GRASSROOTS ACTION IS POWERFUL! GRC Elections: Your individual vote and participation in our food co-op matter!

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Posted by Laura Hagen, HWFC Member-Owner

GRASSROOTS ACTION IS POWERFUL! is a blog dedicated to American independently-owned, Member-Owned & operated, community food co-ops, their Member-Owners and families.

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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.

PARTICIPATORY DEMOCRACY
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.

PLEASE start attending Board meetings. PLEASE start attending GRC meetings. PLEASE join a Committee.

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?

© Laura Hagen

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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

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GRASSROOTS ACTION IS POWERFUL! Neonics 2: Flowers, the Place Where Honey Bees & Gardeners Meetup

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Posted by Laura Hagen, Honest Weight Food Co-op, HWFC, Member-Owner and family to an ‘organic practices’ beekeeper

GRASSROOTS ACTION IS POWERFUL! is a blog dedicated to American independently-owned, Member-Owned & operated, community food co-ops, their Member-Owners and families.

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ACTION ITEM – HWFC Member-Owners: This is a reminder that there is a quarterly HWFC Membership Meeting on Sunday, October 22, 2017 at the First Unitarian Universalist Church (FUUSA), 405 Washington Avenue, Albany, NY. The meeting consists of:

4:30 – 5:30pm: Meet the Governance Review
Council (GRC) Candidates
5:30 – 6:00pm: Dessert potluck
6:00 – 8:00pm: Meeting, with GRC elections to
take place at the meeting

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This is Part 2 (here is Part 1) of my continuing series about honey bees, pollinators, gardeners… …and neonicotinoids, that unwelcome ‘invasive’ poison in our gardens about which we gardeners need to immediately take up arms. Each successive post will focus on a particular issue relating to the need to ban neonicotinoids from our gardens, our farmlands…

…and our planet.

“Wee haue by this Shipp and the Discouerie sent you … Beehives…”

Letter written December 5, 1621 by the Council of the Virginia Company in London and addressed to the Governor and Council in Virginia 1

There are over 20,000 species of bees in the world; honey bees – both ‘managed’ and wild – are the most well-known by the public. Honey bees have been thriving for 50 million years! (In contrast, we’ve only been around for 6-7 million, 2.5 million or 200,000 years, depending upon your anthropological criteria.) They have a highly-complex and ordered social life; different from the majority of the world’s bees, which are solitary. Each honey bee has a distinct job within the hive, all contributing together to its order, harmony and productivity.

That hive is home.

How did honey bees happen to become part of the ecosystem of this continent?

Well, the honey bees with which we are all familiar here in the United States are actually an import. The first English settlers arrived on this continent in 1607 and created the permanent English colony of Jamestown, located in present-day Virginia.

Fifteen years later, in 1622, the very first bee hives on the continent were brought over from England.

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In her outstanding introduction to the history of bees in American, Honey Bees Across America, Brenda Kellar informs us:

“The only evidence we have of the initial importation of honey bees to North America is a letter written December 5, 1621 by the Council of the Virginia Company in London and addressed to the Governor and Council in Virginia, “Wee haue by this Shipp and the Discouerie sent you diurs [divers] sortes of seedes, and fruit trees, as also Pidgeons, Connies, Peacockes Maistiues [Mastiffs], and Beehives, [emphasis added] as you shall by the invoice pceiue [perceive]; the preservation & encrease whereof we respond vnto you…” (Goodwin 1956; Kingsbury 1906:532). The Discovery (60 tons, Thomas Jones, captain, and twenty persons) left England November 1621 and arrived in Virginia March 1622 (Langford Ship Information; Brown 1898:469-470). The other ship described only as “this shipp” could have been either the Bona Nova (200 tons, John Huddleston, master, and fifty persons) or the Hopewell (60 tons, Thomas Smith, master, and twenty persons), also known as the Great Hopewell. The Bona Nova was a month behind and arrived at Jamestown in April (Langford Ship Information). This was the Hopewell’s first voyage to Virginia and there is no record of the date of its arrival (Langford Ship Information), although Brown claims it arrived at Jamestown within 24 days of the Good Friday March 22, 1622 massacre (Brown 1898:469).

Historical documentary sources tell us that from Jamestown the honey bees multiplied and spread out. It would be another 16 years before the next successful shipment of honey bees made it to North America (Free 1982:116; Ransome 1937:260). However, the feral honey bee population boomed and by the mid 17th century honey bee hunting or ‘lining’[1] was a popular activity and would continue to be so well into the 20th century.” 2

Among all of the items critical for the survival of this fledgling English colony in Virginia – shipped over on a four-month long winter journey across the north Atlantic and explicit in the bill of particulars from 1622 – were “Beehives.”

This highlights just how important the English colonists – many of them farmers – knew honey bees to be!

How did these bees survive a journey, in the cold hold of a ship from November, 1621 to March, 1622? (Were they in the hold or, perhaps, somewhere in warmer quarters? I don’t think history tells us.)

It’s nothing they haven’t done before – perhaps not often in the hold of a ship! – but certainly, for millenia, in forests and in trees, dotting winter fields covered in snow.

Clearly this delivery was a carefully-timed event.

Approaching fall, the queen normally stops laying summer bees, which normally live for six weeks. The remaining bees, consuming a bit of royal jelly, hatch out and live for six months: they’re called winter bees. Due to the lack of brood (baby bees), the remaining winter bees would have balled up around the queen (forming a literal ‘bee ball‘), keeping her at 70 degrees. This ball, due to lack of brood, would be free to move about the combs, consuming honey and ‘beebread‘ (fermented pollen) as necessary, to maintain core temperature.

This is all normal behavior in any winter honey bee hive.

Bathroom breaks? Bees are quite patient, they can wait! In the early spring, the hives would have begun to raise the core temperatures of each bee ball from 70 degrees to 98.6 degrees, at which point the queen would start laying eggs, which are destined to hatch as brand new summer bees.

This would have coincided with a March, 1622 arrival in Virginia: early spring, at which time the bees would have left shipboard, been placed in fields, and immediately begun foraging.

The beekeepers on both ends of this winter, trans-Atlantic journey would have carefully chosen the departure and arrival dates of the beehives. They understood how hives work; they worked with the seasons – and with the rhythms of the hive – to assure the successful transplant of those fledgling beehives.

Clearly the transplant took!

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Here we are in 2017, almost 400 years after those first hives arrived. Ninety-nine percent of American beekeepers are made up of small, community-based apiaries; hives managed by a farmer for his or her own farm; or backyard beekeepers, called ‘sideliner’ or ‘hobbyist’ beekeepers. There are simply thousands of American families, across all fifty states – some gardeners like you and me – who maintain one or a few hives in the backyard, a larger apiary on the lower forty, many hives spread over several farmsteads, or a small or medium-scale business supplying honey and beeswax to the local community.

The American beekeepers who have been hitting the news since 2006 with massive bee die-offs, called colony collapse disorder (CCD), are – for the most part – large, commercial, migratory beekeepers: those who truck thousands of hives across the continent, following one or another mono-crop about to bloom, providing pollination services to the farms; California’s almond crops are, perhaps, the most well-known of these crops.

Many of the mono-crops their bees are pollinating in the United States are grown from neonicotinoid-coated seeds: some examples are corn, soy, wheat and sugar beets (used to make white sugar). Neonicotinoids are systemic, water-soluble pesticides which have been implicated in CCD and massive honey and bumble bee die-offs since 2006. (Please see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

These large-scale, commercial operations only make up about 1 percent of America’s beekeepers.

LocalBeekeeper3

A backyard beekeeper conducting an inspection of a Kenyan Top Bar Hive (KTBH), which is shaped like a hollow log (a preferred wild honey bee habitat). Note the dish of water, which is shallow and has stones placed in it, so that the bees may safely drink.

The community and neighborhood apiaries, the backyard hobbyists and their bees are, by the way, providing (free!) pollination services to all the neighbor farmers and gardeners in a three-mile radius from each hive. Your own flower and vegetable gardens thrive, in part, because of the attentive work of a beekeeper – somewhere local to you – and his or her apiary.

These beekeepers – the 99 percent spread out across America in every village, town, city and community – are your neighbors.

The 1 percent of our beekeepers traveling America’s roads, trucking hives, are providing pollination services for many, many of the crops your family eats: e.g., corn; almonds, citrus fruits, blueberries.

From those very first hives in 1622 up until today – we gardeners, farmers and beekeepers on this continent have had a symbiotic relationship – a very rewarding and a very essential relationship.

We gardeners and farmers are very, very lucky to have such accommodating neighbors, that is, those who keep bees!

FLOWERS: THE PLACE WHERE GARDENERS & BEES ‘MEETUP’

 “…each of our individual actions can contribute to a grand solution … So, let the small act of planting flowers and keeping them free of pesticides be the driver of large scale change…

Dr. Marla Spivak, Bees Scholar
June 2013 at TEDGlobal 2013

Honey bees which, like all of us, need food, gather that food from simple, ordinary flowers. They derive virtually all of their food from flowers. Those flowering plants which you and I, as gardeners, delight in digging in, watering and caring for and, occasionally, moving around madly and obsessively until we create the perfect palette, are the main food source for bees. For flowers yield nectar and pollen.

From each flower – and bees have their favorites, just like you and I, with white clover blossoms and Linden trees in bloom (also called American basswood or ‘the Bee Tree‘) being two of them! – a bee will gather nectar which – when fermented back at the hive – creates ‘honey,’ the hive’s source of carbohydrate, and pollen which – when fermented back at the hive – creates ‘beebread,” the hive’s source of protein.

BeesKnees (2)

The ‘pollen baskets’ on this bee are packed to the brim with yellow, tacky pollen, stored behind the bee’s knees. The term ‘That’s the Bee’s Knees!’ was made popular in the roaring ’20’s; it is flapper slang, similar to our use of the terms ‘cool‘ or ‘way cool.

Pollen is that fine yellow dust – slightly tacky, yes? – which most of us have had occasion to encounter on our gloves or hands while gardening. Those of you who are alert and attentive gardeners – and who among us is not alert and attentive! – have actually seen the so-called ‘bees’ knees:‘ a bee, zipping by, appearing to have large, weighty, yellow appendages on her back legs. This is actually the storage spot, right on the bee, for that pollen, on its way to being delivered to the hive. She is a sort-of UPS driver of the hive!

That pollen will end up back home, get placed in a cell, and it will ferment for just the right amount of time, until it is capped off for long term storage.

Nectar, that sweet liquid produced by a flower, once harvested, will remain in the bee, until it is regurgitated back home, get placed in a cell, and it will ferment for just the right amount of time, until it, too, is capped off for long term storage.

Fermentation is a key word here, hang on to it.

What is nectar? Well, do you remember, in the early summer as a child, encountering a honeysuckle bush?

I remember, in early summer, a warm, sunny day, sighting the first honeysuckle stand in full bloom, and eagerly running over with my brother …each of us plucking off a flower and gently snipping off the petal end, without breaking those long, thin, delicate things with yellow pollen on them. We would each – oh, so gently – pull and tug and draw it apart until the very end of the flower yielded that one precious drop of crystal clear, sweet, sublime liquid.

I remember holding the blossom above my tongue, letting that one drop take its sweet time and eventually drip down onto that tongue, eager to taste the sweet liquid. This was repeated over and over again – brother and sister sharing a tiny moment of heaven, blossom after blossom – piles of flowers in the grass at their feet. That is nectar!

That is the raw material for honey, yet another of nature’s sweet fluids, created not by a flower, but by a flower, a honey bee and a little time and fermentation!

LesserBindweed.

On the first day of autumn, this field bee travels back and forth between her hive and the flowers, taking full advantage of the warm, sunny day! She is gathering pollen and nectar. (Learn about that oh-so-innocent-looking vine – known as the evil ‘lesser bindweed’ – in my gardening-metaphor post, GRASSROOTS ACTION and invasives ARE POWERFUL!, here.)

Honey bees also need water, which is why it is essential that you, as a gardener, provide a source of clean fresh water – in a shallow dish with stones – for all of the pollinators which live in or visit your gardens.

Now, bees also gather sap from conifers, sap flows, tree buds, and other botanical sources, to create propolis (‘bee glue‘), out of which they create a resinous mixture to seal small spaces in the hive, keep the hive antiseptic, and defend against invaders, like ants and beetles. But that is another story!

WE SIMPLY CANNOT SURVIVE WITHOUT OUR BEES

Bees, in the course of simply living their lives, do an essential thing for us humans: they pollinate flowers. This essential act of procreation, the moving of pollen from one flower, one plant, to another, assures that somewhere down the line there will be food for us: a cherry tree will bear cherries, an almond tree will bear almonds, a tomato plant will produce tomatoes, a pumpkin vine will yield those big, orange pumpkins we all delight in for Halloween and for the pies which grace our Thanksgiving dinner tables.

If there is no pollination, down the line there will be no cherries, no almonds, no tomatoes, no pumpkins.

Honey bees are directly responsible for pollinating 30 percent of our food supply and 90 percent of our most commonly-grown foods; we rely upon all pollinators to pollinate 70 percent of our food supply. Pollinators – and honey bees – are essential to human survival.

This bears repeating: honey bees pollinate 30 percent of our food and are responsible for pollinating 90 percent of our most commonly-grown foods; all pollinators pollinate 70 percent of our food. They are all essential for the survival of our species.

If we do not – as a species – have pollinators, we do not have food.

RACHEL CARSON WAS RIGHT: WE ARE INTERCONNECTED

I think you are beginning to understand that fermentation plays a rather big role here among honey bees, especially of interest to those of you who follow a ‘Paleo’ or ‘traditional’ diet or who are learning about the incredible health value of ferments in our own diets. For healthy, unstressed bees utilize bacteria (and other micro-organisms) to create their fermented foods for long term storage.

That beebread and that honey have to last the winter, a time when there are no flowers to visit.

I learned a visceral lesson about fermentation this autumn.

One night, an unusually warm late September evening about 8PM, I pulled into the driveway, opened the truck door, gathered my bags, stepped out, slammed the door shut …and I was met with a thick, foul stench. Now, the door opens right next to the garbage pail, so I assumed something had been left in the pail and was busily rotting. (Since we, as organic gardeners, re-use all our kitchen leavings and always maintain a tidy compost pile and the weekly garbage had just been picked up – I could not understand what that might be.)

I went to check.

Nothing.

About 10PM that evening the odor simply went away.

Now, understand, this was not just your everyday kind of an odor. It smelled exactly like the liquid which dribbles out of the back of a garbage truck which you (unfortunately) happen to be driving behind on a hot, humid, steamy summer morning.

As my Mom would have said, “It stunk to high heaven!”

Several days’ later, the same thing happened. Dining room windows wide open, this malodorous, horrific odor wafted in. I ran out, checked everywhere and determined something – somewhere – must have died.

Again, about 10PM the odor simply vanished.

A few days’ later, again at night with the windows, again, left wide open, this ungodly, foul odor blew in, as I was, thank goodness!, finishing up my dinner. This time – aha! – the beekeeper-husband happened to be home. He could smell it; there would be a witness to my olfactory discomfort.

I sent him out to investigate.

Twenty minutes’ later, perimeter check completed, he opened the back door with a big, secret smile on his face. But, will he tell me what he’s discovered? No. He leaves me in olfactory-limbo.

I noticed, though, that he had been rooting around the hive.

10PM rolls around, and, for the third time, that odor simply vanished. Sweet, warm evening air blew by my face.

By this time there was a definite pattern anybody would have noticed!

Well, the beekeeper in the family finally informed the gardener in the family that the bees had been very busily gathering nectar and pollen from all the golden rod, which was still, by the way, in full bloom. We had had unusually warm, fall days and cool nights; the cool nights were keeping the late season, high-sugar nectar from being delivered to the plants’ roots over night and, instead, it remained in the flowers. The bees took full advantage! They were having a continuous party feeding upon super-sweet nectar and golden rod pollen!

They gathered all the pollen they could individually carry on those bees’ knees, and collectively placed it in the hive cells –  allowing them to sit open, for just the right amount of time …and ferment.

They did the same with the super-sweet nectar, allowing the cells to sit open, for just the right amount of time …and ferment.

Well, ferment… …or stink, depending upon your point of view, they did!

At 10PM, right as rain, the bees had finished capping off their brand new beebread and honey, and, low and behold, that odor simply vanished!

The bees – so to speak – put a lid on it!

Since we make our own sauerkraut and Kombucha from a Jun culture (an ancient culture which specifically requires honey not sugar for fermentation), I know what fermentation can smell like! It can stink to high heaven!

Mystery solved! My goodness, I was amazed at the production plant which is a beehive! Those bees were busy stocking up for winter.

We, human beings and tiny little honey bees, share this basic survival strategy: don’t waste time, ferment your excess to get you through the winter.

We also share in another one: we each need to have bacteria to assist us in not only fermenting our foods, but also in the very survival of our species.

I am willing to bet, once I research it, that I will find out that bees, like us, need a healthy gut ‘biome’ with tons of ‘good bacteria’ keeping the immune system going strong. Maybe those bee bacteria, too, are ill-affected by antibiotics and chemicals and poisonous, pesticide residue in the food.

I will let you know what I find out. A closer look into just how honey bees ferment pollen and nectar is definitely in order.

Anyway, it was at that moment  – in the evening just after 10PM – that I gained a deepening understanding and appreciation of the intimate connection between our species’. We both prepare foods for the long-term survival of our families through winter: we both ferment food and, yes, it can smell! The bees, in gathering their own food, pollinate flowers, literally creating food for us. We also share in the bounty of their hives, for we humans have, for thousands of years, harvested honey, one of their fermented foods. A book no less than the Bible is testament to that!

In fact, everybody must have heard, by now, the story that they found thousands-of-years-old honey in an Egyptian tomb, tested it, found it pure …and they ate it!

Milk and honey on the other side,’ is not, apparently, just a myth. Pharaoh planned to have some honey put aside for his journey!

However, as any natural or ‘organic practices’ beekeeper will tell you, the best time to harvest excess hive honey is in the spring, when the hive is safely through the winter and the queen wants that honey out of her way! so she can get to work making brood  and summer bees!

To everything there is a season.” 3

I need to pay more attention to the seasons and the cycles and the interconnections between me – a human being – and the beings – some very tiny – which whom I share an ecosystem. For I, we all, do share living together in an ecosystem. We each have a responsibility to preserve it, to defend it, to safeguard it, to protect it and, equally as important, to understand it. For in our hands is the stewardship of the land and the protection of our ecosystems.

I am going to go back and re-read Rachel Carson’s works, all of them, 4 for she gifted us with these messages – ‘gifts‘ whose reason for being was ecosystem crisis by systemic pesticide – almost 60 years ago. 5

It is at our own peril that we ignore the warning signs that the honey bees are – many with their lives – giving to us in 2017. 6

© Laura Hagen

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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

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ENDNOTES

1. Kellar, Brenda. “Honey Bees Across America.” Oregon State Beekeepers Association. http://orsba.org. Web. 12 October 2017. http://orsba.org/download/Honey%20Bees%20Across%20America.html.

We are in debt to Ms. Kellar for this carefully researched information. I appreciate the time she took to create this story, with its detailed, original source material, all carefully cited. We can enjoy her well-done story… …and, because of her scholarship, also go and read the original sources for ourselves! (Ah, the blessings of librarians – my heroes – and the internet!)

I was so impressed with her article I went looking for others. In fact, I found Ms. Kellar had completed her Master of Arts in Applied Anthropology. Granted in 2004, the title of her thesis is: One Methodology for the Incorporation of Entomological Material in the Discipline of Historic Archaeology Using the Honey Bee (Apis mellifera L.) as a Test Subject. With the wonders of the internet, here is her thesis!

Ms. Kellar goes into much more detail about those first beehives which arrived in Jamestown in 1622. Curious? Please sit down and read her thesis!

2. Ibid.

3. Seeger, Pete. “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season).” The Bitter and the Sweet. Columbia. 1962. Vinyl: LP.

Listen to Pete Seeger as he sings, at age 93, the song he wrote in 1962, Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season), which uses – almost word-for-word – the first eight verses of the third chapter of the biblical Book of Ecclesiastes, King James version. This recording took place on November 9, 2012, with the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater Foundation honoring legendary musician David Amram with the “Power of Song Award” at Symphony Space in New York City.

Pete lived near the Hudson River – a pristine river first explored in 1609 by an English captain on a mission for the Dutch: Henry Hudson in the ship the Halve Maen. Pete Seeger, in the Sloop Clearwater, helped clean up that same Hudson River, some 350 years later.

Consider, for a moment, the lifelong legacy of this one, simple musician. One of the many, many things he did was to take on the corporate polluters of the Hudson River … and win.

A little over a year after that Power of Song Award concert down near New York harbor, we – especially those of us on and near his beloved Hudson River – lost Pete Seeger on January 27, 2014. He was 94.

4. Rachel Carson was a scientist, ecologist, and writer. Employed for fifteen years by the federal government in the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, she rose to the position of Editor-in-Chief of all publications for that agency. Linda Lear, who wrote a biography of Rachel Carson, lists Ms. Carson’s four books as:

Under the Sea-Wind (1941)
The Sea Around Us (1952)
The Edge of the Sea (1955)
Silent Spring (1962)

Ms. Lear’s biography of Rachel Carson is entitled Biography Witness for Nature (1997); it was was re-issued in 2009 by by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, as Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature.

Ms. Lear also references the 1970 book by Frank Graham, entitled Since Silent Spring Rachel Carson has been proved right. What have we done about it?

A research archive of the life and work of Rachel Carson, the Lear-Carson Collection, is maintained at Connecticut College in New London, CT.

5. My generation will never forget the images of piles of dead fish on our river banks and in our streams, birds’ eggs not hatching, and the dire warning that the American bald eagle was poised to go extinct, all due to a systemic pesticide, DDT.

It is directly because of the impact which both Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and Pete Seeger had upon me (my family lived near to the Hudson River and knew how polluted it was), that I, with a bunch of other like-minded students, co-founded our high school’s first-ever Ecology Club and we initiated its first-ever Earth Day celebration, which became a yearly event throughout the entire high school. Town-wide, monthly newspaper drives, initiated and organized by one of our French teachers, dear M. George Johnson, were the beginnings of ‘recycling’  in our community: a brand new concept in the late 1960’s – early ’70’s.

During high school, the Sloop Clearwater used to (and still does!) dock at key towns and cities up and down the length of the Hudson River from New York harbor up to Albany, New York; the sight of her majestic, tall mast and beautiful, white sails slowly floating downriver was unique, memorable and inspiring to a young adult concerned about the plight of the living beings we share the planet with.

Is it vacant, silent honey bee hives, backyards bereft of floating monarch’s and birdsong, and piles of dead bumble bees in store parking lots which are to be this generation’s systemic pesticides’ warning klaxon?

It was the Sloop Clearwater, Pete Seeger and a whole bunch of concerned citizens – Moms, Dads, kids (and musicians!) – who all changed the Hudson River’s story. People like renowned naturalist and Illinois beekeeper, Terence Ingram and his Eagle Nature Foundation, Ltd., (he began studying bald eagles in 1962, the same year Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was published), positively changed the story of the bald eagle.

Who is changing the systemic pesticide / neonicotinoid story for our pollinators here in 2017?

Can we gardeners make a difference, each in our home communities?

6. On September 20, 2017 the International Union of Conservation of Nature’s Task Force on Systemic Pesticides (TFSP), an international body of scientists, released its latest, updated warning about neonicotinoids, Severe Threats to Biodiversity from Neonicotinoid Pesticides Revealed in Latest Scientific Review.

GRASSROOTS ACTION: “My Food Comes From WHERE?! Oh, there!” No. 2: Who Owns Organic

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Posted by Laura Hagen, HWFC Member-Owner

GRASSROOTS ACTION IS POWERFUL! is a blog dedicated to American independently-owned, Member-Owned & operated, community food co-ops, their Member-Owners and families.

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REMINDER: Our HWFC quarterly Membership Meeting is tomorrow, Sunday, January 29, 2017 at the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany (FUUSA), 405 Washington Avenue, in Albany, NY:

5:30-6:00 pm Dessert Potluck, 6:00-8:00 pm meeting.

From 5:00-6:00 pm, music will be provided by Albany’s own, awesome duo Alan Thomson on piano, and me, Laura Hagen, on the family of recorders! Please come enjoy some live music with your dessert! Guaranteed some 17th-18th c. English Country Dance tune hits (see here if you want to actually dance these elegant dances – to live music – right here, once a month, at FUUSA!) …and other 21st c. musical surprises, as well!

Here is the HWFC Membership Meeting Notice.

We will be voting upon our proposed Food & Product Manual (and please see here for the current Food & Product Manual).

and

our proposed new Member-Owner Manual.

See you tomorrow night!

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       Before I commence this blogpost, let me let you know that I have an article published in the December, 2016 HWFC Co-op Voice entitled Indiana Food Co-op Closes Storefronts: Cooperative Movement, Take Notice! This article, about Bloomingfoods Food Co-op in Bloomington, Indiana, [1] uncovers a process being used to systematically remove and eliminate the legal power & control held by the Member-Owners of a US independently-owned, community food co-operative. It is dedicated to indy author and fellow food co-op Member-Owner Mimi Yahn. [2]

And, BTW, welcome new readers who came over here to GRASSROOTS ACTION! by way of the Co-op Voice! Please feel free to leave a comment or question, below!

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       Holy-moly it’s been three months since I last posted! My new responsibilities as co-chair of an HWFC Committee …Halloween …getting the garden ready for winter …national elections …Thanksgiving …Solstice …Chanukah …Christmas—

—(with a lovely Frasier fir which we cut and a concert with the new Mountain Snow and Mistletoe Orchestra (boy, do we miss Chris Shaw & Bridget Ball and their annual Mountain Snow and Mistletoe Concert, but love the new band, too! I mean what’s not to love about John Kirk, Kevin McKrell and Brian Melick? Listen here!)—

—a nasty sinus infection—

—(ok, long story short(er): I discovered a way to get rid of my sinus infection without the neti pot, eucalyptus steaming, tons of fluids & vitamin C, lots of moaning, and the inevitable and dreaded antibiotics.

It’s called kimchi.

Turns out there are a few intrepid researchers out there researching the “good” bacteria we are supposed to have in our sinuses; they are busy developing a nasal spray with the needed beneficial bacteria. Just like many of us are missing bunches of “good” bacteria in our guts, those of us who get sinus infections are missing certain “good” bacteria in our sinus cavities/biomes (Did you even know you had a sinus biome? Well, you do!)

By the way, let me interject here: any information you read in these blogposts is intended as consumer information only and not meant to take the place of consultation with or advice from your doctors or health care practicioners.

I was led to kimchi by the work of a fellow blogger, Mara Silgailis over at Lacto Bacto  Health, Microbes and More. Turns out we are missing Lactobacillus sakei (L. sakei) – the same bacteria used to ferment sake, BTW… …and also present in kimchi – and if you introduce this missing bacteria into your “sinus biome,” you may get relief. Go ahead, google L. sakei, sinusitus and kimchi. Up pops Ms. Silgailis’s website and her family’s sinusitis story. (See this article about the original 2012 UCSF study and the original study. See also here, here, and listen here, too.)

So, I had dear husband run over to our food co-op, the Honest Weight Food Co-op – at 9:30pm, what a saint – and purchase one of the recommended kimchis. I began my own, personal n=1 experiment. (And just to be crystal clear: I am not suggesting that you should actually go out and try this experiment on yourself.)

After delicate insertion of some of the live, fermented kimchi liquid (which I had placed in a separate, small bowl) into each nostril (using a Q-tip) (I’m so sorry, but those of you who suffer with cranky sinuses understand and, no, simply eating kimchi does NOT work!), I had relief within three hours. Three hours later my sinuses were crystal clear!!!

WHAT?!! UNBELIEVABLE!

All because I am missing L. sakei in the sinuses?

Repeating the process 2-3 times a day for a week or so took care of the problem. Good-bye sinusitis forever!

How does this work?

According to all the research, scientific and anecdotal reports I read, by introducing L. sakei into the sinus microbiome, you are restoring order and balance. “Bad” bacteria, which had proliferated and become dominant, are not killed off, but their numbers are reduced and they go back to being just “part of the symbiotic crowd” of the microbiome community.

As a woodwind player and musician, understand that I need my breathing system functioning at top notch, especially when holiday performances approach. For me, this is a miracle! Mara Silgailis, my family here at GRASSROOTS ACTION! thanks your family at Lacto Bacto! And, thank you for blogging your family’s story so that other families may benefit.

Go have fun! Learn. Research. Read-up over at Lacto Bacto  Health, Microbes and More (article updated as of December 2016; and, I highly recommend reading all Reader Comments at Lacto Bacto, as well). The absolute wonders of healthy microbiomes, good bacteria, scobys, ferments, probiotics, nasal biome researchers, and a little ol’ bacterium called L. sakei! (Please go read about another little ol’ bacterium: H. pylori. Stomach ulcers are becoming a thing of the past; sinusitis may join those ranks. See [3].)

However, please, proceed at your own risk and run this by your own doctor, first!

I agree with Dr. Chris Kresser, who states in his article, Chronic Sinus Problems: Another Role for Probiotics?:

Of course I can’t recommend or endorse these procedures, because they haven’t been tested for safety or efficacy. It would seem that the risk is relatively low, but it’s at least possible that some of the other microbes in kimchi or other oral probiotics may not be beneficial for the sinus microbiome. We’re really just starting to scratch the surface in this area of research, and there’s still a lot that we don’t understand. So if you decide to perform these experiments at home, proceed at your own risk!)—

—New Year’s (what fun at Saratoga’s First Night) and First Night dinner with family and friends at a Saratoga pub—

—(Ladies, I saw Richard Gere in Saratoga last year, eating dinner, I kid you not!!!

Hey, just how ever did we get from Christmas music, pub fare, and sinus infections…

…to the stunning Richard Gere?

Well, he was voted the world’s sexiest man alive in 1999 by People Magazine and just how often do you get to say you were in the same room with one of the world’s most sexy men???

He graduated from North Syracuse Central High School and he owns a B&B, the Bedford Post Inn down in Westchester, so I guess Saratoga’s not too much of a leap, just upriver a ways from his B&B.

Richard Gere simply radiates charm and stunning good looks and, I confess, I couldn’t take my eyes off of him… …except when I glanced at dear husband, and my family and friends sitting around me, which brought me back to my very happy, contented, and loved reality. Hollywood’s a world I am very glad to not be a part of; give me my upstate NY community of family, friends, musicians and food co-op families, colleagues, buddies & neighbors any day…

…but – just for your information – he passed right by our table on his way out, and he looked down and smiled! What a smile!

And, of course, there is a musician to thank in this story: thank you forever, Roy Orbison!)—

—and a brand new year with brand new hopes and dreams and promises and great things yet to come!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

For me, this will be the year for discovering more about gut bacteria, biomes, “good” bacteria, and making your own ferments. I’ll share with you as I learn! What a journey this will prove to be!

Which brings me to today’s blog topic:

My Food Comes From WHERE?! Oh, there! No. 2: Who Owns Organic

       Today, I want to introduce you to a fantastic tool for figuring out which companies own which organic food brands. The tool is an Infographic called Who Owns Organic. It has been designed by Dr. Philip H. Howard, an Associate Professor in the Department of Community Sustainability at Michigan State University, who teaches about the US food system and sustainability. Here is Dr. Howard’s homepage.

Remember, I first introduced you to the Cornucopia Institute in the very first blog in this brand new series, started in June 2016, called GRASSROOTS ACTION: “My Food Comes From WHERE?! Oh, there!” No. 1: The Cornucopia Institute. The Cornucopia Institute “Promotes Economic Justice for Family Scale Farming.” [4]

Dr. Howard’s Infographic, “Who Owns Organic”, available at the Cornucopoia Institute’s website, will help you figure out which BIG Food and/or BIG Organic companies own which (natural and/or) organic food [5] products you are buying. Who Owns Organic tracks sales, distribution and mergers within the US (natural and) organic [5] processing / wholesale network.

A regularly-updated version of “Who Owns Organic” aka Organic Processing Industry: Acquisitions & Alliances, Top 100 Food Processors in North America, is also available directly on Dr. Howard’s homepage, updated as of November, 2016. (Here is a printable PDF.) [6]

He also quantifies which organic processors / brands have remained independent (as of January 2011: you will have to do further research to update through 2017): see Organic Industry Structure: Major Independents and Their Subsidiary Brands (scroll down).

Dr. Howard also has data (through 2008) of mergers and acquisitions among the US wholesale co-operative distribution network: see: Organic Industry Structure: Cooperative Distributors, 1982-2008.

Urgent info for us food co-op Member-Owners, no? It will answer your questions as to which co-operative companies are wholesaling (natural and) organic [5] food to US food co-operatives, like HWFC.

Dr. Howard has provided information about the major corporate, wholesale distributors of (natural and) organic [5] foodstuffs to grocery stores, including US food co-ops: see Organic Industry Structure: Major Organic/Natural Foods Distributors, 2008.

He has quantified information (as of 2007) about the organic “Private Label Brands”, which are increasingly being produced for large supermarkets, wholesale clubs & grocery stores. For example, “Field Day” is a Private Label Brand produced by United Natural Foods, Inc. (UNFI) and provided to US small natural food stores and food co-ops.

Want to know about (organic & non-organic) bread in the US? Dr. Howard has information about Wheat and Bread in North American. There are only three bread firms in North America, which own all the well-known bread brands: Bimbo Bakeries, Flowers Food and Campbell Soup Co.!

(I leave for another blogpost, a discussion about Dr. Howard’s Infographic Global Seed Industry Structure. You will instantly notice the frightening fact that chemical companies, worldwide, are buying up seed companies. His infographic, Cross-licensing Agreements for Genetically Engineered Seed Traits, should instantly send a shock wave through you: “The ‘Big 6’ have entered into a number of agreements to share patented, genetically engineered seed traits with each other, such as herbicide tolerance and expression of insecticidal toxins.”)

RELEASE OF USDA NATIONAL ORGANIC STANDARDS INCREASES ORGANIC CORPORATE CONSOLIDATIONS

       Dr. Howard alerts us:

The development of the USDA National Organic Standard in place of differing state/regional standards [first draft released in 1997] was widely predicted to accelerate trends of increasing consolidation in this sector.”

His warning appears to hold true:

  • Find out how many wholesale co-operatives are left in the US out of the 28 there were in 1982:
    • The reduction in numbers will stun you; there is only one (1) left.
  • What is the name of the one remaining organic co-operative wholesaler?
  • Find out who the main US wholesalers/distributors of processed (natural and) organic [5] foods are:
    • As of 2008, there were only four distributors listed:
      • Haddon House
      • Tree of Life
      • KEHE
      • United Natural Foods, Inc. (UNFI).
    • How many are left today, nine years later in 2017?
    • Is this beginning to look to you like monopoly-like behavior?
  • Find out which BIG Food corporations own and distribute your favorite organic foods which you buy at Honest Weight Food Co-op or your own local food co-op.
  • Did you realize just how many of your favorite organic products are produced by BIG Food corporations?
  • Did your realize how many of your favorite small, independent or family-owned organic brands are no longer independent or family-owned?
  • Just what are all these giant organic mergers and acquisitions doing to small, local, family-owned organic farms and organic producers?
  • Begin to assess just how many processed organic foods your family may be consuming:
    • Do you really want to place your food budget dollars with all of these processed organic food products?
    • Do you really want to support BIG Food corporations and their organic lines… …or, rather, support local & regional organic farm families and organic producers – who are our neighbors – and who are dedicating their lives to providing us with truly organic, truly healthy, sustainable organic foods?

BIG Food CONGLOMERATES OWN LION’S SHARE

       Yes, if you haven’t already figured it out, many of those well-known “organic” brands you see on the shelves of our food co-op are owned by one or another BIG Food corporation. Dr. Howard’s Who Owns Organic infographic makes that crystal clear.

Some of the more well-known BIG Food corporations (how many are transnational food conglomerates?) referenced on Who Owns Organic are:

  • Coco-Cola
  • Pepsi
  • ConAgra
  • Tyson
  • Campbell Soup, Co.
  • General Mills
  • Kellogg
  • M & M Mars
  • Hershey Foods
  • J.M. Smucker
  • Danone (Dannon)
  • Nestlé
  • Miller-Coors
  • Hormel

The organic products which BIG Food corporations produce do not – as an industry-wide practice – state the name of the parent corporation on the processed organic foods’ labels; that information is kept hidden. You’ll need Dr. Howard’s Who Owns Organic in order to figure that out.

My September 15, 2016 blogpost, GRASSROOTS ACTION: “They Added WHAT To My Food?! No Dude!” No. 1: GMOs, MSG & Senomyx includes a story about Muir Glen Organic Pasta Sauce and its deceptive labeling, here. Turns out, General Mills owns and markets Muir Glen, one of its “organic” lines. That fact is not stated on the label; however, I quickly found it out by using Dr. Howard’s Who Owns Organic.

In addition, organic industry wholesale processors & distributors utilize a very clever PR & Marketing ploy: they pair the terms natural and organic. They hope to pull the wool over our eyes and convince us that “natural” = “organic.”

Investigative reporter Jon Rappoport, in his March 13, 2013 blogpost Can You Trust Whole Foods?, alerted us to this scam being used by Whole Foods Market (Nasdaq: WFM) and United Natural Foods, Inc. (Nasdaq: UNFI). UNFI is the same wholesaler used by many US independent, Member-Owned food co-ops, through their membership in National Co-op Grocers or NCG).

Quoting from a January 27, 2011 article by Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association, The Organic Elite Surrenders to Monsanto: What Now?, he writes:

“ ‘Retail stores like WFM and wholesale distributors like UNFI have failed to educate their customers about the qualitative difference between natural and certified organic, conveniently glossing over the fact that nearly all of the processed ‘natural’ foods and products they sell contain GMOs, or else come from a ‘natural’ supply chain where animals are force-fed GMO grains in factory farms or Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs)…

…Whole Foods and UNFI are maximizing their profits by selling quasi-natural products at premium organic prices. Organic consumers are increasingly left without certified organic choices while genuine organic farmers and ranchers continue to lose market share to ‘natural’ imposters…'”

It is for this very reason, in this blogpost, I will not willingly pair the terms (natural and) organic. (See [5].) [7]

Many of these same BIG Food corporations supported the passage of the Dark Act: see this Organic Consumers Association article, Organic Traitors Team Up with Monsanto and GMA on DARK Act, here and the Health Ranger’s Natural News article, Organic Food Industry Divided After Organic Trade Association BETRAYS Labeling Movement By Signing Off on Sham GMO-labeling Bill, here.

The BIG Food industry giants have each created their own niche product lines of (natural and) organic [5] foods. Created, that is, or simply bought out – “acquired” – many of the independent “organic” brands, we used to know and love.

Well, we may still know and love them… …but do we know that some new, BIG Food corporation now owns them and they sure aren’t “independent” or “family-owned” anymore?

Over the years, many, many independent organic brands have been bought out. They may retain the same name, same label, similar marketing. But, there is a different corporate owner …and, perhaps, new & different ingredients? (Hadn’t you better go and check ingredient labels? Right now? Go read this post, GRASSROOTS ACTION: “They Added WHAT To My Food?! No Dude!” No. 1: GMOs, MSG & Senomyx, here, in its entirety.)

(Natural and) organic: [5] that’s where the money is, and BIG Food knows we’ll pay more for it. So, they have all developed their own (natural and) organic [5] product lines/subsidiaries and have all developed cool, colorful, catchy-sounding, catch-your-eye packaging & labels, so as to catch more of our families’ food dollars.

Dr. Howard’s infographic, Who Owns Organic, as well as his other cutting-edge data & graphics, will instantly give you answers to some of your questions about the corporate ownership of US foods labeled as organic.

FOOD CO-OP MEMBER-OWNERS: QUESTIONS TO PONDER

       The serious questions which bear reflection by US food co-op Member-Owners are these: have our US food co-op aisles been silently, quietly & quite colorfully infiltrated and “co-opted” by BIG Food and BIG Organic, with their (natural and) organic [5] product lines?

Are we comfortable supporting these BIG Food and BIG Organic corporations, some of which heavily supported the passage of the Dark Act as members of the Organic Trade Association (OTA) and/or the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA)?

Is there a way to, instead, throw more of our support and food budget dollars to local & regional organic farmers, farm families and organic food producers & distributors?

Please study Dr. Howard’s Organic Industry Structure: Cooperative Distributors, 1982-2008. Can you determine exactly how, between 1982 – 2008, 27 wholesale food co-operatives disappeared?

Buy-outs? Mergers? Acquisitions? Out-of business? Hostile corporate take-overs?

This article, Food Co-ops, Food Hubs, and Food Democracy: An Interview with John Curl, may help answer that question: see part I and part II.

What took the place of these 27 US wholesale food co-operatives? This July 7, 2009 Organic Consumers Association article, The Organic Monopoly and the Myth of “Natural” Foods: How Industry Giants Are Undermining the Organic Movement, will help answer that question. And, this February 27, 2013 Truthout article, Our Food Is Being Hijacked by Monopolizing Corporations, will clarify the trend in monopolies in the (natural and) organic [5] food industry.

As an aside: doesn’t it trouble you that (natural and) organic [5] foods are now routinely referred to as an “industry?” What happened to “co-operative self-reliant,” “small is beautiful,” family farms, and regional distribution of regional foodstuffs? You are encouraged to read the October 5, 2016 – New York Times Magazine Food Issue Can Big Food Change?

This May 18, 2012 article by The Cornucopia Institute, The Organic Watergate: Advocates Condemn Corruption and USDA’s Cozy Relationship with Corporate Agribusinesses in Organics, highlights a White Paper by Cornucopia entitled,  The Organic Watergate — White Paper Connecting the Dots: Corporate Influence at the USDA’s National Organic Program. The Report details how “…the USDA’s blatant disregard for the requirements laid out in the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA), and the intent of Congress, is illegal and has inappropriately favored corporate agribusiness over the interests of ethical businesses, farmers and consumers.” (pp. 2-3).

Finally, given that Dr. Howard’s data shows that the number of US wholesale food co-operative distributors fell from 28 to 1 (as of 2008), and (as of 2008) there were only 4 national wholesale distributors of (natural and) organic [5] foods, is it possible that the same reduction/buy-out/takeover process is underway at US independently-owned, retail food co-operatives?

Given the threats which Member-Owners at many, many US, community retail food co-ops are experiencing (see Mimi Yahn’s two articles and a Letter to the Editor [Losing our Principles, Searching for Democracy at the Putney Co-op, and Still Searching for Democracy at the Putney Co-op]; Indiana Food Co-Op Closes Storefronts: Cooperative Movement, Take Notice! and previous posts on this GRASSROOTS ACTION! blog; and Take Back the Co-op and National Stories at Take Back the Co-op), is there a possibility that our US independently-owned, community, retail food co-operatives could be the target of a systematic (and stealth) takeover? Is that as far-fetched as it seems?

Are US community, independently-owned, Member & Family-Owned and operated retail food co-ops – like wholesale food co-ops – going the way of the dodo bird?

Or (what seems more likely, given the billions of dollars and market share retail food co-ops represent), rather than facing extinction:

  • just like the merger & acquisition of 27 wholesale food co-operatives;
  • just like BIG Food’s acquisition of many of the “independent” and “family-owned” (natural and) organic [5] product brands we know and love;

could many US retail food co-operatives have:

  • retained the same names;
  • retained the same types of (natural and) organic [5] foodstuffs on the shelves;
  • maintained the same kind of marketing…

…but (silently) acquired a different corporate structure?

…a corporate structure which has eliminated the legal power & control of the Member-Owners & local families and, thereby, the local community, and leaves behind the shell of a community food co-op…

…that is, a community food co-op in name only.

Are US food co-ops… …being co-opted?

Are the truly authentic, US community food co-ops – owned and run by community families, co-opertively – the target of a systematic (stealth) takeover?

MICHAEL POLLAN’S “Little Food”

       In the October 5, 2016 New York Times Magazine Food Issue Can Big Food Change?, a term coined, I believe, by Michael Pollan in his article, Why Did the Obamas Fail to Take on Corporate Agriculture?, caught my attention. He uses the term “Little Food;” something we independently-owned, community food co-ops know a little something about!

Pollan’s definition of BIG Food: “If you leave us alone and pay no attention to how we do it, we can produce vast amounts of acceptable food incredibly cheaply.

Little Food, on the other hand, is explained by Pollan as such: “That vulnerability [of BIG Food] is the conscience of the American eater, who in the past decade or so has taken a keen interest in the question of where our food comes from, how it is produced and the impact of our everyday food choices on the land, on the hands that feed us, on the animals we eat and, increasingly, on the climate. Though still a minority, the eaters who care about these questions have come to distrust Big Food and reject what it is selling. Looking for options better aligned with their values, they have created, purchase by purchase, a $50 billion alternative food economy, comprising organic food, local food and artisanal food. Call it Little Food. And while it is still tiny in comparison with Big Food, it is nevertheless the fastest-growing sector of the food economy.” [emphasis added]

A most interesting question for me – as a Member-Owner of a food co-op – is: what percentage of our yearly sales comes from Little Food: that is, “organic food, local food and artisanal food?” I would further want to tease out what percentage is minimally-processed and comes specifically from local (defined as within 250 miles) organic farmers & organic artisanal food producers.

In my opinion, a food co-op’s five-year Strategic Plan should have, as its number one goal, a plan to dramatically increase the percentage of Little Food which it buys & sells.

For example, browsing the awesome collection of local, regional & artisanal cheeses our food co-op, the Honest Weight Food Co-op, sells, is enough to convince me that this is why community-owned food co-ops need to exist and need to continue to thrive in our hometowns! There is a clear two-way street in full operation here, between organic customers (us) and the local & regional organic farmers and families who produce these cheeses!

Michael Pollan’s Little Food, is one of the sources of the strength & power of local, community-owned, Member-Owned and run food co-ops. We should be shouting this from the rooftops!

Dr. Howard’s New Book: Concentration and Power in the Food System: Who Controls What We EAT?

       Published in February, 2016, Dr. Howard has a new book out called Concentration and Power in the Food System: Who Controls What We Eat? London: Bloomsbury Academic (February 25, 2016). This book is well worth the purchase!

If you read Dr. Howard’s new book, report back here at GRASSROOTS ACTION and tell us what you have learned! I am poised to read it, myself.

It will be interesting to see if his book covers US independently-owned, local food co-operatives.

Thank goodness there are dedicated professors like Dr. Howard researching & quantifying this data and making it clear and easily understandable, so we can track just what is going on with (natural and) organic [5] foods here in the US. Please make Dr. Howard’s website a part of your favorite websites and archive his Infographic, Who Owns Organic on your Smartphone, to use as you shop the aisles of your favorite US food co-op.

Dr. Howard has provided us with data so that we can pierce the corporate ownership & marketing veils and find out exactly who is selling (natural and) organic [5] foods to us. We then have a better chance of finding out what, exactly, is really in the food we eat. We can then make the rational & decided choice to place our family food dollars with those BIG Food corporations… …or not.

Dr. Howard is helping us to work at keeping our organic food supply truly local, truly sustainable, and truly healthy for our families. His work will help strengthen the ties between US food co-op families and the local & regional organic farm families & organic producers who dedicate their lives to providing us with truly organic food.

Every food dollar you place in an organic farm family’s pocket – through purchases at your local food co-op – goes towards strengthening our connection to healthy, high-quality, regional food: a critical need for any family! Spend wisely.

Dr. Howard’s data may convince you, too, of the vital need to keep our food local. Thank you Dr. Howard! His Infographic, Who Owns Organic was sure an eye-opener for me. I think it will be for you, too.

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[1] This Co-op Voice article is a condensed version of my June 14, 2016 blogpost, GRASSROOTS ACTION: Indiana Food Co-op Closes Storefronts. HWFC Forewarned-Reducing Overhead Critical. The December article, however, has some updated information which you will want to read.

[2] Please see Ms. Yahn’s two articles and a Letter to the Editor: Losing our Principles, Searching for Democracy at the Putney Co-op, and Still Searching for Democracy at the Putney Co-op. Ms. Yahn reveals disturbing threats to her food co-op’s democratic principles and its bylaws, and a wider pattern of “corporatization” at many other American, local, independently-owned food co-ops.

Please note that there are brand new Letters to the Editor and/or Comments concerning Ms. Yahn’s articles, posted more than 1 1/2 years after these articles were first published! There has been so much new action that The Commons Online added a brand new sidebar to direct the reader to the new Letters and/or Comments!

I urge you to go and read them.

See, in particular, the September 21, 2016 Letter to the Editor, “We help co-ops, not weaken them,” in the VT Digger, from the co-founder of CDS Consulting Co-op, Marilyn Scholl, in response to Ms. Yahn’s February, 11 2015 Letter, and the lively commentary, below Ms. Yahn’s February 4, 2015 article, provided in response to CDSCC Marilyn Scholl’s September, 2016 Comment, by co-op Member-Owner KJ Jacobson, at The Commons Online, here (scroll down, below the article to “Leave a Reply.”)

BTW, the Comments by KJ Jacobson were posted just 28 days ago.

One wonders: what prompted CDSCC’s co-founder, Marilyn Scholl, to respond – in September, 2016 – to articles Ms. Yahn had published almost two years previous?

It is, perhaps, noteworthy that on October 5th and 6th, 2016, two weeks after the publishing of her Letter in the VT Digger, CDS Consulting Co-op’s Marilyn Scholl shared the podium with National Co-op Grocers’ (NCG) C.E. Pugh – at two Town Meetings held by La Montañita Food Co-op in Albuquerque, NM; please see my October 6, 2016 blogpost, GRASSROOTS ACTION and La Montañita Member-Owners ARE POWERFUL! La Montañita  Member-Owners have been waging a battle to gain back Member-Owner control of their food co-op; see their website, Take Back the Co-op. According to accounts on the Take Back the Co-op website, CDS Consulting Co-op has also had a significant presence at La Montañita for at least the last three years.

While you are over at Take Back the Co-op, read the Letter which Mimi Yahn sent to the Member-Owners of La Montañitahere and the Letter which the Board of the Honest Weight Food Co-op sent, as well, here.

[3] It’s of great scientific interest to note that one of the two Australian scientists who discovered that Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori, a bacterium) plays a role in the development of gastritis and peptic ulcers, Dr. Marshall, intentionally infected himself with the bacterium to prove the scientists’ hypothesis:

In 1985, for example, Marshall underwent gastric biopsy to prove he didn’t carry the bacterium, then deliberately infected himself to show that it caused acute gastric illness. (See the October 3, 2005 article in The Scientist, H. pylori researchers win Nobel by Stephen Pincock.)

Drs. Barry J. Marshall and J. Robin Warren were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2005 for their research and discovery.

Read the April 8, 2010 interview with Dr. Warren by Pamela Weintraub entitled, The Dr. Who Drank Infectious Broth, Gave Himself an Ulcer, and Solved a Medical Mystery.

[4]  One of the Cornucopia Institute’s Board members, Kevin Engelbert, owns Engelbert Farms (here is their FB page), the first certified organic dairy farm in the US, certified in 1984. Engelbert Farms produces organic milk, veal, beef, pork, pasture, hay, corn, soybeans, and vegetables and is located in our own state, in Nichols, NY, just west of Binghamton.

[5] I will not willingly pair the words “natural” and “organic.” This is a marketing trick of BIG Food and BIG Organic; by pairing these two words, we, ourselves, are seduced into believing that they are equivalent. They are not. In the US, foods allowed to be labeled as “organic” have a specific statutory and regulatory meaning; that is, we have certain, guaranteed consumer protections. The term “natural” on a label, however, is virtually meaningless, offering none of the consumer protections afforded by the term “organic.”

By cleverly pairing these two terms in their marketing, BIG Food and BIG Organic corporations hope to pull the wool over our eyes and convince us that “natural” = “organic.” This is, however, a very clever and deliberate PR & Marketing ploy.

“Natural” does not = “organic.” Caveat emptor.

[6] The reader is encouraged to also view this infographic in a July 14, 2014 article by Michael Snyder entitled Big Corporations Have An OVERWHELMING Amount Of Power Over Our Food Supply, located at The Economic Collapse Blog.

[7] See Jon Rappoport’s other articles about Whole Foods Market (Nasdaq: WFM) and/or United Natural Foods, Inc. (Nasdaq: UNFI):

March 11, 2013: What’s behind Whole Foods’ Decision to Label GMOs in their Stores?

October 14, 2013: Co-exist with Monsanto or Destroy it? Follow the Organic Money

February 25, 2014: Top shareholders in Whole Foods and Monsanto: Identical

December 23, 2014: Whole Foods Sued for False Non-GMO Labeling

© Laura Hagen

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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

GRASSROOTS ACTION, election results & HWFC Letter of Support to La Montañita Member-Owners

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Posted by Laura Hagen, HWFC Member-Owner

GRASSROOTS ACTION IS POWERFUL! is a blog dedicated to American independently-owned, Member-Owned & operated, community food co-ops, their Member-Owners and families.

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       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 [1] …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.

Signed,

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

© Laura Hagen

[1] 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 thank goodness 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.

John Philpot Curran

~~~~~

GRASSROOTS ACTION and (oops) Sunday’s Meeting begins at 4:30pm with MEET THE GRC CANDIDATES!

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Posted by Laura Hagen, HWFC Member-Owner

GRASSROOTS ACTION IS POWERFUL! is a blog dedicated to American independently-owned, Member-Owned & operated, community food co-ops, their Member-Owners and families.

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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.

Please see the rest of today’s blogpost here.

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THANK YOU to a bunch of “eternally vigilant” readers for the HWFC meeting time correction!

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

~~~~~

GRASSROOTS ACTION and Membership Meetings on 10/23/16 ARE POWERFUL!

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Posted by Laura Hagen, HWFC Member-Owner

GRASSROOTS ACTION IS POWERFUL! is a blog dedicated to American independently-owned, Member-Owned & operated, community food co-ops, their Member-Owners and families.

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ALERT: Here is the new HWFC October, 2016 Coop Voice!

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. [1]

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_cc_img.jpg

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!

High Hopes aka The Ant Song

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.

See ya Sunday!

© Laura Hagen

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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

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[1] Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Entry: Thomas Paine. Accessed October 20, 2016. See here.

[2] Picture of Thomas Paine. Photo via Wikipedia Commons. http://www.thenation.com. See February 9, 1737: Thoma Paine is Born by Richard Kreitner and The Almanac. Accessed October 20, 2016.

[3] 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: INVITATION (RSVP) REQUIRED for some to Cast Vote at Bloomingfoods’ 40th Annual Meeting

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Posted by Laura Hagen, HWFC Member-Owner.

GRASSROOTS ACTION IS POWERFUL! is a blog dedicated to American independently-owned, Member-Owned & operated, community food co-ops, their Member-Owners and families.

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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 Montañita has 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.

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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):

January 14, 2015 Losing Our Principles at The Commons Online
February 4, 2015 Searching for Democracy at the Putney Co-op at VTDIGGER.org
February 11, 2015 Still Searching for Democracy at Putney Food Co-op at The Commons Online

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:

BfoodsAnnualMeeting.1.jpg

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:

bfoodsannualmeeting3

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:

Election

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.

See: http://www.bloomingfoods.coop/election/

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.)
    • RSVP 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?
    • What are the changes?
    • Are your rights as Owner-Members under attack?

URGENT GRASSROOTS ACTION NEEDED

       If you are an Owner-Member of Bloomingfoods Co-op, hadn’t you better immediately start some grassroots phone calling, texting and emailing of other B’foods Owner-Members? Alert them that something is terribly, terribly wrong at their co-op? (See: …something is terribly, terribly wrong here at our food co-operative.)

Owner-Members of Bloomingfoods, you need to challenge this election process right now.

HERE’S SOME INFO YOU NEED IN ORDER TO VOTE

       On Bloomingfoods’ website, I found information about the vote on the “Simplified Articles of Incorporation” (better check just what “simplified” means): see here.

Here are B’foods current bylaws. Here and here are the proposed changes.

I leave it to you, Owner-Member, to do your homework on the six Board members up for election. Here are their Candidate Statements.

ALLOW ME TO REACT: THE GRASSROOTS’ SPIN-MEISTER

On Bloomingfoods website, Member-Owners are warned:

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.

WHAT?!

After 300 people are granted admission, you get in the door “by order of RSVPs received”!!!

WHAT?!

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?

WHAT?!

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.”

WHAT?! OMG!

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.

 See: Verified Voting at https://www.verifiedvoting.org/

See: Electronic Frontier Foundation at https://www.eff.org/

Go. Dig. Read.

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.

Do you?

~~~~~

       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. [1]

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 what really 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?

In her January 14, 2015 article, Losing Our Principles, Ms. Yahn states:

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.)

In Still Searching for Democracy at Putney Food Co-op, Ms. Yahn states:

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.

Read all about it! in: GRASSROOTS ACTION and current bylaws ARE POWERFUL!, GRASSROOTS ACTION and Bylaws (Again) ARE POWERFUL! (see the section: ALICE IN WONDERLAND DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE Is this a Bylaws Task Force or a Better End Member-Labor Task Force?), GRASSROOTS ACTION: Board Messages Don’t Add Up: Part I, GRASSROOTS ACTION: Board Messages Don’t Add Up: Part II, We need an Emergency Meeting!, the charges brought against Board members, the incredible emergency Special Membership Meeting!, the election results, and GRASSROOTS ACTION and the Times Union ARE OH SO HELPFUL!

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. [2]

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.

CDS Consulting Co-op appears to be under current contract with the Bloomingfoods Board of Directors; this needs to be verified. [3] The May 26, 2016 Bloomingfoods’ Board Minutes reveal:

4.d.iii. The CDS template will be used for bylaw review. [4]

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.[5]

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?

BfoodsAnnualMeeting4.jpg

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 CDS Consulting 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, go RSVP 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.

© Laura Hagen

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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 [6]

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[1] 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.

[2] Tolkien, John Ronald Reuel. The Return of the King. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1965. Book Six, Chapter VIII, pp.277 – 300.

[3] 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).”

See: http://www.bloomingfoods.coop/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/January-2016-Minutes.pdf

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.”

See: http://www.bloomingfoods.coop/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/160225-BOD-Minutes-DRAFT-4emp-2.pdf

Bloomington Cooperative Services. Board of Directors May Meeting. Thursday, May 26th, 2016 Committee Reports, Governance Committee 4.D . iii. “The CDS template will be used for bylaw review.

See: http://www.bloomingfoods.coop/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/160526-Minutes-v2.pdf

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.

See: http://www.bloomingfoods.coop/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/160630-BoD-Minutes-Draft-v2.pdf

[4] Bloomington Cooperative Services. Board of Directors May Meeting. Thursday, May 26th, 2016 Committee Reports, Governance Committee 4.D . iii. “The CDS template will be used for bylaw review.

See: http://www.bloomingfoods.coop/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/160526-Minutes-v2.pdf

[5] 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.

See: http://www.bloomingfoods.coop/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/160630-BoD-Minutes-Draft-v2.pdf

[6] See the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc. and Suzy Platt, ed., Respectfully Quoted, p. 200, #1054.

GRASSROOTS ACTION and New, Approved Budgets ARE WAY-POWERFUL!

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Posted by Laura Hagen, HWFC Member-Owner.

GRASSROOTS ACTION IS POWERFUL! is a blog dedicated to American independently-owned, Member-Owned & operated, community food co-ops, their Member-Owners and families.

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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)

Vote Results 

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

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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.

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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: Membership Budget Meeting Tonight! Vote YES to APPROVE.

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Posted by Laura Hagen, HWFC Member-Owner.

GRASSROOTS ACTION IS POWERFUL! is a blog dedicated to American independently-owned, Member-Owned & operated, community food co-ops, their Member-Owners and families.

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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 this excellent 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!)