Strategic PR firm.
However, I have seen no evidence whatsoever – in all the coverage we have gotten from the Times Union – that the TU’s reporter, Tim O’Brien, has ever quoted the spin of a Strategic PR firm and presented it as fact …or news. None. O’Brien would check additional sources – which he in factdid do, when confronted with the labor law fear-mongering tactics of acting-President Deb Dennis.
Christopher White, a spokesman for the Labor Department, said … Whether owner workers are required to be paid depends on how a co-op is organized, he said in an emailed response to questions … Asked if any co-op in the state had ever been cited, White said, “we ran through our system the names of all the co-ops we could find and found the department had not issued a violation against any of those coops for violating minimum wage laws.”
The recall, said Carolyn Presser, a leader in the effort, is about taking back a co-op that has strayed from its ideals. The threat of a Labor Department crackdown, she added, is a red herring designed to provoke fear — an opinion that has been buttressed by [John E.] Sweeney, the former Republican congressman and head of the state Labor Department. He told supporters of the recall that it’s unlikely the Labor Department would target the store.
(Carolynn Presser, BTW, won her bid for election to our Board at the emergency SMM, and is currently serving as our President.)
Where are the basics of good journalism relating to this AP article: that a reporter check facts and interview a variety of different sources (please see below for more on this), so a reader is provided with a more balanced view of an issue?
Mr. Hill owes us a rebuttal article.
After this experience, give us grassroots advocates on the ground a local reporter like Tim O’Brien at the TU, following this HWFC story like a dog with a scent (and his colleague Chris Churchill, as well), over an AP reporter seeking national acclaim & recognition. My regard for local, hometown reporters just went up yet another notch: they do their homework …and do their job!
Given that Hill referred to “…a shake-up of the board that cost the president his position…” and “…the co-op board with Horwitz and two other new members…” there remains no doubt that he knew about our November 30th emergency SMM: it was at this very meeting that three new Board members – including Nate Horwitz – were elected and this former Board President (Bill Frye, the one just before Dennis) was voted off the Board (recalled) for disparaging remarks he made about Member-Owner workers, captured by Times Union reporter, Tim O’Brien, not once but twice.
It would have been very hard for a local reporter (AP or otherwise) to not know about the goings-on at HWFC; the TU’s Tim O’Brien (…up another notch! And he, a reporter covering a food co-op who self-professes he “…wouldn’t know a candlenut from a kumquat…“) wrote no fewer than four major articles about our emergency SMM and its election results, in the days surrounding the co-op’s meeting. (Please read his four articles: November 25thCo-op coup: Turmoil at Honest Weight Food Co-Op leads to attempt to oust board; November 26thVote Monday seeks to remove Honest Weight board; November 30thHonest Weight Food Co-op members oust just one board member; and December 2ndMore changes possible as Honest Weight Food Co-op members shake up board.)
Obviously, the newspaper which reports out from New York’s busy state capital, the Times Union, felt this issue – this big to-do over an emergency meeting about Member-Owner Labor at a local food co-op – was important enough to cover and gave it a high priority in its pages.
One is, therefore, left to wonder why this AP reporter chose not to report on the biggest, local food co-op news story in Albany’s history: a historic meeting centered on a fight to retain a Member Owner Labor Program at a US food co-op! He could have been onsite, reporting (Tim O’Brien from the TU was.) It can be argued (and I’m arguing it) that the national relevance of our story – saving Member Labor at & Member Ownership of US food co-ops – is more important than his “Food cooperative programs … are fading fast…” perspective.
To wit, Hill gave three examples of US co-ops ending Member Labor Programs: (City Market in VT) “finishedphasing out of its traditional member work program,” (East End in PA) “ended its volunteer program,” and (Bloomingfoods in IN) “ended its limited program recently.” Dire warnings about the life expectancy of these food co-op programs abound. Statements like: “they have become rare,”“the list gets shorter each year,” they’re “fading fast,”and (the title) “…Co-op Programs End…” subliminally inform the reader that these endangered programs are a dying breed…
…they may be extinct already, like the Dodo bird, by the time your nose gets itself out of the newspaper!
This AP news article did inestimable damage to independently-owned US food co-ops: sowing labor law fears & disinformation and promoting the weakening & dissolution of local, Member-Owned & operated, community & family run food co-ops.
PR gold …for some.
What remains noteworthy is this: this Board was interested in not only (secretly) forcing unwanted, legal co-operative corporation changes upon its own food co-op in Albany, it was also attempting to force policy changes at the state level – through the NYS DOL – which would affect all NYS food co-ops. Furthermore, its acting-President went one step further and made damned sure this “labor law, fear-mongering PR message” got out to a wide, national audience …before she abandoned the co-op ship, two days later, and quit on January 5, 2016.
Google the title of this AP article or just google the terms labor law and food co-ops. PR jackpot …for those wishing to spread fear and use it as a tool to undermine & eliminate local control & ownership of US food co-ops.
WHO AT THE BARGAINING TABLE WAS REPRESENTING MEMBER-OWNERS’ LEGAL RIGHTS?
Bloomingfoods of Bloomington, Indiana, ended its limited program recently after implementing its first union contract for employees.
The sentence implies that the beginning of a new union at Bloomingfoods has something to do with the ending of its Member-Owner Labor Program: or, what Bloomingfoods called its owner volunteer program, now re-named its Ambassadors Volunteer Program.
Did unionizing at B’foods cost the Member-Owners their “legal place at the table” as Member-Owner workers in their own co-operative? Were their legal rights as Owners of this co-operative corporation bargained away? Without their knowledge and say-so? [Again, please read the two docs in [iia]: 1. Critical Legal Information byKate Doyleand 2. A Letter to Shareholders byKate Doyle and Laddies Lushin’s article, Co-op Member Labor Programs Under the Fair Labor Standards Act: A Matter of Economic Reality, [xi]]
As I said above:
Did the UFCW Local 700 at B’foods, in fact, agree with Management & the Board with the ending of Member-Owner Labor in B’foods stores, thus benefiting itsown employee membership and undermining the control and Ownership of the co-operative corporation by the local Member-Owners?
Did the new union at B’foods strike a contractual deal with B’foods’ Board & Management to eliminate Member-Owners from work on the floor? …to eliminate Member-Owners’ (who had been handily re-named “volunteers”) rights to work in their co-op and maintain operational control as Owners?
Did B’foods Board & Management formally agree to a UFCW Local 700 union contract which restricts who can (and can’t) do work on the floor at the co-op?
Have B’foods’ Member-Owners been restricted – contractually – from exercising their rights as owners of their own co-operative? If so, why haven’t they been told so by the Board & Management? Why weren’t they involved in that decision-making process?
The national AP article and that email from Ms. Kautt, raise these additional questions:
Did the negotiations and finalized contract between B’foods and the UFCW Local 700 – ratified during the summer of 2015 while NCG’s Paula Gilbertson and C. E. Pugh had temporarily assumed control – specifically call for the ending of the right of Member-Owners (re-named “volunteers“) to work/volunteer in their own co-operative storefronts?
Does “volunteer” terminology (as opposed to use of the word “owner”) have a legal implication when negotiating a union contract, such that volunteers would be disallowed from work on the floor if there is a union contract in place? (This change in terminology from “Owner” to “Volunteer” also occurred during summer, 2015)?
Did Bloomingfoods’ Board & Management agree – contractually – with unionized employees, to disallow volunteers (Member-Owners) from working, side-by-side with union employees, on the floor in Bloomingfoods’ storefronts?
Are those union employees still considered Owners of the co-operative? Isn’t that a conflict-of-interest? How can a union employee also be an Owner of a business?
Was the Ambassadors Volunteer Program created to get rid of the term “Owner?”
Was the Ambassadors Volunteer Program ostensibly created as a means to placate those few Member-Owners who still understood their rights as Owners of a co-operative, while, in fact, serving to remove Member-Owner’s legal rights in the co-operative by removing them from day-to-day, on-site, operational control of the co-operative?
Has that Ambassadors Volunteer Program, in fact, one year later, ever been implemented?
Do B’foods unionized employees realize that, in garnering their rights to unionize, they may have eliminated Ownership rights of Owners of the food co-op?
Were the Owners of the co-op ever formally informed as to the union / Bloomingfoods contract deal …or did Management, the union, the union employees, and the Board of Directors all keep Member-Owners in the dark as to the final deal?
Did B’foods’ Management, the union, the union employees, and the Bloomingfoods Board of Directors allcollectively strike a deal …and collectively bargain away Owners’ legal rights, without involving them in the decision?
Who – at this bargaining table – was representing the legal interests of the Owners of this co-operative corporation?
The reasons provided by B’foods Management for the ending and/or re-working of their “owner volunteer program” need to now be re-visited. Were those reasons meant to deliberately obscure from the Member-Owners of B’foods what does appear to be a deal struck with a labor union …at the expense of co-operative corporation Owners’ legal rights?
Jean Kautt: “We discontinued our owner volunteer program last summer for several reasons … Nationally, most co-ops have had to discontinue their volunteer programs due to changes inlabor laws, tax laws, and insurance liabilities. It has gotten very complicated in the past 40 years! After conferring with our legal advisor and our labor union representative, it was apparent that we were no longer able to offer the volunteer opportunities we had in the past.” [emphases added]
NCG Consultant Paula Gilbertson and the Bloomingfoods’ Consumer Services Department: “Bloomingfoods Ambassadors Volunteer Program. We are extremely limited on in-store volunteer opportunities due to labor law and other factors, so we are introducing the Bloomingfoods Ambassadors Program to allow our owner-members to volunteer with organizations…” [emphases added]
Could the term “labor law” here, be a veiled reference to the labor laws attached to collective bargaining?
DID EVERYBODY – THE UNION EMPLOYEES, BOARD & MANAGEMENT – COLLECTIVELY THROW B’FOODS MEMBER-OWNERS’ LEGAL RIGHTS UNDER THE BUS?
Above, I posed a question raised by Ms. Kautt’s email reply to me:
Just why did “conferring with our … labor union representative…” result in Bloomingfoods “… no longer [being] able to offer the volunteer opportunities we had in the past…”?
I have found at least a partial answer to that question.
First, I need to define two terms: “bargaining unit” and “bargaining unit work.” According to USlegal.com:
A bargaining unit is a group of employees … who are represented by a labor union in their dealings with agency management.
For purposes of this discussion, bargaining unit work is the work which the union (UFCW Local 700) and the bargaining unit, and the employer (Bloomingfoods Board & Management) agree will be performed by bargaining unit employees. Non-bargaining unit personnel (Management and salaried staff) will not (usually) perform work which both agree is bargaining unit work.
Q: What about the volunteer opportunities for those who wish to help the co-op?
A: The best thing you can do for the co-op is shop at the co-op. We are unable to offer many of the volunteer opportunities we had in the past because work that qualifies as bargaining unit work cannot be performed by volunteers… [emphasis added]
So, what ever happened to that Ambassadors Volunteer Program, announced last October in the Annual Meeting minutes and – presumably – at the Annual Meeting?
The answer continues:
…Owner-members can engage with our Board of Directors and the administration by participating in the Owner Linkage Committee, and other committees created by the Board. Additionally, we are currently working with our board to create a new volunteer opportunity for our owner- members, and hope to be able to announce it soon!
The explicit use of labor terminology in this B’foods’ response – bargaining unit work – clarifies that Bloomingfoods’ Board and Management must have agreed with the UFCW Local 700 that volunteers (formerly known as Owners) cannot perform the work of unionized employees (the bargaining unit) in Bloomingfoods’ storefronts.
There must also be an agreement as to what constitutes bargaining unit work and who can and cannot do bargaining unit work.
It now appears likely that B’foods Board & Management insured the death of this Member-Owner legal right by agreeing contractually with unionized employees that it would violate the rights of those union employees if the Member-Owners of the food co-op performed work on the floor – side-by-side with union employees – in Bloomingfoods’ storefronts.
Step-by-step, this food co-op Board & Management appear to have methodically paved the way for elimination of Member-Owners’ substantive, legal rights in the co-operative corporation:
First, this food co-op altered the name of its “owner volunteer program” to eliminate the term “Owner.” The new, re-named program is called the “Ambassadors Volunteer Program. (initiated while NCG was temporarily in charge)
Second, they moved / shifted the (former Member-Owners, down-graded to) volunteers in the Ambassadors Volunteer Program, off-premises “…to allow our owner-members to volunteer with organizations…” (initiated while NCG was temporarily in charge)
Third, this move to get volunteers (off-premises) would salve the Member-Owners who still remember what democratically-run food co-ops are all about: working, side-by-side, co-operatively together – on a regular basis – with your friends, neighbors, family & colleagues, for a worthy, community cause.
Fourth, B’foods appears to have utilized the opportunity of negotiating with a labor union to contractually solidify the position that volunteers cannot perform bargaining unit work, that is, the work of paid, unionized employees. (initiated while NCG was temporarily in charge)
Fifth, this food co-op no longer has Member-Owners on the floor, working side-by-side with paid employees who, presumably, are also Member-Owners.
Sixth, Member-Owners have (methodically & silently) had their Ownership rights threatened or removed.
Seventh, throughout all this manipulation of Member-Owner rights …what happened to the Member-Owner discount? How small has it actually become?
Eighth, this co-op’s structure now appears a lot more like a (hip, expensive) natural foods’ store with a bunch of employees …than a food co-op.
The end result? The Owners of this co-operative corporation may have lost the right to maintain operational control of their co-op: a basic, legal right of an Owner of a co-operative.
Empowering employees to unionize (finalized while NCG was temporarily in charge) can be viewed as – well – empowering employees. It can also be viewed as a means to ply a wedge and leverage conflict between employee and Member-Owner rights, with the endgame of eliminating Member-Owner ownership & control of the co-operative corporation.
In this scenerio, Member-Owners’ power has been peeled away from the co-operative, and handily swept out of the picture.
We do not know the specifics of the contract between B’foods and the UFCW Local 700. That document needs to be made public. These questions need to all be answered.
However, this new information from this May 2016 B’foods “Consolidation Announcement” is enough to tell us that Bloomingfoods’ Owners appear to have lost significant legal standing …and might even no longer be considered Owners of their own co-operative corporation.
Short of formal, written answers by the B’foods’ Board of Directors to co-op Owners – to whom the Board did and does hold a fiduciary responsibility – and short of viewing the actual union contract, we are left without enough information.
The local families, homeowners, residents, investors & community members all invested in Bloomingfoods – and its legal, shareholding Member-Owners – need to immediately be informed as to the status of their legal position in this co-operative corporation …and whether or not B’foods Board & Management allowed a union to be utilized as yet another means to remove the legal control & ownership of the co-operative corporation held by its Member-Owners.
Just where is the “co-operative” in this co-operative corporation?
This Board – and Management – have a lot of questions to answer.
UPDATE: OCTOBER 3, 2016
Bylaws’ changes may be all that is needed to solidify corporate changes – and they are slated to be voted on at the B’foods Annual Meeting which is:
Wednesday, October 19, 2016, 6:00 – 9:00pm, at the Wonderlab, 308 W. 4th Street, Bloomington, Indiana
“Fully revised and modernized bylaws” will be voted on beginning March 20, 2017.
Please see this new October 3, 2016 blogpost, GRASSROOTS ACTION: INVITATION (RSVP) REQUIRED for some to Cast Vote at Bloomingfoods’ 40th Annual Meeting.
END NEW UPDATE
BACK TO THAT AP ARTICLE
That AP article, Will Work for Food? Co-op Programs End Amid Labor Law Fears, by Michael Hill, as already stated, is PR Gold for those national .coop corporations & consultants which are busy spreading labor law fears, undermining Member-Owner Labor Programs, and eliminating local control & ownership of US food co-ops by the food co-op Owners.
Why were Bloomingfoods and Honest Weight Food Co-op two of a small handful of US food co-ops featured in this national news article? Well, both co-ops were or are clients of CDS Consulting Co-op, for starters.
Who was the source for this AP reporter which provided the names of US food co-ops, virtually all of which had ended or were attempting to end their Member-Owner Labor Programs: the means by which food co-op Owners exercise their legal right to be a substantive part of day-to-day store operations …to work in their food co-op storefronts and, thereby, maintain their operational control, voting rights, and Ownership of the co-operative corporation?
The one stated exception in the article – to co-ops ending their MLPs, that is – is Park Slope Food Co-op, in Brooklyn. However, as the article stated, Park Slope “…requires most of its members to work … and the store is not open to non-members.” The corporate structure of this particular food co-op is (as I noted, above) very sound & stable: truly & unambiguously owned and operated by the Owners of the co-operative corporation.
Park Slopeisalso, however, a new CDS Consulting Co-op client. [see xiid]
Honest Weight Food Co-op was also an active CDS Consulting Co-op client at the time this AP article was written; former acting President Deb Dennis had a documented history of attempting to secretly end our co-op’s MLP. By her own admission at a Board meeting, it was her Board’s Strategic PR firm which arranged this AP interview; her photo managed a “prime time,” front & center position in this national AP article.
Former HWFC Boards had begun contracting with CDSCC in, as far as we can tell, 2009. A one-year contract was executed in December, 2014 with CDSCC for its CBLD program. Dennis hastily executed a brand new contract with CDSCC in December, 2015 …shortly after she had received a 67.9% vote of non-confidence and censure at our emergency SMM, just shy of the 75% required for recall!
This AP interview with Dennis also occurred several days after our historic Special Membership Meeting on November 30, 2015. Clearly, the will of the people meant nothing to this former HWFC acting-President.
According to information gleaned from his own article, it does appear likely that AP reporter Hill used one national source (and/or one of its affiliates), for information about names of specific US food co-ops ending their Member-Owner Labor Programs: that is, CDS Consulting Co-op.
It has the good name of the Honest Weight Food Co-op, Inc. attached to it for posterity … a time bomb with the potential to harm other US locally-owned, community food co-ops; something we HWFC Member-Owners could not prevent: seeing as conversations between former acting-President Deb Dennis & the Strategic PR & Lobbying firm she had hired, and the subsequent media interview & photo shoot, were strategically kept secret from us.
…has a place …in this story about a national AP article …and its story about community food co-op Member-Owner Labor Programs “fading fast.” [xiic]
…an AP article which includes an affiliate of – and (only) the names of US food co-op’s which were or are clients of – CDS Consulting Co-op.
The AP article states:
It’s not clear how many food co-ops still maintain their [Member-Owner Labor] programs, though the list gets shorter each year.
That list will continue to get shorter each year if the legal Owners of US local, independently-owned, community food co-ops don’t protect their legal rights, organize, and do the grassroots advocacy required to understand, guard, maintain and strengthen theirOwnership rights in the co-operative corporation. That, and refusing to contract with and pay for the advice of very expensive, nationally-based “expert” food .coop consultants & advisors.
For, no matter what happens to the local food co-op – sink or swim – national consultants will still get paid their outrageous fees.
“TWO ROADS DIVERGED IN A YELLOW WOOD…”
from The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost, pub. 1916
Both Bloomingfoods and HWFC had direct threats made to their Member-Owner Labor Programs in 2015. While HWFC Member-Owners defended our control and ownership of the co-operative corporation, Bloomingfoods’ Member-Owners quietly, IMHO, lost the battle …if they were even aware there was a battle to fight.
According to recent B’foods’ Board minutes, bylaws’ changes are in the works: calendared in for discussion in (March and) August, 2016 . Bylaws’ changes can also signal another red flag, threatening Member-Owner control & ownership of a co-operative corporation. The Annual Meeting takes place on October 19, 2016; a bylaws’ vote is planned and will any proposed changes further undermine (or eliminate) Member-Owner control of the co-operative corporation? (Please see my December 07, 2015 post, GRASSROOTS ACTION and current bylaws ARE POWERFUL!, my December 19, 2015 post, GRASSROOTS ACTION and Bylaws (Again) ARE POWERFUL! and my January 7, 2016 post, GRASSROOTS ACTION and the Times Union ARE OH SO HELPFUL!)
At HWFC, elimination of our Member-Owner Labor Program and changing our bylaws to eliminate Member-Owner control of the co-operative were the very things our former Board targeted for change: that, and adding 12,000 new non-working “shareholders;” getting us Member-Owners “off the floor” at the co-op; disenfranchising our vote; consolidating the power of the Board/Management axis; preventing communication; and attempting to manipulate the NYS DOL such that we Member-Owners would willingly give up our own MLP. [Read the docs cited in [iia] and [xi].]
Our former Board, with the assistance of its top Management, efficiently targeted and attempted to rip apart the very underpinnings of our co-operative corporation. Their attack was efficient, orderly, calculated and devious. They had the help of two law firms (one with D.C. offices), a local organizational change consultant, the aforementioned nationally-promoted CDS Consulting Co-op, and a Strategic PR & Lobbying firm, with ties to a NYS top-10 lobbying firm.
Big bucks. Big stakes.
They spent $500,000of our collective savings (!) in their (secret & camouflaged) attempt to get rid of us!
The former Board and Management used our $ .5 million, with an endgame of wrestling Member-Owner control of the co-operative corporation out of the Owners’ hands …and replacing it with control by the Board & Management …or, to put this another way, to stealthily assume control of our corporation.
This story – taking place at a simple American food co-op, for goodness’ sake! – reads like any one of the vicious, hostile, corporate-takeover, Wall Street movies Hollywood puts out.
However, this same pattern is cropping up, over and over, at independent, locally-owned & operated food co-ops all over the US.
It does appear that the Bloomingfoods’ Board is quietly and successfully doing the very same thing: eliminating Member-Owner controland ownership of this food co-operative corporation, replacing it with control by the Board and Management, and altering the co-operative corporate structure.
Are the Owners of this food co-operative evenaware that their control is silently disappearing; their very ownership is threatened? Or has Bloomingfoods’ Board, like the former HWFC Board, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on “expert”national consultants, lawyers …and a Strategic PR consultant or two, paid to expertly massage the messages getting out to the Owners?
A PATTERN OF “CORPORITIZATION” OF U.S. COMMUNITY FOOD CO-OPS
Local ownership & control of many US food co-operatives is under attack. Mimi Yahn, a food co-op Member-Owner and independent journalist tells a very similar tale about her food co-op in Putney, Vermont, just over the border from us. In a series of two articles and a follow-up Letter – January 14, 2015Losing Our Principles at The Commons Online; February 4, 2015Searching for Democracy at the Putney Co-op at VTDIGGER.org; and February 11, 2015Still Searching for Democracy at Putney Food Co-op at The Commons Online – Ms. Yahn uncovers disturbing threats to her food co-op: threats to its democratic principles and bylaws, Member-Owner control, and, a wider pattern of “corporitization” at other U.S. food co-ops. [xiig]
This Powerpoint Presentation, put together by Member-Owners of HWFC – as they prepared for their 11/30/15 emergency Membership Meeting & vote to get rid of both an out-of control Board & recommend the removal of the out-of-control Management partnering with that Board – details similar problems at many U.S. food co-ops. These food co-ops are taking – or fending off – expensive advice brokered by nationally-based .coop consultants. Strikingly similar problems are occurring with “policy governance,” dissolution of their Member-Labor programs, significant alteration of the bylaws, secrecy, lengthy Board executive sessions excluding Member-Owners, vague & frightening labor law threats, gag orders, removal of Member-Owners from on-the-floor operations, and moves to cement the legal empowerment of Board & Management, concurrent with removal of ownership rights of the Member-Owners of the co-operative corporation.
The individuals who are invested in their co-op – the local homeowners, residents and families – and who are also deeply invested in their local, hometown communities, are losing control of both their food co-ops …and their food supply.
This attack upon food co-ops appears to be coming from the national level: it appears to be a top-down agenda targeting grassroots, local, community, Member-Ownership & control of U.S. independently-owned food co-operatives.
NATIONAL COOP GROCERS AND UNITED NATURAL FOODS, INC.:
NATIONAL NATURAL and ORGANIC WHOLESALE SUPPLIERS
Bloomingfoods, like HWFC, is a member co-op of National Coop Grocers. NCG is “a business services cooperative for retail food co-ops located throughout the United States … represent[ing] 143 natural food co-ops operating 196 stores in 38 states, with combined annual sales of $1.8 billion.” NCG’s primary distributor is United Natural Foods, Inc., (Nasdaq: UNFI), with whom it signed a primary distribution agreement in 2015, good through at least July 2021. NCG and UNFI have had a contractual relationship since 2006. [xiii][xiv]
UNFI is the leading independent national distributor of natural, organic and specialty foods and related products including nutritional supplements, personal care items and organic produce, in the United States.[xiva]
UNFI distributes its products throughout the United States and to more than 40 countries. [xivb]
UNFI is also the primary distributor for Whole Foods Market (Nasdaq: WFM) and has had distribution agreements with WFM for 17 years. Their primary distribution agreement was also re-negotiated in 2015; it extends until September 2025.
UNFI’s net sales for fiscal year 2015 were $8.18 billion. Whole Foods Market, UNFI’s only “supernatural chain,” made up 35% of UNFI’s net sales in FY 2015. 32% of UNFI’s net sales in FY 2015 came from the category called “independently owned natural products retailers, which include buying clubs;” this category includes NCG and its virtual chain of US food co-ops, with combined annual sales of $1.8 billion. [xvi]
If my math is correct, NCG’s virtual chain of US food co-operatives, represents 22% of UNFI’s net sales in FY 2015.
UNFI’s “independently owned natural products retailers which include buying clubs” – which includes NCG and its virtual chain of US food co-ops – are, at 32%, vying with Whole Foods as UNFI’s largest customer. [xvii]
The respected Organic Consumers Association notes in its 2009 article, The Organic Monopoly and the Myth of “Natural” Foods: How Industry Giants Are Undermining the Organic Movement:
…Whole Foods Market … [and] industry giant United Natural Foods (UNFI) … [market] Row after row of attractively displayed, but mostly non-organic “natural” (i.e. conventional) foods and products… …Natural, in other words, means conventional, with a green veneer.
UNFI and Whole Foods Market are the acknowledged market and wholesale distribution leaders in the $70 billion organic and natural foods and products sector…[xviii]
Both Bloomingfoods and HWFC are a part of the large UNFI and NCG distribution network, called a virtual chain. An August 19, 2015 Press Release, NCG Signs Primary Distribution Agreement with UNFI, states:
‘As a virtual chain, NCG is one of our largest and fastest growing customers in the last 10 years’ said Steve Spinner, UNFI’s president and chief executive officer. ‘Our connections to food co-ops go back to our company’s founding and we are excited to be selected once again as the best fit to serve the needs of this important sector.’[xix]
The brochure, National Co+op Grocers Partnership Opportunities (January – June 2016), which extends an invitation to US food co-ops to join NCG, states:
NCG co-ops are independently owned and operated; combined, our “virtual chain” is one of the largest natural foods product retailers in the United States. [xixa]
A dot coop FIRM: CDS CONSULTING CO-OP:
DO NATIONAL CONSULTANTS HAVE MEMBER-OWNERS’ BEST INTERESTS AT HEART?
It is noteworthy that both co-ops, Bloomingfoods and HWFC, have been or are clients of CDS Consulting Coop; in fact, Bloomingfoods is a featured client on CDSCC’s website. Bloomingfoods’ former, three-term Board Director, Art Sherwood, was and is a CDSCC consultant; he joined CDSCC in 2009 and served on the Bloomington Board until October, 2014, when he resigned his position as President, due to work commitments. [xx] Both of these US food co-ops – Bloomingfoods and HWFC – have relied upon the consulting services of this nationally-advertised .coop firm, with national interests and ties: interests not necessarily based in nor springing from each of the local communities of these two food co-ops.
CDSCC advertises that it helps Boards and GMs work together; conspicuously absent in its PR and program description for its CBLD program (Cooperative Board Leadership Development) are statements about strengthening the control and ownership rights of the Member-Owners of a co-operative.
The former HWFC Board spent an estimated $84,000 (!) over the last three years on CDSCC advice and has at least a six-year history with this firm, going back to our days on Central Avenue, before we got all glossy, high-end, and chic-chic with a brand new, expensive, over budget, “Just-in-Time” model storefront. We – a food co-op for gosh sakes – were advised to build a new store which has virtually no storage capacity! CDSCC’s consulting advice served to efficiently consolidate power between our top Management and Board, to the exclusion of Member-Owners.
In 2015, the HWFC former Board was contracted with CDS Consulting Coop for its CBLD program. Two CDSCC consultants were also a part of the 2015 HWFC Bylaws Task Force (BTF), as “subject matter experts:” Mark Goehring and Thane Joyal. These consultants created a “Bylaws Research Document” for our co-op, which included their ‘Fresh Start’ Bylaws Template. (Please see this December 19, 2015 blogpost and its section entitled ALICE IN WONDERLAND DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE Is this a Bylaws Task Force or a Better End Member-Labor Task Force?)
The BTF was developing new Bylaws, in secret, with all committee members required to sign a nondisclosure agreement: a gag order …over bylaws …at a food co-op! To this day, no one, save the 27 members of the BTF, ever saw those draft bylaws (rumor has it they were never produced, it was all in the hands of the corporate attorneys).
Gag orders’ll have you grasping at rumors in your co-op, when you can’t get facts about bylaws’ changes because people’s lips have been intentionally sealed.
So, no one in our co-op had ever seen these draft bylaws, yet the former Board had intended to present them for Membership vote and ratification at the January 24, 2016 Membership Meeting!
The copy of the ‘Fresh Start’ bylaws CDSCC presented to our co-op in 2015, eliminated the right of Member-Owners to rein in an out-of-control Board via a Special Membership Meeting (SMM): the only means available at most co-ops to halt a wayward Board’s actions.
Interestingly, author Mimi Yahn also reports that her co-op in Putney, VT utilized the services of CDS Consulting Co-op; in fact, CDSCC lists Putney, VT as its corporate home. Putney Food Co-op did ratify bylaws based upon CDSCC’s bylaws template; Ms. Yahn’s articles tell the story of this Vermont co-op losing its democratic principles. [See January 14, 2015Losing Our Principles at The Commons Online; February 4, 2015Searching for Democracy at the Putney Co-op at VTDIGGER.org; and February 11, 2015Still Searching for Democracy at Putney Food Co-op at The Commons Online and See xiig and xxa]
It is unknown how much Bloomingfoods has spent on CDSCC services over the years. Bloomingfoods Member-Owners are, however, left with this conundrum: contrast the glowing picture painted of Bloomingfoods by CDSCC, with this assessment of the co-op by National Co-op Grocers (NCG), at the time acting GM Paula Gilbertson and C. E. Pugh arrived from NCG. This was captured on June 23, 2015 by blogger and Bloomingfoods’ Member-Owner Ann Kreilkamp:
Last night I attended a Member/Owner OpenHouse set up by the Bloomingfoods board … [National Coop Grocers, NCGA] has been brought in during this crucial transition to help stem the bleeding which, according to the NCGA, is the worst they have seen. Though food co-ops nationwide are going through hard times, for Bloomingfoods, ‘the path to solve for cash-positive is the most difficult we’ve ever encountered.’… [xxi]
One has to pose the obvious question: if CDSCC’s consulting services for strategic Board & Management training and CBLD are so effective, why is this CDSCC-featured co-op in such dire straits? Why is Bloomingfoods “the worst they [NCGA] have seen,” according to this B’foods Member-Owner’s blog post report?
TWO AMERICAN FOOD CO-OPS MORPH INTO “FOOD BOUTIQUES”
The three Bloomingfoods’ storefronts I shopped at were all glossy, ordered, bright & clean: chic-chic. The inner aisles were very neatly stocked & filled with colorfully-packaged, mostly “natural,” processed & packaged products.
I had to search harder to find products labeled “organic.” Locally-produced foods – highlighted with a label picturing the state of Indiana with Local printed on it – although noticeable because of this label, were much harder to find; they were also not usually organic.
Bloomingfoods’ cafes use the same paper goods as HWFC (“co+op stronger together”) [xxii] and the same paper bags (with the handles that always break). The sale flyers look the same as ours. Every aisle was picture-perfect, in fact, the product layout on shelves could have been a mirror to that at HWFC.
What happened to the modest, community-owned storefronts selling high-quality, low-cost organic, bulk, and locally-produced foods and farm products? What happened to our direct connection to the land via a wide, regional network of farm families and our support of local, sustainable and organic farming practices? What happened to the abundance of local, minimally-processed, organic foods? In fact, what happened to just plain-old minimally-processed food with fewer than five ingredients?
What happened to our value & practice of keeping overhead low so as to keep food prices low for our Membership?
What happened to American food co-ops selling real, whole, locally-produced, organic, nutrient-dense, bulk foods at affordable prices?
When did the displaying of food take a higher priority over the content of the food being displayed?
The similarities between B’foods’ and HWFC’s storefronts – the trending towards upscale gentrification, higher prices, lower overall food quality, fewer locally-produced foods, more processed, nationally-branded, packaged foods, vegetables labelled as “organic” coming from China (and not disclosed as such), much more (colorfully packaged) “natural” as opposed to “organic” foods, meats from unknown national sources, deceptive labeling & clever product PR, an over-emphasis upon display & marketing – are readily apparent.
Both of these co-ops have been transformed to look like expensive, high-end food boutiques.
In fact, our two (independently-owned) food co-ops are designed & laid out and operate so similarly, with such similar marketing tools, newsletters, sales flyers and product for sale, that we could be co-op franchises: different cities, same business model, much like one sees with a McDonald’s, a Trader Joe’s or a Whole Foods.
(An aside… …because you need this information right now…
A troubling pattern emerging nationally among local, independently-owned food co-ops, is either their expansion into brand new, very expensive, “bigger & better” storefronts or their too-quick expansion into multiple storefronts. These storefronts are based upon a “Just-inTime” grocery model, which includes virtually no room for storage and depends upon a regional warehouse system providing daily & weekly delivery. These expansions are being brokered by several different firms of very expensive, national “expert” food co-op consultants & corporations: These expansions:
bleed the co-operative corporation of its valuable (!) local capital & savings
force expensive mortgages onto the back of the co-operative and
utilize local, community resources in the form of unsecured family & Member-Owner-investor loans to the co-op
financially weaken & strap the food co-op almost to the point of insolvency
pay the consultants: their advice, itself, is not cheap!
These expansions have leveraged many formerly strong & solvent US food co-ops into positions of weakness: capital is gone, debt is now high …and the pockets of co-op Member-Owners – via unsecured loans to the co-op – have also been tapped!
The food co-ops are now financially strapped and vulnerable to and positioned for either corporate take-over, assimilation or consolidation, or – failing that unwanted future – closure.
In the meantime, those consultants have already been paid …and are off looking for the next independently-owned food co-op to prey upon.
Our two cents from HWFC? Don’t expand! Don’t be wooed into thinking you need a shiny, chic-chic new storefront because “that’s what lots of co-ops are doing across the US.” They’re doing it because they took the “experts’ advice” to expand …or build new!
So, don’t take national “expert” & expensive food co-op consultants’ advice! Take care of your Member-Owners, your families, your community, and your capital.
These teams of consultants are out there – and they are preying upon independently-owned US food co-ops. They have figured out that there is capital lying around in many successful, independently-owned US food co-ops. They have figured out a way to separate you, your co-op & community …from your capital.
Keep your capital in your pockets! Hang onto it! Keep a cushion; be financially smart. Do you really need that shiny, chic-chic new storefront? Expansion into a 2nd or 3rd brand new storefront? Those consultants? Or can you all make do?
Invest in each others’ families: that is your co-op, your fellow Member-Owners & your community …not in the advice of highly-paid, nationally-based food co-op “experts” with questionable motives.
To quote my Grandma and my Mom (and other Depression-era Moms): Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without![xxiia]
However, this food co-op in Indiana, with its glossy, picture-perfect store lay-outs and fully-stocked shelves, is in trouble. It lost 20% in revenue, in part, when a Lucky’s (a Colorado-based natural foods’ chain) moved in to town last year, and when Kroger’s remodeled to include more natural & organic foods. Next year Whole Foods is opening a store just minutes’ away from the Eastside co-op, in the former Sears store at the mall. [xxiib]
An adjunct professor friend of mine told me she can no longer afford B’foods. She now hits sale days at Lucky’s (Wednesdays), has switched to shopping almost 100% at Krogers, and she buys at the Farmers Market on Saturdays. She plans to buy a freezer and buy bulk grass fed, grass finished beef directly from farmers at the Farmers Market, where one can readily buy high quality, pastured meat in Bloomington.
In 2014, B’foods Member-Owner and blogger Ann Kreilkamp captured sentiments, which we here at HWFC experienced in 2015, as we began uncovering our former Board’s plan to eliminate us from control & ownership of our co-operative corporation:
But wait a minute you say! Bloomingfoods is a Co-operative, not a Corporation!…
…something happened along the way to begin to torque our original member-owner operation into a quasi-corporation, with an expanding physical presence (three major stores, two minor ones, and counting), a long-time CEO-like General Manager, a budget that is not transparent, workers who are both underpaid and feel disrespected and disenfranchized, and a board that vets anyone who wants to serve on it to say whether they can even be nominated to come up for a vote!… [xxiic]
VISIT TO THE HOOSIER STATE, AGAIN: STUNNED, AGAIN THE HOOSIER IS GONE FROM THIS CO-OP
I was in Bloomington last week and had a chance to see what had changed at the co-op in two months.
This visit, it was the Elm Heights store which had closed its doors, joining the flagship Kirkwood store. A large For Lease sign was posted on the vacant storefront.[xxiii] The kitchen commissary had also been shut down.
The Elm Heights’ closure stunned everyone! It came out of the blue. I did not hear a rumbling about it when I was in Bloomington in March. Two months later it was a done deal. Gone.
“The Elm Heights neighborhood is saddened by the news that its Bloomingfoods store is closing. We worked hard with the coop to get the store built, and Bloomingfoods in turn worked closely with the neighborhood association in every phase of its planning. Many individual neighbors contributed financially as well…” Elms Heights Neighborhood Association[xxiiia]
At a public meeting held on April 27, 2016, the Bloomingfoods’ Board told the public that the bank has agreed to take interest-only payments on the co-op’s loans. Local, family investors were told that the loans they had made to B’foods and Elm Heights are unsecured and subordinate to payment of the bank loans. [xxiiib]
I got differing stories about staff being let go from Elm Heights & the commissary kitchen. One person told me that no one had lost a job from either; everyone had been re-located to the existing stores. Another person told me staff had been let go, jobs were lost, and positions eliminated. A review of Bloomingfoods’ website and its newsletter reveals nothing as to this issue. Local media is uncharacteristically silent.
The Eastside Co-op parking lot was nearly empty. I do not recall seeing this parking lot that empty, ever. Store hours have been reduced. The incredible outdoor garden shop is gone, closed last summer; replaced by a tiny selection of local plants.
Signs in the Near Wests Side parking lot warn you that parking is limited to one hour.
Parking is limited to 1 hour at the Near West Side store. The city has placed on-street parking meters out front, which may have precipitated this move. However, it is decidedly non-welcoming, for a food co-op which also hosts a delicious food bar and a café at which to sit with friends.
I asked staff about the removal of the beautiful, authentic Hoosier Cabinet and display area in the café, with handmade crafts, pottery, local authors’ books, as well as local art displayed on the walls. [xxiv] (In fact, this is where I was first introduced to Bloomington author Nancy R. Hiller’s wonderful book The Hoosier Cabinet in Kitchen History. Visit Ms. Hiller’s website, here, to read her story about the making a Hoosier cabinet – from a local Elm tree, how cool is that! – for the, now-closed, Elm Heights store. See also A Home of Her Own; Ms. Hiller’s articles at American Bungalow magazine: Miracle on South Dunn Street, Harris Lebus – Arts and Crafts Style For Trade and Bringing Back Stinesville; and her articles at Fine Woodworking.) (I am a bungalow lover; Nancy Hiller and Jane Powell are my top-drawer bungalow and arts & crafts authors!) In addition, local kitchen gadgets, jewelry, cards and candles which used to be displayed at the end of the aisles in the bulk section had all disappeared, to be replaced by that week’s national promotional and sale items from NCG.
I was told that the staff member who used to manage these display areas had been let go: the position had been eliminated.
The aisle ends at Bloomingfoods used to display jewelry, kitchen gadgets, locally-made cards and crafts: one of my favorite spots at the co-op! This has been replaced with that week’s sale items from NCG (co+op deals).
The café, formerly cheerful and welcoming, is now stark and utilitarian: bricks & concrete meet the eye. The Hoosier is gone from this co-op.
Green & Black’s organic dark chocolate bars – usually $3.69 a bar at B’foods – were on sale at 2 for $6.00. At Krogers, the exact same bars were on sale at 2 for $5.00.
I tried to purchase organic pumpkin seeds. The bulk bin states: “Pumpkin Seeds Organic (Raw, Hulled) Current supplier information available upon request.” I tracked down a staffer, asked about the supplier (country of origin). She had to track down someone else and about 5” later I was informed the pumpkin seeds were from China. I asked if there were any truly organic pumpkin seeds from the US; she stated there were not, I could, however, buy US non-organic ones.
There were a lot more Field Day products for sale this visit: this manufacturing company is owned by UNFI and these products are marketed only to its “independently owned natural products retailers” including NCG food co-ops. [xxiva]Field Day’s clever marketing (hover over the icon: “A harvest of natural and organic products, carefully selected to deliver exceptional quality and value.”) enmeshes the terms “natural” and “organic,” suggesting an equality to the terms which is not born out by US regulation fact; use of the term “organic” on a food label requires adherence to strict standards, not required of foods labelled as “natural.”
Manufacturing & Branded Products Divisions
Our Field Day® brand is primarily sold to customers in our independent natural products retailer channel (“independent retailers”), and is meant to serve as a private label brand for independent retailers to allow them to compete with conventional supermarkets and supernatural chains which often have their own private label store brands.
Our subsidiary, WoodstockFarmsManufacturing, specializes in the international importation, roasting, packaging and distribution of nuts, dried fruit, seeds, trail mixes, granola, natural and organic snack items and confections. We sell these items in bulk and through private label packaging arrangements with large health food, supermarket and convenience store chains and independent owners. We operate an organic (USDA and QAI) and kosher (Circle K) certified packaging, roasting, and processing facility in New Jersey that is SQF (Safety Quality Food) level 2 certified.
Our Blue Marble Brands portfolio is a collection of 15 organic, natural and specialty food brands representing more than 650 unique products. We have a dedicated team of marketing, supply chain and sales professionals that have a passion to energize our retail partners and provide consumers with affordable Non-GMO foods. Our unique Blue Marble Brands products are sold through our wholesale division, third-party distributors and directly to retailers. [xxivb]
UNFI also owns Select Nutrition, which “distributes a wide variety of brands, which includes vitamins, supplements, sports nutrition products, and personal care items that cater to the growing demand for natural and organic products.” [xxivc]
Many of the Field Day products at B’foods were conspicuously marked with sales’ stickers and significantly out-performed competing brands: e.g. bionaturae Organic Balsamic Vinegar (17 fl oz) was $6.69; Field Day’s Organic Balsamic Vinegar (16. 9 fl oz) was only $4.99. Spectrum Organic Olive Oil (1 liter) was $18.99; Field Day’s Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil (1 liter) was only $12.99.
However, one must be a clever detective to determine what is in Field Day products, where they come from and who certifies that they are, indeed, organic, especially if they include imported ingredients. [xxivd]
For my family’s tastes, not safe enough to eat with labeling that is designed more to obscure what’s in the food, than to inform.
These are UNFI’s Field Day brand, non-organic olives. The label states “Produced in the USA with domestic and imported ingredients.” Are these foreign olives which are then canned in the USA? What percentage of the ingredients are from the USA, from an (unknown) foreign country(ies)? This label leaves me with too many unanswered questions. I would not buy this product for my family.
For example, the Cornucopia Institute, in its Organic Dairy Report (updated 06/09/16), gave UNFI/WoodstockFluid milk products/butter a 2 Cow Rating (“2 Cow Rating PRIVATE-LABEL (good, but questionable long-term commitment to organics) Note: information based on ”industry sources.” None of the two cow rated private-label brands were open enough to participate in the study.”); a 5 Cow Rating – the highest – is “Outstanding.” [xxive]
Private-label, or store-brand, dairy products rated with two cows are sold by grocers or distributors who have the obvious desire of wanting to grow their presence in the organic marketplace. Unfortunately, there is an inherent limitation in private-label organic products: organic consumers tend to want to know where their food is coming from and how it is produced, and private-label products are anonymous by their nature.[xxivf]
BLOOMINGFOODS’ FUTURE DEPENDS UPON ITS MEMBER-OWNERS
High prices at B’foods are forcing local shoppers to seek lower prices elsewhere in town. My adjunct professor friend has turned in her B’foods share and no longer shops there. Many people I spoke to complained about the outrageous prices at B’foods. They are taking their business elsewhere: Kroger’s, Lucky’s (on April 1, 2016, Kroger’s & Lucky’s signed a partnership agreement [xxivg]), Sahara Mart, Marsh’s, Trader Joe’s in Indy, the Saturday Farmers Market.
Since UNFI also distributes to “…conventional supermarkets, which include mass market chains…” one must check to see if Kroger’s, Lucky’s, Trader Joe’s, Walmart’s and other supermarkets and mass market chains are being serviced by UNFI …and offering lower prices for the same items one sees at B’foods. [xxivh] (In fact Kroger was “…included among [UNFI’s] wholesale customers for fiscal 2015…”) [xxivi]
There is great, unvoiced fear in Bloomington, about the future of Bloomingfoods. Many assume that when Whole Foods opens next year, the co-op will go belly-up; local families will lose their investments; Bloomington will lose a treasured 40 year-old community institution.
Since Whole Foods and Bloomingfoods both utilize the exact same national distributor – UNFI– and both have primary distribution agreements with UNFI (B’foods, indirectly through its membership in NCG), it won’t really matter very much to industry giant UNFI which store stays, and which goes …or if both decide to duke it out across the College Mall parking lot (See B’foods’ GM’s blogpost re. the new WFM coming to Bloomington, here.)
Who it should matter to are the homeowners & residents of Bloomington, and the Member-Owners, shoppers and local investors of Bloomingfoods. Bloomingfoods is a local treasure! Like our Honest Weight Food Co-op in Albany, NY, local families started B’foods 40 years ago; it is worth fighting for! …but – only if local Member-Owners truly own and control the co-operative corporation. Otherwise, Bloomingfoods is just another corporation (minus the “co-operative”) – like Whole Foods – retailing a majority of natural (and organic) foods from industry-giant UNFI …with a sprinkling-in of local & regional organic farm products and foods to give it that “green veneer.” [xxivj]
This visit, I still shopped at B’foods because I am a loyal co-op supporter and I love the Bloomingfoods community. But, I was very hard-pressed to be able to afford enough food to last the week.
WHERE IS THE “CO-OPERATIVE” IN BLOOMINGFOODS “CO-OPERATIVE CORPORATION?”
It appears that B’foods financial troubles are not just due to the Lucky’s moving into town, the Kroger’s remodel, and “the competitive landscape.” [xxivk] This co-op no longer has Member-Owners running the show!
Given NCG’s poor assessment of the co-op’s financial condition in June, 2015, CDSCC’s consulting advice – consolidating Board & Management control – must be thrown into question. However, B’foods’ 2016 Board minutes indicate that they are still actively working with CDSCC and its CBLD program. [xxivl] [also see iiia]
It does appear that it is the Board of Directors (supported by the GM) which is functionally, if not legally, in control of this co-operative corporation. The Member-Owners have been relegated to the role of shareholders in a traditional, top-down American corporation. They are not functioning like the Owners of a co-operative corporation business.
In addition, the local, Member-Owner, family money invested in Bloomingfoods is now in jeopardy. There were Elm Heights neighbors who loaned money to B’foods! Imagine how all the investor-families in Bloomington feel! In this small, tight-knit community, this fact may serve to pull the rug out from under any future, local financial & community support this co-op could have expected. Local investors, in addition to local shoppers – the community itself – may turn their backs.
This one fact alone can spell the death-knell for any local, community-based organization, citizen group, nonprofit …or food co-op.
As a Member-Owner of B’foods, I have personally & sadly witnessed this sister US food co-op to HWFC being assimilated, co-opted, if you will, with power & control silently removed from the local, Member-Owners. Once that control was lost, decisions were out of their hands.
I do not, at all, like the results I see. I do not like the reduction in the quality of the food supply that has resulted. I do not like the industrial, impersonal, cookie-cutter result. I do not like the explosion of national “natural” products and processed “natural” foods, and the reduction in locally-produced, organic food and farm products. I do not like the virtual elimination of Member-Owner benefits, as well as the many staff cuts. I do not like the deceptive food labeling which is more & more evident each time I visit Bloomingfoods.
I do not like a food co-op maintaining the veneer of a Member-Owned, Member-Operated food co-operative …when it dissolved its Member-Owner Labor Program; removed Member-Owners from floor operations; re-labelled “Owners” as “volunteers;” negotiated a union contract which appears to have contracted-away Member-Owner power & control; diluted or virtually eliminated Member-Owner voting power with the addition of non-working “shareholders;” and has eliminated Member-Owners from substantive decision-making and control in the co-operative corporation.
I especially do not like the evidence I see of a Board & Management axis which has, silently, step-by-step, removed Member-Owner control and threatened their legal Ownership of the co-operative corporation.
(Since we here at HWFC in NYS are still working to regain our power & control, this is not at all meant as a condemnation of Bloomingfoods’ Member-Owners. Just a wake-up call.)
If a bylaws’ vote is, indeed, planned for the B’foods’ October 19, 2016 Annual Meeting, that may well seal the coffin on yet another American independently-owned, Member-Owned & Operated food co-operative corporation. The legal rights of local families to own & control their co-operative and thereby, their food supply, will have been eliminated: ownership, by the local Member-Owners, dissolved.
IMHO, Bloomingfoods’ Member-Owners need to call an emergency Special Membership Meeting and take back their power and control. Trouble is, Board & Management ended their “owner-volunteer program” (Owners lost legal standing) and, I believe, the current bylaws have already empowered all (12,000?) shareholders to have a vote. This means the number of signatures required on a petition just to call a meeting would be daunting (assuming 12,000 shareholders, B’foods bylaws require 10% to call a Special Member Meeting or 1,200 signatures); reaching quorum at the meeting would take “…the presence of ten percent of members entitled to vote at any meeting…” or 1,200 voters!
This would require huge & concerted grassroots advocacy efforts! (Review [iia] and Bloomingfoods’ bylaws.) Bloomingfoods’ Member-Owners also need a local attorney or two: with knowledge of Indiana co-operative corporation law.
B’foods’ Member-Owners need to secure the draft copy of the new bylaws now and attend that bylaws’ meeting in August (I could not find a date for the meeting), en masse. Just what are the proposed changes; will they secure Member-Owner control of the co-operative corporation …or remove it?
If there is not enough grassroots’ will to call an emergency Special Member Meeting and if bylaws’ changes are legally enacted at the October 19th Annual Meeting which further erode Owners’ control, there are, to my way of thinking, only two important questions to answer:
Are the Owners of Bloomingfoods “owners” in name only: “Paper-Tiger Owners?”
Can Bloomingfoods continue to be deemed a “co-operative corporation” or is it, more correctly, functioning merely as a “corporation” trying its best to look like a co-operative?
IS HWFC OUT OF THE WOODS YET?
No. Not by a long shot.
But, I came away from last week’s visit to Bloomingfoods heartened, with this thought: HWFC Member-Owners we did an awesome, phenomenal thing defending our co-op! We did the right thing and don’t you doubt that for a second! We stopped our co-op from being “assimilated” as a co-op clone; one of many, high-end, chic-chic, expensive “food boutiques” being replicated across the United States. We retained local power and control of our co-operative corporation! We defended our own! We did it co-operatively, with energy, tenacity, hard work, organization, communication-against-all-odds, skill and vision!
Grassroots advocacy at its finest!
I wish this kind of success upon Bloomingfoods’ Member-Owners!
With that success, however, comes a price.
We here at HWFC know we are the owners of a (not-so-small) business in the private sector. The economy is worsening. We have a large debt load.We have a budget to pass.
We were left in a financially precarious position by the former Board and Management, which, in addition to listening to the expensive advice of national .coop consultants, spent down our savings as fast as they could. We, like B’foods, were advised to expand with, not one, but two operations in 2013: our brand new, very expensive store on Watervliet and the Empire State Plaza outlet. In addition, we would have had more than $1 million in the bank right now but for the harmful agenda and fiscal waste of that former Board and the former LT (top Management). [xxv]
We would have had a cushion.
That cushion is gone.
If we do not maneuver correctly, right now, HWFC will be one of the US co-ops which closes its doors: like Bloomingfoods’ Elm Heights store, its flagship Kirkwood store and its kitchen commissary.
HOW DO WE PRO-ACTIVELY PREVENT SUCH A FUTURE FOR OUR CO-OP?
We acknowledge that our budget is very tight. There are only so many pieces to our HWFC financial pie. Therefore, the only answer right now is cost cutting. If we can’t pay our fixed bills, we are in jeopardy. If we don’t sell enough goods, we are in jeopardy. If we raise our prices we are in jeopardy. When the economy gets worse, we are in jeopardy. This is not the time to expand operations or increase employee benefits! If we do that, we risk the closure of HWFC, sooner rather than later. Then no one will have a job, because our doors will be shut. We, the member-owners, through poor fiscal planning, will have secured the closure of our own co-op.
ALL Member-Owners may need to take a temporary cut. Member-Owner employees are not exempt from this, as employees at HWFC are (for the most part) also Member-Owners. If we 8% and 24% Member-Owner families take a cut, so must the Member-Owner employees. If there needs to be a reduction, it is being done as a means to keep HWFC’s doors open and preserve the jobs of employees.
However, if we even temporarily reduce Member-Owner discount, we are in jeopardy because we will lose a percentage of the weekly spending power of Member-Owner families, some of whom are, themselves, on very tight budgets.
Will a downturn in the economy – in this, a Presidential election year – and a rise in gas prices force us to raise prices?
Will Member-Owners & shareholders be forced to shop elsewhere, and even turn in their shares, as they have been doing at B’foods? Will the general public silently shift to buying at cheaper, local outlets?
It is likely – given our budget and if there is even a small downturn in the economy – that we will be forced into downsizing our pool of employees. If it is that …or closing our doors permanently… which will you choose?
Formation of an employee union here at HWFC will not prevent employee layoffs, if that is what is required to keep our doors open. Bloomingfoods’ history clearly demonstrates that.
Financially, with every decision, what we must weigh is this: will this financial move result in the closure of HWFC’s doors or will it stabilize us and sustain us through the financial mess that was left to us by the previous Board & Leadership Team’s management, supported by their passel of advisors, lawyers, Strategic PR gurus, and national .coop consultants? They positioned us for fiscal weakness! We are forced into rebuilding.
It is now up to us to be thoughtful, creative, and business-minded practical.
WE MEMBER-OWNERS ARE THE BUSINESS OWNERS: THINK LIKE AN OWNER
We HWFC Member-Ownerssuccessfully took the first step: we wrestled back control of our locally-owned and operated food co-operative from an out-of-control Board working hand-in-hand with out-of-control upper Management and a bunch of highly-paid, national .coop “experts.”
We “stopped the bleeding.”
Given this important fact, our fiscal problem is still the same as Bloomingfoods: we must reduce overhead and spending.
We are the owners and it is our responsibility to do so.
Can we take the next step? To stabilize our budget, cut costs, reduce overhead, and develop a plan so that in two-three years we can begin implementing the dreams we all envision and imagine so clearly right now?
If we do not take this prudent and necessary step, we will, assuredly, sooner rather than later, see the closure of our co-op.
We worked hard – co-operated together! – to get to that emergency Special Membership Meeting in November. 720 people: our friends, neighbors, work colleagues and family. Our community. The results have been outstanding with our new Board in place and functional as a team; our Committees revving up, energized; our employees continuing to do good, solid, daily teamwork in our storefront; our Member-Owners working, participating, and buying.
Can we hold firm, work together, and pass a budget which will stabilize us for the future, anticipate a downturn in the economy, tighten our belts, keep employee layoffs and cuts to MLP discounts to a minimum, and keep our food supply high-quality and – as much as possible – organic, nutrient dense, fresh and supportive of local & regional organic farm families and food producers?
This is a tall order.
If we cannot do this, we will face a future like Bloomingfoods. Staff layoffs & downsizing will happen, multiple times. Prices will go up. Food quality will go down. Member-Owner benefits may be entirely eliminated. Member-Owners, shareholders and shoppers will walk: a downward spiral. Will we – like Bloomingfoods – have to work with a national consultant team from NCG to help us out …and live with the results?
IMAGINE THE WORST, PLAN FOR THE BEST
Store closures can happen fast.
Please imagine, for one moment, a future where you pull into our parking lot at HWFC some Saturday morning, and the doors are locked shut with a big For Sale sign taped to them.
I did that at Elm Heights in Bloomington, one week ago. No imagination necessary.
A locally-owned food co-op storefront shuts its doors: Elm Heights, Bloomingfoods, in Bloomington, Indiana.
Where would you go to shop …buy real, local, organic food? Where would you be able to buy what your family needs to eat? To stay healthy? How would you connect up with your community?
Clearly imagine a future with no locally-owned co-op here in Albany.
Is that future a pleasant one for your family?
What do you – individually, as a Member-Owner worker / employee or shareholder – have to do, right now, to prevent this reality?
We are, truly, all in this together. We all have to right the ship. Every single Member-Owner of HWFC – 8% and 24% family workers and employees alike, as well as our 2% shareholders – need to pull together and agree upon a financial plan to secure our future. Then we need to hold to it for 2 – 3 years.
What we are doing here – we HWFC families – is making history in the respected, centuries-old American co-operative movement. We HWFC Member-Owners understand and live what it means to be a member-owned, member-operated food co-op! We get the critical importance of our bylaws and our MLP. We get what it means to (all) own our co-operative together! We proved that in spades by successfully defending it!
We HWFC families are – seriously – walking in the very footsteps of Benjamin Franklin, who is credited with starting the very first American co-operative in 1752! [xxvi]
We families have a responsibility to preserve, for us, now, and for the future, the local, 40 year-old institution that is the HWFC. It is a rare, community resource and treasure! And, more than ever, we need continued access to whole, healthy, nutrient-dense, organic, local food!
I cannot predict where the economy will go. Wild card, not looking good.
However, I, for one, have utter confidence in our families and in our grassroots’ ability to do again what we did on November 30, 2015 and since then: pull together for the common good of our beloved co-operative corporation: the Honest Weight Food Co-op. The co-operation and teamwork we all participated in, since October 23, 2015 is nothing short of amazing and wonderful! We are making national, co-operative history! Let’s all – community-minded, grassroots families – co-operatively do it again and sustain it until we are financially stable, once again.
We are families, helping out other families, to survive and thrive through co-operative means. Years ago, we called it, “self-reliant co-operative:” I help you get what your family needs, you help me get what my family needs, and we work it, together.
SAVE THE FAMILY FARM
Imagine Honest Weight Food Co-op is a farm: and, in a way, it is an “urban farm” with its intimate connections to actual local, family farms and their families. Wouldn’t you, your partner or your spouse, your kids, the grandparents and aunts & uncles, do anything necessary to save the family farm?
See you at the Annual Budget Membership Meeting on June 27, 2016 at FUUSA, 405 Washington Avenue, Albany, NY: dessert potluck at 5:30pm, Membership Meeting from 6:00-8:30pm. Room for as many Member-Owners as show up! No RSVPs required!
[iiia] Bloomington Cooperative Services. Board of Directors January Meeting. Thursday,
January 28, 2016. I. E. “Opportunities for CBLD training were announced (board members should consult writeboard Board Participation in CBLD Workshop signup).”
Bloomington Cooperative Services. Board of Directors February Meeting
Thursday, February 25, 2016. 5. iii. “Beebe spoke with Leslie and Paula about looking at the bylaws and getting the template from NCG. 1. Leslie says CBLD has a new template out in the next 10 days and compare.”
Bloomington Cooperative Services. Board of Directors May Meeting. Thursday, June 30th, 2016 Minutes. Under “Bylaws Review Update: 3.c. ii. “Beebe has mapped the proposed changes of the first 4 articles to the CDS template.”
[iva] See the CBLD ‘Fresh Start’ Bylaws Template, Article III: Member Meetings, 3.2 from CDS Consulting Co-op. Please note: CDSCC changed the electronic copy of its ‘Fresh Start‘ Bylaws, archived on its website, as of early 2016. Article III, 3.2 has been changed. The ‘Fresh Start‘ Bylaws our Member-Owners were provided with by two CDSCC consultants in 2015, and which were also located on CDSCC’s website in 2015, contain the text quoted in this blog.
[viid] Glab, Michael G. The Electron Pencil. From the April 20, 2015 post, Hot Air Food Facts.
[viie] Change.org, although using the domain suffix “.org” reserved for nonprofits, is not a nonprofit. It is a for-profit, multi-million dollar, multi-national corporation. Charges have been levied that is is being used in astroturf operations by corporations, big business and their Strategic PR firms (wishing to appear like real grassroots) and that it gathers and sells its users’ information for profit.
In 2012 Change.org “decided to change its advertising policy to allow for corporate advertising, Republican Party solicitations, astroturf campaigns, anti-abortion or anti-union ads and other controversial sponsorships, according to internal company documents.” See the October 22, 2012 HuffPo article with a response from Change.org founder, Ben Rattray.
See this February 28, 2012 Change.org exposé article, Change Dot Biz, by Clay Johnson; he uses the term “industrialized activism” for this type of deceptive behavior. Also begin researching the citations referenced at Wikipedia.
[viig] WFHB Podcast. Host: News Director Joe Crawford interviewing Dr. Keith Taylor, April 14, 2015. Listen here.
NB: Much as I greatly admire and respect academicians & researchers, Dr. Taylor, an academic researcher who studies co-operatives, got this one wrong. He did not conduct thorough research on the matter; furthermore, at least in this podcast and on the Change.org website, he did not disclose professional affiliations which are pertinent to the issues at hand.
Dr. Taylor’s bio from Indiana University’s website states, in part:
Keith has a PhD in Human and Community Development, and a Masters in Public Administration. His research interest is in better understanding the processes of institutional, community and economic development, specifically through optimization of organizational self-governance…
He was, seemingly, unaware of the U.S. grassroots movement to keep the ownership and control of US food co-ops vested in the local community, with the families who are the legal Owners of these food co-operatives (his “optimization of organizational self-governance,” one would presume).
Among the food co-op grassroots, it is a well-known fact that U.S. independently-owned, locally-owned and controlled, community food co-ops are under attack!
Being a scholar and studying co-operatives in the ivory tower of academia, does not assure that you are “plugged in” to grassroots movements, nor that you will necessarily come up with the right answers to a community-based issue.
Dr. Taylor’s recommendation that Bloomingfoods bring in “outside help” in a time of crisis was assisted by a grassroots Change.org petition, which he initiated and which garnered 161 signatures, along with many heartfelt, Bloomingfoods’ Owner-Member comments (one is asked to trust that these “online petition names” are not false; one of the many charges lobbed against online petitioning, with groups like Change.org).
As already noted, Change.org is a for-profit, multi-million dollar, multi-national corporation which is masquerading as a grassroots, nonprofit organization; it is deceptively using the domain suffix “.org.” Any grassroots advocate worth their salt already knows this fact or would have checked this organization out (on any number of U.S. websites which post the yearly IRS 990s of legitimate nonprofits) before mobilizing people and beginning community activism. In addition, Change.org has had charges levied, that it is now a platform being utilized by corporations and their Strategic PR firms in astroturf operations (fake grassroots) to garner (illegitimate) community support for corporate issues.
Corporate astroturfing and infiltration of legitimate community groups has been clearly documented as taking place within the US food arena, including in the “natural” and “organic” food worlds. [See [viia] and [12c]]
In the April 14, 2015 WFHB podcast, cited above, and to his Change.org petitioners, Dr. Taylor specifically recommended that the “outside help” Bloomingfoods bring in, was NCG (National Coop Grocers). That message, along with the 161 signatures on his petition, was conveyed to the B’foods Board and the Board speedily complied; NCG conducted a “peer review” of Bloomingfoods.
Not two months later, NCG had assumed (temporary) control of Bloomingfoods!
Had Dr. Taylor conducted diligent, academic research, he would have found Mimi Yahn’s articles, written and published in January & early February, 2015: several months before his Change.org petition began. These articles conveyed clear warnings to the Member-Owners of U.S. food co-ops to, in particular, avoid utilizing outside national consulting help from .coop “experts,” including CDS Consulting Co-op and National Co-op Grocers (NCG).
Where else would one search for grassroots articles ushering in: dire warnings about threats to participatory democracy, undue corporate influence and bitter fights to wrestle legal control of the co-operative from the Owners, all taking place at U.S. Indy food co-ops? In Indy magazines, of course, which is exactly where Ms. Yahn’s articles may be found. [See Mimi Yahn: January 14, 2015Losing Our Principles at The Commons Online; February 4, 2015Searching for Democracy at the Putney Co-op at VTDIGGER.org; and February 11, 2015Still Searching for Democracy at Putney Food Co-op at The Commons Online.]
The doors of academia – and its publications – do not readily open to a grassroots’ message; however Dr. Taylor, as a researcher of community-based co-operatives, should know that, and should have also conducted research in the Indy media arena.
In addition, Dr. Taylor did not disclose in this same podcast and on his Change.org website relevant professional relationships.
He is the co-author of an academic research paper, published in the August 2014 International Journal of Co-operative Management, entitled Unique Expectations of Cooperative Boards: taking on the challenges of the democratic enterprise, which he co-authored with Arthur Sherwood. See here, here, here, here and here.
Dr. Taylor and Professor Sherwood were academic colleagues at the Indiana University Vincent and Elinor Ostrom Workshop on Political Theory and Policy Analysis, when they co-authored this article in 2014.
Was CDS Consulting Co-op advising Bloomingfoods’ Board & Management during the period Dr. Taylor began his petition at Change.org and recommended to the Board that NCG come in and do a “peer review?” It appears they were and have been for a period of (unknown) years. A review of available Board minutes finds, in the July 2, 2015 minutes, when B’foods was “tightening its belt” with NCG (temporarily) at its helm:
6. c. v. C8 —Governance Investment —CDS Consulting Status 1. CDS consultant Michael Healy offered consult on hourly basis or discounted rate for remainder of the year. 2. Kristina Wiltsee motions that we compensate Michael Healy on an hourly basis for the remainder of the year, and Dedaimia Whitney seconds the motion. All in favor, motion passes.
It is also quite noteworthy that Bloomingfoods is one of only 30 or so “Featured Clients” on CDSCC’s website.
Dr. Taylor’s actions in recommending that NCG – in specific – be brought in to Bloomingfoods must be viewed in light of these newly-uncovered facts.
He had a responsibility to disclose these professional relationships when he was conducting grassroots, community organizing and mobilizing people both online and in Bloomington in 2015.
Dr. Taylor would be best served if he continued his academic research of co-operatives and left the “optimization of organizational self-governance” – i.e. the real community organizing at U.S. independently-owned and operated, community food co-ops – to the Member-Owners and families who actually OWN their food co-ops, are defending their food co-ops, and who actively practice participatory democracy at their co-ops.
Dr. Taylor did a disservice to those 161 Change.org petition signers and to all U.S. independently-owned and operated, community food co-ops – which are struggling for their very “independent” existence – by not doing his due-diligence research, by not first investigating Change.org, and by not being upfront about his professional relationships from within the national .coop business world. [See also [viij] and [xiic]]
[vii i] Bloomingfoods, Bloomington Co-operative Services, Inc. website: see the April 17, 2015Announcement.
[viij] Think “grassroots advocacy” isn’t for sale as a “service” to a .coop food corporation with a pocketbook (BIG food and BIG Organic included)? Corporations and their Strategic PR firms have been buying “grassroots” for years. See [12c], below.
Co-op Member-Owners are advised to become acquainted with terms, well-known for more than 20 years by national grassroots’ advocates, community organizers and nonprofits battling corporate greed & influence: astroturf, co-opted, skunkworks, stinktanks, sockpuppets and industry front groups. See this Teletruth webpage of newnetworks.com, one of the top consumer rights’ websites on the issues of telecommunications and broadband, for term definitions.
Stacy Malkan Co-director U.S. Right to Know, “a nonprofit organization working for transparency and accountability in our nation’s food system,” has a hot-off-the-press June 30, 2016 article, Monsanto Fingerprints Found All Over Attack On Organic Food. The story begins with Academics Review, described as “a non-profit led by independent academic experts in agriculture and food sciences,” co-founded by “two independent professors” who kept the “corporate [funding] fingerprints hidden.”
Member-Owners of the Hanover Food Co-op in NH started an independent, grassroots organization, after disagreements with co-op Management & Board over firings at their co-op, and other issues. See Concerned About the Co-op (CATC), here: https://www.facebook.com/concernedaboutthecoop
Also, view this 2015 TEDx Talk by journalist Sharyl Attkisson, entitled Astroturf and Manipulation of Media Messages, here.
The Center for Media and Democracy’s project, Sourcewatch is a good place to begin your education about astroturfs and other terms used to describe corporate hijacking of real grassroots efforts, especially involving Strategic PR & Lobbying firms.
Newnetworks.com, a highly-respected national, grassroots group, advocating for consumer-based telecom issues, has accurate, concise definitions for: astroturf, co-opted, skunkworks and stinktanks, here.
Think (the appearance of) grassroots advocacy & activism isn’t for sale to those corporations which can afford to pay? Think again. Read this webpage of a top-rated D.C. “integrated public relations and public affairs agency,” advertising its “grassroots services,” when “lobbying alone isn’t enough:” seventwenty strategies:
Mobilize your constituents and be heard on the Hill.
Lobbying alone isn’t enough.
Every year, more than 100,000 bills are introduced at the state and federal level. Lobbying alone can’t always ensure your organization’s viewpoint is represented before lawmakers. To shape the legislative and regulatory outcomes that impact your organization and industry, Congress and state legislatures need to hear from “real world” experts—their constituents. Grassroots advocacy is the art and science of identifying citizens, educating them about the issues that matter and mobilizing them to take desired actions—when and where you need them, tapping their political power to influence legislative outcomes.