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

~~~~~

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.

~~~~~

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

~~~~~

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

~~~~~

[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?

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       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

~~~~~

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]

~~~~~

[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 Final Vote Tallies ARE IN!

Posted by Laura Hagen, HWFC Member-Owner

UPDATE! April 27, 2016. Please see the update to the story about Bloomingfoods Co-op in Indiana, here. Look at the top of the page and in the “Comments” section, below the post.

Here are the final official vote tallies for the two candidates whose total ballots were each subject to a recount:

Ned Depew                         197
Anastasia Onorata           195

Ned Depew was elected to this Board seat by two (2) votes.
Thank you very much to Anastasia for running for the Board!

And thank you to Collin Thomas and Howard Brent, as well!

Here are the percentages of voters who voted for each candidate:

NAME:                            % OF VOTERS:
Tim Corrigan                           81.9
Carolynn Presser                   80.2
Kate Doyle                               76.8
Saul Rigberg                            75.1
Richard Donegan                  63.6
Rebekah Rice                         60.7
Ned Depew                              55.6

This candidate was not elected to the Board:
Anastasia Onorata               55.1

Neither of these candidates received the required 25% plurality of the vote:

Collin Fox Thomas                21.8
Howard Brent                         21.2

For the 620 of us who voted at our emergency Special Membership Meeting (SMM) on November 30, 2015, two of the three candidates we voted for – Kate Doyle and Carolynn Presser – won this election and are among the candidates who received the highest support from voters on Sunday, April 17, 2016.

The third Board member whom we elected at our SMM, Nate Horwitz (who was not up  for election this time ’round) is currently seated as our Board President.

Saul Rigberg, who was appointed to the Board on March 1, 2016, and was chosen by Nate, Carolynn and Kate (as well as by Board members Daniel Morrissey and Ned Depew), was also among the candidates who received the highest support from voters on April 17, 2016.

Carolynn and Kate originally ran on a platform which strongly supported our Member-Owner Labor Program (MLP) & issues of Member-Owners of this co-operative, as well as transparency in co-op governance. The high level of support these two candidates, and Saul – their choice for a team member – received from HWFC Member-Owner voters on April 17, 2016, demonstrates Membership’s trust in and support of their positions as leaders of our co-operative.

Tim Corrigan and Rebekah Rice also ran for the Board at our SMM on November 30, 2015. It is heartening that they both chose to run again 4 1/2 months later – and won!

Richard Donegan is a new Board member and we welcome him to our Board of Directors and look forward to getting to know him!

Welcome and congratulations to the full slate and new Board of Directors of the Honest Weight Food Co-op:

Nate Horwitz, Daniel Morrissey, Carolynn Presser, Kate Doyle, Saul Rigberg, Tim Corrigan, Richard Donegan,  Rebekah Rice and Ned Depew

 FYI, below are the official election results from this week’s Inside Scoop:

===========================================

354 valid votes were cast, so 88 votes equals a 25% plurality.

Tim Corrigan                        290
Carolynn Presser                  284
Kate Doyle                             272
Saul Rigberg                          266
Richard Donegan                  225
Rebekah Rice                         215

Anastasia Onorata                Subject to recount
Ned Depew                            Subject to recount

Neither of these candidates received a 25% plurality of the vote.

Collin Fox Thomas                 77
Howard Brent                        75

=====================================

~~~

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 Election Results SAVED OUR CO-OP!

Posted by Laura Hagen, PROUD HWFC Member-Owner

NEW as of 4/19/16: Here is a list of upcoming HWFC meetings and here is the URL to copy:  https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/16yKAhB3xQJjZjKEHWkLIvdo2rIz3X6PK4E8N63pVWv4/edit?pref=2&pli=1#gid=0

HOT OFF THE PRESS: See Tim O’Brien’s post, Six Win Seats on Honest Weight Food Co-op Board, in the Tuesday, April 19, 2016 Times Union. Thank you Tim for staying on this story! Please take a minute to thank Tim! by e-mail at tobrien@timesunion.com or phone at (518) 454-5092. We grassroots families here at HWFC are darned lucky to have a reporter of Tim’s caliber who’s following our advocacy efforts to defend our food co-operative and keep it strong and locally-controlled!

Don’t believe me? Do a search over at the TU on “Tim O’Brien” and “Honest Weight Food Co-op” – here – and follow the story through his eyes, since October 16, 2015.

Today’s post will be short and sweet (an unusual occurrence around here). The ELECTION RESULTS from last night are in and they are official (skip this intro and scroll below, if you just can’t wait!!!)

Welcome to my new HWFC Member-Owner readers, many of whom just found out last night I’ve been doing a blog here, GRASSROOTS ACTIONS ARE IMPORTANT!, since November 1, 2015, about matters of interest to Member-Owners of HWFC. From a Grassroots perspective, that is!

Enjoy reading past posts by putting the term grassroots in the search box. And please read all the posts in my Election Series this week: yesterday’s GRASSROOTS ACTION and Large Voter Turnout Tomorrow WILL SAVE OUR CO-OP., the partner to today’s post, GRASSROOTS ACTION and Election Results SAVED OUR CO-OP! (Yesterday’s post was, I believe, the most read post, to date.)

Additional Election Series posts are: GRASSROOTS ACTION AND Meet the Candidates ARE IMPORTANT!; GRASSROOTS ACTION AND Voting on Sunday ARE IMPORTANT!; the popular GRASSROOTS ACTION Can Stop Skunkworks! (Check out the Reader Comments); and, finally, GRASSROOTS ACTION AND Current Board Accomplishments ARE POWERFUL!

With six posts in ten days, some involving significant research …I’m taking a break!

Here are the HWFC Annual Election results, directly from the Inside Scoop:

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INSIDE SCOOP

The three members of the Ad Hoc Election Committee, appointed by the Board of Directors of Honest Weight Food Co-op to conduct the Election of Board Members at the April 17, 2016 Membership Meeting, certified the votes cast at the meeting, and the results for six seats follows. The votes for the seventh seat were too close to call, and the Ad Hoc Election Committee will conduct a recount for the seventh seat and will certify the results Tuesday night.

354 valid votes were cast, so 88 votes equals a 25% plurality.

Tim Corrigan                        290
Carolynn Presser                  284
Kate Doyle                             272
Saul Rigberg                          266
Richard Donegan                  225
Rebekah Rice                         215

Anastasia Onorata                Subject to recount
Ned Depew                            Subject to recount

Neither of these candidates received a 25% plurality of the vote.

Collin Fox Thomas                 77
Howard Brent                        75

Thank you all for participating in this election. The contribution of your time and energy is what makes Honest Weight the outstanding co-op it is.

Nate Horwitz, Daniel Morrissey, for the Board
Rita Nolan, Sandy MacKay, and Janet Sorell, Ad Hoc Election Committee

END
==========================================================

Congratulations to our winners and a sincere thank you to all ten (10) candidates.

Everybody who showed up last night – you, we were awesome!

Democracy in action! We were all – again – part of an HWFC Membership Meeting which was extremely well attended (there were more than 500 of us in attendance)!

Go refresh your memory if you have forgotten our historic emergency Special Membership Meeting on November 30, 2015 and those election results.

Thank you to the Nominations Committee and the Ad Hoc Election Committee for developing and keeping to a process which we trust. Special thanks to Rita Nolan!

Thank you to the Membership Committee for all your hard work in preparing for our meeting last night, getting us parked safely, signing in the voters, room set up, and helping with room clean up afterwards.

Thank you to Jessica for taking notes.

Thank you to the GRC for on-site support.

Thank you to Paul Rosenberg and Bob Henshaw for providing the sound system and audio support.

Thank you to Nate and Daniel for moderating and representing our Board, and thank you to Nate for taking time away from a really important family commitment this weekend so that you could attend our Membership Meeting!

Thank you to everybody for the wonderful desserts and snacks.

Please, if I have forgotten anybody, let me know!

Last but not least, thank you to all ten (10) of our candidates for the time, energy and commitment you gave to our co-operative in making a run for the Board. We had an incredible slate of candidates this time ’round and it is a testament to the renewed & hopeful energy at our co-op that we had ten (10) candidates to fill only seven (7) seats!

Abundance! Commitment! Talent! Transparency! Team mind! Extra amounts of good energy!

Now that’s a co-op we can all be proud to be a part of!

The breathe of fresh air which greeted us last night when we got home from the elections – the windows were all open and cool, sweet, spring air greeted us – is a harbinger of the breath of fresh air which greets us all with these HWFC Board election results this morning!

Post me a note, below, with your reflections about the elections. And, see you next blogpost!

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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 and Large Voter Turnout Tomorrow WILL SAVE OUR CO-OP.

RE-DIRECT, April 27, 2016: This post has been edited and re-named GRASSROOTS ACTION Needed by Bloomingfoods Food Co-op Owners in Indiana and re-directed here, for the benefit of Bloomingfoods, Indiana readers.

Info about the HWFC Annual Board Nominations and Elections was deleted because they are over …and we Member-Owners prevailed! Go here and here, for our Board election results.

Posted by Laura Hagen, HWFC Member-Owner

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


UPDATE: April 27, 2016 Bloomington, Indiana’s Food Co-op, Bloomingfoods, Board/  Management Releases Announcement About Store Closings and More Possible Employee Layoffs. After a public meeting held by the Board/Management of Bloomingfoods last night, Tuesday, April 26, 2016, this announcement was released this morning.

For more information, see my post in Comments, below.


 04/17/16: TODAY, SUNDAY!! Attend our co-op’s Annual Membership Meeting and Board Elections Sunday, April 17, 2016 at the St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church at 440 Whitehall Road in Albany, NY.

4:00 – 5:30 pm Meet the Candidates (see here for meeting details, here for the agenda and  here, here and here for candidate information)
5:30 – 6:00 pm Dessert Potluck and opportunity for conversation. Please bring a healthy snack or dessert item to share. HWFC will provide beverages
6:00 – 8:00 pm
MEMBERSHIP MEETING

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PAST IS PROLOGUE
THE DANGER FOR HWFC IS NOT OVER YET

         Past is Prologue? An eerily similar circumstance to Honest Weight Food Co-op (HWFC) in Indiana? Is HWFC really out of the woods yet?

The following story is about the devolution of Bloomingfoods, a Bloomington, Indiana food co-op founded in 1976, the same year as HWFC, and which also, coincidentally, grew to have a similar numbers of shareholders (about 13,000) as HWFC.

It is also about the Honest Weight Food Co-op, located in New York’s capital city, Albany, and a group of Member-Owners of that co-operative fighting that same devolution.

Recent history at both of these American food co-ops is – in significant ways – eerily similar. Bloomingfoods’ story could be Honest Weight Food Co-op’s story.

BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA AND ITS CO-OP, BLOOMINGFOODS

          I am, in addition to being a longtime Member-Owner of HWFC, a Member-Owner of Bloomingfoods Co-op. I lived in Bloomington for several years, returning to Albany in 2013.

My first action when arriving in Bloomington – a small, beautiful, friendly mid-western, college town, with its liberal culture – was to join their co-op, Bloomingfoods. I support US food co-ops wherever I go! I had always shopped there whenever professional and personal reasons brought me to town. I was pleased that they had grown – from just the original, funky, converted, two-story home, downtown, made from  local Indiana limestone – to having three storefronts, convenient to both residents and Indiana University students.

Bloomingfood’s prices, although higher than the local Kroger’s, were still always much lower than prices I paid at HWFC (not factoring in our 24% discount for weekly Member-Owner Labor): Bloomington has a lower cost of living than Albany. I was impressed with the large selection of local Amish foods available; those prices were usually the lowest. Bloomingfoods also supported and hosted local Farmer’s Markets, both in the Eastside parking lot on Tuesday afternoons, and at the Near Westside store, on a street closed to traffic on Saturday mornings. B’foods was proud of its connections to local Indiana and mid-west farms and I had no difficulty purchasing local, organic fruits, vegetables & pastured eggs & meat.

I did most of my food shopping at B’foods, but I didn’t have the time to do Member Work, nor get involved. However, Member Work only gained me a 10% reduction in purchases at the register. I could just as easily take advantage of both once-a-week Member Day discounts and one monthly Wildcard Day (both 10% off). [1]

This made me really appreciate the value of our 24% discount as weekly working Member-Owners at HWFC!

BACK HOME TO HWFC
BOARD & MANAGEMENT SECRET OPERATIONS

          In 2013, I returned back home to Albany, NY, resuming Member-Work and shopping at HWFC, albeit in its brand new, shiny, big, store on Watervliet Avenue.

On October 23, 2015, our former Board made a direct threat to the legal power of Membership by attempting to end our Member-Owner Labor Program (MLP) which would have, consequently, ended our right to vote. Without the right to vote, Member-Owners would lose their legal control of the co-operative corporation. [2]

Rather than the standard Board communication – the electronic “Inside Scoop” – it was a small piece of paper tacked up to the Board’s cork board near the exit, on that Friday, which announced the Board’s intent to

“…end member labor on the floor and administration by January 1, 2016…” [2a]

Acting President Deb Dennis and her Board attempted to do this behind the backs of Membership, blatantly ignoring the fact that changes to the MLP rest solely and unambiguously with the Member-Owners of our co-operative corporation, as per our bylaws.

The loudest argument we kept hearing from the former Board was that member discounts at HWFC were what was killing our co-op’s budget and had to go. [3]

At the same time they were attempting to end our MLP, there was a strategic and pervasive push by the former Board focused on changing those same bylaws. We uncovered what were clearly-manipulated Strategic Planning and Bylaws Task Force planning processes, both managed by outside consultants, including one who is engaged in “… leading organizational change.[4]

I was shocked by the entrenched pattern of the Board and three-person Leadership Team (top Management or LT) working together in secret: excessively long and repeated Executive Sessions, and the prolific & expensive use of national .coop consultants, local consultants, a Strategic PR & Lobbying firm and (two) law firms, which were utilized in secret after Membership was asked to leave the room …and the Board room door was shut. [5]

There is no doubt about the fact that this former Board intended to do away with our MLP and, thereby, our right to vote. A secret letter, hand-couriered [6] to the NYS Department of Labor (DOL) [7] – uncovered through a FOIL request by a Member-Owner of HWFC, Julie Harrell [8] – not only made it clear that the Board was “transitioning” the co-op, but that Management (LT) would be participating in this process of “transition.”

The former Board shared their secret “transition” plan with the DOL – the top labor regulatory body in NYS – in flagrant disregard of the fact that our bylaws require Membership vote and approval of any changes to our MLP: a vote which had never taken place.

At a subsequent secret meeting with the NYS DOL – attended solely by two law firms hired by the Board and Board-invitée Ursula Abrams, co-Chair of the HWFC Governance Review Council (GRC) – the MLP issue was pushed. [9] [10]

Why? As far as we can figure – given that secrecy still shrouds this operation – their intent was to, in effect, turn our co-op into the DOL, in the hopes that DOL would issue a written ruling that Member Labor Programs at NYS food co-operatives, are (somehow) illegal. [11]

Secrecy had to be utilized by this former Board in their dealings with the NYS DOL; a plan with this level of skulduggery would never have passed the muster of the Member-Owners.

This Board of Directors, in its decision to attempt to manipulate the top labor regulatory body in NYS into sanctioning our MLP – while knowing full well that the corporation’s owners knew nothing of this plan – utterly ignored its fiduciary responsibility to that co-operative corporation and its Member-Owners.

Not only was this Board utilizing two legal teams – one with offices in Washington, DC – it had hired a very expensive Strategic PR & Marketing firm, partners with one of the state’s top-ten lobbyists, here in the state which hosts Wall Street. [12] This PR firm, which was also registered as a lobbyist for HWFC [12a] – was using its citizen-busting ‘professional grassroots’ techniques (aka an “astroturf operation” ) to thwart the authentic grassroots advocacy efforts of Member-Owners. [13] At every step of the way, Member-Owners were prohibited from talking to one another;  communication was systematically and professionally hijacked. [13a]

Very recently-uncovered contracts and correspondence between the HWFC Board, Management and this same firm, confirm the fact that it was retained to assist the Board in its efforts to “sunset the member worker program.” [14]

Finally, this former Board was under contract with CDS Consulting Co-op and its CBLD program: CDSCC is a national .coop firm advising many other food co-op Board’s across the country and promoting its Co-operative Board Leadership Development program:

Cooperative Board Leadership Development (known as CBLD and pronounced C-build) is an award-winning innovative program designed to support your board and general manager (GM). [15]

That it did.

FAMILIES DEFEND THEIR LOCAL FOOD CO-OP, TOGETHER

          Well, in just 38 days, petitioners for an emergency meeting confronted these threats to our co-operative corporation, and on November 30, 2015 held an historic emergency Special Membership Meeting (SMM) attended by ~710 people, 620 of whom were voting Member-Owners of HWFC, which, ultimately, disempowered that Board and resulted in two-thirds of our Management Team (LT) leaving within several months. [16] [16a]

The former Board’s secret maneuvers and massive PR campaign to change our bylaws, end our Member-Owner Labor Program, and the power of our vote were uncovered, as was the (previously unknown) $75,000 in bonuses paid to Management (LT), over three years. [17]

Current Board counsel has advised that our MLP is defendable – given our current bylaws – and supported under NYS law. [18] The former Board’s claims that our MLP was killing our budget have been proved false. What was killing our budget was the $ .5 million this Board spent to “eliminate member labor and [on the] strategic planning to design its replacement”!!  [see 17] $500,000 of our collective co-op savings was utilized by this Board to pay CDS Consulting Co-op, Shem Cohen of Change Events, Inc., Corning Place Communications, Dowling Law PLLC, and  Couch White LLP …to aid this Board in their stealth agenda of separating ownership of our co-operative from us, the Member-Owners. [19]

Bill Frye, the President just prior to Deb Dennis, was quoted on October 16, 2015, as this Board’s secret agenda was rolled-out, by Albany’s Times Union reporter, Tim O’Brien: [19a]

“‘We would like to get the member workers off the floor of the store. It’s very expensive,’ he said … ‘They are really not as a effective and efficient. They almost have to be retrained every time they come into the store. They also like to chat.'” [20]

Bill Frye was removed from the Board – forty-five days after this quote hit the NY capital’s streets – at its emergency SMM on November 30th …by a packed room, full of the owners & their families of this 39 year-old co-operative corporation, many of whom “like to chat.” The Board secretary, John Serio, did not retain his Board seat. Three new Board members, supportive of our MLP and transparency, were elected: Carolynn Presser, Kate Doyle and Nate Horwitz.

69% of the Membership voted no confidence in current Management, the three-person Leadership Team (LT) of Duke Bouchard, Lexa Juhre and Lilly Bartels, as well as voting to implement a new Management structure (both straw polls). [20a]

Finally, 85.7% of Member-Owner voters at the SMM – 504 people – voted to disapprove the Board’s decision to “…end member labor on the floor and administration…” [21]

On January 5, 2016 four members of Deb Dennis’s Board stepped down, including Dennis herself. At our next Membership Meeting & Annual Elections, held on Sunday, April 17, 2016 we took the entire Board (one seat is still not official.) [22] [23]

That small piece of paper tacked up to the Board’s cork board – pulling the trigger on their stealth plans to end Honest Weight Food Co-op’s Member-Owner Labor Program, our vote, and our control of our co-operative corporation – had been silently pinned up on a Friday afternoon, October 23, 2015.

The following morning, Chris Colarusso initiated a petition for an emergency Special Membership Meeting (SMM). She said that it only took 1 1/2 hours to get 65+ Member-Owner signatures on that petition.

Chris came to that Saturday morning co-op meeting prepared. Thank you, Chris!

Her legally-executed document signed by the Member-Owners of our food co-operative corporation and calling for an emergency meeting of the Membership – was placed in acting President Deb Dennis’s hands by Chris on Saturday, October 24th …a little more than 24 hours later.

This story is a testament to the living, breathing power of local families helping each other out, using real community, real co-operative, and real grassroots action, all of which are alive and well at this American food co-op, near the banks of the historic Hudson River, in Albany, NY.

~~~

A thoughtful citizen advocate might, at this juncture, take the time to pause, reflect …and ask:

Just what was the Board of a simple upstate NY food co-op doing spending a half-million dollars to buy the services of: two law firms – one with DC offices; registered lobbyists & PR Strategists – partners to a top-ten NYS lobby firm; a nationally-recognized .coop firm – building airtight Board-GM alliances  …and an organizational change agent?

BACK TO THE HOOSIER STATE & BLOOMINGFOODS  [24]

          Several weeks ago, I was again in Bloomington.

I was shocked at the state of Bloomingfoods.

This forty year old – formerly thriving and vibrant Member-Owned & locally-owned food co-op, beloved by Bloomington families – and a lot like Honest Weight Food Co-op – has:

1. Permanently lost its “Owner Volunteer Program” (last summer);
2. Changed its “Owner Discount Structure” for the worse; [25]
3. Significantly reduced the sale of locally-grown and/or produced foods;
4. Seen the closing of its flagship (funky & well-loved!) first storefront; [26]
5. Seen the layoffs of Employees;
6. Seen the layoff of Managers;
7. Announced it expects see more staff layoffs;
8. Experienced turmoil when unionizing activities occurred, which were, initially, put down by union-busting attorneys hired by the Board; [27] [28]
9. Expanded, with not one but two new outlets, within the same year – only to find the recommendations they received from consultants, and others, to expand had financially over-extended & weakened them;
10. Seen the closing of the wonderful garden center at the Eastside store;
11. Experienced Board meetings to which Member-Owners were denied entrance and participation;
12. Got its Member-Owners – who personally invested money in the co-op – very worried about the loans they have made to Bloomingfoods;
13. Lost 20% in revenue, in part, when a Lucky’s (a Colorado-based natural & organic chain) moved in to town last year;
14. In its future, a Whole Foods, which is targeted to open next year: its possible location, the Sears’ store at the mall (minutes away from the Eastside co-op store); [29] [30]
14. Seen its (formerly modest) prices skyrocket (!), forcing shoppers to seek lower prices elsewhere in town;
15. Had its operations temporarily taken over by acting GM Paula Gilbertson from National Coop Grocers (NCG). [31] [32]

Member-Owners of Bloomingfoods appeared to have lost control of their locally-owned, locally-operated food co-op.

Its operations had been assumed by a nationally-based corporation, National Coop Grocers.

Honest Weight Food Co-op, like Bloomingfoods and 150 other US co-ops, representing 200 stores, is also a member co-op of National Coop Grocers. [33]

TALKED TO THE LOCALS

          What stunned me was the change in prices! Everything had gone up! I called my husband and we compared prices between the exact same brand items here at HWFC and there at Bloomingfoods: pre-packaged foods like organic, bottled tomato paste, coconut & olive oil, Coconut Aminos, gluten-free crackers. Everything was more expensive than at HWFC.

Unlike several years ago – when Bloomingfoods prices were always cheaper than HWFC – there was a complete reversal: this mid-western food co-op was charging prices higher than an upstate New York co-op! In fact, prices had gone up since my last visit to town in October, 2015, only five months ago.

A change in the cost of living in Indiana (there has not been a significant change) does not explain nor account for this dramatic rise in Bloomingfood’s prices.

No longer is Bloomingfoods in Indiana cheaper than HWFC in New York. Those days are gone.

Gone was the large selection of locally-grown or produced Amish foods. For example, I could find no Amish cheeses at the West Side co-op; the price for local Amish chicken had skyrocketed. More in evidence was meat from (national?) suppliers, with brand names I was unfamiliar with. I could find no local, grass-fed, grass-finished beef (in the midwest?)! The cost of organic butter was absolutely not affordable. I could not find the local, inexpensive Amish butter I used to buy.

And sauerkraut? Again, this is the mid-west, Indiana is home to Amish, Mennonite and plenty of German & Swiss families; sauerkraut is a staple, one of the four basic food groups! They had Bubbie’s, which I used to buy at HWFC (until I researched how it is processed and quickly switched to a locally-produced, live, organic, sauerkraut from the Hudson Valley or from Hawthorne Valley Farms in Harlemville, NY): the price for either Bubbie’s or a locally-made sauerkraut was astronomical!

I talked to Member shoppers, several staff, and community members in Bloomington. A staff member, when I asked what was going on with prices and a change in atmosphere at the co-op said (a direct quote): “I don’t know man, it’s almost like we were taken over or something.” A floor manager cheerfully said they had a new GM and they were tightening their belts. A friend who has friends who are personally & financially invested in Bloomingfoods, stated her friends are afraid for their financial investment (Member-Owner loans) in Bloomingfoods.

Gone were the shelves at the end of an aisle with locally-made crafts, candles, jewelry & kitchen gadgets, which I always loved!: replaced with that week’s latest promotional or (non-local, nationally-promoted) sale item.

The three storefronts I visited (one, Elm Heights, was brand new to me; see endnote 24) were all glossy, clean, high-end looking: chic-chic. The shelves were very neatly stocked & full.

Bloomingfood’s flagship store – the funky, two-story, comfy “home” – was gone. Its doors are closed. [See endnote 26: a picture is worth a thousand words.]

Bloomingfoods uses the same paper goods as HWFC and, if memory serves, the same paper bags (with the handles that always break). The sale flyers look the same as ours. Every aisle is picture-perfect, in fact, the product layout on shelves could have been a mirror to that at HWFC.

Our two co-ops have been transformed to look more like expensive food boutiques…

…rather than the place to both purchase low-cost, high-quality, sustainable, locally-grown & produced organic foods, and work shoulder-to-shoulder with our neighbors, as our families connect up with and support local, organic farm families.

This food co-op in Indiana, with its glossy, picture-perfect store lay-outs and fully-stocked shelves, is in trouble. An adjunct professor friend of mine told me she can no longer afford to shop at Bloomingfoods; she hits sale days at Lucky’s (Wednesdays) and has switched to shopping almost 100% at Krogers. [34]

WHAT HAPPENED TO B’FOODS MEMBER-LABOR PROGRAM?

          On April 10th, I emailed Bloomingfoods and asked what had happened to the Member-Labor Program. This is, in part, the reply I received from Jean Kautt, Marketing and Member Services Manager, Bloomington Cooperative Services Inc.:

We discontinued our owner volunteer program last summer for several reasons (this was publicly announced at our annual meeting in October [2015])…

…Nationally, most co-ops have had to discontinue their volunteer programs due to changes in labor laws, tax laws, and insurance liabilities. It has gotten very complicated in the past 40 years! After conferring with our legal advisor and our labor union representative, it was apparent that we were no longer able to offer the volunteer opportunities we had in the past. We are still exploring other ways for our owners to be active at the co-op, and with a national network of almost 200 co-ops to share information with, there are some good ideas out there…

I was instantly sensitive to the use of the terms “volunteer program” and “volunteer opportunities” when referring to, what we here at HWFC call our “Member-Owner Labor Program” or MLP. Here, the word “owner” had disappeared. [34a]

It is also not factual to state that, “Nationally, most co-ops have had to discontinue their volunteer programs…”  There are many US co-operatives which continue to utilize Member-Labor. [35]

I also would like it confirmed that B’foods Labor Union did, in fact, agree that B’foods could “…no longer … offer the volunteer opportunities we had in the past…”, as this email implies. A union, agreeing with Management, to sunset Member-Labor at a co-operative? Really?

The NCG representative, Paula Gilbertson, assumed the role as acting GM of Bloomingfoods in June, 2015.

That same summer, Bloomingfoods’ “owner volunteer program” was permanently shut down. In addition, significant staff layoffs were announced (see below).

I was struck by how utterly similar Bloomingfoods’ (or at least their Marketing and Member Services Manager’s) reasons for ending their Member Labor Program were, to the reasons put forward by our former Board. Some of the language in this April email was virtually identical to words uttered by HWFC former Board Members last October, when they attempted to permanently shut down our Member Labor Program.

Funny, this email says that things have “gotten very complicated in the last 40 years.” HWFC and Bloomingfoods co-ops have both been locally-owned and operated for 40 years – very successfully. I don’t remember any “complications” during that time period – here at HWFC in NYS anyway [36] – which necessitated ending our Member-Labor Program for good. I can’t believe that things are that much more “complicated” in the state of Indiana.

It is a very recent phenomenon, this idea being promoted nationally, that Member-Labor – and, hence, Member control and local control – are threats to a co-operative corporation. These are, in fact, fundamentals of a co-operative! Yet here we find Member-Owners at two different food co-ops being fed the same vague, undefined, threatening language, “changes in labor laws, tax laws, and insurance liabilities:” language being wielded as a tool to dis-empower co-op Member-Owners…

…no, let me call a spade a spade: these vague threats are being wielded to peel away the control & ownership of a co-op from the Member-Owners.

~~~

Local control of US food co-operative’s is under attack; control of organic food is being undermined. The individuals & families who are invested in the co-op and who are also deeply invested in their local, hometown community are losing control of both their food co-ops and their food supply.

HOW MANY B’FOODS EMPLOYEES WERE DOWN-SIZED OR LET GO?

          I’ll let media articles & blogposts speak for themselves:

Bloomingfoods: Layoffs Expected As Business Declines
June 15, 2015

The co-op is reducing overhead in order to operate profitably with lower sales and several middle management positions were eliminated last week resulting in a number of layoffs,” acting general manager Paula Gilbertson [from NCG] said in a press release…

She says more layoffs are expected as Bloomingfoods management seeks continued reductions in its operating expenses. [37]

Bloomingfoods Co-op Announces Layoffs Amidst Increased Competition
June 16, 2015

Bloomingfoods Co-op has laid off 18 middle management employees in the past week — with more expected… [38]

Bloomingfoods Meeting Hints at More Layoffs
June 23, 2015

See the Herald Times article. [39]

Iconic Bloomingfoods Co-op starts to “right its ship.”
June 23, 2015

…on June 9, 2015, the General Manager resigned and everybody heaved a sigh of relief. This was a needed first step taken by a board that had since added two (or three?) new members and had gradually and subtly moved from its years-long default position of doing whatever the GM wanted to understanding and acting independently.

Within a few more days, 40 management positions were eliminated, with more to come… [40]

Bloomingfoods Hires New General Manager
Jan 12, 2016

about a dozen members of the managerial staff were let go. [41]

MORE TO THE STORY, a dot coop FIRM: CDS CONSULTING CO-OP …YET AGAIN

          It is noteworthy that both co-ops, Bloomingfoods and HWFC, have been or are clients of CDS Consulting Coop; in fact, Bloomingfoods is a featured client on CDSCC’s website and its former three-term, Board president, Art Sherwood was and is a CDSCC consultant. Both of these US food co-ops – Bloomingfoods and HWFC – have relied upon the consulting services of this nationally-advertised .coop firm, with national interests and national ties: interests not necessarily based in nor springing from each of the local communities of these two food co-ops. [42] [43] [44] [45] [46] [47] [48] [49]

Contrast the glowing picture painted of Bloomingfoods by CDSCC – one of their featured clients – with this assessment of the co-op by National Co-op Grocers (NCG), at the time acting GM Paula Gilbertson arrived from NCG. This was captured on June 23, 2015 by blogger and Bloomingfoods’ Member-Owner Ann Kreilkamp:

Last night I attended a Member/Owner OpenHouse set up by the Bloomingfoods board, to let us know what has been going on with the reorganization, spurred on by the assessment and guidance they — or rather, WE — are receiving from the National Coop Grocers Association, which serves 150 co-ops nationally, and has been brought in during this crucial transition to help stem the bleeding which, according to the NCGA, is the worst they have seen. Though food co-ops nationwide are going through hard times, for Bloomingfoods, ‘the path to solve for cash-positive is the most difficult we’ve ever encountered.’ [emphases added] [50]

One has to pose the obvious question: if CDSCC’s consulting services for Board & Management training are so successful, why is this CDSCC-featured co-op – in such dire straits? Why is Bloomingfoods “the worst they [NCGA has] seen,” according to this B’foods Member-Owner’s blog report?

NCG’s assessment – “‘a path to solve for cash-positive [which] is the most difficult we’ve ever encountered…'” should include a recommendation to the Member-Owners of Bloomingfoods to review the deliverables to and the cost of this national group of .coop consultants, for all contracted years. [see endnote 46] [51]

~~~

Author and Member-Owner of the Putney, VT food co-op, Mimi Yahn has written about CDS Consulting Co-op, with a wake-up call to US food co-op owners to guard their bylaws. In her January 14, 2015 article in The Commons, Losing Our Principles, she states:

…The wording in the CDS bylaws template eliminates nearly everything that makes the current by-laws specific to the Putney Co-op and to cooperative governance. It is generic and vague enough to make for an easy and completely legal transition from a cooperative entity to a subsidiary of a large corporation…

…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…

…In my own experience serving on bylaws committees with different nonprofits and community organizations, I’ve never seen a better, more eloquent, and more clear set of bylaws than those currently governing the Putney Co-op.

From the inclusion of the beautifully worded cooperative principles (removed from the proposed bylaws) to the specifics of board responsibilities and member rights (both also removed), the current bylaws are clearly and unequivocally cooperative in governance and progressive in nature.

The proposed version, on the other hand, 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…

…trust was seriously damaged when the board attempted to force a vote [on the new bylaws] at the annual meeting and imperiously attempted to shut down the discussion and questions by members…

…Characterizing the concerns of members about fundamental revisions to the bylaws as a matter of “perception as opposed to reality” doesn’t help the board’s case or credibility. Nor did one lengthy discussion at the December meeting over their proposed change, which would allow members to attend, but not participate in general meetings.

Despite the vehement assertions of the board that there is no difference beyond semantics, there is. It’s called democracy. [emphasis added] [52]

In Still Searching for Democracy at Putney Food Co-op, in the February 11, 2015 issue of The Commons, Ms. Yahn continues:

…No wonder, then, that when the policy governance model [promoted by CDS] states unequivocally that the policies made by the board must “establish control over the entire organization,” co-op boards across the country adopt this mandate unquestioningly. And when members protest, we are branded and dismissed as “alarmist,” “uninformed,” “micro-managers,” and worse.

The model also mandates that these new policies must replace “more traditional documents such as mission statements, strategic plans, and budgets” and a crucial part of this governance shift is rewriting the bylaws.

That’s where the bylaws template provided by CDS to the Putney Food Co-op board comes in.

And so this begs the most important question of all: Do the member owners have any voice left, or is CDS dictating the means, the ends, and all the policies, procedures, and bylaws in between that govern the Putney Food Co-op? [emphasis added] [53]

Ms. Yahn notes the trend towards the “corporitization” or “Stepfordization” of US food co-ops, in her two well-researched articles and one letter to the editor. Pay close attention to examples of the exclusion of local, Member-Owner control and the strengthening of the axis of power between Board & Management. (Be sure to read the Comments at the end of each):

Losing Our Principles was published on January 14, 2015, by The Commons Online, a project of Vermont Independent Media, a nonprofit source of news and media education in southern Vermont.

A slightly different version of Ms. Yahn’s article was published on February 4, 2015 entitled Searching for Democracy at the Putney Co-op. The publisher, VTDigger.org, “is a statewide news website that publishes watchdog reports on state government, politics, consumer affairs, business and public policy.

Ms. Yahn updated her article, Searching for Democracy at the Putney Co-op, with Still Searching for Democracy at the Putney Food Co-op, in this February 11, 2015 Letter to the Editor in The Commons Online.

In December, I emailed Mimi Yahn and asked whether or not the Member-Owners of the Putney Food Co-op had retained or eliminated their original bylaws. Ms.Yahn stated, “CDS was ultimately successful…[54]

They were eliminated. Putney Food Co-op’s “better, more eloquent, and … clear set of bylaws” is history. [55]

~~~

CDS Consulting Co-op’s Co-operative Board Leadership Development training or CBLD Team Leader, Mark Goehring, along with CDSCC consultant Thane Joyal, personally worked with our former Board. To remind you, CBLD is a “program designed to support your board and general manager (GM).” [56] Foisted upon our co-op last spring, by the former Board, was CDSCC’s CBLD product called the ‘Fresh Start’ Bylaws Template, thankfully never brought to a vote nor ratified by our Membership.

An example of the gutting of Member-Owner’s power and control, promoted by CDSCC, is the Special Meetings’ clause in its Fresh Start Bylaws. Fresh Start allows for Special Membership Meetings, however Article III 3.2, informs us that the “Decisions made at any special meeting are advisory only.”[57]

This is reminiscent of Ms. Yahn’s story about her Vermont co-op.

Where would HWFC be today if, on October 23, 2015, when we HWFC member-owners were confronted with the actions of an out-of-control board, we had the CDSCC CBLD Fresh Start Bylaws instead of our own? Could we have held an emergency Special Membership Meeting? Would it have allowed us the right to stop the actions of a board run amok?

We could have held a Special Meeting; however, our decisions would have been advisory, not legally-binding. Under these CDSCC Fresh Start Bylaws, Article III 3.2, the former Board would have retained full power and control. Our Member-Owners could not have stopped any of their actions through our emergency Special Membership Meeting.

The Special Membership Meeting (SMM) is – at many US co-ops – the only way for local co-op owners to halt a wayward, dysfunctional, power-grabbing Board …or a Board being unduly influenced by national consultants. Eliminate the power of the SMM in the bylaws… …monkey with the bylaws’ definition of “shareholders” vs “Member-Owners” …and a handful of people, at the top, will control your co-operative corporation.

~~~

Three US food co-ops – in Vermont, New York and Indiana – with local, Member-Owner control & ownership of their co-operative corporation under attack, compromised …or gone. All three are (or were) CDSCC clients. [58]

If I were a Bloomingfoods Member-Owner, I’d grab the bylaws (dig up old copies, as well) and start attending Board meetings; in the February 2016 Board Minutes under item 4, Bylaw Changes are calendared in for March and August, 2016.

And I would get to the “SPECIAL MEMBER-OWNER MEETING: THE FUTURE OF BLOOMINGFOODS” on Tuesday, Apr 26th @ 6:30 pm – 9:00 pm, Rhino’s Youth Center, 331 S Walnut St., Bloomington IN. Since notice of this meeting was only sent out via email five days ago, on Thursday, April 21, 2016 …you may not have heard about the meeting …about your future. The email says:

Please join our new General Manager, Tony Alongi, along with our Board of Directors to learn about current business conditions and future plans for our co-op.

SAD STORY, BUT WHAT’S IT GOT TO DO WITH HWFC?

          What does all this have to do with our co-op here in Albany, New York?

We Member – Owners here at Honest Weight Food Co-op stopped a train on November 30, 2015 at our emergency Special Membership Meeting: stopped, in its tracks, the actions of an out-of-control Board with its strong & secret alliance with out-of-control Management: an alliance which excluded Member-Owners and which, in fact, sought to remove Member-Owners from power.

We Member-Owners – including our Member-Owners who are employees – successfully defended and maintained control of our locally-owned food co-op…

…for now.

We did not lose control of our co-operative in November. We wrestled back control…

…for now.

The path we were on is eerily, in fact almost exactly like the path of Bloomingfoods …except that we Member-Owners defended our co-op. We kept local control and we kept Member-Owner control of our co-operative corporation.

Bloomingfoods did not.

We stopped our train…

…but for how long?

By the way, did it matter to this story that some of the Members were Member-Owner employees and some of the Members were simply Member-Owners?

No.

ALL the Members of Bloomingfoods – Owner and Owner-Employee alike  – are facing the same possible future: the potential closing (or reduction in size, best case) of their co-op.

YOUR VOTE TOMORROW – WITH NO EXAGGERATION – WILL DETERMINE HWFC’s FUTURE!

          With no attempt to exaggerate or to manipulate you, I am stating the fact that the election tomorrow will determine the future of our beloved forty year-old food co-op: the Honest Weight Food Co-op, Inc.

The Member-Owners of Bloomingfoods Co-op, in Bloomington, Indiana did not stop their train in their tracks. Now, they have lost the power & control of their forty year-old food co-op.

As a result, they are now having to confront the very real possibility – the stark reality – of the closure of their co-op (or what once was their co-op) or – at the very least – a reduction in the number of storefronts and the dismissal of an even larger number of employees (union employees or not).

Worse case: they are facing a future with a town – home! – which no longer has a food co-op.

A beloved forty year-old co-op – which was founded by Member-Owner families like yours and mine – may go belly-up or be bought up.

WE OWNERS HAVE TO DEFEND OUR LOCALLY-OWNED CO-OP TOMORROW

          It’s time to – again – defend what is ours.

We Member-Owners – and I include all our Member-Owners who are also employees, because we are all in this together – we, together, can vote to keep our co-op going in the direction our current Board has been taking us: see their list of accomplishments, here.

Six Board members have done an amazing job in only four months! Imagine what this team will do with a full complement of nine (9) Board members!

We need Member-Owners to show up, to listen, and to vote for candidates who are:

-pro-HWFC
-pro-Member-Owner Labor
-pro-Good Employee Working Conditions
-pro-Local Farmers and Local Food Producers
-pro-a Co-op which Remains Locally-Owned and Locally-Operated

Ten (10) announced candidates are running for seven (7) open Board seats. Select seven from among the ten candidates tomorrow night. These ten  candidates have honored our democratic process & transparent nominations process.

Given recent rumors of a rush to announce candidates from the floor tomorrow night – and thereby doing an end run around our democratic process – I am recommending that you not vote for anyone tomorrow who is nominated from the floor.

LOCAL INDIANA CO-OP VOICES SPEAK: WE NEED TO LISTEN
BUT FOR THE GRACE OF ELECTIONS TOMORROW, THERE GO WE

          Let me share some of what Bloomingfoods Member-Owners are saying, through their blogs. Some of the observations are eerily similar to experiences we have had here at HWFC – these stories could be ours:

Posted October 9, 2014 Bloomingfoods Co-op Crisis, Act II. Unite Bloomingfoods marches to Board Meeting by blogger and Bloomingfoods Member Ann Kreilkamp at Exopermaculture:

But wait a minute, you say. Bloomingfoods is a Co-operative, not a Corporation!

something happened along the way to begin to torque our original member-owner operation into a quasi-corporation, with an expanding physical presence (three major stores, two minor ones, and counting), a long-time CEO-like General Manager, a budget that is not transparent, workers who are both underpaid and feel disrespected and disenfranchized, and a board that vets anyone who wants to serve on it to say whether they can even be nominated to come up for a vote!

…The March was scheduled for 5:30 p.m. with the Co-op Board Meeting at 6:30. I got to the East Side Store, where the march was set to begin, at about 5:20. Not many folks there yet. Would they come?

Ten more minutes, and the crowd had swollen enough to make a good showing for our short march to the board meeting. Oops! Once there, we were stopped. Not allowed in. What? Somebody opened the door to tell us. The fire marshall has decreed that only 40 are allowed in the room. Are you on the list. Did you RSVP? Oops, maybe four of us RSVPed. Okay, you can go in.

The rest of us, and that’s most of us, milled around some more, kvetching about not having even known that we were supposed to RSVP! Was this the first time a board meeting had required an RSVP from member-owners? The answer to that was never clear to me. Whatever was going on behind that innocuous looking front window was something we were not going to be privy to?[emphases added] [59]

Here is a local media account of this same Bloomingfoods Board meeting, held on October 7, 2014:

Anyone who was not a member-owner was also not allowed in and some of the member-owners were turned away because fire code only allowed so many people in the room at one time. [60]

Posted August 9, 2014 Why do I Shop at Bloomingfoods? by blogger and Bloomingfoods Member Daniel Bingham at The Road Goes On:

It also quickly became apparent that there was almost no transparency. The newsletter didn’t talk about coop issues. The minutes from board meetings were conspicuously absent. Indeed, until recently I had no idea when board meetings even were. They weren’t advertised.2 The newsletter mostly included fluff articles and local events. I had no idea what was going on internally to the coop, and no clear channel for finding out…

The more I shopped at Bloomingfoods, the more I realized that they carried very little local produce. What they did carry all seemed to either not be labelled with its origin … Most of what Bloomingfoods carries is big organic. Much of it is even conventional.

As I got to know local farmers, I started to learn about what the coop required of them in order to carry their produce. One local farmer I spoke to told me that he had given up trying to sell to Bloomingfoods. When he’d attempted in the past he’d been told to match the prices of the big organic farms in California. Which is impossible for him to do, and unreasonable for a coop to ask of him. [emphases added] [61]

Posted June 23, 2015 to Exopermaculture  by blogger and Bloomingfoods Member Ann Kreilkamp:

…After a short slide show of graphs from the NCGA folks that alerted us both to our predicament and its national context, the microphone was turned over to the member/owners present, with lots of warnings to be civil, to not speak too long, and so on. I was surprised. Do they need to tell us to be civil? We are always civil here, so civil in this community, by and large, that the former GM and his minions got away with way too much stasis for way too many years.

Though we were warned repeatedly not to comment, but simply to ask questions — one question each, please — and hand in written comments to the board afterwards, everybody in line had things to say, and none of them were confined to one question. That the board sought to confine comments to questions led to agitation, a sense of revolt and dismay — and then, simply, ‘disobedience.  [emphases added]  [62]

BLOOMINGFOOD’S MANAGEMENT SPEAKS

          Let me end with comments made by Management of Bloomingfoods: Paula Gilbertson, who was the acting-GM at Bloomingfoods, from National Coop Grocers (NCG), in an interview with Joe Hren from WFIU radio (Independent Public Media):

June 29, 2015 Bloomingfoods Acting GM On Communication, Pricing And Staff

Hren: Most of what I’ve heard about were more administrative-type moves. Is that going to continue to happen or are there other plans for some sort of new marketing with the store.

Gilbertson: This is sort of phase one. The opportunities in Bloomington are great and I think the co-op serves the market very well. I think we can refine and change with the times and catch up with simple things that we didn’t have to do 20 or 30 or 40 years ago.

Hren: And what are some of those things?

Gilbertson: We’ll want to take advantage of social media in terms of having discussions, having more information, having more communication available.

Hren: And with those members, besides shopping, how do you keep them involved or do you want to keep them involved in this process of change that’s going to happen?

Gilbertson: Member forums, on a monthly basis to have dialogue with the members of the board that they’ve chosen as their representatives, those are regularly scheduled. We will be sending out regular communication to members about the transition plan and what’s happening with this. Bloomingfoods has this opportunity to open the doors wide and talk with its members.

Hren: So what now, you just had the meeting and I assume this will be a long process…what can people expect to start happening now?

Gilbertson: We’ll kind take it one step at a time. We’ll communicate more frequently and more often, we’ll updated people and our next big push will be for the annual meeting in October.

Hren: This is a trend that’s happening probably across the country. Are there other things that Bloomingfoods can learn outside of Bloomington to bring that here to help in that situation?

Gilbertson: We’ve noted that it has slowed down the growth of some of our co-ops when competition comes to town and there are more players. But it makes us better and makes us focus on those core strengths we have. I think we will have embraced a lot of what co-ops across the country have learned as competition has come into there area: there is something unique the cooperative ownership structure offers.

Hren: So besides the surveys, is there anything else the customers could see in the stores? Maybe prices or other items?

Gilbertson: Actually we’re working on pricing right now to be implemented the first week of July and we’re working hard on that as we speak. We’re looking at where we have opportunities to adjust our prices  and serve our members better. So hopefully you’re going to see happier staff and staff more in tune with what’s going on and more informed, so I would hope there would be more engagement with customers and staff. (END) [63]

January 12, 2016 Indiana Public Media reports Bloomingfoods Hires New General Manager:

Bloomingfoods has hired a new general manager. Tony Alogni will start the job on March 1st.

Currently, Alongni holds a position at the second-largest co-op in the country, Hanover Co-Op in Hanover, New Hampshire… [64] [65] [66]

                                                                                                                                                                             © Laura Hagen

=========================================

[1] This is reminiscent of HWFC’s marketing tool of “Shareholder Saturdays:” why do Monthly Work (3 hours) as a Member-Owner and get 8% off when you can buy on “Shareholder Saturdays” for 10% off – and do no work!

This marketing strategy, however, cleverly  removes any incentive for Member-Owners to invest in and commit to their local co-op. We are relegated to the role of customers (getting a coupon) …rather than of Owners.

[2] The move to initiate reductions to HWFC MLP discounts had already begun at the  June, 2015 Membership Meeting. This Board’s attempt to end our MLP on October 23, 2015 was an attempt to sink the nail in that coffin.

[2a] Member-Owners, see the official Board minutes for October 20, 2015, here: http://www.honestweight.coop/page/board-meeting-minutes-99.html

[3] It has since been determined that the “cost” of our Member Labor Program is not what derailed our budget, see endnotes #17 and #19.

Our Treasurer’s first Quarterly Financial report will explain, in detail, how the former Board massively over-spent co-op savings in the last year.

[4] Shem Cohen of Change Events, Inc. (see: http://shemcohen.com/); Mark Goehring, CBLD Team Leader and Thane Joyal, CDS Consulting Co-op (seehttp://www.cdsconsulting.coop/;  http://www.cdsconsulting.coop/consultants/mark-goehring ; http://www.cdsconsulting.coop/consultants/thane-joyal )

See my two posts, GRASSROOTS ACTION and current bylaws ARE POWERFUL!, here and GRASSROOTS ACTION and Bylaws (Again) ARE POWERFUL! here; see the sections BYLAWS: LOTS OF READING AND THINKING TO DO and ALICE IN WONDERLAND DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE Is this a Bylaws Task Force or a Better End Member-Labor Task Force?

 [5] CDS Consulting Co-op; Change Events, Inc.; Corning Place Communications; Dowling Law PLLC; Couch White LLP.

In addition, see:here, here, here, here, here and, finally, here.

[6] This letter was hand-couriered to the NYSDOL after a fully-executed petition to oust current Board members, via an emergency Special Membership Meeting, had been personally handed to the acting Board President, Deb Dennis, on Saturday, October 24, 2015. See here.

[7] See the secret Board letter to the NYS Department of Labor, here.

[8] See the FOIL request, here.

[9] The secret meeting, between an HWFC Board representative (GRC co-chair, Ursula Abrams) & two Board law firms (attorneys John Vero of Couch White and Joanmarie Dowling of Dowling Law) and NYSDOL employees, took place on Wednesday, December 2, 2015, after our historic emergency Special Membership Meeting, held on November 30, 2015! (Do you recognize the pattern here: just ignore the legal wishes of co-op owners and bull ahead?) The decision to prevent Member-owners from attending this meeting was made by acting President Deb Dennis, who confirmed this fact to a packed Board meeting on January 5, 2016!

To this date, we do not know meeting content nor outcomes.

A written report to Membership, presented by Ursula Abrams, then co-Chair of the HWFC Governance Review Council (GRC), who was the only other Board-invited guest to this meeting, has since been confirmed to have been written or edited by the Strategic PR firm hired by the Board.

The GRC had a responsibility to the Member-Owners of this co-op to share this meeting date, time, place and agenda with Member-Owners: it did not do so. It had lost sight of the fact that it is not a committee of the Board; it was originally founded by the Member-Owners of HWFC to watchdog the actions of another out-of-control Board. The GRC was tasked with reporting directly to Membership (as well as to the Board).

In other words, the GRC is a Committee which serves at the pleasure of the Membership; whom, in this case, it ignored.

See here, under section entitled, Secrecy:

[10] Member-Owners see here.

[11] A properly structured Member-Owner Labor Program at a food co-op is absolutely allowable in NYS, with the presumption that the bylaws are properly written and the “owners” have control over the operations of the co-op. See this document, here, written by our Board Treasurer, Kate Doyle, Esq.:

[12] Corning Place Communications’ website lists Hinman Straub as its partner. See Corning Place’s website, here. See the 2015 NYS JCOPE Report, here: http://www.jcope.ny.gov/pubs/POL/2015_%20Annual%20Report_%20FINAL_4_8_16r.pdf

[12a] Search NYS JCOPE website, here: http://www.jcope.ny.gov/view_filing.html

Also NYS citizens may search the Project Sunlight website, https://projectsunlight.ny.gov/ . Project Sunlight is the the work of Blair Horner, a longtime, respected citizens’ advocate from NYPIRG. See: http://www.ag.ny.gov/press-release/attorney-general-andrew-cuomo-appoints-blair-horner-new-special-adviser-policy-and

[13]Astroturfing” is fake grassroots’ actions – used to thwart and undermine citizen groups, the real grassroots – which meet the agenda of a paying client or corporation: in this case the paying client was our own Board of Directors.

See definitions of “astroturfinghere and here. See my post, GRASSROOTS ACTION and Current Bylaws ARE POWERFUL here; especially the sections SECRET & SILENT STEALTH PR STRATEGISTS PULLING THE BYLAWS’ STRINGS? and STRATEGIC PR FIRMS COST…HOW MUCH? AND THEY DO WHAT TO GRASSROOTS ACTION?

[13a] A recent review of invoices from this firm, Corning Place Communications, has confirmed former Board payments for such “astroturfing” activities.

[14] The former Board paid Corning Place Communications $20,000 during 2015! A portion of one of these letters, with this text, was read by Board candidate (and new Board member) Tim Corrigan, at our annual Membership and Board Elections’ Meeting on April 17, 2016.

[15] See CDS Consulting Co-op, under “Co-operative Governance,” here.

[16] This was the largest Membership Meeting in our co-op’s 39 year history!

The grassroots advocacy done by this group of “Petitioner’s for an Emergency Special Membership Meeting” was and is phenomenal! 38 days: petitioning & “tabling” at our co-op, “clipboarding” in the parking lot, late-night meetings, daily organizer email updates, the formation of several member-owner websites (including this Grassroots Action is Powerful! blog, here!) and a FB page, a mailchimp blast e-list, getting petition paperwork done, phone calling, info-meetings with Membership, legal docs re. MLPs in NYS, orange “Let’s Chat” t-shirt donations, a new written policy on petitioning at HWFC, organizing the meeting, FOIL Letters, communications’ struggles overcome, printing up ballots, preparing food…  …and all this with the DIRECT OPPOSITION of the Board which clamped down on ALL means of communications between Member-Owners, while leveraging & lobbing the professional astroturfing services of the Board’s Strategic PR Firm against us!…

The outpouring of energy, effort & commitment from these Member-Owner individuals and families has directly  led to a co-op which is, once again, continuing on with its original mission of being locally-owned, “Member-owned and Member-operated…”

It is an honor to be working with all the fellow Member-Owner, grassroots advocacy heroes: who are – simply – families helping one another to keep our co-op strong, locally-owned and locally-operated.

[16a] Subsequent to our SMM, Duke Bouchard and Lexa Juhre resigned their top Management positions (as part of HWFC’s three-person Leadership Team (LT) ).

[17] This board spent “$500,000 to eliminate member labor and [on] strategic planning to design its replacement;” “[o]ver $200,000 on Central Avenue building since moving to new store;” and “$75,000 in bonuses paid to LT over three years.” Member-Owners see here.

[18] Please see this document, written by Kate Doyle, Esq., to understand MLPs and NYS law.

[19] At the January 5, 2016 Board meeting, it was announced to Membership, by our newly-elected Board members, that the former Board had spent $257,000 on legal fees in only six months (since July, 2015). This former Board was spending $42,833 a month (!!!) to two law firms, to assist them in their agenda to end our MLP, change our bylaws, remove Member-Owner control of our co-operative corporation and implement a replacement to our MLP.

The Quarterly Financial Report, which our Treasurer is preparing, will shock all of us. The monies used by the former Board – to undermine and eliminate Member-Owner power – came directly out of our HWFC savings. These are the funds you and I, and all the other HWFC Member-Owners, collectively “own:” the funds which positioned us as a financially-healthy food co-op, funds which should have been used in the furtherance of our mission. Instead, our savings was used against us, in order to eliminate the power & control we legally hold in our co-operative corporation.

[19a] Thank you to Tim O’Brien  and the Times Union for staying on this story! We grassroots families here at HWFC are very lucky to have a reporter of Tim’s caliber who’s following our advocacy efforts to defend our food co-operative and to keep it locally-owned and locally-controlled.

Follow the story through his eyes, since October 16, 2015, here.

[20] See the Times Union, dated October 16, 2015,  Honest Weight Food Co-op Considers Dropping Member Workers in Store by Tim O’Brien, here.

[20a] The text of the two straw polls – with the official  election results from our SMM – is as follows:

4. Member review and vote on recommendation for the Board to research and consider a different Management Structure.

Straw poll results are as follows:
67.7% Voted Yes the Board may consider a different management structure

395 Yes – Board may consider different management structure
188 No – Board is not encouraged to consider a different management structure

5. Member review and vote on a finding of no confidence in the members of the leadership team and request that the board initiate review, pursuant to the employee manual, regarding each member of the leadership team.

Straw poll results are as follows:
69% Voted to Change the Leadership Team

393 Voted to Change the Leadership Team
176 Voted to Keep the Leadership Team

See the Special Meeting Notice  (pp. 1 & 4) and the Official Election Results.

[21] This was also a straw poll. See the Official Election Results.

[22] John Serio, Secretary, also did not maintain his Board seat at our SMM on November 30, 2015. On January 5, 2016 four members of Deb Dennis’s Board stepped down: Deb Dennis, Leif Hartmark, Roseann Coto-Batres, and Roman Kuchera.

[23] See Tim O’Brien’s Times Union article, Six Win Seats on Honest Weight Food Co-op Board, in the Tuesday, April 19, 2016 Times Union

[24] As an aside, for those who love bungalows, Arts & Crafts homes, 1930’s kitchens, and wood (!), read this book about the Hoosier cabinet, The Hoosier Cabinet in Kitchen History, by Nancy R. Hiller, who lives in Bloomington. See her website, here and see her blogpost about the Hoosier cabinet she designed for Bloomingfoods’ newest store, Elm Heights.

[25] See: http://www.bloomingfoods.coop/members/

[26] http://www.bloomingfoods.coop/banner_slider/locations-2/kirkwood-announcement/

http://www.yelp.com.au/biz/bloomingfoods-bloomington-7

and http://www.heraldtimesonline.com/news/local/future-of-downtown-bloomingfoods-uncertain/article_b8a42455-c427-5056-8f0b-a8cfc59aa67a.html

[27] See these two articles about unionization at Bloomingfoods in The Ryder, written by Robert F. Arnove, Chancellor’s Professor Emeritus of Education at Indiana University (unknown if is he is a Member-Owner of B’foods):
http://www.theryder.com/2014/12/21/the-unionization-of-bloomingfoods/
http://www.theryder.com/2015/02/08/the-unionization-of-bloomingfoods-part-2/

[28] See this September 15, 2014 blogpost by Bloomingfoods Member Daniel Bingham, Dear Bloomingfoods, Please Don’t Hire Union Busters, here: http://theroadgoeson.com/articles/article/dear-bloomingfoods-please-dont-hire-union-busters

[29] http://www.heraldtimesonline.com/news/business/whole-foods-coming-to-bloomington-s-college-mall-in/article_f175d14e-19ab-11e4-bde5-0017a43b2370.html

[30] Whole Foods Market (NASDAQ: WFM) and co-ops which are National Coop Grocers (NCG) members utilize the same national wholesaler: United Natural Foods, Inc. (NASDAQ: UNFI).

[31] http://www.bloomingfoods.coop/417-board-announcement/

http://indianapublicmedia.org/news/bloomingfoods-gm-resigns-coop-undergo-changes-83238/

[32] https://www.ncg.coop/

[33] Bloomingfoods and HWFC are both member co-ops of National Coop Grocers (NCG). See: https://www.ncg.coop/find-co-op

[34] On April 1, 2016 Lucky’s Market and Kroger’s announced a “strategic partnership.” See: http://www.luckysmarket.com/press-release/

[34a] We caught a similar alteration in language usage at Honest Weight Food Co-op. The Board sends announcements through its e-Inside Scoop. The former Board had started calling itself the “Honest Weight Board of Directors.” The word “co-operative” had disappeared.

[35] A straw poll survey conducted by one of our Member-Owners, who took the time to call NYS food co-ops, found many thriving Member-Labor Programs. There are many  US food co-ops (which do not belong to National Coop Grocers (NCG) ) which sustain active, Member-Owner Labor programs.

Please research the work of Laddie Lushin, Esq, a VT attorney who specializes in nonprofit and co-operative law and who has written in favor of Member-Labor Programs at food co-ops, from a legal standpoint.

Do your own straw poll. Develop a list of all the food co-ops in your state – in addition to the ones which are members of NCG; call each one with a list of questions about Member-Labor at their co-op; make sure to connect up with actual Member-Owners, not just Board & Management representatives.

[36] See Critical Legal Information, by Kate Doyle, Esq., who is our current Board Treasurer:

[37] http://indianapublicmedia.org/news/bloomingfoods-layoffs-expected-business-declines-83509/

[38] http://www.heraldtimesonline.com/news/local/bloomingfoods-co-op-announces-layoffs-amidst-increased-competition/article_aad9b893-840e-5b11-befe-ced2d02eacb9.html

[39] http://www.heraldtimesonline.com/news/local/bloomingfoods-meeting-hints-at-more-layoffs/article_cf4184c7-a923-552b-9a5c-09449c1015a9.html

[40]  Posted to Exopermaculture  by blogger and Bloomingfoods Member Ann Kreilkamp, on June 23, 2015. See, https://www.exopermaculture.com/2015/06/23/iconic-bloomingfoods-co-op-starts-to-right-its-ship/

[41] http://indianapublicmedia.org/news/bloomingfoods-hires-general-manager-92167/

[42] See under “Clients” at http://cdsconsulting.coop/

[43] Read the relevant sections in each of my blogposts: here, here, here and here.

[44] There is evidence in Board minutes that HWFC Boards have been working with CDS Consulting Coop since December 2009: at least six years. Member-Owners see: http://www.honestweight.coop/uploads/BoardMin/1358112288_2009-12-01_Board_Minutes.pdf

[45] The former HWFC board executed a contract with CDS Consulting Co-op in December, 2014, specifically for CDSCC’s Co-operative Board Leadership Development (CBLD) with its ‘Fresh Start’ Bylaws Template.

[46] An estimated tally of the amount HWFC has paid to CDS Consulting Co-op over the  last almost three years is $84,000.

[47] Bloomingfood’s January 2016 Board  minutes indicate they are participating in CDS Consulting Coop’s CBLD trainings: http://www.bloomingfoods.coop/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/January-2016-Minutes.pdf

[48] See the comments by Donald Kreis, Esq., a current candidate for the Board of Directors of the Hanover Food Co-op in NH, who is supported by the co-op advocacy group, Concerned About the Co-op (CATC), relating to CDSCC and the NCG contract, in his December 17, 2015 blogpost, The ‘Share of Stomach’ Challenge at the Hanover Co-op: December Board Report, here: http://www.kreis.coop/blog/?offset=1450493078922

[49] Cooperative Grocer Network lists, as its three sponsors:
CDS Consulting Co-op
National Coop Grocers
National Cooperative Bank

See: http://www.grocer.coop/

Website accessed on April 19, 2016.

[50] Posted June 23, 2015 to Exopermaculture  by blogger and Bloomingfoods Member-Owner Ann Kreilkamp at https://www.exopermaculture.com/2015/06/23/iconic-bloomingfoods-co-op-starts-to-right-its-ship/

[51] Bloomingfood’s January 2016 Board  minutes indicate they are participating in CDS Consulting Coop’s CBLD trainings: http://www.bloomingfoods.coop/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/January-2016-Minutes.pdf

[52] Losing Our Principles was published on January 14, 2015, by The Commons Online. “The Commons, Commonsnews.org, and the Media Mentoring Project are projects of Vermont Independent Media, a nonprofit source of news and media education in southern Vermont.

[53] February 11, 2015 Letter to the Editor in The Commons, by Mimi Yahn entitled Still Searching for Democracy at the Putney Food Co-op, updating her article Searching for Democracy at the Putney Co-op.

[54] Private email correspondence dated December 8, 2015.

[55] Losing Our Principles was published on January 14, 2015, by The Commons Online. “The Commons, Commonsnews.org, and the Media Mentoring Project are projects of Vermont Independent Media, a nonprofit source of news and media education in southern Vermont.

[56] See CDSCC under “Co-operative Governance, here: http://www.cdsconsulting.coop/cooperative_governance/

[57] The paper & electronic copies I have of the CDSCC ‘Fresh Start’ Bylaws Template, provided to HWFC in 2015, includes this text, in Article III 3.2. However, CDSCC’s website has since amended their Template (rev. 02/24/16) and this clause has been removed: http://library.cdsconsulting.coop/wp-content/uploads/CBLD-Fresh-Start-Bylaws-Template.pdf

Another way co-op bylaws are being manipulated, so as to gut Member-Owner power & control, is by adding new shareholders. By buying into the “One member, one vote” PR slogan, utilized to manipulate (which we heard echoed at our co-op), a co-op with 11,000 new shareholders added, instead of working, Member-Owners, will find it virtually impossible to both get enough signatures for a Special Membership Meeting and to reach quorum at that meeting.

Result? Same endgame as in Article III 3.2: Member-Owners cannot carry a vote. They have lost corporate power & control. Who’s in control? The Board.

The term “shareholder” belongs to a top-down, traditional corporate structure.

In other words, research carefully before even considering changing your food co-op corporate structure & bylaws to include thousands of new shareholders. Lots of US co-ops are not making this change to their corporate structure and bylaws.

[58] See: http://www.cdsconsulting.coop/case_studies/our_clients.php#P

http://www.cdsconsulting.coop/case_studies/our_clients.php#H

http://www.cdsconsulting.coop/case_studies/bloomingfoods-market

 [59] Posted October 9, 2014 to Exopermaculture by blogger and Bloomingfoods Member-Owner Ann Kreilkamp at https://www.exopermaculture.com/2014/10/09/bloomingfoods-co-op-crisis-act-ii-unite-bloomingfoods-unite-marches-to-board-meeting/

[60] http://indianapublicmedia.org/news/bloomingfoods-employees-voice-concerns-coop-board-72940/

[61] http://theroadgoeson.com/articles/article/why-do-i-shop-at-bloomingfoods

[62] https://www.exopermaculture.com/2015/06/23/iconic-bloomingfoods-co-op-starts-to-right-its-ship/

[63] http://indianapublicmedia.org/news/84227-84227/

[64] http://indianapublicmedia.org/news/bloomingfoods-hires-general-manager-92167/

[65] http://www.bloomingfoods.coop/general-manager-update/

[66] Member-Owners of the Hanover Food Co-op in NH started an independent, grassroots organization, after disagreements with co-op Management and Board over firings at their co-op, and other issues. See Concerned About the Co-op (CATC), here: https://www.facebook.com/concernedaboutthecoop

GRASSROOTS ACTION and Current Board Accomplishments ARE POWERFUL!

Posted by Laura Hagen, HWFC Member-Owner

HOT OFF THE PRESS!

Honest Weight Food Co-op Makes Front Page of Times Union Business Section today. See the article:

Honest Weight Food Co-op’s Board Majority Again Up For Election
by Tim O’Brien, here.

Tim O’Brien quotes HWFC Board candidate Howard Brent: “the previous board went off the deep end.”

ALERT! STILL HOT OFF THE PRESS! Here is the Co-op Voice’s April, 2016 edition, with the Q&A Responses of all ten (10) announced candidates running for our Board of Directors on Sunday. And, here are the candidates’ bios and here is a summary of the Meet the Board Candidates Meeting from April 3rd.

HOT REMINDER: Don’t forget your personal Committee’s of Correspondence: personally call five (5) HWFC Members whom you know. Remind them to vote on Sunday. Ask them to each call five (5), etc. Done.

~~~

Busy morning! I need my steaming, fragrant cup – no, pot of organic Jade Oolong tea, to bring this blogpost to bed, fast!

My blog theme this week is:

Why Vote on Sunday, April 17, 2016 at the HWFC Membership Meeting?

After each blogpost this week (see April 9, April 12 and the popularSkunkworks” post of April 13 (come visit the Comments underneath. Join in!), I hope you will come away having yet another really important reason for attending our co-op’s Annual Membership Meeting and Board Elections this Sunday, April 17, 2016 at the St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church at 440 Whitehall Road in Albany, NY.

4:00 – 5:30 pm Meet the Candidates (see here for meeting details, here for the agenda and  here, here and here for candidate information)
5:30 – 6:00 pm Dessert Potluck and opportunity for conversation. Please bring a healthy snack or dessert item to share. HWFC will provide beverages
6:00 – 8:00 pm
MEMBERSHIP MEETING

CURRENT HWFC BOARD ACCOMPLISHMENTS: A.W.E.S.O.M.E!

Today’s information from our Board (see below) will tell you all about the incredible things our current Board of Directors has accomplished! Accomplished in just four short months!!!

Let’s remember that three of those Board members – Nate Horwitz, Carolynn Presser and Kate Doyle – were elected at an emergency Special Membership Meeting (SMM), held on November 30, 2015, called for by the Membership to confront a threat to our co-operative corporation and stop the activities of an out-of-control Board of Directors. Two of those Board members – New Depew and Daniel Morrissey, who were Board incumbents when we held our SMM – received the highest votes of confidence from Membership at the SMM. One of those Board member – Saul Rigberg, who also ran for election on  November 30 – was appointed by the above five Board members, to come join their team, on March 1, 2016.

That historic emergency meeting, held on Monday evening, November 30, 2015 had ~620 voting Member-Owner shareholders come out to vote (just four days after Thanksgiving, remember!) In addition, there was a total of ~720 attendees!

We broke any and all Honest Weight Food Coop records from our 40 year history, for Membership Meeting attendance: and this was an emergency Special Membership Meeting, called for by a petition of the Membership on October 24, 2015.

In just 38 days SMM petitioners convinced ~620 HWFC Owners to get out, confront a threat to our co-operative corporation (see here, here, here, here, here and, finally here) …

…confront that threat, and vote.

~620 of us sure did, ~720 including shareholders and our families! (See the official election results, here.) We all successfully defended our food co-operative corporation from those threats.

Well, now it’s time for the Member-Owners of HWFC to review just what this Board team of six Member-Owners has done for us and for our co-operative, in only four (4) months!

This document should convince you that we did the right thing on November 30, 2015! It should also convince you of the imperative that we ALL get out and vote this Sunday, April 17, 2016 at St. Sophia’s!

There are plans afoot (and read the comments below) to derail this election. Supporters of the former Board and former Management are busy digging through our bylaws to find any way to re-take our Board on Sunday.

We have to prevent them from disrupting our co-operative meeting process …once again.

See, these people don’t honor or respect the democratic process. Secrecy, fear, intimidation and last minute, planned maneuvers to disrupt are at the top of their playlist. At our emergency SMM they tried this on the floor …and failed miserably. But it looks like that’s what they’re going to try again: this time a run to try and grab Board seats at the very last minute from the floor.

My upcoming blogposts on Friday, Saturday and Sunday will provide more details. And, go and read the Reader Comments, under my April 13 Skunkworks post: an issue of “blank ballots” and Sunday’s election posted by Nickleson Cook over at the Let’s Talk HWFC FB page (Nickleson is the co-chair of the HWFC Communications Committee, BTW).

Your vote is THE ONE SURE-FIRED WAY to insure that the  former Board – and its supporters – never get a foot in the door on our board, again.

We again need LARGE NUMBERS of Member-Owners to turn out and vote!

YOU NEED TO CONTINUE TO DEFEND WHAT A MAJORITY OF US DID ON NOVEMBER 30, 2015.

Can we equal the ~620 voters who came on November 30th? Let’s go for it!

Our bylaws call for a total of nine (9) Board seats: seven (7) seats are up for election. Nate Horwitz, President, and Daniel Morrissey are not up for election this time ’round.

We need to support the incumbent Board members (four are up for election: make your choices), and bring our Board up to full, by adding enough seats to vote for seven (7) candidates on Sunday! (BTW, election note: a ballot will be considered spoiled (not counted) if you vote for more than seven (7) candidates. So, count carefully when you cast your ballot: seven names only.)

And I have no secret ballot to hide: I know I am voting for Carolynn Presser, Kate Doyle and their choice, Saul Rigberg …and by so doing, following up on our historic elections of November 30, 2015. They have proved their ability to lead. I will decide upon my remaining four votes …way, way before the elections (see why, here) on Sunday.

CURRENT HWFC BOARD ACCOMPLISHMENTS

Without further ado, here is the current edition, April 14, 2016, of the HWFC Inside Scoop, listing all of our current Board’s accomplishments!

Work accomplished in only four months by six people! Imagine what this team will do with three (3) additional Board members!

For the convenience of my readers, some of whom are seniors and people with disabilities and/or on fixed incomes, who have limited e-mail availability to timely information, here is the URL for this information (http://www.honestweight.coop/page/inside-scoop-184.html) and, below, is the text, copied & pasted, word-for-word:

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

INSIDE SCOOP

News and Views from Honest Weight Food Co-op Board of Directors

April 14, 2016

It’s a Wrap!

The Tuesday, April 5, 2016 Board meeting ended without ceremony, yet its adjournment marked the last session at which the current six Board of Directors will meet as this Board of Directors. After the April 17 election, the newly-elected member-owners will join continuing Directors Nate Horwitz and Daniel Micah Morrissey to create a full complement of nine Directors on our Board. In acknowledgement of the ending of the tenure of the current Board, we offer the following as a list of accomplishments by this group of Directors in service of our Co-op.

Fiduciary Responsibilities

+ Hired new legal counsel and confirmed that the Co-op’s use of member labor complies with federal and state labor laws. (New counsel’s legal opinion underscored former legal counsel’s opinion, though such former legal counsel’s opinion had not been presented to membership.)
+ Reinstituted compliance with legal requirement that minutes be kept of Executive Sessions of Board of Directors.
+ Placed a hiring freeze on new positions while assessing co-op’s financial status.
+ Obtained numerous financial documents previously unexamined by the former Board, but relevant to the ordinary course of HWFC’s business.
+ Exposed previous expenditures on consultants and attorneys.
+ Requested billing statements and work products of relevant consultants.
+ Hired an Interim CFO to lead the Co-op during a search for a new, permanent CFO.
+ Proposed a new management structure for HWFC, with a Chief Cooperative Officer, who would supervise a Chief Financial Officer and a Director of Operations, in order to create better accountability and supervision of top-level management.
+ Incorporated the mission and purpose of HWFC directly from the By-Laws and into the job performance standards of the proposed new top-level management positions, similar to Benefit Corporation Principles.

Governance and Legal

+ Declared null and void the previous Board Ethics Statement, which essentially imposed a gag rule on the Board and created confidentiality requirements that were unnecessary under the New York Business Corporation Law.
+ Cleared a backlog of several years of filings with the State Liquor Authority to clear up delinquencies that jeopardized HWFC’s liquor license.
+ Updated the Co-op’s delinquent “Corporate Black Book,” which the Co-op is legally required to have complete and ready to produce to the Internal Revenue Service and other relevant government agencies.
+ Created a Corporate Compliance Committee (which subsumed the work of the By-Laws Task Force) composed of attorneys and other regulatory or audit specialists in order to
  • review HWFC’s By-Laws, manuals, policies, and practices to ensure compliance with the By-Laws and internal consistency within each of the documents, and
  • review applicable laws and regulations to ensure compliance with such laws and regulations.

+
Began reviewing HWFC’s By-Laws with the intent to present proposals to member-owners for minor tweaks and corrections which will improve governance by member-owners and bolster member-owner labor at the Co-op.
+ Began reviewing the primary contract between NCG and the HWFC to determine and understand the benefits as well as the risks of the contractual obligations we have.
+ Created a Membership Marketing Committee, whereby member-owners can engage in innovative, aggressive marketing programs and efforts to complement the marketing efforts by employees in order to promote HWFC and increase sales and profitability.
+ Approved an Idea Facilitation Process whereby member-owners will solicit from the shopping public suggestions for improving the shopping experience at HWFC.

Reduced Expenditures

+ Imposed a moratorium on the use of consultants and attorneys without justification to and permission of the Board.
+ Initiated the legal process to terminate the need for HWFC to file an unnecessary semi-annual prospectus, which had been filed since 2009, and which costs HWFC $40,000 per year.
+ Authorized a settlement with the landlord of 484 Central Avenue to terminate the lease and cover contractual damages.  (Saving approximately $40,000/year.)
+ Publicized the facts regarding the expense of mailing notices to member-owners, and promoted switching to email delivery of notices. In first effort, encouraged over sixty member-owners to switch from postal mail to email. At no extra expense, added email enrollment forms to mailed Notices of April 17, 2016 Membership Meeting in order to increase notifications by email. (A minimum annual cost of $2000.)
+ Authorized the sale of the “grease bus” for $2500 to a local farm.
+ Authorized an analysis of credit and debit card usage and fees and initiated efforts to inform member-owners about the positive financial effects of using HWFC gift cards. (A current store expense exceeding $250,000 annually.)
+ Year to date, Co-op experienced two consecutive months’ profit as compared to same months in 2015.

Member-Owner Services

+ Began implementation of an equitable thaw of the former board’s freeze on 24% member-owners, with intent to monitor financial impact.
+ Transferred the Owner Services Coordinator (OSC) to direct supervision of the Board of Directors and away from supervision by the Leadership Team, in order to create more direct accountability of the OSC to the Board, and thereby, to member-owners.
  • Instructed the OSC to ascertain from each department the number and types of member-owner work that is discrete and distinct from employees’ work.
  • Instructed the OSC to begin cataloging member-owners’ skills and qualifications in order to create a “member-owner resource bank” that can be referred to for member-owner shifts when tasks are needed to be accomplished for work that falls outside of any paid employees’ job descriptions.

+
Proposed creating a “Member-Owner Accountability Committee,” to develop initiatives to present for member-owner approval including:
  • Establishing incentives for better member-owner time, attendance, and work effort accountability;
  • Developing a member-owner-to-member-owner “member-owner expectations” document addressing the rights and expectations of member-owners from other member-owners about responsibilities as owners and employers; and
  • Creating a network of co-ops to share expertise and experience in co-op related matters, already in progress.

+
At the January 31, 2016 Membership Meeting, attended by over 250 member-owners:
  • Requested HWFC’s Interim CFO to present financial information to member owners in clear and specific detail, and entertain questions from member-owners.
  • Held a “Committee Fair” at which all Board committees tabled and answered member-owner questions about committee work, and encouraged and invited new committee members.
  • Held “Member-Owner Workgroups” at which member-owners brainstormed ideas for addressing issues that member-owners identified as areas of concern or for improvement or initiative at HWFC.   Topics were varied and ranged from addressing environmental issues to increasing profitability to decreasing expenditures to improving member-owner labor program to improving marketing.

+
Promoted and increased member-owner participation by establishing a distinct email address for each committee, publicized on HWFC’s website, in order to promote and increase committee participation by member-owners.
+ Directed the Membership Committee to create a “Membership Meeting Procedures Guide.”

Employee Relations

+ Held ten (thus far) Executive Committee Reach Out Days, and
  • Met individually with over 30 Department Managers, Assistant Managers, and staff to learn ways to improve the way HWFC does business, to identify barriers to increased productivity, and to initiate discussions around problem-solving, improving teamwork, creating employee incentives for time and attendance and increasing productivity, and improving professional development;
  • Ascertained top needs by department managers and staff:
    • better time and attendance policies for accountability for staff and member-owners;
    • signage in each department and throughout the store;
    • training on SMS;
    • more weekly member-owners; and
    • better inter-department and top-level management communication.

+
At member-owners’ request, met with member-owners to hear concerns about and ideas for improving employment conditions at the Co-op.
+ Promoted and increased employee communication and participation by establishing a distinct email address for staff liaisons to the Board and the Personnel Committee.
+ Directed outgoing employees to create policy manuals for their jobs to ensure smooth transitions for any future vacancies.
+ Drafted proposal for a pilot program whereby, after consecutive quarters’ profitability, member-owners would work in place of their employees in order to provide two paid holidays for staff. After initial assessment and sustained profitability, intent would be to incrementally add more holidays to choices for staff to take and for member-owners to work for their employees. (To be introduced at May 3rd Board meeting)

Communication Improvements

+ Authorized the creation of a member-owner-run newsletter, the Coop Voice, to improve communication within the Co-op community.
+ Produced six Inside Scoops that generated praise for being positive and informative.
+ Improved accountability for HWFC’s website information.
+ Directed HWFC’s website be updated by removing obsolete information and adding current information.
———————————————————-
In just four and a half months, we learned a lot, met often, disagreed frequently, but agreed way more often, we worked diligently to fulfill our responsibilities as Directors of the co-operative corporation we own, and we made advances toward correcting the direction of the Co-op as mandated by the member-owners who voted us to stay on the Board or to be on the Board. We appreciate the opportunity to have served our co-operative community.

Honest Weight Food Co-op Board of Directors

Carolynn Presser, Daniel Morrissey, Kate Doyle, Nate Horwitz, Saul Rigberg and Ned Depew
board–at–honestweight.coop
END
==============================================

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 Can Stop Skunkworks!

Posted by Laura Hagen, HWFC Member-Owner

ALERT! HOT OFF THE PRESS! Here is the Co-op Voice’s  April, 2016 edition, with the Q&A Responses of all ten (10) announced candidates running for our Board of Directors on Sunday.

Here are the candidates’ bios and here is a summary of the Meet the Board Candidates Meeting from April 3rd.

My blog theme this week is:

Why Vote on Sunday, April 17, 2016 at the HWFC Membership Meeting?

After each blogpost this week (see April 9 and April 12), I hope you will come away having yet another really important reason for attending our co-op’s Annual Membership Meeting and Board Elections this Sunday, April 17, 2016 at the St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church at 440 Whitehall Road in Albany, NY.

4:00 – 5:30 pm Meet the Candidates (see here for meeting details, here for the agenda and  here, here and here for candidate information)
5:30 – 6:00 pm Dessert Potluck and opportunity for conversation. Please bring a healthy snack or dessert item to share. HWFC will provide beverages
6:00 – 8:00 pm
MEMBERSHIP MEETING

~~~

SKUNKWORKS OPERATION RUMORED

MASS FLOOR NOMINATIONS PLANNED?

AN ATTEMPT TO WATER DOWN DECLARED CANDIDATES’ VOTE TALLIES, PREVENTING THEIR ELECTION

We are hearing persistent rumors that a group of HWFC Members may be planning an attempt to water down the vote tallies of the eight (8) candidates who met the deadline for candidacy and participated in the process (and the two (2) who got their applications in late): for a total of ten (10) announced candidates.

Seven (7) Board seats are up for election.

What does this mean?

Once quorum is reached (when the required number of voting Member-Owners has been reached), our Membership Meeting is called to order. At the appropriate time in the agenda, the declared candidates will each be allowed equal time to make a statement to the Membership. After this occurs, there will be a call from the meeting moderator for nominations from the floor, which our bylaws appear to allow. [1]

We are hearing rumors that there is a plan to have a large number of candidates nominate themselves from the floor.

Should 5 or 7 or 10 people do this, it could act to take away votes from the ten (10) declared candidates.

Why does this matter?

Any one candidate who does not receive at least 25% of the vote at our election (a plurality), will not have met the minimum requirement for election to the Board. Their name will be removed from consideration.

So, if we have 600 voting Members show up to vote, each of the ten (10) declared candidates must receive at least 150 votes, to have met the minimum requirement of 25% of the votes.

Any candidate who receives less than 150 votes – if there are 600 voting Members – will have his or her name removed from consideration for Board election.

If more than seven (7) candidates receive enough votes to sit upon our Board, the seven (7) with the largest number of votes (a majority) will be elected.

ANNOUNCED CANDIDATES HONOR OUR DEMOCRATIC PROCESS

Eight candidates made a public commitment to Membership and followed our process for announcing their candidacy for the Board. They announced with enough time for Member-Owners to get to know them and their positions. They took time to fill out an application and submit it on time, attend Meet the Candidates Forums at HWFC, and participate in a Q&A sponsored by the Co-op Voice. (Two additional candidates got their applications in late.) This makes for a total of ten (10) announced candidates for the Board.

These ten (10) candidates took the time to plan: checking with their families, making sure they can sustain the commitment, time and energy needed to serve on our Board. They have honored our process and insured that Membership had ample opportunity to meet them, get to know their views and ask questions.

This ability to plan, commit follow through, communicate in a public and transparent way, and to work co-operatively with our process, demonstrates some of the very leadership qualities we want to see in a potential Board member.

NOMINEES FROM THE FLOOR: WHY ARE THEY WAITING ‘TIL THE LAST MINUTE TO RUN?

Our bylaws currently appear to allow for nominations or self-nominations for Board election. I’m not an attorney, but there appears to to me to be some clear ambiguity in the bylaws on this issue. [1]

That said, why would a group of Members chose to wait until the absolute very last minute to put their names forward, without granting Membership any time to hear their platform or to get to know them?

That is quite disrespectful of the Membership.

Given all the communication and discussion – well ahead of time – about our annual Membership Meeting and Elections, and the well-organized planning process by both the Nominations and Membership Committees (thank you very, very much everybody!), how can anyone – or a group  of anyones – defend waiting until minutes before the election to announce their intention to run?

Why would a group do this? What is the motive for this group action?

At the very least, it demonstrates a lack of the ability to communicate in a public and transparent way, and to work co-operatively with our process. It demonstrates a will to subvert democratic process and it demonstrates poor leadership qualities. These are qualities I will not cast a vote for.

THEIR REAL MOTIVES?

It is likely that the real motive is to shift votes away from the ten (10) publicly-announced candidates – a ploy to water down the vote – so that some or all of the announced candidates cannot reach the minimum number of votes (25%) to be considered.

In  other words, their names would be tossed out from the running.

We could end up with some or none of the previously-declared candidates or Board incumbents reaching the 25%, or candidates from the subversive “From-the-Floor-Nominations-Group” being elected to our Board.

Or we could end up  with no candidates for the Board being elected.

A PLAN TO UNDERMINE OUR DEMOCRATIC PROCESS MAY BE IN PROGRESS

If there is any plan to have 5 or 7 or 10 people nominated from the floor, that indicates to me – not an intent to run for any legitimate reason, rather a plan – as a group – to disrupt, agitate, thumb their noses at, and undermine the democratic and co-operative principles by which we were founded and by which we operate.

If our bylaws allow that these individuals each be allowed time to address Membership (and that is also unclear to me from our bylaws) [2] – we will have a very long meeting. It does not at all seem fair that a group of candidates announcing their intent to run minutes before an election, should be given equal time to address Membership, as the candidates who declared their intention to run well ahead of our Annual Elections.

It looks for all the world like this is a plan to attempt to get rid of our four seated Board members – Carolyn Presser, Kate Doyle, Saul Rigberg and Ned Depew – and, at the same time, an attempt to grab some of the Board seats by members of this subversive group.

Or, maybe this group hopes to dilute the vote enough so that nobody gets elected.

Or, maybe they hope that by spreading rumors – ahead of the Election – a good percentage of HWFC Member-Owners will not show up to vote, out of fear.

Finally, this group could simply wish to cause disruption to the Membership Meeting and Elections.

Likely, it’s all of the above.

Planned disruption of this nature – deliberately designed to cause agitation, conflict, hostility, and fear at a Membership Meeting of our food co-operative – needs to be called out ahead of time.

This type of determined aggression and offensive behavior at our co-op needs to have the light of day shone down upon it each and every time it is uncovered.

If there is a group of HWFC members who are participating in this plan, you  need to step forward  – NOW – and declare your names and your intentions. Please post below, we Member-Owners want to know who you are.

If you have information about this plan, you need to immediately step forward and alert Membership Meeting planners (see below). [3]

PLANNING DISRUPTION TO  OUR PROCESS IS DESPICABLE

This action, as well as the planning of this action, is despicable.

Spreading a rumor that this action may occur – using a tactic of fear so that Member-Owners may be too afraid to attend our Membership Meeting and vote on Sunday – is despicable.

I would not want any of these individuals to serve on our Board or in any leadership capacity in our co-operative.

BUT THE BYLAWS SAY PEOPLE CAN SELF-NOMINATE FROM THE FLOOR, DON’T THEY?

That may be correct. [1]  That does not mean that a group of people can manipulate the intent of the bylaws, with an endgame of disrupting, agitating, causing conflict and derailing a nomination’s process, a Membership Meeting, and an Annual  Election.

The bylaws also state that we will, above all, behave in a co-operative manner.

These actions are not at all co-operative.

SECRET PLANNING …AGAIN

Planning of this nature – ahead of time, in a small group, in secret, behind the back of Membership, subverting the will of Membership – comes straight out of the playbook of the former Board of Directors [4]

…who, let’s remember, had the help of one of Albany’s top-ten Strategic PR & Lobbying firms, as well as help from a very, very pricey national .coop firm, to help  in scripting political actions against the voting, shareholders – the owners – of our co-operative corporation. [5]

This current subversive action has all the feel – yet again – of an action planned by paid pros, who are trained in astroturfing (fake grassroots’ actions used against citizen groups, which meet the agenda of a paying client or corporation): that is, in subverting real grassroots actions (like our co-op’s annual Membership Meetings and Elections).

This current (rumor-mill) action seems all too familiar to me. Doesn’t it to you, too?

After all, the former Board and (their supporters) didn’t just go away after November 30, 2015 – the date of our historic emergency Special Membership Meeting – and, remember, this is the first Board Election since we Members challenged and put down their activities.

Makes sense that these supporters would try to re-take the Board …somehow …or at least throw a monkey-wrench into the works.

Think I’m paranoid? The $500,000 (!) the former Board spent on attorneys and consultants (pros) to undermine and eliminate Member-Owner legal power & control in our co-operative corporation should lay that thought to rest. [6]

Go watch your favorite Wall Street movie again. What do you call it when a Board of Directors tries to secretly wrestle control of a corporation from the shareholders?

We cannot permit this kind of destructive infiltration at our co-op, ever again.

We Member-Owner-Shareholders – the grassroots of HWFC – need to keep control of our Board on Sunday, April 17, 2016.

HERE’S WHO’S RUNNING: OUR DECLARED CANDIDATES

Below are the names of our declared candidates: here are their bios, Q&A Responses and here is a summary of the Meet the Board Candidates Meeting from April 3rd:

Howard Brent
Tim Corrigan
Richard Donnegan
Kate Doyle
Anastasia Onorata
Carolyn Presser
Rebekah Rice
Saul Rigberg

New Depew and Collin Thomas are (late) declared candidates. Ned’s bio is tacked to the Member-Owner bulletin board, at the back of the co-op. I have no information about Collin’s bio.

Let’s not forget that the seven (7) people we elect on Sunday will be joining Nate Horwitz, President, and Daniel Morrissey, who are incumbents and not up for election at this time.

That will be our team!

WHAT TO DO

SIMPLE!

  1.  CHOOSE YOUR SEVEN (7) CANDIDATES AHEAD OF TIME
  2. CALL FIVE (5) HWFC MEMBERS WHOM YOU KNOW: REMIND THEM TO COME VOTE
  3. PREPARE A DELICIOUS SNACK OR DESSERT POTLUCK TO SHARE
  4. COME OUT AND VOTE ON SUNDAY! WE NEED LARGE VOTER TURNOUT!

1. Follow through on the elections we had at our historic emergency  Membership  Meeting on November 30, 2015: we elected Carolyn Presser, Kate Doyle and Nate Horwitz (Nate is not up for election at this time): Re-elect Carolynn and Kate!

2. Nate, Carolynn and Kate chose Saul Rigberg to join their team on the Board: Elect Saul  Rigberg!

Elect the three (3) individuals who are currently on our Board – Carolyn Presser, Kate Doyle and Saul Rigberg – who have served with distinction, honor and integrity under difficult circumstances …and are seated as a result of our emergency Special Membership Meeting on November 30, 2015.

3. Preview the candidates’ bios, their Q&A Responses and the summary of the Meet the Board Candidates Meeting from April 3rd now. Of the seven (7) remaining candidates, select four (4). Make your decision now as to which four (4) additional candidates you will vote for.

4. Attend the Meet the Candidates Forum at St. Sophia’s, prior to the Membership Meeting on  Sunday; it starts at 4:00pm. If you were undecided going into the Forum, come out of it with the names of the seven (7) candidates you wish to vote for firmly decided. Go into our Dessert Potluck at 5:30pm knowing whom you are voting for.

5. Do not support or allow agitators – for any  reason – to disrupt our Membership Meeting on Sunday.

Too many Member-Owners have worked too hard and very co-operatively since October 22, 2015 – to take back our co-op – to allow such a disruption to our democratic process.

Support the candidates who have exhibited good leadership qualities by honoring our nominations’ process and declaring their candidacy well before this Annual Election, and most importantly, understood that Membership needs a chance to get to know the candidates before voting for them.

WHY YOU NEED TO SHOW UP AND VOTE THIS SUNDAY

We – the Member-Owners – are the grassroots! Real grassroots work triumphs over skunkworks, every time, baby!

Do not succumb to any fear you may have – which this group may be deliberately pumping ahead of time; they want you to be afraid, they want you to not show up and vote! Don’t allow their brokering of fear – executed using secrecy, innuendo and whispered intimidation – to stop you from voting! As author Susan Jeffers said: Feel the fear and do it anyway!

That old saying, There’s power in numbers is not meaningless. ~620 of us showed up to address an emergency at our co-op – reigning in an out-of-control Board – and voted to correct the problem on November 30, 2015! Meeting attendance was ~720! Historic, guys! We confronted the secret agendas and fear then …and we triumphed! If you were there you were witness to and part of that incredible, historic, grassroots, food co-op power!

Individuals, families & community standing strong to defend what is ours!

Let’s follow through and do it again.

Your participation on Sunday is CRUCIAL to insuring that we Member-Owners seat a Board which honors democratic principles and which has people on it who have demonstrated – well ahead of this election – that they have the ability to plan, to follow through, to communicate in a public and transparent way, and to work co-operatively with our process, as part of a team.

These are the leadership qualities for which I will cast my votes on Sunday.

And I have no secret ballot to hide: I know I am voting for Carolynn Presser, Kate Doyle and Saul Rigberg …and by so doing, following up on our historic elections of November 30, 2015. In just three – four months, they have proved their ability to lead.

I will decide upon my remaining four votes …way before Sunday.

Please, you do the same.

~~~

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 [7]

====================================

[1] See HWFC bylaws, dated April 26, 2015, under Board of Directors, Standing Committees, Nominating Committee, 461 (pp. 16-17):

461 Nominating Committee

The Nominating Committee shall be responsible for recommending new Board members to fill openings as they occur and for recommending Board candidates to the Membership. The work of the Nominating Committee shall not preclude the right of any Member to be nominated or self-nominated.

I found no reference to floor nominations being allowed under Membership, Regular Membership Meetings, 342 (pp. 8-9), or Board of Directors, Terms and Elections, 410 (pp. 10-12).

There appears to be ambiguity, in that the reference to nominate or self-nominate occurs only under 461, Board of Directors, Standing Committees, Nominations Committee, not under either 342, Membership, Regular Membership Meetings, or 410, Board of Directors, Terms and Election.

342 and 410 are both silent on the issue of nominations from the floor, self or otherwise, at the HWFC annual Membership Meeting & Board Elections.

[2] I can find no language in our current bylaws, dated April 26, 2015, which address this issue.

[3] If there is a group of HWFC members who are participating in this plan, you need to step forward – NOW – and declare your names and your intentions. Please post below, we Member-Owners want to know who you are.

If you have information about this plan, you need to immediately step forward and alert Membership Meeting planners (Membership Committee: MembershipComm-AT-honestweight.coop

I will find out the names of the exact right people to contact and update this post, here, with that information.

[4] The four Board members who subsequently quit our Board on 01/05/16, 36 days after censure by Membership at our emergency Special Membership Meeting on 11/30/15 are:

Name             Percentage of voters voting non-confidence & censure

Acting-President Deb Dennis       (67.9%)
Treasurer Leif Hartmark              (65.2%)
Roman Kuchera                             (67.8%)
Rossana Coto-Batres                     (58.4%)

Former President Bill Frye was unseated and Board Secretary John Serio was not re-elected to the Board at our emergency Special Membership Meeting on 11/30/15.

[5] The former HWFC Board of Directors had contracts executed in 2015 with both Corning Place Communications, Albany, NY and CDS Consulting Co-op, Putney, VT.

[6] The Quarterly Financial Report, which our current Treasurer, Kate Doyle, is preparing, will shock all of us. The monies used by the former Board – to undermine and eliminate Member-Owner power – to pay all these attorneys and consultants came directly out of our HWFC savings: the funds you and I, and all the other HWFC Member-Owners, all collectively “own:” the funds which positioned us as a financially-healthy food co-op. Our savings was used against us, in order to eliminate the power & control we legally hold in our co-operative corporation.

Member-Owners, see the Agenda for the April 17, 2016 Membership Meeting and Annual Elections, here. It states: “$500,000 [was spent] to eliminate member labor and strategic planning to design its replacement.

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

GRASSROOTS ACTION and Voting on Sunday ARE IMPORTANT!

Posted by Laura Hagen, HWFC Member-Owner

UPDATE: April 13, 2016: Here is the Co-op Voice’s April, 2016 edition, with Q&A with all the candidates running for our Board of Directors on Sunday.

My blog theme this week is:

Why Vote on Sunday, April 17, 2016 at the HWFC Membership Meeting?

After each post, I hope you will come away having yet another really important reason for attending our co-op’s Annual Membership Meeting this Sunday, April 17, 2016 at St. Sophia’s Church (see here for details) when we elect our Board of Directors.

LOCAL FOOD

Do you know how fortunate we Member-Owners of this food co-op are?

We have the absolute ability to influence the co-op’s food purchasing & food labeling policies. We have the ability to express our wishes that the co-op purchase more locally-produced food, which is certified organic. We have the right to find out just where that grass-fed, grass-finished beef with the green label in the Meat Department comes from; we can find out the exact name of the farm (Sweet Tree Farm), we can even go visit that farm (Carlisle, NY, hop, skip and a jump west out Route 20) and speak directly with the farmers (Frank Johnson & Judy Pangman).

We have the ability to express our desire that foods which the Produce Department sells (fresh fruits & vegetables) which are labelled organic, will list the country of origin of these organic foods (Did you even know that this is now a critical fact to know?) We can request more locally-grown organic vegetables. We can query the Cheese Department and get exact details about that artisan goat cheese from Au Sable Forks, NY or information about the farm in Vermont which produces that aged, raw milk cheese which our family loves.

In the mood for a roadtrip? Go visit that farm in Au Sable Forks (Asgaard Farms), meet the goats and the couple (David Brunner and Rhonda Butler), which is creating award-winning  goat cheeses from the Adirondacks. (I’ve been to Asgaard Farms; it is worth the trip! And you will learn about Rockwell Kent, to boot – a famous American artist who used to own the farm – while getting a stunning view of Whiteface Mountain – a view which Kent admired and painted.)

LABELING

Let me run with the labeling issue. If we are dissatisfied with the lack of disclosure on a food we want to purchase (Is it organic? Is it certified organic? What country is it from? Who grew it? When was it harvested? What is its expiration date? Was this organic garlic from China irradiated at the border? How far away is the farm where this was grown? How do we know it is truly organic with no pesticides? Was fracking water used to water these organic strawberries from California? Does this “organic” honey from South America have high-fructose corn syrup added to it? Is this organic tea from China really organic or do we have a better chance with tea grown in Taiwan? Are there GMOs in these crackers or in this vitamin or herbal supplement?) we can ask the Manager to check and get us more information. We can make a labeling recommendation to that Manager. If the information we get back is not sufficient, if we don’t get the result we want, we can speak to the acting GM.

If we get less than the result we desire from store personnel, we can track down which Committee handles this issue (Nutrition and Education Committee) and start serving on that Committee. We can find out the history of the issue at HWFC through the Committee. We can share the knowledge we have gathered, so that the labeling policy is amended for the benefit of ALL HWFC shoppers, including our own family.

If pushing the issue through a Committee doesn’t work, to the satisfaction of our family, we can seek to bring the issue to the attention of Membership via articles in our brand new Member-Owned Co-op Voice newsletter (see here for more information and for the Voice’s premiere edition!), the Coop Scoop (I have high hopes for change here; what used to be a monthly Membership newsletter we all eagerly read has become a quarterly marketing tool), or petitioning Membership (tabling, clipboarding), for example, to raise awareness at the co-op.

Ultimately, if enough Members agree to the importance of the issue, if can be brought to the attention of Membership and brought to a vote at a quarterly Membership Meeting.

This all requires that you are able to work with, to co-operate with, other Members and Member-families which may have slightly different labeling issues than your own. You need to have patience for process. You need to know this will take time. You need to allow for other viewpoints. You need to feel comfortable educating your own Committee members, who may just not yet understand the critical importance, which you see, clear as a bell.

We, as Member-Owners of our co-operative are NOT powerless. We can influence. We can initiate change. We can be heard. We can educate. We can be part of a team of Members at HWFC which makes the labeling policy better for ALL families who shop at HWFC.

Labeling: “Biggest Box” Supermarkets Don’t Care

You cannot participate like this at your favorite local supermarket (let’s label this fictitious local supermarket “Biggest Box.”) You have been relegated to the role of shopper, customer. The Biggest Box corporate headquarters makes the decisions, they are passed down through the ranks to each US corridor or region, and the Biggest Box GM here in Albany has to deal with what corporate gives him or her to deal with. S/he may sign off that the tractor trailer delivered certain quantities of a product from a regional distribution center, but s/he has no influence over the sourcing or labeling of the product the semi’s delivered.

The employees of Biggest Box just do what they’re told; the GM turns a quarterly profit, the stockers unpack and stick a label on each item and get it on the shelves, the cashiers take the item and charge you for it.

Biggest Box may have a line of “natural” or “organic” foods. However, if you, as a shopper, want to have organic vegetables or beef & pork labeled with their country of origin at Biggest Box, or purchase local, pastured eggs that are guaranteed fresh (not three weeks old), you can bet you will have a difficult time making any headway.

The corporation has its national policies which are sent down the chain to be adhered to by the local outlet; ultimately, there may be investors to please, who expect to see a return on their dollars invested in Biggest Box. Biggest Box is profit-driven and pleasing one local family or even a bunch of local families is of no importance to corporate.

The Biggest Boxes out there have a top-down corporate structure. Things don’t readily spring from the bottom-up and flourish in this Corporate system! Foods are stored (how fresh is that food?) and trucked in from central warehouses (how much does the gas & travel factor raise your prices?) to each Biggest Box, because that is what is efficient, convenient and profitable for corporate. The product sourcing, the labeling policies, the choice of stuff you can buy, are replicated throughout the entire country, region-by-region and store-by-store and you – the customer – get what you get, take it or leave it.

It is likely that the Biggest Box in Albany, NY looks the same and sells the same “natural” and “organic” products, which carry the same labels, as does the Biggest Box in Brooklyn, NY, Brattleboro, VT or Bloomington, IN. Even the paper or plastic bags you get are branded and they all look just the same.

Folk Musicians Got it … Years Ago

Malvina Reynolds wrote this song about ticky-tacky boxes in 1962; listen to Malvina and Pete Seeger as each sings their own version. Join in, it’s been too long since we all sang!

Little Boxes
Malvina Reynolds
Pete Seeger
Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky-tacky,
Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes all the same.
There’s a pink one and a green one and a blue one and a yellow one,
And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky and they all look just the same.

It would be a real shame if food co-ops were made out of ticky-tacky, now wouldn’t it?

COOL AMENDMENT: WATCH THE BEEF AND PORK YOU BUY!

We now have to be detectives when it comes to whole foods (to me, these are foods with, usually, one ingredient): meat, eggs, milk, cream, butter, olive oil, vegetables, fish, fruit. You now need to know where these foods come from; how they are produced, grown, watered; if they are from a foreign country, are they irradiated at the border;  and what new laws and regulations are allowing yet more obscurity in the food labeling and/or production of the food.

For example, a big issue for me has become: just what is the certifying agent at the US borders which allows foreign-grown or foreign-produced foods to pass inspection and be blessed with the prized US label, “certified organic?” And, are they really irradiating that food!!!

Labels on our food nowadays serve more to obscure what is in the food, than to illuminate exactly what we are eating. Labels are designed to hide; this serves the needs of the corporations  – making a profit from selling the food; it does not at all serve the needs of a family.

A very recent example regarding a whole food, is an amendment to the country of origin labeling (COOL) regulations. In December, 2015, slipped into the Federal Budget was a clause allowing an amendment to COOL regs.: see CFR, dated 03/02/16:

Removal of Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling Requirements for Beef and Pork Muscle Cuts, Ground Beef, and Ground Pork

This rule removes certain mandatory COOL requirements from retailers (as defined by the law and regulations) and their suppliers. Retailers are no longer required by the rule to provide country of origin information for the beef and pork that they sell, and firms that supply beef and pork to these retailers no longer must provide them with this information. In addition, firms in the supply chain for beef and pork are also relieved from the requirements associated with mandatory COOL, from cattle and hogs downstream to muscle cut and ground beef and pork sold at covered retail establishments.

We will no longer be able to ascertain where our beef and pork comes from, its source! This is a whole food! This means the beef and pork you purchase – or the hamburgers or steak or bacon you eat at a local restaurant – could well be coming out of China (well known for its highly contaminated, heavy-metal-containing foods, including foods labeled as “organic”).

Your right to know has just been taken away. The grocery stores, suppliers, wholesalers, when asked, can simply and legally say: I have no idea where this meat comes from.

Do you want to be eating any meat which comes out of China? This country’s agricultural issues with pollution and heavy metal contamination of the soil and water is well known. The 2016 COOL amendments have just insured that this meat may reach your table -at home, at a friend’s home or at a restaurant -and you will never even know it.

I note that at HWFC I can still determine the source of the locally-produced grass-fed, grass-finished beef which we buy every week from Sweet Tree Farm in Carlisle, NY. Thank you Sweet Tree Farm for farming locally and supplying this happy Paleo family in Albany, NY, through the Honest Weight Food Co-op! Thank you for honest, clear-to-understand labels! Thank you Frank & Judy from Laura & Tim! You are truly sustaining the health of our family with your superior farming practices & honest, transparent labeling.

This new COOL amendment may actually help local farmers like Sweet Tree Farm; my family is committed to only purchasing local grass-fed, grass-finished beef with a label on it which disclosed where it’s from, in this case, a family farm in Carlisle, NY.

Researching the source, content, and method of growing or producing the food you buy is no longer an option in 2016 America …if you care about the physical & mental health and well-being of your family and if your family, like mine, believes that food is our best medicine, which we “take” three times a day.

We, at HWFC, Can Work Together to Address Issues Like These

At HWFC we are supported in finding out where our food comes from and what’s in it and we can still get the highest quality, organic foods so necessary for our families. There are big problems at our co-op’s borders (some national “natural” and “organic” wholesalers and Big Food companies are more interested in muscling in and making money off of food co-ops than in protecting the food supply for our families), but we at HWFC are a group of aware shoppers who can work together to confront this threat, and others, which arise through dealing with the national food industry and its investors.

Biggest Box would shrug its shoulders and offer no help.

Many people shop at HWFC because we want safe, whole, organic foods; there are many like-minded Member-Owners at HWFC who will work hard, together, so that our food supply becomes even safer and healthier for our families.

We can be sure that our co-op is a member of organizations like the Weston A. Price Foundation” (WAPF), the Organic Consumers Association, the Northeast Organic Farmers Association (NOFA and NOFANY): several of my go-to places when I need accurate, up-to-date food information. We can bring to co-op committee meetings articles from people like Chris Kresser, a highly-respected acupuncturist who has an awesome website discussing, not only the Paleo diet, but cutting-edge research on food industry & safety issues, diet & nutrition. Kresser is a middle-of-the-road Paleo proponent who has awesome podcasts and reliable information. Chris Masterjohn is another favorite from the Paleo & WAPF world, with a PhD in Nutritional Sciences and support for a traditional, whole foods diet: see his two blogs, The Daily Lipid and Mother Nature Obeyed and his website, Cholesterol and Health.comCooling Inflammation is my go-to blog for easy-to-understand, scientific information on bacteria, gut health, immunity, and fermented foods, as is Mr. Heisenbug  (who seems to have “bugged out,” but his archives are still awesome!) and Tim Steele’s Vegetable Pharm blog will have you amazed at all the stuff you did not know about potatoes and resistant starch (uh, oh, if you do not know what RS is, you better start your own research, double-time)! (Alright, can’t stand the suspense? Go, geek out.)

A reliable source I always hit when I am beginning research on a food-related issue is Dr. Mercola.

We can write articles and submit them to the Co-op Voice (HEY!, here is the Co-op Voice’s Premiere Issue!) or even start a blog with information of interest to HWFC Member-Owners (<Smile> and Welcome to Grassroots Action Is Important! See my first blogpost from November 1, 2015, here, started 10 days after it all began on October 22, 2015, with an innocent-looking piece of paper tacked up to the Board’s board at our co-op.)

We even have a second local, independent blog, Member-Owned HWFC, which we can hit for up-to-date information, hereMember-Owned is the place to go for (unofficial but accurate) Board meeting minutes which are posted, hot-off-the-press, immediately after a Board meeting; you’ll also find current info and perspectives of Member-Owners posted there.

Finally, we can keep an eagle-eye focused on the food purchasing policies and practices of our co-op. In  light of events that transpired late last year at our co-op – with an out-of-control Board trying to end our Member-Owner Labor Program, remove Member-Owner power in the co-operative corporation, and change our bylaws & corporate structure – I am more inclined than ever to especially watchdog this issue at our co-op in the coming year.

SUPPORT LOCAL AND REGIONAL FARM FAMILIES AND LOCAL FOOD ECONOMY

The northeast has the fastest-growing population of small family farms in the United States; how lucky are we to live right in the middle of all that farming abundance!

And, unlike Biggest Box, small family  farms are not part of the the national food “industry;” small, local, family farms are managed by families like yours or mine. They have a commitment to their local & regional communities, they have local friends & neighbors, and they are invested – with their time and dollars – in keeping the food supply high-quality and local.

It is my firm belief that the best answer for our families – and for HWFC – is to buy local & organic, as much as possible. We need to increase our relationships with local organic farmers, farmers who raise pastured pigs & chickens/eggs, farmers who raise grass-fed, grass-finished beef, organic vegetables and fruits, raw milk cheeses & organic dairy, organic fermented foods, honey from local beekeepers’ hives who use organic hive principles. We need to support the local farm families who have chosen to grow us food and who do so with integrity, honesty, hard work, and in the healthiest & most humane manner possible. Their products are local and, therefore, fresher than anything trucked in to us, including from CA and FL.

We HWFC families need to join hands with our local and regional organic, bio-dynamic, sustainable and “Farmer’s Pride” farm families and build the economic strength & co-operation between the HWFC city families and the country farm producers who support us and our food co-op.

COME AND VOTE LIKE ~620 OF US DID ON NOVEMBER 30, 2015!

Follow through on the incredible action a roomful of ~720 people took – with ~620 being active voting Members at our emergency Special Membership Meeting on November 30, 2015.

That is only 4+ months ago! Come. Show up. Bring dessert potluck. Be there to vote!

Do not allow the era of secrecy at Honest Weight Food Co-op to return. Don’t allow those who govern by stealth and secrecy to ever get a foot in the door at Honest Weight Food Co-op again. [1]

Retain our right, as Member-Owners, to know where our food comes from, what’s in it, who produced it and how it’s labelled. Keep this part of HWFC open & transparent by voting for a current Board which is actively practicing transparent governance.

Please come and vote next Sunday from the slate of eight (8) declared candidates, who have honored our candidates’ process and two (2) who joined in, late.

We know that Kate Doyle, Carolynn Presser and Saul Rigberg are committed to transparency and building trust with membership, and that they support a strong Member-Owner Labor Program. We elected Kate, Carolynn, and Nate Horwitz (who is currently not up for election) on November 30, 2015, at our historic emergency Special Membership Meeting. Saul was selected by Nate, Carolynn and Kate to join their team on the Board.

Come vote for Kate, Carolynn and Saul on Sunday night.

Follow through on the actions of the largest Membership Meeting HWFC has ever had in its history: select four more candidates whom you feel will complement this team and let’s come away from this meeting on Sunday with a Board whom we trust and who is responsive to Membership and who will govern with transparency and accountability to the Membership.

Here are the names of the eight (8) declared candidates and their bios and Q&A Responses:

Howard Brent
Tim Corrigan
Richard Donegan
Kate Doyle
Anastasia Onorata
Carolynn Presser
Rebekah Rice
Saul Rigberg

Ned Depew and Collin Thomas are (late) declared candidates. Ned’s bio is tacked to the Member-Owner Bulletin Board, at the back of the co-op.

Let’s not forget that the seven (7) people we elect on Sunday will  be joining Nate Horwitz, President, and Daniel Morrissey, who are incumbents and not up for election this time ’round.

That will be our team!

Come and exercise your right to vote as a working, share-holding, Member-Owner of the Honest Weight Food Co-operative, Inc. We all need you!

Here are the meeting details for our Sunday, April 17, 2016 Membership Meeting, beginning at 4:o0PM (Meet the Candidates); 5:30 Dessert Potluck; actual meeting begins at 6:00pm. See you there!

BTW, did you personally call, this last weekend, five co-op Members whom you know and remind them to come to the meeting? And did you ask them to each call five?

~~~

The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.
John Philpot Curran [2]

==================================

[1] The four Board members who subsequently quit our Board on 01/05/16, 36 days after censure by Membership at our emergency Special Membership Meeting on 11/30/15 are:

Name             Percentage of voters voting non-confidence & censure

Acting-President Deb Dennis       (67.9%)
Treasurer Leif Hartmark              (65.2%)
Roman Kuchera                             (67.8%)
Rossana Coto-Batres                     (58.4%)

Former President Bill Frye was unseated and Board Secretary John Serio was not re-elected to the Board at our emergency Special Membership Meeting on 11/30/15.

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