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

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

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.

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

       The HWFC Board of Directors has shared the results of yesterday’s GRC elections, as well as the vote tallies for the amendments to our Bylaws and the change to our Articles of Incorporation.

All three candidates who ran for the GRC were elected; the change to our Articles of Incorporation was approved and ALL of the 15 individual votes to amend our Bylaws were approved. To view the exact vote tallies, please see the HWFC Inside Scoop from this morning, October 24, 2016, here.

Welcome to Judith Brink, Chris Gockley and Tom Spargo, the newest members of our Governance Review Council (GRC)! They will be joining Jeff Marden and Chair Sandy McKay, which gives us a full complement of GRC members.

Wonderful potluck desserts, (as usual!), great conversations before and after the meeting, and interesting Q & A with the three GRC candidates. Congratulations to Board secretary Rebekah Rice for successfully moderating the section of the meeting relating to the Bylaws’ votes; a difficult subject which was rendered simple and intelligible and allowed for swift passage of all Bylaws’ amendments.

Thank you, thank you to all the members of the Membership Committee who prepared the meeting space, handled check-in, and cleaned up afterwards! Thank you to our Nominations Committee for successfully handling the election, and the GRC for its back-up support, and providing us with vote results which we trust and which are verifiable; a paper ballot system – with no proxy voting, no absentee ballots, no electronic, internet, paperless, non-verifiable voting – and with paper ballots counted and verified immediately afterwards.

In the past, I have had League of Women Voters members share with me, that this system is still considered the best, most secure, transparent, and safest ways to conduct elections. Let’s keep this gold standard as part of our democratic system at HWFC.

Special thank yous to Carol Ostrow and the Members of the Communications Committee who brought our HWFC 2015-2016 Annual Report to completion! We received our copies last night and Carol and the Committee members did a splendid job; a document we can all be proud of! The AR is not online yet, but here is where you can find  it, when it is.

Thank you for a job well done, Carol! It is beautiful and a work to be proud of!

Thank you to each and every member of our Board of Directors who contributed to this very successful quarterly meeting. We appreciate your continuing hard work on our behalf!

Special thanks to ALL the HWFC Member-Owners who participated in our Bylaws’ revision process: the eight members of the Bylaws Panel; the Members of the Corporate Compliance Committee; the members of the Membership & Personnel Committees; staff Member-Owner Janet Sorell; and all the Member-Owner staff and staff members who continue to participate on Board committees, offering invaluable advice on Bylaws’ issues.

As you know, we will continue this process and have a second round of Bylaws’ revisions presented at the January, 2017 Membership meeting.

Inch-by-inch, row-by-row [1] …step-by-step …one careful decision at a time, we are strengthening our Member-Owned and locally-owned and operated food co-operative and are one step closer to strengthening our connections to local organic farms, farmers, food producers and their families.

Finally, congratulations to the 145 Member-Owners and 8 Shareholders who attended our Quarterly Meeting last night. We were all part of the “participatory democracy” which keeps our locally-owned and locally-operated food co-operative strong, vibrant, healthy and robust.

Congrats to all of us for a job well done! Boy, have we come a long way in 365 days!

(If I have forgotten to thank anyone or any Committee, the error rests solely with me. Please, my “eternally vigilant” readers, let me know and I will amend the error post haste…)

HONEST WEIGHT FOOD CO-OP BOARD & MEMBER-OWNERS SEND LETTER OF SUPPORT TO LA MONTAÑITA FOOD CO-OP MEMBER-OWNERS

       At our last Board meeting, the Board approved the sending of a Letter of Support to the Member-Owners of La Montañita Food Co-op who are Taking Back Their Co-op. Chris Colarusso is also gathering the signatures of HWFC Member-Owners (see Thomas Paine, here. She’s at it again, gathering up signatures!!) who wish to sign on to this letter.

So here, on the one-year anniversary of the date upon which the Member-Owners of the Honest Weight Food Co-op presented the (former) acting President of the Board a petition to call for an emergency Special Membership Meeting – October 24, 2015 – is our Letter of Support to fellow Member-Owners at La Montañita Food Co-op in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

As of October 18, 2016, the Member-Owners of La Montañita have surpassed their goal of 1,700 (1-7-0-0, seventeen hundred!!!) signatures needed on their petition to call for a Special Membership Meeting! That is amazing work!

Our Letter of Support has been received by the Member-Owners of La Montañita Food Co-op and has been posted on their website, Take Back the Co-op, under “New York,” here.

October 5, 2016

 Greetings to Member-Owners of La Montañita Co-op, New Mexico, from the Member-Owners and Board Members of the Honest Weight Food Co-op, Albany, New York. 

 We celebrate your bold effort to take back your co-op, and we applaud your many efforts to reach out to other food co-ops nationwide to inform and support their struggles.  We know you can succeed in taking back your co-op, because we took ours back.

 Just a year ago our co-op found itself in what seemed like an impossible situation.  A series of decisions had been made that a majority of our Membership could not support and that were not supportive of our Membership.  In particular, these decisions would have caused our Membership to lose our decision making authority.  We found ourselves petitioning for a Special Membership Meeting to recall the Board.

We had our Special Membership Meeting! We voted to recommend a change in our management structure.  We approved a recommendation to evaluate and remedy concerns about our leadership team.  We seated new members on our Board of Directors.  At that time we did not fully understand our financial status, which we have learned also needed a turnaround.

 Fortunately, we were successful in creating change. We have implemented a new leadership structure and hired new managers.  Our Member-Owners have started an independent online newsletter, the Co-op Voice, which gives us back the direct voice we lost several years ago.  We have had three strong financial quarters, and our financial picture is improving.

 The Member-Owners and Board Members of Honest Weight Food Co-op respect you and the quality of the groundwork you have done.  May your Special Membership Meeting be well attended, be peaceful, and above all, be successful in creating the changes that you will need to fully regain decision authority.

 To honor our past, for the promise of our future, and true to our Mission Statement, we took action to exercise our rights and responsibilities as Member-Owners of Honest Weight Food Coop.  We wish you great success.

Signed,

The Honest Weight Board of Directors

Carolynn Presser, President
Tim Corrigan, Vice President
Rebekah Rice, Secretary
Kate Doyle, Treasurer
Ned Depew
Rick Donegan
Nate Horwitz
Daniel Morrissey
Saul Rigberg

© Laura Hagen

[1] The Garden Song, recorded by the likes of Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, Arlo honors Pete (Arlo: “I know everybody likes singing with Pete… He sings the song twice at the same time … once in front of the song and then once with everybody…”), John Denver and the Muppets, Peter, Paul & Mary and Makem & Clancy, was written by Dave Mallett, who can be heard singing it here. Called by some the “Homesteader’s Hymn” or just “Inch by Inch,” this song is a reminder to us food co-op families to thank all the local organic farmers, food producers and their families – and all of us who are gardeners – who honor & bless the earth and her bounty: we who “temper them with prayer and song...”

And thank goodness for YouTube …and musicians!

~~~~~

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

John Philpot Curran

~~~~~

Advertisements

GRASSROOTS ACTION and La Montañita Member-Owners ARE POWERFUL!

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

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.

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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: UPDATE, BREAKING NEWS STORY, Thursday, October 6, 2016: Tonight in Sante Fe, NM at 5:30pm La Montañita Food Co-op is the sponsor of a Town Meeting for “questions, answers, and productive dialogue.” The invited guests are: Marilyn Scholl, the co-founder and current Director of CDS Consulting Co-op (CDSCC) and C.E. Pugh, the Chief Operating Officer (COO) for National Co+op Grocers (NCG).

A similar event occurred last night at the La Montañita Food Co-op in Albuquerque, NM. There are no updates as of yet.

It is noteworthy that this co-op is the very same co-op which has a very large group of Member Owners who are Taking Back Their Co-op  and who are, right now, community-organizing an emergency Special Membership Meeting.

La Montañita Member-Owners, go here to sign the petition to legally call for a Special Membership Meeting of the Member-Owners of La Montañita Food Co-op.

In a very surprising move, these two separate “.coop” corporations, National Co+op Grocers and CDS Consulting Co-op, are appearing together on the same stage at these two Town Hall meetings, to “focus on discussing what’s been going on recently at La Montañita:” special guests of the Board of La Montañita.

From La Montañita’s website:

There are some member-owners who strongly disagree with some of our retail business initiatives and decisions, and a campaign has been started, which calls for a special meeting to replace the current member-owner elected Board of Directors and remove our general manager, Dennis Hanley.

The La Montañita Co-op Team is here to ensure member-owners, customers and the community-at-large that it has not forgotten its mission/vision: La Montañita believes in the shared benefits of healthy food, sound environmental practices and a strong local economy. And in the markets we serve, La Montañita provides increased access to, and purchase of, healthy food options for our diverse customer base.

On the website of the Member-Owners of La Montañita, under the heading Follow the Money, we find a different perspective:

In truth, our Co-op’s net income was very strong until 2013—an average of $649K in profit per year. We were not in financial trouble until we expanded three years ago. Guided by CDS Consulting, our board decided to open a new store on Albuquerque’s Westside, located in a strip mall near a Walmart.

That store loses ~$500,000 per year. Overall, it appears that La Montañita has lost between $2 million and $5 million due to an expansion that CDS Consulting, NCG, and UNFI profited from. So why are the GM, board, and senior staff blaming La Montañita’s financial challenges on something other than the real cause?

A National Takeover…One Co-op At a Time
Across the country and at La Montañita, co-ops are changing their policies, products, and personnel. Over and over again, those decisions can be traced back to the influence of CDS Consulting and NCG…

In a September 21, 2016 Press Release from National Co+op Grocers, NCG Responds to Santa Fe-Based “Take Back the Co-op” Campaign Claims, issued two weeks before this NCG/CDSCC visit to Albuquerque, C.E. Pugh states:

Iowa City, IA — National Co+op Grocers (NCG) — a business services co-op for 150 independent, community-owned and locally-governed co-ops nationwide — today is responding to claims from the Santa Fe, New Mexico-based “Take Back the Co-op” campaign.

“We believe strongly in the cooperative principles and respect the rights of co-op owners everywhere to voice their hopes and concerns for the future of their co-op,” said C.E. Pugh, Chief Operating Officer, NCG. “However, we feel this campaign grossly mischaracterizes NCG, its purpose and its relationship with its member and associate co-ops, as well as the benefits offered by CDS Consulting Co-op and UNFI. We take issue with these false claims and want to provide clarity…”

It is noteworthy that NCG’s PR people felt it necessary to to issue a national press statement to the media about one of its member co-op’s Member-Owners grassroots’ fight to maintain control & ownership of their co-op. Have Member-Owner issues at U.S. independently-owned food co-ops become that much of a concern to this .coop corporation, founded in 1999 and “..represent[ing] 143 natural food co-ops operating 196 stores in 38 states, with combined annual sales of $1.8 billion…”? [1]

Interesting that an NCG corporate Press Release found it necessary to defend not only its own corporation, but two others, as well: that of CDS Consulting Co-op and – a brand new corporate player to this particular New Mexico “Town Meeting” food co-op story – United Natural Foods, Inc, UNFI.

NCG’s primary distributor is United Natural Foods, Inc., (Nasdaq: UNFI), founded in 1976, with whom it signed a primary distribution agreement in 2015, good through at least July 2021. NCG and UNFI have had a contractual relationship for ten years, since 2006. [2]

UNFI’s net sales for fiscal year 2015 were $8.18 billion. [3]UNFI is the largest multi-billion dollar wholesale distributor of organic and “natural” foods in the U.S….” [4]

A 2009 Organic Consumers Association article characterizes UNFI as a “near-monopoly wholesaler.” [5] Four years later, in 2013, Wenonah Hauter, the Executive Director of Food & Water Watch, in an interview about her new book Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America, stated, “(UNFI) now controls the distribution of organic and natural products. Publicly traded, the company has a contract with Whole Foods and it is the major source of these products for the remaining independent natural food stores…” [6] This includes U.S. Member-Owned, independently-owned & operated, community food co-ops. [7]

Perhaps it is no coincidence that La Montañita, a member of NCG and the second largest food co-op in the entire United States, and its “La Montañita Co-op Team” – its Board and Management – are receiving immediate corporate support from NCG…

…and La Montañita’s rightfully-angry, grassroots OWNERS are, instead, the recipients of their very own NCG corporate headquarters Press Release. [8]

Corporations don’t send two of their top people – one,  a co-founder and the current Director of the entire corporation, and the other, the Chief Operating Officer – to a couple of simple “Town Meetings.” It’s clear that NCG and CDSCC are there to address the uprising of the Member-Owners of La Montañita Food Co-op: the Member Owners who are Taking Back Their Co-op.

Why did both of these U.S. .coop corporations find it necessary to fly their people out to New Mexico and – together – take to the co-op podiums in Albuquerque and Santa Fe? This certainly confirms rumors we have heard from multiple U.S. co-ops in attendance, that La Montañita was on the lips of NCG Board members at the NCG Annual Meeting last week in Minneapolis.

But just what does CDS Consulting Co-op have to do with rumblings on the NCG Board? What’s the connection between these two separate .coop corporations?

Any why are they confronting this Member-Owner uprising …together?

The website of the Member Owners who are Taking Back Their Co-op poses an answer in an article entitled A National Takeover…One Co-op at a Time:

‘NCG will provide the vision, leadership and systems to catapult a virtual chain of food co-ops to a position of prominence in the natural foods industry.’
– NCG Mission Statement

But how do you create a chain when you’re dealing with unique, autonomous member-owned co-ops? Some group would have to go to those co-ops and install the same bylaws, board policies, and the same kind of GMs. They’d have to promote the same produce, standardize all cereal aisles, and most importantly: disenfranchise the actual owners. They’d enforce uniformity, but convince co-ops it was their choice to do so.

A ten-year contractual relationship between NCG and UNFI is a matter of public record; not, perhaps, surprising that NCG would defend its primary distributor and industry-giant UNFI in its Press Release. However, it does raise the question: Is there also a contractual relationship between NCG and the eight-year old CDS Consulting Co-op, of which the public is unaware? [9]

~~~~~

       It’ll be very, very interesting to hear reports about these two “Town Meetings” from the grassroots, OWNERS of La Montañita themselves.

If you go visit NCG’s website, La Montañita (Nob Hill) is currently one of the featured co-ops on their homepage: see here and here.

ALERT: Bloomingfoods Member-Owners, in Bloomington, Indiana, this same article, on the website of the Member-Owners of La Montañita, A National Takeover…One Co-op at a Time, has a section about your co-op, Bloomingfoods.

Please, everybody, send your Member-Owner good energy and powerful grassroots’ vibes to fellow Member-Owners in Albuquerque & Sante Fe who are now “the dragon being poked” at this US food co-op!

For “dragon” reference, please see this November 5, 2015 Albany, NY Times Union article, Honest Weight Food Co-Op Reverses Decision on Member Workers, by Tim O’Brien, containing the words of HWFC Member-Owner Jules Harrell (she, the heroine of the NYS DOL FOIL coup campaign):

Harrell said the [Board’s] actions [reversing a decision to stop members from working in the store to gain discounts], while welcome, may not undo the damaged confidence members have in the leadership.

“They have already poked the dragon,” she said.

How appropriate that foils and a fire-breathing dragon (“snuffling in baffled rage and injured greed” ) appear in this U.S. food co-op epic tale and saga …yet again. [10] This is the stuff of folk legend …yet it is real life for the families & Member-OWNERS, invested in saving American independently-owned, locally-operated, community food co-ops. Grendel, Grendel’s mother and that dragon, antagonists of the hero Beowulf from the epic tale, Beowulf (Nowell Codex, ca. ~ 1000 A.D.), have nothin’ on us and our (organic carrot) spears!

###

© 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] See this NCG document, National Co+op Grocers
Partnership Opportunities January – June 2016
.

[2] See the August 20, 2015 The Shelby Report.

[3] See this form 10-K report from the September 30, 2015 UNFI SEC filings.

[4] See this January 31, 2013 article, Domestic Fair Trade: A Plea to UNFI and Whole Foods for Justice by Ronnie Cummins, founder and International Director of the Organic Consumers Association, and Dave Murphy, founder and Executive Director of Food Democracy Now!

[5] Cummins Ronnie. The Organic Monopoly and the Myth of “Natural” Foods: How Industry Giants Are Undermining the Organic Movement. Organic Consumers Association, July 8, 2009. See here.

[6] Karlin, Mark. Our Food Is Being Hijacked by Monopolizing Corporations. Truthout, February 27, 2013. See here.

[7] Though not directly on topic, you are encouraged to read yesterday’s – the October 5, 2016 – New York Times Magazine Food Issue Can Big Food Change?, and the article by Michael Pollan, called Why Did the Obamas Fail to Take on Corporate Agriculture? Note Mr. Pollan’s references to “Little Food;” something we independently-owned, community food co-ops know a little something about!

[8] This corporate Press Release flew to Albuquerque and did its job. See these two media hits, both involving Albuquerque local reporter, Dennis Domrzalski, who – clearly – utilized this NCG Press Release and who – clearly, twice – expressed his bias against the La Montañita Member-Owners and their issues; particularly shocking for a reporter operating in the Indy Media field.

This same reporter also got significant facts wrong. Cooperative Development Services (http://www.cdsus.coop/home) of St. Paul, MN and Madison, WI, is a not-for-profit corporation founded in 1985. “CDS consists of two organizations exempt under Internal Revenue Codes Sections  The activities of Cooperative Development Services, Inc. are classified as exempt under Section 501c6 and the activities of Cooperative Development Fund of CDS are classified as exempt under Section 501c3  The 501c3 organization is classified as a public charity…” See here: the 2012 IRS Form 990 for Cooperative Development Services, Inc. and here: the 2014 IRS Form 990 for the Cooperative Development Fund of CDS. Both organizations list the same corporate address in Madison, WI.

CDS Consulting Co-op, of Putney, VT  (http://www.cdsconsulting.coop/), a .coop corporation, was founded on July 20, 2008.

The predecessor of CDSCC, according to co-founder Marilyn Scholl, is CDS: see here and here, (go to 6′ 56″). On CDSCC’s website: “Like many organizations in its infancy, CDS Consulting Co-op started with one consultant working in collaboration with Cooperative Development Services in St. Paul, Minn. … CDS Consulting Co-op became a cooperative in 2008 after a mutually beneficial 21 year affiliation with Cooperative Development Services.

[9] CDS Consulting Co-op and National Co+op Grocers have a working relationship, the full extent of which remains unknown to the public.

A large number of NCG member and associate co-ops are also found listed as clients of CDSCC.

CDSCC names NCG as an affiliate on its webpage footer (along with CoMetrics, Cooperative Grocer Magazine, the Food Co-op Initiative and, possibly (it is not clear), the International Cooperative Alliance.

Both .coop corporations, CDSCC and NCG, sponsor the Cooperative Grocer Network  (formerly know as Co-operative Grocers’ Information Network, CGIN), along with the National Cooperative Bank (NCB) (see page footer). The Cooperative Grocer Network publishes the Cooperative Grocer Magazine.

CGIN is a not-for-profit, 501(c)(6) trade association, chartered in 1998. The CGIN website states: “In 2007, CGIN contracted with National Cooperative Grocers Association to assume responsibility for the management of CGIN.NCG, a “business services co-operative”, managed CGIN until 2011, when the contract was moved to Triangle Park Creative, which also published the Cooperative Grocer Magazine for NCG. The Cooperative Grocer Magazine, still published by “Triangle,” has been, since 2012, a publication of CGIN, now re-named the Co-operative Grocer Network. See CGN history here and membership information here.

A March 11, 2015 article in the international Cooperative News, entitled US Co-op Grocers are Sharing Data for Mutual Benefit, interviewing NCG Chief Executive Robynn Shrader and acting Chief Executive Tim Ferguson of CoMetrics (another partner with NCG, offering a shared data platform for NCG member co-ops) states, “The NCG has partnered with Cooperative Development Services [sic] and the National Co-operative Bank [and the NCB Development Corporation] for Food Co-op 500, an initiative to start-up new food stores.” [emphases added]

The Food Co-op 500 “a program to increase the number of retail grocery cooperatives from the current 300 to 500 in 10 years” and which was founded in 2005, led to the formation of a new 501(c)(3) not-for-profit in 2010, the Food Co-op Initiative, with the subheading, New co-ops start here.

Founding partners of the Food Coop Initiative include National Co+op Grocers, CDS Consulting Co-op, Cooperative Development Services, National Coop Bank, National Coop Bank capital impact, USDA Rural Development and the Blooming Prairie Foundation.

[10] Tolkien, John Ronald Reuel, ed. Christopher Tolkien. Beowulf  A Translation and Commentary, together with Sellic Spell. London: Harper Collins, 2014. The quote is taken from the publisher’s Book Overview on its U.K. webpage. Please see here, here and here.

May this American Indy food co-op saga eventually include the honest, generous and pleased Hrothgar bestowing gifts…

…or not. Participatory democracy has no room for kings, be they despotic …or benevolent.

GRASSROOTS ACTION: INVITATION (RSVP) REQUIRED for some to Cast Vote at Bloomingfoods’ 40th Annual Meeting

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

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.

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

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.

~~~~~

Monday, October 3, 2016

COUNTDOWN: 16 more days until another U.S. independently-owned, community food co-op says another good-bye to a piece of democracy.

DEMOCRACY’S VOICE FURTHER STIFLED

       I am very sad to report that democracy’s voice is about to be further stifled at another U.S. food co-op: Bloomingfoods (B’foods) in Bloomington, Indiana. It is in process right now, and will be completed on the evening of October 19, 2016.

I have been blogging about the threats to participatory democracy and Member-Ownership at two U.S. co-ops: the Honest Weight Food Co-op in Albany, NY (HWFC) and B’foods. I started blogging about HWFC in early November, 2015. Posts about Bloomingfoods began in April, 2016. Information keeps creeping in about the same thing happening at other U.S. independently-owned community food co-ops. The latest report comes from the Member-Owners of La Montañita food co-op in Albuquerque, NM. Please go read their September 6, 2016 Press Release, their “Whistleblower Letter” from Mimi Yahn, here, and a brand new page with information from “15 different co-ops in 12 different states…

This blog itself, GRASSROTS ACTION IS POWERFUL!, would not have been if not for the seminal journalism work of Mimi Yahn, an independent author / writer and fellow food co-op Member-Owner from Vermont. In two articles and a Letter, Ms. Yahn laid out the disturbing threats to democracy and Member-Ownership  of the co-op, which she experienced at her food co-op, the Putney Food Co-op (be sure to view Reader Comments, below each article):

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

On June 14, 2016, I wrote a blogpost called GRASSROOTS ACTION: Indiana Food Co-op Closes Storefronts. HWFC Forewarned – Reducing Overhead Critical. Now this post qualifies as a book, or even a mini-series! I am warning you to make a pot of coffee or tea to accompany the read …and I make no apologies. This story is worth telling and it is worth reading if you cherish local, independently-owned, community food co-ops, and democracy.

This June 14th blogpost compares actions & events at HWFC and B’foods; actions which are threatening the Ownership rights of the local Member-Owners of these food co-operatives. It is my opinion – having personally been there on the front lines with a bunch of other Member-Owners – that HWFC Member-Owners fought hard, with dedication and co-operatively for their food co-op, for democratic action, and for their legal rights as the Owners of the co-operative corporation …whereas it appears that the Member-Owners of B’foods are unaware of the peril.

It is hoped that grassroots action will light a spark in Bloomington and Member-Owners will rescue the treasure that is their 40 year-old, locally-owned, community food co-op!

Here is a story of yet another chink in the armor of the Ownership rights of B’foods’ Member-Owners and it concerns, of all things, a party: the 40th Birthday Celebration and Annual Membership Meeting on Wednesday evening, October 19, 2016.

IT LOOKS LIKE DEMOCRACY & SOUNDS LIKE DEMOCRACY…

       The invitation to the Bloomingfoods Annual Meeting came by mail and starts out like any other co-op invitation I have received over the years:

BfoodsAnnualMeeting.1.jpg

Bloomingfoods’ 2016 Annual Meeting Postcard Announcement to co-op Owner-Members

The back side of the postcard has all the usual co-op’y things you’d expect to find at an Annual Meeting:

bfoodsannualmeeting3

Your vote counts   Your voice matters   Vote like your co-op depends on it!

The invitation clearly mentioned good food, drink & music, always an important part of any co-op gathering!

The tag on the bottom, in particular, caught my attention:

MARK YOUR CALENDARS NOW!

Vote for fully revised and modernized bylaws beginning March 20, 2017!

Upon checking the B’foods  website, I found that these are the voting procedures for this Annual Meeting:

Election

Please visit VoteBloomingfoods.com for election details, and to vote in the 2016 annual election.

Voting will begin on Tuesday, September 20th and will run through Wednesday, October 19th.

In an effort to increase ease of voting and voter turnout, there are three ways for you to vote in this election:

VOTE ONLINE: If you want to vote online, you are in the right place. Simply read through the candidate statements, the proposed Articles of Incorporation/Bylaw changes and get to know the possibilities for Positive Change, then when you are sufficiently prepared, you can log your vote online. Your Bloomingfoods member number is your user name. Each number can only be used once. Your password is your first name or zip code.

TO VOTE ONLINE AT THE ANNUAL MEETING (Oct. 19th): You may vote on your smartphone, tablet or computers we provide at the meeting. We will not be taking paper ballots at the meeting, but staff will be available to assist you with voting if needed. Online voting from any venue must be completed by Oct. 19th.

TO VOTE IN-STORE: Place your ballot in a specially marked election envelope – seal the envelope, print your name, zip code, and member number then sign and place in a ballot box located in the store by 12:00pm on Wednesday, October 19th.

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

IT LOOKS LIKE DEMOCRACY & SOUNDS LIKE DEMOCRACY …BUT IS IT DEMOCRACY?

Let’s get right to it. Here are the problems:

  • Did you know that a room has been selected which has limited capacity of 300?
    • Why couldn’t a larger meeting room have been found?
    • Wouldn’t a co-op want to be inclusive rather than limit the number of Owner-Members celebrating its 40th Birthday?
    • What if you already voted …and just want to attend this 40th Birthday Party to celebrate with your fellow Owner-Members? Not allowed?
  • B’foods website states: “Please note that the Wonderlab has a 300 person capacity. If we exceed capacity, admission is based on a first come basis, by order of RSVPs.
    • This statement is contradictory. Is the capacity 300 …or is it more than 300?
    • RSVPs?! For an Annual Co-op Meeting?!
  • Did you know that you have to RSVP ahead of time to be assured admission?
    • Nowhere, on the mailed invitation, does it tell you: “There will be an online RSVP required for this event.” (See Owner News-September 2016, here.)
    • RSVP here.
    • How many people will simply  show up at the door on the 19th, and be told: Sorry, room’s full to capacity …and you were supposed to RSVP ahead of time, online.
    • The absence of this statement on the “Notice of Member Meetings” (Section 4.4 in the Bylaws) calls into question the validity of the notice itself.
  • Did you know that you will have to RSVP ahead of time online to be assured you can cast your votes at this Annual Meeting?
    • Why is any sort of limit being applied to the rights of Owner-Members to vote?
    • What about the voting rights of the people who will be turned away at the door?
  • Why is the 40th Birthday Annual Meeting being held on a Wednesday night?
    • Why not a Saturday or Sunday, when many more people, families & kids could attend?
    • Wouldn’t a co-op want to be inclusive rather than limit the number of Owner-Members celebrating its 40th Birthday?
  • Electronic, online, internet, paperless voting and (absentee) paper ballots at storefronts are being used between September 19 – October 19
    • Do you trust electronic, internet, online, paperless voting?
    • Do you trust the count of the (absentee) paper ballots being accepted at storefronts?
    • Do you trust any vote counting that cannot be verified by Owner-Member watchers, in real-time at the Annual Meeting, with the full quorum of Owner-Member voters present at the same time watching & verifying a paper ballot count?
  • Voting at the Annual Meeting: “You may vote on your smartphone, tablet or computers we provide at the meeting. We will not be taking paper ballots at the meeting.”
    • Do you trust electronic, online, internet, paperless voting?
    • Do you trust (paperless) computers you are being asked to vote upon?
    • Why aren’t paper ballots being utilized?
    • Do you trust any vote counting that cannot be verified by Owner-Member watchers, in real-time at the Annual Meeting, with the full quorum of Owner-Member voters present at the same time watching & verifying a paper ballot count?
  • The bylaws don’t allow the Board to authorize the acceptance of paper ballots in the storefronts:
    • Section 4.12 The Board may authorize voting by mail or electronic ballot in conjunction with, or in lieu of, a meeting of members. [emphasis added]
    • Who  is responsible for this serious error?
  • Did you know that a quorum will legally consist of the 300 Owner-Member voters who attend this meeting and the (unknown …is it 500? 600? 700? more?) number of Owner-Members who vote by paper ballot (in the store) and electronically on the internet, in advance of the meeting?
    • This invisible, non-present, non-verifiable quorum may have already carried the vote before the 300 voters granted “admission” to the actual meeting cast their votes – in person – on Wednesday evening, October 19th.
    • Do you have any means at all of verifying that this legal majority of invisible, non-present, non-verifiable quorum members actually voted the way you will be told they voted?
    • Isn’t it essential to be provided with proof of the actual quorum number required, ahead of the election? (Of course, since you will be absolutely unable to verify the vote itself, having the legal number for quorum disclosed actually becomes irrelevant.)
  • Bylaws changes are being made
    • This is always a red flag where Member-Owner control of a food co-op is under attack!
    • Do you know what these changes are?
    • Are your rights as Owner-Members under attack?
    • Are rights being granted to employees of the corporation which might conflict with rights of the Owner-Members of the corporation?
    • 2nd red flag: what does “Vote for fully revised and modernized bylaws beginning March 20, 2017!” mean?
  • The Articles of Incorporation are being “simplified”
    • Have you compared the old Articles to the new “simplified” ones?
    • What are the changes?
    • Are your rights as Owner-Members under attack?

URGENT GRASSROOTS ACTION NEEDED

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

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

HERE’S SOME INFO YOU NEED IN ORDER TO VOTE

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

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

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

ALLOW ME TO REACT: THE GRASSROOTS’ SPIN-MEISTER

On Bloomingfoods website, Member-Owners are warned:

There will be an online RSVP required for this event.

Please note that the Wonderlab has a 300 person capacity. If we exceed capacity, admission is based on a first come basis, by order of RSVPs.

An Owner-Member is required to RSVP to be sure to be granted “admission” into their own co-op’s Annual Meeting! This statement – all by itself- is shocking.

WHAT?!

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

WHAT?!

An Owner-Member has to RSVP in order to be guaranteed the right to cast votes at their own Annual Meeting!

What about your voting rights if you are turned away at the door?

WHAT?!

Only 300 people are being allowed to attend the Annual Meeting… …which is also the 40th Birthday Party?!

(Does that 300 include non-voting family members, kids, friends, further limiting the number of legal voters able to cast a vote?)

WHAT?! REALLY!? ARE YOU KIDDING?!

They “forgot” to tell people on the mailed Annual Meeting announcement that they are required to RSVP online, ahead of time???!!!

WHAT?! SERIOUSLY, ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

So what is the plan? Are the Board and Management going to turn away the OWNERS / VOTERS of the co-operative who show up on the 19th and WHO WEREN’T TOLD THIS ESSENTIAL FACT ON THEIR MAILED ANNOUNCEMENT: “THERE WILL BE AN ONLINE RSVP REQUIRED FOR THIS EVENT?”

All the electronic, online, internet, paperless ballots – for those who vote before the meeting – are non-verifiable; the (absentee) paper ballots are also subject to manipulation.

Only electronic, online, paperless ballots are being used at the Annual Meeting itself!

The reasons being given for electronic, internet, paperless, non-verifiable voting (and absentee ballots) are that it’s “an effort to increase ease of voting and voter turnout.”

WHAT?! OMG!

Has nobody on the Bloomingfoods Board or in Management (or their consultants) ever heard of VerifiedVoting.org – you know, the bunch  of computer scientists who first raised the warning about paperless, electronic voting back in 2002 – and who continue to do so, to this very day? With additional warnings about the insecurity of internet voting! Given the massive number of reports since 2002 about the insecurity  of electronic, paperless voting, and internet voting, let alone the complaints about the security of absentee, paper ballots, do you trust this non-verifiable process?

On the Verified Voting website, in this May 30, 2014 article, Verified Voting Blog: Hack the Vote: The Perils of the Online Ballot Box, by Pamela Smith and Bruce McConnell, it states:

…online voting is fraught with danger. Hackers could manipulate enough votes to change the results of local and national elections. And a skilled hacker can do so without leaving any evidence.

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

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

Go. Dig. Read.

What does “ease of voting” high “voter turnout” matter …if the vote can be hacked?

I have absolutely no confidence in this system of ballot gathering & counting whatsoever.

Do you?

~~~~~

       To quote one of the many national voting rights’ advocates, who arose after the U.S. 2000 elections, Lynn Landes:

Voting is the linchpin of democracy. And democracy demands transparency, not trust.

WHAT ABOUT THIS ISSUE OF QUORUM?

       What do the current bylaws say is quorum at the Annual Meeting? What number of Owner-Members establishes that a meeting and its elections are legal? 300 voters seems awfully low to me for quorum for this co-op…

Establishing quorum is an essential element of a democratic process.

See what B’foods Owner-Member Ann Kreilkamp has to say about this issue of quorum at her blog, Exopermaculture, in an April 30, 2016 post labeled: Bloomingfoods and Me; Part 2.

Here is what the B’foods Bylaws say about a quorum at Member Meetings:

Section 4.6 – Quorum at Member Meetings:  Except as otherwise stated in these by-laws as to particular circumstances, the presence of ten percent of members entitled to vote at any meeting shall constitute a quorum.  Unless one-third of all members are present at a membership meeting, the only matters that may be voted upon are those described in the meeting notice. [emphasis added]

However, they also say:

Section 4.12 ‑ Voting by mail or electronic ballots:  The Board may authorize voting by mail or electronic ballot in conjunction with, or in lieu of, a meeting of members. In such event, the notice of the meeting shall include a copy of the issue to be voted upon, together with a ballot and a postage paid voting envelope with an online link as an electronic voting option and notification of the date by which ballots must be returned.  Ballots must be returned in a sealed envelope which is authenticated by the member’s signature or sent electronically to a verifiable online site.  If mail or electronic ballots are used in conjunction with a meeting of members, votes cast by those ballots shall be counted together with votes cast in person at the meeting.  If mail or electronic ballots are used in lieu of a meeting of members, a quorum shall consist of the number of ballots returned.  A vote cast by mail or electronic ballot shall be equivalent to presence in person by the member at a meeting of members. [emphases added]

First of all, a careful read of the bylaws shows that the B’foods Board was not, in fact, authorized to accept paper ballots in the storefronts; this process is in violation of the Bylaws:

The Board may authorize voting by mail or electronic ballot in conjunction with, or in lieu of, a meeting of members. [emphasis added]

As to quorum: for this Annual Meeting, if B’foods has – hypothetical case – 10,000 active, members in  good standing (eligible to vote), a quorum at this meeting would be 10%, or 1,000 Members. If only 300 voters are being allowed to vote at the Annual Meeting itself, that means that a minimum of 700 ballots will have to be cast before the meeting itself – to meet quorum.

Again, assuming a quorum of 1,000, that’s 700 voters who will be casting a ballot either electronically, online, on the internet, with no paper back-up to verify the vote or placing (absentee) paper ballots (gathered at the storefronts), which, themselves, are subject to manipulation.

Owner-Members are being expected to simply:

  • trust they are being told the accurate number for quorum
  • trust the tallying of electronic, online, internet paperless ballots & (absentee) paper ballots
  • trust that, in fact, there is a legal quorum because at least (in this hypothetical case) 700 ballots were received in advance of the meeting

If there are only 300 voters allowed “admission” at the Annual Meeting, that means that (given the hypothetical figure of 1,000) 700 non-verifiable ballots will have already carried this election before any voters even cast (an electronic, online, internet, non-verifiable) vote on the evening of the Annual Meeting itself.

So, your vote, which you plan to cast in-person at the Annual Meeting, already, right now, may not even matter?

Maybe I read the Bylaws re. quorum wrong; maybe I missed something. THAT IS ALWAYS A POSSIBILITY! Or, maybe B’foods legal quorum is only 300?

WE NEED PROOF OF QUORUM.

There are way too many non-verifiable variables associated with this election – with its implicit reliance upon trust not transparency –  which are under the direct control of the Board & Management. [1]

WHY LIMIT THE SIZE OF THE ROOM … FOR A 40th CELEBRATION??

       Shouldn’t ‘the more the merrier’ guide actions here?

Grassroots advocate’s take: any possibility for grassroots action and/or grassroots voting action by the Owner-Members at this Annual Meeting has been handily eliminated by the Board …by simply booking a smaller meeting room …on a Wednesday night …and requiring advanced, online RSVPs to get in the door …and “forgetting” to state that fact on the official mailed announcement.

There are plenty of large meeting rooms & halls in this town which is home to a large, major state university and with plenty of churches with large meeting spaces.

This is the plan for Bloomingfoods’ 40th Birthday celebration and Annual Meeting?

Owner-Members, you need to show up, en masse, at your Annual Membership Meeting …and bring the press …or, if they decline, bring a bunch of citizen bloggers with cameras.

Bloomingfoods’ Owner-Members, this is your Annual Membership Meeting!

“MODERNIZED” BYLAWS UP FOR VOTE IN MARCH 2017: THIS SPELLS REAL TROUBLE

       The proposed changes to the bylaws for the October 19th meetings appear innocuous. Please go check for yourself. Here and here are the proposed changes.

However, this is what really worries me. The mailed invitation states on the very bottom:

“Vote for fully revised and modernized bylaws beginning March 20, 2017!”

Better go read independent author and fellow food co-op Member-Owner Mimi Yahn’s concerns about “modernized”, “streamlined” and “boilerplate template” bylaws. That March, 2017 bylaws’ vote – that’s the one that’s really, really worrisome. If these same non-verifiable, hackable voting procedures are used again in March, 2017, passage of these “modernized” bylaws could end up being a slam-dunk, with nobody the wiser.

Could this current election process be a dry-run for that much more important March 2017 Bylaws’ overhaul, which could formally & permanently dismantle the legal power & control of the local, Owner-Members of this co-operative corporation?

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

And here in Progressive Vermont, here in Putney, one of our most cherished institutions — the Putney Food Co-op — is in the process of being co-opted by a large corporate entity.

The first many of us learned of this was at the October annual meeting when members were asked to vote some changes to the existing bylaws. Most of us trusted that the board of directors had merely tweaked and, as they termed it, “updated” some of the wording.

However, thanks to the diligent efforts of a staff member, we discovered that what was being proposed was a major overhaul not just of the entire bylaws, but of the fundamental direction and governance of the Co-op.

The proposed bylaws represent a shift away from cooperative, member-controlled governance to an entity modeled on hierarchical corporate structure and control.

We also learned that behind this fundamental shift is a large national consulting firm, CDS Consulting Co-op, which has created standardized templates of uniform governance, bylaws, corporate structure, purchasing decisions, store design, labor management, membership management, public relations, hiring decisions, board training (promoted as “professionalizing” boards), and a range of other decidedly un-co-op-like services to create a single model for all co-ops…

…The proposed [bylaws’] version … is a bare-bones corporate model, a boilerplate one-size-fits-all template that can apply as easily to the Putney Co-op as it can to a Whole Foods or Pepsico subsidiary.

~~~~~

       At the Honest Weight Food Co-op in Albany, NY, just over the border from Ms. Yahn’s Putney, VT co-op, on the other side of the Green Mountains, yet another food co-op’s democratic structure was being dismantled. Our Board and Management were working secretly and feverishly – with the help of $500,000 (!!!) of our co-op’s collective savings and a passel of lawyers, consultants, and a Strategic PR firm. They were utilizing CDS Consulting Co-op (and had been since 2009): the same group of national, “expert” .coop consultants Mimi Yahn noted were being utilized by the Putney, VT co-op Board.

Our Board was intent on ending our Member-Owner Labor Program, subverting our right to vote, changing our bylaws, and, ultimately, dismantling local, Member-Owner control & ownership of our co-operative.

The Board was working hand-in-hand with upper Management, our three person “Leadership Team,” disregarding the separation of powers which – in a democratic structure – should exist as a check & balance between these two entities.

They were secretive, cunning, efficient, disingenuous and very, very organized.

Not only did they have a Strategic PR firm on retainer, whose spin-meisters expertly spun those messages being delivered to Member-Owners – while also conducting secret, “astroturf” (fake grassroots) campaigns – but they had even hired a very professional & credentialed Organizational Development Consultant: an expert in “organizational change.” In hindsight, we now believe he was hired to massage the messages getting to Member-Owners and “ease our pain” in saying good-bye to the old (democratically-run) co-operative corporation …and welcoming in the brand new, “better,” (hierarchical, Board-controlled) corporate structure.

At Board-sponsored Info Sessions (ushering in these new, modernized bylaws), we Member-Owners even had Kübler-Ross “five stages of grief” comments tossed our way:

We’re here to help you. We can all get through this […the co-opting of your co-operative corporation right out from under your very noses…], together.

Any information getting out to us Owners was very carefully controlled. And, understand, all the skills & advice of this slew of advisors & consultants was being lobbed – repeatedly – against the Owners of the co-operative, a fact we only pieced together long after this campaign had begun!

We Owners were the proverbial lobsters thrown in cold water, with the heat being ever-so-slowly raised; quietly, incrementally, and inexorably, our democratic structure was being eroded around us, and most of us – content & complacent in our trust of the Board – weren’t even aware it was happening.

       The CDS Consulting Co-op Co-operative Board Leadership Development (CDSCC CBLD) program teaches the Board and its Management how to function as an efficient team: a team which does not include the Owners of the co-operative. (Listen to CDSCC co-founder and Director, Marilyn Scholl here; within the first two minutes she has repeated the message “strong and powerful” Boards and GMs, with no mention  of Member-Owners.)

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

Cooperative Board 101 Leadership Development is just one of a staggering array of protocols, trainings, services, templates, and policies our co-op has been instructed to utilize, which begs the question: Does the board’s allegiance lie with the member owners or with a paid consultant?…

…one of the most disturbing “essential elements” is the ironclad tenet that the board “speak with one voice.” Dissent is allowed only as part of the discussion leading up to any decision; once a decision is made by the board, all members must support the decision no matter what.

To ensure absolute loyalty, board members are required to sign a code-of-conduct agreement (template provided by CDS); violating the code by speaking out against a board decision, for example, is forbidden: the board member must resign….

…In reality, policy governance works well in hierarchical structures; however, it undermines the fundamental philosophy of the cooperative paradigm. Cooperatives can only exist — and thrive — through participatory democracy, diversity of thought, member engagement and, above all, the ability to value and encourage dissent as a normal and even necessary part of healthy governance practice.

True democracy demands that we value and strengthen community by being questioning individuals who speak up…

       What was the HWFC Board’s bylaws’ model? The CBLD ‘Fresh Start’ Bylaws Template offered by CDS Consulting Co-op.

These “boilerplate,” “modernized” bylaws were being foisted on us, by our Board, through a “cooked” Bylaws Task Force (BTF) process, expertly managed by that same Organizational Development Consultant. Two CDSCC consultants – Thane Joyal and Mark Goehring – were part of the BTF as  “subject matter experts.” They were also part of a Bylaws Research Team and they were paid to create a brand new document for our BTF called Member Labor Programs at Comparable Co-ops and Related Resources.

This document, provided to the 27 members of the BTF as bylaws’ reference material, had, however, little to do with bylaws …and everything to do with getting rid of Member Labor at food co-ops!

The only bylaws reference material on this list: the CDSCC  ‘Fresh Start’ Bylaws Template. (See here and here.)

(Here is my advice: stay away from the ‘Fresh Start’ Bylaws Template! Keep your current bylaws and work to strengthen Member-Owner control, ownership rights and democratic process. Instead of listening to CDS Consulting Co-op, begin by researching the articles of Laddie Lushin, Esq., a nationally-recognized expert on co-operative corporation law, who – unlike the consultants at CDS Consulting Co-op – supports democratically-run food co-ops, Owner rights, Member-Owner Labor Programs, and transparency in co-operative governance.)

       At HWFC, once we Owners uncovered what was going on, it was a battle zone.

We found evidence that Member-Owners and employees, with their differing perspectives & roles, were (unbeknownst to each other) intentionally being pitted against each other, destabilizing relations, sowing fear and creating a culture of mistrust: this tactic secretly wielded to meet the ultimate endgame goals of both undermining or removing Member-Owner power & control in the co-operative …and controlling employees. This tactic has all the appearance of a planned “psych-ops” maneuver, and its effects among human relations within a community food co-op are brutal.

One-on-one stories shared between fellow food co-op Member-Owners here in the northeast – shared only in person and often with great hesitancy – attest to the silent ravaging of food co-operative communities across New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont.

These diverse communities – actively practicing “peaceful co-existence,” trust, participatory democracy, and “co-operation” – are ill equipped to defend against an intra-community assault of this nature.

Somebody appears to have carefully studied the structure and functioning of the web of human relations & behavior within a food co-op’s diversified community …and knows how to efficiently, effectively (and secretly) rip it apart.

But, as it turned out, we at HWFC had a passel – a boatload! an army! a legion! – of energetic, talented, skilled and determined Member-Owners on our side, including Member-Owners who are also employees of our co-operative.

Defenders of food co-op democracy!

Stories of: multiple, secret Board Executive Sessions, a secret lobbying contract with a Strategic PR firm (with connections to a top-10 NYS lobbying firm), two Board law firms (one with offices parked down in Washington D.C.), a secret, national AP interview, gag orders, Freedom of Information Letters, a secret letter & meeting between Board reps and a high-ranking official at the NYS Department of Labor, a generous, anonymous donor and gaudy, dayglo-orange T-shirts screaming Let’s Chat!, multiple, late-night meetings getting the charges drawn up against Board Members, a staunch, determined, petite Member-Owner clipboarding, all alone at 9am in the parking lot, in the freezing late-November rain! (because Management refused to let her stand inside), top Management blocking Owners from simply talking to other Owners, food co-op Owners threatened with police removal by Management for peacefully petitioning at their own co-op! …and other tales of sordid corporate intrigue – and bravery!

…all taking place at a US food co-op  – a broccoli & organic yogurt kind of food co-op, for goodness’ sakes! – just upriver from (why are you not surprised?) Wall Street.

American indy food co-ops have sure made it onto somebody’s corporate radar screen and onto somebody’s Board room agenda.

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

Reporting out of New York’s capital, our local paper, the Times Union, and ace reporter Tim O’Brien had a field day! Just 3 miles or so east of our co-op, the New York State Legislature, and its latest scandals & tales of corruption, sometimes found itself in competition – in the pages of the TU, that is – with stories of the latest Honest Weight Food Co-op Board shenanigans.

(About that NYS Legislature? Go ahead, Google U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. Also try: Speaker of the NYS Assembly Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. Silver has been sentenced to 12 years in prison; Skelos to five years; Skelos’ son to 6 1/2 years. Now U.S. Attorney Bharara is looking at Governor Cuomo’s people. See this NYPIRG doc: Capitol Offenses: A Review of the Criminal Conduct, Self-Dealing and Ethical Lapses of New York’s Public Officials. Go, Google “Three men in a room” and “Stay tuned.” Have fun, you don’t have to live here. Figures we’d have to fight corruption at our food co-op.)

~~~~~

       CDS Consulting Co-op, and their CBLD ‘Fresh Start’ Bylaws Template, were utilized by the Boards of both the Putney Food Co-op and the Honest Weight Food Co-op. The Putney Co-op Member-Owners sadly caved in. HWFC Member-Owners, however, fought back and ditched anything having to do with CDSCC: its CBLD Program with its empowerment of the Board-Management axis to the exclusion of the Member-Owners of the co-operative, its ‘Fresh Start’ Bylaws Template, “Policy Governance,” secrecy as a way of doing business in our co-op, mandated gag orders (politely called a “non-disclosure agreement”), and all of its national .coop consultants’ “expert” co-op advice.

It was a narrow escape, let me tell you!

Once we were on to them, our co-op Member-Owners got rid of that Board and, within six months, the members of the three-person Leadership Team (top Management) were all gone.

Housecleaning continues to this very day. It truthfully reminds me, a J. R.R. Tolkien lover, of Frodo, Sam, Merry & Pippin returning home to the Shire, after a long and arduous journey, only to be confronted by the ruffian Sharkey & his minion Wormtongue – and being forced to “clean house” before they can all relax and have a pint and a pipe of Longbottom Leaf. That’s where we are at, The Scouring of the Shire here on the banks of the beautiful Hudson River, just south a bit from the majestic Adirondack Mountains and just north a piece from Rip van Winkle’s ancient Catskills: cleaning house at our food co-op. [2]

Except instead of a pint & a pipe, I look forward to a steaming pot of jade oolong and a bowl of fresh organic fruit, topped with local, organic, whipped cream (with a touch of vanilla & some local honey). Shared with a bunch of other Member-Owners at, of course …a co-op potluck dinner.

It’s time …it’s time to haul out that song which this GRASSROOTS! blog introduced right after our November 30, 2015 emergency Special Membership Meeting and its 720 attendees: The Ant Song. Join Frank Sinatra & Eddie Hodges in singing all about high hopes!

Whoops, there goes another problem kerplop! Grassroots action, baby!

And it’s coming up on our one-year anniversary here at HWFC, a day we Member-Owner’s will never forget: October 24, 2015. That was the day, a Saturday, when Member-Owner Chris Colarusso got a petition signed – in an hour and a half! – by enough Member-Owners to legally call for an emergency Special Membership Meeting of the legal owners of the Honest Weight Food Co-op, Inc.: to levy charges against the Board of Directors and elect new Board members, to vote non-confidence in Management and to vote for a change to the Management structure, and to unambiguously affirm our right as Owners of the co-operative to maintain our Member-Owner Labor Program and, thereby, our Ownership rights to vote and express operational control in our co-operative corporation.

~~~~~

       Back to the present day. Bloomington, Indiana. Bloomingfoods.

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

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

The June 30, 2016 Minutes, under “Bylaws Review Update,” reveal:

3.c.ii. Beebe has mapped the proposed changes of the first 4 articles to the CDS template.[5]

MARK YOUR CALENDARS NOW!

Vote for fully revised and modernized bylaws beginning March 20, 2017!

SOUNDS LIKE ANY OLD TOP-DOWN NASDAQ CORPORATION TO ME

       Do you own shares in some publicly-traded corporation? Do you receive those annual reports wherein you are asked to cast your vote? Do you, usually, throw them away because, well, it doesn’t seem to matter? The Board candidates are strangers, you don’t own enough shares to really make a difference and the whole thing is so, well, so anonymous, so far-removed from your life. So corporate, so Wall Street.

The voting procedures for the October 19, 2016 B’fooods Annual Meeting are mirrored on this hierarchical structure. You give the corporation your money (share purchases). The Board decides what’s best for the corporation and, once a year, asks for you to bless its actions with your vote. Shareholders in that top-down corporation (may) vote from afar, via online, internet voting or mail-in ballots: quick, fast, impersonal, (insecure & hackable), and anonymous. Throughout the year, you wait for that Board to give you a return on your investment.

You, the Owner-Member of a local, grassroots community treasure – a 40 year-old food co-operative made up of people & families! – have been manipulated into voting via this process of corporate anonymity. Separate and far-removed from each and every other Bloomingfoods’ shareholder, you are being deprived of the fundamental power of democratic action: all gathering together in a room, all at the same time, rubbing shoulders with  your neighbors, discussing the issues, arguing & finding agreement, voting together, verifying that vote count, together …and celebrating your co-operative decision-making actions, together.

This is a sacred, community process.

Given that only 300 in-person voters are being allowed in the door at the Bloomingfoods Annual Meeting (and these ballots are electronic and non-verifiable), the majority needed to carry the elections (to meet quorum) may well be from this large group of invisible, anonymous shareholders, voting electronically on the internet or with (absentee) paper ballots at the storefronts with a vote gathering & counting process which is not in any way, shape or form transparent or trustworthy.

Have I repeated that often enough for it to get through?

The Board and Management control the process. There is NO transparency.

Let me re-state it a different way: the vote count is hackable and you will have no way of knowing it has been hacked or proving it has been hacked.

Democracy at your food co-op has been hijacked.

GIVE ME THOSE OLD-FASHIONED, VERMONT-STYLE, “TOWN MEETINGS” ANY DAY

       Where, at this Annual Meeting, is the dialogue, where are the discussions, the debates, and the democratic process of a quorum of the co-operative corporation voters, all making decisions together, at the same time, in the same room?

Where is the real-time, transparent voting & vote-counting process being supervised by both Member-Owners and Board members and anybody & everybody else?

Give me our hands-on, democratic – and sometimes messy – food co-op quarterly meetings at HWFC, where we exercise real democracy: we get to talk, listen, debate, respectfully disagree, find common ground, jump up and down & yell (and respectfully ask to be seated), make eye contact, listen to multiple viewpoints, shake our heads, nod in assent, seek to understand, smile, get upset, share food, get home – sometimes – at midnight or later…

…and all cast our paper ballots together and witness (and even participate in) the transparent paper ballot counting leading up to verified & trustworthy vote counts and election results.

Yes, sometimes it is “messy” (that word often paired with “democracy”), sometimes it is contentious, sometimes it is very frustrating, and sometimes people yell.

But, we are – together and co-operatively all in the same room – all part of a real democratic process …which election results we all verify & agree to, together.

WHO PLANNED THIS MEETING and WHO DESIGNED THE VOTING PROCEDURES?

BfoodsAnnualMeeting4.jpg

Image on Bloomingfoods’ 2016 Annual Meeting Postcard Announcement to Co-op Owner-Members

       Who is advising B’foods’ Board to hold these annual elections so that the process undermines democracy?

Are there any outside consultants advising the Bloomington Board about this Annual Meeting election process? If so, who are they? Are they under current contract?

Does the Bloomingfoods Board and/or Management have a current and executed contract with CDS Consulting Co-op of Putney, Vermont? For how many years has there been a contractual relationship  between Bloomingfoods and CDS Consulting Co-op?

Who decided to keep the quorum from all being fully present at the meeting together (splitting the power block) and insured that part of that quorum (the invisible, anonymous, non-verifiable, electronic, online, hackable, advance votes) will, in all likelihood, carry the vote?

Who made the decision to allow (absentee) paper ballots to be gathered in the storefronts, a process in violation of the bylaws?

Who made the decision that “There will be an online RSVP required for this event?

Who forgot to place on the official, mailed Annual Meeting Announcement: “There will be an online RSVP required for this event?

Who made the decision to hold the Annual Meeting and 40th Birthday Party on a Wednesday evening and hold – what should be a huge, Bloomington-wide, family celebration! – in a room limited to 300, entrance of which is “by order of RSVPs?”

Who designed a voting process which is hackable, non-verifiable and not trustworthy?

Who is trying to control the vote – that is, the election results – at this Annual Meeting? Or, is the Board, perhaps, simply unaware of the hackable, non-verifiable nature of the voting processes it has implemented?

I invite anyone from the Board of Directors to answer the questions I have posed in this blog; questions I pose as a voting, Owner-Member-in-good-standing of Bloomingfoods.

I pose these questions as an Owner-Member who cherishes American, locally-owned and controlled, independent, community food co-ops.

I SEE THE SHELL OF AN ANNUAL MEMBERSHIP MEETING

       I see the party, the food, the fun, the music. That’s all a shell without the discussion & voting with the quorum all in the same room, in real time, together, followed by a verified vote process which all may witness.

Where is the democratic, co-operative governance directed by the Owner-Members of the co-operative corporation?

Invisible, secret, non-transparent, controllable and hidden. That is the shell of democracy. Controlled by the corporation and its Board, supported by Management and devoid of oversight by the Owner-Members of the co-operative.

The democratic process with verifiable vote results has been taken away from Bloomingfoods’ Owner-Member voters. Yes, there is an energetic & warm invitation and a party and food (for a special, limited number of people who happen to be free on a Wednesday evening, and who remembered (or who knew to) RSVP online ahead of time.) But true, cooperative, member-controlled, participatory, democratic governance. No, that is absent.

Let’s remember, with a capacity of 300, there will be some Owner-Member voters who will be turned away at the door. They won’t be granted “admission.” They won’t get to vote.

The democratic process at this co-op has been replaced …with something else. Something not at all related to democracy.

Go back and re-read the invitation, above. What do you think now? Warm & inviting? Or something else?

Does Your vote count? Does Your voice matter?

And we didn’t even discuss what’s in those bylaws’ changes or how the Articles of Incorporation have been “simplified.” But I really think it’s this announcement which is the sleeper:

Vote for fully revised and modernized bylaws beginning March 20, 2017!

~~~~~

       For me, this one action takes the cake: forgetting” to tell people – to whom you mail a party invitation, for a meeting which includes voting – that There will be an online RSVP required for this event.”

Was this simply an error?

And, has it gotten to the point at Bloomingfoods that the Annual Food Co-op Meeting – a hallowed event at most U.S. community food co-ops – is viewed as simply another “event” of the corporation?

Here, Bloomingfoods’ Owner-Members, go RSVP here, so you can vote on Wednesday evening, October 19th (or at least secure  a chance to) …not that I think it really even matters.

And please, think about all those B’foods voters, who may be turned away at the door on the 19th …and prevented from exercising their franchise …such as it is.

© Laura Hagen

~~~~~

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: “They Added WHAT To My Food?! No, dude!” No. 1: GMOs, MSG & Senomyx

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

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.

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

UPDATE: MARCH 19, 2017: See my newest article at the Co-op  Voice, published today, entitled: MSG and Deceptive Labeling: The Hidden Toxic Chemical in Your Family’s Food-Part 1.

TEASER ALERT:

Next blogpost will highlight the awesome work of the Member Owners of LA Montañita Food Co-op in Albuquerque, New Mexico who are taking back their co-op… …just like we at the Honest Weight Food Co-op in Albany, New York are doing!!! Some Member-Owners of La Montañita are readers of this GRASSROOTS ACTION IS POWERFUL blog; their work is truly awesome and I look forward to sharing that news with you.

Here is their September 6, 2016 Press Release.

SHOUT OUT OVER THE MILES TO FELLOW FOOD CO-OP MEMBER-OWNERS IN THE ~~LAND OF ENCHANTMENT!~~

GRASSROOTS ACTION, BABY!

See the latest edition of the HWFC Co-op Voice, here.

~~~~~

       Thank you to my many loyal GRASSROOTS ACTION IS POWERFUL! readers who urged me to get back to blogging! And hello to RP, who is a brand new GRASSROOTS reader from HWFC …who has a special interest in protecting herself from MSG.

After more than a two month hiatus in blogging, GRASSROOTS is back! This blogpost is the first- Number 1 –  in the promised series of  They Added WHAT To My Food?! No, dude!, the companion series to My Food Comes From WHERE?! Oh, there which was posted on June 12, 2016.

And, of course, all information provided by this blog is intended solely for consumer educational purposes only and is not intended to offer medical advice, nor substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment of any disease or condition by your doctors and health care providers. Discuss any information with your doctors and health care providers, first.

So, without further ado the first installment of:

They Added WHAT To My Food?! No, dude!

       You’ll note my last three blogposts were following Congressional voting on THE DARK ACT here, here, and here.

It passed. It is law. Done deal.

Blogging ceased for a while as this darkness descended. The blog went cold.

It is a dark day for those of us in the U.S. who value and who need high-quality, organic, safe, locally-produced, non-GMO food for our families.

BIG FOOD and BIG ORGANIC won this round. They get to further taint and poison our food supply …and now we will be eating GMOs and not even know it.

Were we protected by the largest national organic trade association: the industry’s lobbying arm? Nope. The Organic Consumers Association is calling the Organic Trade Association the Organic Traitors Association for its support of The Dark Act.

A walk down the aisles of our food co-op with the list of members of the Organic Trade Association will reveal just how many “organic” corporations went over to the dark side.

Ethical moment: do you  want to give your family’s hard-earned food dollars to any of these “organic” corporations?

Consider boycotting members of the Organic Trade Association – don’t buy their food – and ask your food co-op to immediately drop out of the Organic Trade Association if it’s a member, as well. And make sure you tell the OTA why.

Food co-op Member-Owners, are United Natural Foods, Inc. (UNFI) and National Co-op Grocers (NCG) members of the Organic Trade Association? Don’t you think you’d better find out?

Read this U.S. Right to Know series of articles about GMOs, here, here and here and do a search on GMOs at the Organic Consumers Association, here.

DAY-TO-DAY FAMILY LIFE WITH THE DARK ACT

GMOs will start showing up everywhere.

Will it be safe now to eat out at a restaurant?

Nope.

Will  it be safe to buy food that is non-organic?

Nope.

Will eating dinner over at a friend’s home have to be politely declined …or prefaced with a question-list of the foods the host or hostess is using to prepare dinner?

Yup. Unless you (politely) simply act the good guest and eat the GMOs and be done with it.

Will the labels on “natural” and “organic” foods tell you more about what’s in your food so you can make wise and safe choices for your family?

Nope.

Will brightly colored boxes of cool-looking “natural” food – you know those enticing packages of crackers & cereal & cookies & soy or wheat protein products – screaming statements of health and vitality – offer a guarantee of non-GMO safety for our children, our families?

Nope.

Will your children be exposed to GMOs in the lunch food they buy at school?

Yup.

Ditto: play dates, Boy Scouts & Girl Scouts, summer camp, after school events, sports events…

Will buying food at a U.S. locally-owned food co-operative guarantee safe and GMO-free food?

Nope.

THE DARK ACT gives BIG FOOD and BIG ORGANIC carte blanche with labeling. Merriam-Webster defines carte blanche as “permission to do something in any way you choose to do it.” That’s the permission Congress gave to BIG FOOD and BIG ORGANIC…

…and we consumers and our families now have virtually no way to defend against GMOs entering our bodies, harming our biomes, killing (or mutating the genes of …this is the really scary part) our own symbiotic bacteria, harming our immune systems, putting glyphosate (Round-Up) in circulation (in our soil, in our food supply, in our water supply, and in our bodies – a lot like the “pink” in The Cat in the Hat) and causing autoimmune disease and cancer rates to further skyrocket in the U.S.

If you continue to eat any  (non-organic) wheat products whatsoever (bread, bagels, cookies, pasta, cereal, crackers… ), you are likely ingesting Round-Up:

Unbeknownst to most consumers is the fact that just before harvest, a vast majority of conventional wheat grown in the U.S. is doused in Roundup herbicide [as a desiccant], which ends up poisoning your favorite breads, cereals, cakes, and pastries. … The latest U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) figures show that, as of 2012, 99 percent of durum wheat, 97 percent of spring wheat, and 61 percent of winter wheat is doused in herbicides prior to harvest. [1]

And those who are vegetarians and vegans? Given the high percentage of processed vegetarian products and non-meat proteins which are made from processed (non-organic, GMO) soy and processed (non-organic, GMO) wheat, the only choice to make is to either eat 100% organic …or abandon being a vegetarian or vegan.

Let’s not even talk about the effect upon our seed supply…

They can now – legally – hide GMOs in our food supply and they don’t even have to tell us.

SMARTPHONES TO THE RESCUE…?

       The whole point of the DARK ACT was to keep the name “GMO” off of the packaging & list of ingredients of food products. GMOs are present – or they might be present – (there’s the kicker) – you  just won’t know it from reading the label.

But if you are among the lucky who own a Smartphone, you can find out – have the secret revealed to you. How? Have the Smartphone read the “QR code” printed on the label: that square, black & white, boxy, squiggly thing.

There will also be 1-800 numbers and websites …but none of this is required to even kick in for the next two years! Notice the information about the presence of GMOs has been handily separated & divorced from the actual food product, itself.

So, you have to own a Smartphone (a huge percentage of seniors, people with disabilities and low-income Americans do not own Smartphones) and have access to the Internet (a huge percentage of senior, disabled, rural and low-income Americans do not have access to the Internet). Furthermore, does the store or co-op you are shopping in have Internet …and what if the the connection is spotty throughout the store ..and what if your battery is about to die …and what if you forgot our Smartphone in the car…

And who the devil is going to have time to stop and check every single QR code for every single item we buy while we are busy shopping??

Can you just see a busy Mom or Dad with two kids, juggling the shopping cart after work, as well as the Smartphone …as s/he dutifully tries to read QR codes in a busy foodstore or food co-op aisle?

It almost appears that this DARK ACT / QR Code system of checking our food supply was designed to fail, doesn’t it? Fail consumers, that is.

It certainly does not fail the needs of BIG FOOD, BIG ORGANIC or BIG AG.

It is well-known among IT people that QR codes can be hacked, so will we even be able to trust what the QR codes reveal if we can get in and through the above labyrinth successfully? And, did they tell us that accessing the QR code could place Malware directly into our Smartphones …i.e. you could damage your Smartphone and need the paid services of a computer technician to repair the damage …if it can be repaired?

So we are supposed to use our $500 Smartphones to access their data  – about the stuff they put into their food product  – and risk our Smartphones in the process?

Huh?

Does this seem a lot to you like Alice in Wonderland down-the-rabbit-hole?

And just what are you supposed to do if you are one of those millions of American  who lives on a low or fixed income, who is a senior, who lives in a rural location, or who has a disability …and who does not own a Smartphone or have Internet (estimated to be 1/3 of the population)?

Doesn’t it seem like whole classes of people got left out in the “consumer protections” offered in the DARK ACT?

What should they do? Grin and bear it? Stop shopping for food? Or simply eat the stuff…

What Dark Act supporters do not reveal is that the Dark Act lacks any enforcement mechanisms or any penalties for violations, making the labeling clauses (effectively) voluntary. And, there is a two-year time period allowed for implementation. So, in the next two years, there will GMOs in your food, with nothing on the labels  …and absolutely nothing at the other end of that Smartphone, 1-800 number or website….

FOOD LABELS DO MORE TO OBSCURE THAN REVEAL

       The alert and aware organic food consumer and co-op Member-Owner knows that the modern function of food labels is to allow BIG FOOD and BIG ORGANIC to be able to successfully hide what is in the “natural” and “organic” food they are selling  to us.

“Revealing” is not the primary goal of a food label anymore.

Add the DARK ACT’s QR Codes – a work-around to actually placing the word GMO directly onto the food product packaging itself – to that long list of deceptive labeling …i.e. ways to hide the cheaply produced chemicals, invisible additives, flavor enhancers, preservatives, food coloring, inferior food, old food and – let’s call a spade a spade – poisons, which are added to the food we buy for our families.

You need to become a detective to uncover the invisible ingredients which modern “natural” and “organic” food labels cleverly obscure.

PROCESSED FREE GLUTAMIC ACID: aka MSG

       We all know that MSG no longer appears as an ingredientt in food because BIG FOOD and BIG ORGANIC know that we know that MSG is “bad.” That is, we consumers got wise! Therefore, we began carefully reading labels and avoided purchasing food with “MSG” listed as an ingredient.

MSG is a neuro-toxin or an excitotoxin, a class of chemicals / chemical messengers, which excite brain cells into such frenetic activity that they can die. It is classified as a “flavor enhancer,” which means BIG FOOD and BIG ORGANIC can use cheaper, inferior ingredients and the MSG “fools” your brain into perceiving more taste / flavor. MSG also instantly creates food cravings when it hits your mouth and, eventually, your gut: sending instant messages to your brain to desire more of the product. You will want to eat/buy more of that food product – not because it is healthy and your system needs it – but because they know how to chemically create craving (and addiction) in a human mouth/digestive/brain system.

How handy for the bottom line of your favorite BIG FOOD or BIG ORGANIC food corporation: a proven way to sell more product!

Because there were enough alert consumers – who stopped buying foods labeled as containing MSG – they deep-sixed using the term “MSG.” Gone. Erased. Vanished.

They did not, however, stop using MSG in food.

They devised a work-around. They devised a method to add MSG to processed food – which they are under no obligation to disclose to you – by including it as a component of an ingredient, which require no disclosure on the label (in other words, the MSG remains hidden to the consumer). BTW, MSG should properly be referred to as ‘processed free glutamic acid.’ The term ‘MSG,’ in the US, refers specifically to the chemical which is 99% pure; most processed food manufacturers utilize MSG at less than 99% purity, so they cannot call it MSG. MSG, or monosodium glutamate, was developed in 1908 and patented by the Ajinomoto company. (Ajinomto currently holds the patent on another excitotoxin, aspartame, and is the world’s largest producer of both aspartame and MSG.)

There is now a list of about 50 food additives which can legally contain processed free glutamic acid, which can be added to the food you buy – and you won’t even ever know about it, unless it makes you subsequently ill. (BTW, its effects are now recognized as possibly being cumulative, and even if you don’t appear to get sick, processed free glutamic acid can still harm you.) See this research, this research, this research, this research, this research, this research, this research, this review of flawed research, which supports MSG’s safety and which was funded by the the International Glutamate Technical Committee, this research, and this brand new, February 2016 research …for starters.

Let me reframe this for you: BIG FOOD and BIG ORGANIC have over 50 different ways to label processed free glutamic acid – without using the term “MSG” – or without having to disclose on the label that there is processed free glutamic acid present.

Only if MSG is 99% purity or greater is an ingredient required to be labeled as MSG.  Any ingredient that has less than 99% MSG purity is labeled something else. [2]

They have developed 50 very effective means of camouflage, especially useful in processed foods labeled as “organic,” where we – especially – don’t expect to find added chemicals and poisonous ingredients. In fact, most of us are even willingly to pay more for that “organic” guarantee.

That list of, roughly, 50 names keeps changing & enlarging; a smart & savvy family simply must stay on top of information about the newest & latest industry additives – and their labels – which are being developed with the purpose of hiding the presence of processed free glutamic acid from consumers.

BIG FOOD and BIG ORGANIC don’t even have to break a sweat with over 50 ways …to leave your lover…

…oops! whoa nelly! – I got carried away there by Paul Simon’s music, for just a second… Sorry. What I meant to type was:

BIG FOOD and BIG ORGANIC have created 50 ways to hide a poisonous chemical in the food you buy: 50 innocent & innocuous-sounding ingredient names, which disarm you into opening your wallet and giving them your hard-earned family food dollars...

Food co-op shoppers, be on the alert for this anonymous MSG, camouflaged in your family’s favorite natural and organic ice cream, soups & stocks, crackers, cookies, chips, pasta sauce, cereals, juices, milk & dairy products, heavy cream, non-dairy drinks, processed soy & wheat protein products… …virtually anything with a label is fair game.

~~~~~

       For decades, I knew to avoid the following – even at my food co-op – because they always contained processed free glutamic acid: soups, soup stocks (including “organic” soups & stocks), gravies, salad dressings, soy sauce, mayonnaise, mustard & catsup, and anything which had in its list of ingredients:

artificial flavoring
spices
seasonings
organic flavoring, spices, seasonings
natural flavoring, spices, seasonings
bar-b-cue or teriyaki sauce

If these terms are listed in the ingredients I never purchase or eat that food; years of bad experiences taught me that lesson.

If a food label boasts that the food is “MSG free!” it’s pretty much a dead giveaway that it has processed free glutamic acid in it: less than 99% sleight-of-hand in the labeling business covers that base for the industry, and it is one sure way I know to avoid that food.

The practice of industry stating “MSG Free!,” “No MSG,” or “No Added MSG” is illegal if that product actually contains ingredients with glutamate. Unfortunately, the US FDA has a poor track record of enforcement.

In the last decade, many more processed foods – including foods labeled as “organic” – have had hidden processed free glutamic acid added in. Eating out at restaurants has become virtually impossible; shopping (only) the perimeter of our food co-op was our family’s only option.

My family’s solutions …our “work-arounds?”

  1. Stop buying processed food: 100%
  2. Eat organic: 100%
  3. Cook from scratch: 100%
  4. Eat out: hardly ever
  5. Read labels: 100% of the time
  6. Periodically re-research organic food industry MSG labeling practices

SO WHAT ARE THOSE 50 NAMES FOR MSG?

       Before you dig into the excellent consumer sites I have researched, familiarize yourself with this cleverly-worded U.S. FDA Q & A about MSG here and this Wikipedia entry about monosodium glutamate. These are two really good examples of what I consider industry-friendly spin & propaganda about MSG. [3]

Leaves you feeling warm & fuzzy about MSG doesn’t it?

This section wouldn’t be complete without hearing the industry spin from The Glutamate Association, “…an association of manufacturers, national marketers, and processed food users of glutamic acid…” Here are The Glutamate Association’s Benefits of MSG. You decide: fact… …or propaganda?

The International Food Information Council Foundation (IFIC) – another influential industry rep – describes the benefits of MSG here in, Monosodium Glutamate (MSG): From A to Umami. Here is the list of the companies from the food, beverage and ag industries which support the work of the IFIC.

Now, onto the consumer & family-friendly sites!

This very reliable American list of hidden sources of processed free glutamic acid and the types of processing which create processed free glutamic acid, is put out by an incredible consumer website, the Truth in Labeling Campaign, their FB Page and their series of very informative blogs about MSG, aspartame, and excitotoxins (Truth in  Labeling Campaign, “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about MSG”).

The Truth in Labeling Campaign blogsite states:

…[Truth in Labeling is] a non-profit, all volunteer organization dedicated to the proposition that in the United States of America, every consumer has the right to know what is in or on his/her food, drink, pharmaceuticals, dietary supplements, cosmetics, protein drinks, and vaccines. [4]

The Truth in Labeling Campaign (TLC) is the dedicated work of Jack and Adrienne Samuels, the TLC founders. Thank you, Jack and Adrienne, for your decades of hard work, research & advocacy on our behalf!

Highly recommended are the 2013 books by Adrienne Samuels, The Man Who Sued the FDA and It Wasn’t Alzheimer’s. It Was MSG. Adrienne details her late husband, Jack’s and her powerful crusade to uncover and publicize the toxic effects of MSG. The Samuels’ have, for decades, also: maintained an accurate, up-to-date list of the names of ingredients which contain  hidden MSG; alerted others to the scandalous lack of peer-reviewed research on its effects upon the human body; attempted to compel the FDA to require the labeling of this excitotoxin hidden in processed foods, protein powders & shakes, pharmaceuticals, vitamins & supplements, bodycare products, toothpaste, suncscreen & insect repellents, pet foods, in vaccines, in enteral feeding materials, and some fluids administered intravenously in hospitals (!), and in sprays used on farms on fruits and vegetables… …and pervasively found in the U.S. organic food supply.

This Australian organization, the Food Intolerance Network, has a crystal clear listing of – not 50 – but 129 ways to add MSG (and claim ‘no added MSG’ to fool consumers). This down under list – which I found on Truth in Labeling’s FB page – seems to work just as well here in the states. Somebody took some time in organizing the data, so as to make what is confusing, easy to understand. Thank you to the 10,200 families from Australia and New Zealand who are members of the Food Intolerance Network!

Cross-check the Truth in Labeling and Food Intolerance Network lists with this list from Battling the MSG Myth.

Read author, Debby Anglesey’s MSG story, at Battling the MSG Myth.

Be prepared to be shocked at the long list of additives which contain hidden processed free glutamic acid, as well as the modern food processing techniques which release processed free glutamic acid as a result of that processing.

(For example, perhaps you already knew that the ubiquitous guar gum, xanthan gum, and carrageenan (here, here and here) contain processed free glutamic acid? These ingredients often show up in milk & dairy products… Go ahead, go check the ORGANIC yogurt, heavy cream, sour cream, milk, and ice cream which you buy… Just recently I noticed at our co-op that Organic Valley milk products had eliminated “carrageenan” in their heavy cream and substituted it with “gellan gum.” Both have unknown levels of processed free glutmaic acid in them; however, gellan gum is a term unfamiliar to many people, whereas carrageenan has been receiving bad PR in the news lately. Out with the old (and tainted term), in with the new!

Tara gum and tracaganth gum are newer gums which are now showing up in processed foods. (Breyers ice cream’s use of tara gum is exposed in this consumer blog Breyers Natural Ice Cream and Tara Gum: Unilever’s Response.)

Read this fascinating 2012 Organic Consumers Association article, detailing organic milk industry shenanigans, entitled Stonyfield Farm & Organic Valley Respond to Consumer Concerns About Carrageenan and this June 2016 Cornucopia Institute article Will Carrageenan Remain in Organic Food? Removal of Carcinogenic Substance Uncertain Due to Industry Lobbying.)

According to the Truth in Labeling Campaign, these are the Names of ingredients that always contain processed free glutamic acid (last updated March, 2014):

 Glutamic acid (E 620)2
 Glutamate (E 620)
 Monosodium glutamate (E 621)
 Monopotassium glutamate (E 622)
 Calcium glutamate (E 623)
 Monoammonium glutamate (E 624)
 Magnesium glutamate (E 625)
 Natrium glutamate
 Anything “hydrolyzed”
 Any “hydrolyzed protein”
 Calcium caseinate,  Sodium caseinate
 Yeast extract, Torula yeast
 Yeast food, Yeast nutrient
 Autolyzed yeast
 Gelatin
 Textured protein
 Whey protein
 Whey protein concentrate
 Whey protein isolate
 Soy protein
 Soy protein concentrate
 Soy protein isolate
 Anything “protein”
 Anything “protein fortified”
 Soy sauce
 Soy sauce extract
 Anything “enzyme modified”
 Anything containing “enzymes”
 Anything “fermented”
 Anything containing “protease”
 Vetsin
 Ajinomoto
 Umami

(1) Glutamic acid found in unadulterated protein does not cause adverse reactions. To cause adverse reactions, the glutamic acid must have been processed/manufactured or come from protein that has been fermented.

(2) E numbers are used in Europe in place of food additive names.

These are the Names of ingredients that often contain or produce processed free glutamic acid during processing:

 Carrageenan (E 407)
 Bouillon and broth
 Stock
 Any “flavors” or “flavoring”
 Natural flavor
 Maltodextrin
 Oligodextrin
 Citric acid, Citrate (E 330)
 Anything “ultra-pasteurized”
 Barley malt
 Malted barley
 Brewer’s yeast
 Pectin (E 440)
 Malt extract
 Seasonings

The following are ingredients suspected of containing or creating sufficient processed free glutamic acid to serve as MSG-reaction triggers in HIGHLY SENSITIVE people:

 Corn starch
 Corn syrup
 Modified food starch
 Lipolyzed butter fat
 Dextrose
 Rice syrup
 Brown rice syrup
 Milk powder
 Reduced fat milk (skim; 1%; 2%)
 most things “low fat” or “no fat”
 anything “enriched”
 anything “vitamin enriched”
 anything “pasteurized”
 Annatto
 Vinegar
 Balsamic vinegar
 certain amino acid chelates (Citrate, aspartate, and glutamate are used as chelating agents with mineral supplements.)

The Truth in Labeling Campaign list, above, states:

MSG reactions have been reported from soaps, shampoos, hair conditioners, and cosmetics, where MSG is hidden in ingredients with names that include the words “hydrolyzed,” “amino acids,” and/or “protein.” Most sun block creams and insect repellents also contain MSG… …Binders and fillers for medications, nutrients, and supplements, both prescription and non-prescription, enteral feeding materials, and some fluids administered intravenously in hospitals, may contain MSG.

Truth in Labeling also states:

The term organic offers no protection: “There are a number of ingredients identified as organic that, organic or not, will contain processed free glutamic acid (MSG). Autolyzed yeast, yeast extract, textured soy protein, and anything hydrolyzed are examples of ingredients that may be made from organic produce, but will never-the-less contain MSG…”

And vegetarians and vegans, please do not fall for the Public Relations / Marketing game that has created all the media hype about “umami,” the so-called fifth taste. The Truth in Labeling Campaign states:

Is umami a fifth taste? Ponder the question if you like. But remember as you do so that fifth taste or not, umami is also a clever contrivance/device/public relations effort to draw attention away from the fact that MSG is toxic. [5]

~~~~~

       Several years ago, after eating an “organic,” vegetarian lunch salad at my food co-op, I was almost instantly struck down with MSG poisoning: a highly unusual, shocking reaction. I had carefully read the label and thought I was safe! Which ingredient was it? It was the fake bacon bits, which, it turned out, were listed on the label as “hydrolyzed vegetable protein” (aka “texturized vegetable protein” or TVP), an excitotoxin:

The innocuous sounding “hydrolyzed vegetable protein” is even more dangerous than MSG; it contains three excitotoxins (glutamate, aspartate and cysteic acid) and several known carcinogens. [6]

These days, we eat real bacon, which we process ourselves, a hogbelly which comes from our food co-op, the Honest Weight Food Co-op (HWFC); the source is a local farm in Vermont, which has pastured animals, from farmers we know and trust. (I’ll track down the name  of the farm and post it… …we plan to visit that farm in the near future and thank the family for feeding our family.)

WAS IT THE CITRIC ACID, THE CALCIUM CHLORIDE OR THE SEA SALT …OR ALL THREE?

       The ingredients which I, personally, most recently discovered may now contain hidden processed free glutamic acid include non-organic calcium chloride, and/or non-organic citric acid and/or non-organic sea salt.

How did I find this out? Well, for dinner one day, we purchased a bottle of Muir Glen Organic Tomato Basil Pasta Sauce at our co-op – the Honest Weight Food Co-op – after carefully reading the label. There were only three non-organic ingredients listed on the label: calcium chloride, sea salt and citric acid (it is assumed water need not be “organic”).

muirglena

A bottle of General Mills’ Muir Glen organic pasta sauce with the industry-coveted green, white & brown “USDA Organic” National Organic Program (NOP) Seal

 Here is the list of ingredients of this organic pasta sauce:

img_2694

Ingredients in this Muir Glen “Organic Pasta Sauce” which are not organic: (water), Sea Salt, Citric Acid, and Calcium Chloride

After ingesting this Muir Glen Organic product – and after recovering from processed free glutamic acid poisoning – I sent Muir Glen, which is owned by General Mills, BTW – an email. [7] A long-delayed response (Sales & Marketing and Product Liability must have agonized over my explicitly clear & accurate questions) from SmallPlanetFoods@smallplanetfoods.com – which, instead of answering my questions about the presence of processed free glutamic acid in either or both the non-organic “calcium chloride” and the non-organic “citric acid” – cheerfully invited me to call their 800 number to discuss my concerns.

Note the absence of any reference to MSG, processed free glutamic acid, or  …an answer:

Dear Valued Consumer:

Thank you for taking the time to contact us. Food quality is a primary focus at our company.

Please call us at 1-866-896-0829 between the hours of 7:30am - 5:30pm CST, Monday - Friday.

We ask that you please have the following information available when you call:

Reference Number: ...

I look forward to hearing from you. As a valued consumer I hope you will continue to use and enjoy our products.

Sincerely,

Norma Stone
Consumer Services

Not a thing in there in print from Muir Glen that: a.) gave me the answers I needed or b.) could attach any liability, whatsoever, to this corporation.

In other words: we’ll do our level best to protect our corporation and the devil be damned about your family’s needs.

So, I did my own research. I now know that modern, industrial citric acid is being produced from GMO corn and an end result of its production is the presence of processed free glutamic acid. No, modern, industrial citric acid does not come from grapefruits, lemons or limes. I bet you thought it did, too!

What about the non-organic “calcium chloride?” I thought calcium chloride is the “safer” salt they tell gardeners to use on their icy, winter sidewalks? What in the world is this stuff doing in tomato sauce? I leave it to you, intrepid researcher, to begin your search here and here, with a quote from Wikipedia …as a hint:

The extremely salty taste of calcium chloride is used to flavor pickles while not increasing the food’s sodium content.

So, my alert reader, did you now start wondering if non-organic “sea salt” –  as an added ingredient to organic foods – can legally contain processed free glutamic acid, aka MSG? Better start your research. Sea salt is added to virtually every processed, organic product I looked at.

I only thought of that possibility after I had dashed off my email to General Mills’ Muir Glen.

NEWLY-ADDED INFORMATION: Who knew that there was a “Tomato Sauce Scam?” According to the Food Identity Theft website, the first ingredient on your tomato or pasta sauce label should simply be “tomatoes.” If not, look to see if the product contains

…reconstituted industrial tomato concentrate – tomato paste and added water. Tomato sauce remanufactured from concentrate is a highly processed food that’s cheaper to make and more profitable for companies who are trying to pass off the stuff as the real thing. [8]

The National Consumers League has been watch-dogging the deception in tomato and pasta sauce labeling for years. Read their April 14, 2011 Press Release, NCL calls on FDA to crack down on misleading claims for tomato sauces made from concentrate.

Well, let’s go back and re-examine that Muir Glen organic pasta sauce label. First ingredient, we don’t find “tomatoes” listed, but rather

Tomatoes in Juice∗, Tomato Puree∗ (tomato paste∗, water)…

What does “Tomatoes in Juice∗really mean? Is it just tomatoes? Who knows, I don’t have a clue! But that second ingredient states explicitly that it is tomato paste and water, that is, “reconstituted industrial tomato concentrate.”

Lovely.

Who knew.

All these years of being “Valued Consumers” of Muir Glen, all these years of buying their organic pasta sauce …and we’ve been eating a slurry of reconstituted industrial tomato concentrate.

Can these two products  – “Tomatoes in Juice” and “Tomato Puree” – contain hidden processed free glutamic acid? Who knows? I’d say let’s email Muir Glen and find out …except they are already known for their email non-answers to their “Valued Consumers.”

Now, carefully read what the label says on the back of this “organic” product:

muirglen1

“At Muir Glen we’re all about delicious, wholesome food grown naturally and without synthetic chemicals…”

This label states “At Muir Glen we’re all about … food grown naturally and without synthetic chemicals…

Note, it does not assert: All the ingredients in this organic pasta sauce were grown organically or All the ingredients in this organic pasta sauce were grown without use of synthetic chemicals.

Just what, exactly, does “grown naturally” mean? It simply asserts, vaguely, “At Muir Glen we’re all about” What does “all about” mean? We’re “all about” what, exactly?

And it certainly does not and cannot state that there are no synthetic chemicals added to this product …because there is at least one synthetic chemical added to it: citric acid is manufactured in a lab, it is definitely not organic, it is from a GMO source (!) and it contains processed free glutamic acid.

Just what does this information on the Muir Glen label reveal to you – the “Valued Consumer,” as to the safety of this “organic” processed food and the ingredients contained in it? …about the reasons that it gets to have the coveted USDA National Organic Program (NOP) label? …about those three innocuous-sounding ingredients – citric acid, calcium chloride and sea salt – which are clearly (not) starred as being “organic?”

Nada. Rien. Bubkes.

If this is an example of what’s hidden in foods with the USDA Organic “National Organic Program (NOP) Seal” label (which we consumers pay more money for!), imagine what’s in the non-organic foods which do not have the benefit of the NOP protections!

General Mills’ Muir Glen adroitly danced around the processed free glutamic acid issue. Obscured labeling… …obscured email response… …obscured processed free glutamic acid in so-called organic pasta sauce.

And as to their label’s statement: “We welcome your questions…”? Sure they may welcome your questions. That does not at all mean that they will answer your questions…

…’cause I still don’t know if it was the non-organic citric acid, calcium chloride, sea salt – all three – or some combination thereof, which contain(s) processed free glutamic acid. And now I have the new information about “Tomatoes in Juice∗” and “Tomato Puree∗ (tomato paste∗, water)” – aka “reconstituted industrial tomato concentrate” – to research: just what in the world is in these two processed (“organic?”) ingredients used in Muir Glen’s processed “organic” pasta sauce?

You see how labels have been carefully crafted to not serve the needs of us consumers and families? …to, rather, hide, obfuscate and keep invisible?

I had better start growing my own (organic) tomatoes, canning them, and making my Aunt Dotty’s authentic, family-recipe, tomato sauce which comes directly from her mother’s family in Italy…

BIG ORGANIC corporations, like General Mills’ Muir Glen, which adroitly demonstrate that they care more about hiding their products’ ingredients – by attempting to fool & deceive with both labels and email replies – than about truthfully disclosing those ingredients to their “Valued Consumers…will lose that “industry-coveted” spot in my fridge, on the shelves of my kitchen pantry, and on my dining room table.

THE ORGANIC FIREWALL HAS BEEN BREACHED

usda-organic

       Here is the familiar (and BIG ORGANIC industry-coveted) green, white & brown USDA NOP Seal you see on the labels of U.S. organic foods

       Has General Mills’ Muir Glen breached the firewall of the federally-recognized term “organic”as defined in the USDA National Organic Program (NOP)? Can foods labeled as “organic” contain non-organic citric acid, which contains processed free glutamic acid, an excitotoxin? Can they also contain GMO’s? (For if the citric acid being used in a product labeled as “organic” is sourced from GMO corn, that organically-labeled food now contains a GMO product …which is also an excitotoxin.)

And just what, exactly, is in “reconstituted industrial tomato concentrate?” Does its processing create processed free glutamic acid, and / or is processed free glutamic acid added to this highly processed “organic” ingredient?

As best I can ascertain, many of the material facts which families need are not required to be disclosed on that “consumer-friendly” label, with the green, white & brown NOP Seal, and Muir Glen’s oh-so-carefully spelled-out list of ingredients.

How many other BIG FOOD and BIG ORGANIC corporations follow these same consumer-deceiving labeling practices?

Visit Dr. Philip H. Howard’s infographic, Who Owns OrganicOrganic Industry Structure: Acquisitions & Alliances, Top 100 Food Processors in North America (which has been updated as of July 2016), to understand the magnitude of the problem for US families which value organic food. (See Dr. Howard’s brand new book, published in February 2016, Concentration and Power in the Food System: Who Controls What We Eat?)

How many other processed foods labeled as “organic” contain additives sourced from GMOs …and/or contain processed free glutamic acid?

…and, heaven help us, is sea salt now in that list of additives allowed to have processed free glutamic acid added to it, without disclosure of that fact?

It’s well-known that common table sale contains hidden MSG in the anti-caking agents. But sea salt?

This becomes mind-boggling, especially if you are a Mom or Dad with a child or children who have auto-immune diseases or any sort of disability, or if you, yourself, have chronic health issues, a disability or are highly sensitive to processed free glutamic acid and need to take care when sourcing your food.

Now, I admit, I have not yet studied the federally-designated categories used for labeling organic food. I am quite sure there are tiers and layers… …but why should a family have to study U.S. federal organic regulations on labeling of GMOs, MSG and the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances in foods labeled “organic,” just to be able to safely purchase the ingredients for that night’s dinner?

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

~~~~End result of this story: we are taking our business elsewhere. If Muir Glen does not feel it has to fully disclose ingredients in its products nor answer our questions, we don’t have to buy those products. My family will no longer buy products made by General Mills’ Muir Glen.

We are also considering x’ing off any and all General Mills’ organic products (forget Cascadian Farms and those Paleo-friendly Lärabar fruit & nut bars; General Mills owns ’em both: thank you Dr. Howard for your research, Who Owns Organic.)

We will find a local source of organic tomato sauce at our food co-op, the Honest Weight Food Co-op, HWFC, which does not promote deceptive labeling with theirValued Consumers.” (Thank you to the HWFC Nutrition and Education Committee for being aware of and sensitive to these labeling issues and for beginning work on updating our Food and Product Manual as re. MSG.)

Such nice sounding names, too: Muir GlenSmall Planet Foods …Lärabar with that continental & oh-so-clever-looking umlaut above the a.

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

→ → →CONSUMER ALERT← ← ←

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

       Well, I went and studied the National Organic Program’s National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances for processed products labeled as organic. At first, I could not find citric acid on the “allowed” lists, nor could I find sea salt. I found calcium chloride. Scan §205.605 and §205.606:

§205.605 is the list of “Nonagricultural (nonorganic) substances allowed as ingredients in or on processed products labeled as “organic” or ‘made with organic (specified ingredients or food group(s)).'”

§205.606 is the list of “Nonorganically produced agricultural products allowed as ingredients in or on processed products labeled as ‘organic.'”

Ah ha, correction, I did miss something; I just found citric acid. It wasn’t listed under the “c’s” but under the “a’s”  for acid. It says:

Acids (Alginic; Citric—produced by microbial fermentation of carbohydrate substances; and Lactic).”

It even specifies that the citric acid is “produced by microbial fermentation,” so it is clearly not allowing the natural citric acid, with which we are all familiar, which comes from citrus fruits like grapefruits, lemons, limes, & pineapples. This is the industrial, produced-in-a-lab kind of citric acid.

So, this is the citric acid which contains processed free glutamic acid. And it is allowed in products labeled as organic.

There is a second, allowable use for citric acid, as well, under §205.605:

(b) Synthetics allowed:

Acidified sodium chlorite—Secondary direct antimicrobial food treatment and indirect food contact surface sanitizing. Acidified with citric acid only.

So, in addition to allowing citric acid to be added to organic foods, it can also be used, secondarily, as “direct … food treatment.”

What, exactly, is “direct antimicrobial food treatment?” Is citric acid sprayed on organic foods?  Are organic foods, say vegetables and fruits, washed or soaked in citric acid?

Is that “direct … food treatment” use of citric acid required to be listed on the label? Or are all of our organic foods – our fruits and vegetables – potentially, being treated with citric acid, with no requirement to disclose that fact to consumers?

Now that you’re over there, look at how many ingredients – found on our processed free glutamic acid lists – are also found as “allowed” ingredients in “organic” food!!!

WHAT?!

OMG. WE ARE IN TROUBLE. BIG FOOD AND BIG ORGANIC ALREADY GOT TO THE FEDERAL REGS. WHEN DID THAT HAPPEN? IT IS CONFIRMED here and here: PROCESSED FREE GLUTAMIC ACID IS CONSIDERED AS “ALLOWED” IN U.S. FOODS LABELED AS ORGANIC.

Confirmed: I found carrageenan, xanthan gum and guar gum. There are more ingredients – on  these two USDA NOP lists – which are also found on our lists of ingredients containing processed free glutamic acid!

These are the names of ingredients which likely contain hidden (unknown amounts of) processed free glutamic acid which are allowed to be used in foods labeled as organic, under the USDA National Organic Program or NOP. This list was cross-referenced with available lists of 40+ ingredients which contain hidden processed free glutamic acid:

-Acidified sodium chlorite - Secondary direct antimicrobial food treatment and indirect food contact surface sanitizing. Acidified with citric acid only.
 -Acids (Alginic; Citric - produced by microbial fermentation of carbohydrate substances; and Lactic)
 -Calcium citrate
 -Carrageenan
 -Enzymes - must be derived from edible, nontoxic plants, nonpathogenic fungi, or nonpathogenic bacteria
 -Flavors, nonsynthetic sources only and must not be produced using synthetic solvents and carrier systems or any artificial preservative
 -Gelatin (CAS # 9000-70-8)
 -Gellan gum (CAS # 71010-52-1) - high-acyl form only
 -Gums - water extracted only (Arabic; Guar; Locust bean; and Carob bean)
 -Starches. Cornstarch (native).
 -Whey protein concentrate
 -Xanthan gum
 -Yeast - When used as food or a fermentation agent in products labeled as “organic,” yeast must be organic if its end use is for human consumption; nonorganic yeast may be used when organic yeast is not commercially available. Growth on petrochemical substrate and sulfite waste liquor is prohibited. For smoked yeast, nonsynthetic smoke flavoring process must be documented.

The category of “yeast” is very, very troubling. According to the Truth in Labeling Campaign, it can include (but is not limited to): brewer’s yeast, nutritional yeast, yeast extract and autolyzed yeast. These ingredients are very common in foods labeled organic, especially yeast extract and autolyzed yeast, which  are quite common in vegetarian/vegan plant-based protein sources. In fact, these same plant-based protein sources are highly processed and often  contain multiple sources of hidden MSG.

As for that non-organic sea salt: I couldn’t find it on the federal USDA NOP non-organically produced “allowed” lists anywhere …it shows up everywhere in processed “organic” foods …and we don’t, for a fact, know its source, how it is processed, or if anything is being added to it, like processed free glutamic acid.

Maybe there is some other list where sea salt shows up as safe for human consumption, like the GRAS list (generally regarded as safe)? More research is needed.

Is General Mills’ Muir Glen out of compliance with federal USDA organic labeling standards with this “non-organic sea salt” ingredient?

Somebody needs to send General Mills’ Muir Glen an email…

SUGAR BEETS, THE FOOD USED TO “GROW / FERMENT” MSG IN A LAB, ARE ROUND-UP READY® and GENETICALLY-MODIFIED

        I am currently researching the U.S. sugar beet industry because one method of producing MSG is to use sugar beets in a lab as the sub-strata to grow processed free glutamic acid through a process of bacterial fermentation.

According to this article at The Organic and Non-GMO Report website, Sugar beet industry converts to 100% GMO, disallows non-GMO option, 100% of sugar beet production in the U.S. is now genetically modified (one-half of the U.S. supply of table sugar comes from sugar beets):

Three years ago [that would be in 2005], these processors decided to convert the entire US sugar beet production to Roundup Ready genetically modified varieties, developed by Monsanto Company. [9]

According to Mike Adams, the Health Ranger’s (see below for more information) website, in a 2013 article, MSG and aspartame are the two leading causes of central nervous system damage in the United States, by S.D. Wells, Monsanto has a monopoly on sugar beet production. (BTW, PLEASE. DO. READ. THIS. ARTICLE.: MSG and aspartame are the two leading causes of central nervous system damage in the United States.)

And, according to the Truth in Labeling website,

…since 1957, MSG has also been produced using genetically modified bacteria (genetically modified organisms or GMO’s), that secrete glutamic acid through their cell walls. [9a]

So, processed free glutamic acid (MSG) is being created by industrial fermentation, using genetically modified bacteria being fed Round-Up Ready®, genetically-modified sugar beets.

One must assume this fermentation process must be creating an especially potent and toxic chemical!

In fact, according to this Truth in Labeling article, How are monosodium glutamate and the other ingredients that contain MSG manufactured?, it is.

Yet, I could find no reports on the internet of any testing being done on the effects of this brand new chemical MSG brew  – a byproduct of GMO bacteria ‘eating’ GMO Round-Up Ready® food – upon either lab rats …or humans, their central nervous systems, glutamate receptors/systems, their guts & their biomes.

Just what does this stuff do to your own gut bacteria which are a large part of your immune system? I would like to know.

This – the use of GMO Round-Up Ready® sugar beets – may explain why there are thousands and thousands of anecdotal reports on the internet – over the last ten years – of people reacting even more severely to the hidden processed free glutamic acid (MSG) in our food supply.

As I learn more, I will post about this alarming issue.

FAMILIES, HERE’S YOUR ASSIGNMENT:

“To avoid eating foods enriched with free glutamate requires that the consumer is aware and understands all the precursors to MSG, the food processes that generate MSG, and the many different ingredient labels that contain MSG.” [10]

We are going to specifically zero in processed free glutamic acid contained in foods labeled as “organic.”

1. Print out – or archive on your Smartphone – (after all, we won’t need those Smartphones for reading GMO QR codes for at least another two years) these lists of ingredients which contain processed free glutamic acid. Bring with you when you shop and don’t buy any foods which contain any of these ingredients:

Truth in Labeling Campaign Printable Brochure and List updated as of March, 2014

Unblind My Mind

Battling the MSG Myth

MSG Truth

Say No to MSG

Food Intolerance Network (AU, not US, source)

2. Print out – or archive on your Smartphone – the two lists of USDA National Organic Program’s “substances allowed as ingredients in or on processed products labeled as “organic:” §205.605 and §205.606

3. Compare the lists from #1 and #2, above. Don’t buy organic foods which contain any ingredients with processed free glutamic acid in them.

DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH!

       I already mentioned my favorite, top-notch consumer websites to go to, to find out about, not only GMOs, but MSG – processed free glutamic acid – and how they hide it: Truth in Labeling, their FB Page and blogs about MSG, aspartame, and excitotoxins   (here is Jack Samuels from Truth in Labeling, presenting at a 2008 Weston A. Price Foundation event), Battling the MSG Myth, and a new (to me) list from Australia, the Food Intolerance Network.

Add to this list this incredible Ted-X Santa Cruz Talk by a mom and biochemist, Katherine L. Reid, Ph.D. entitled, Your Ecosystem on MSG. She documents how she began healing her daughter’s autism behaviors by carefully weeding out the processed free glutamic acid in her family’s food.

Could that be read another way? Did the presence of processed free glutamic acid in processed food cause autistic behaviors …and did the removal of processed free glutamic acid return her daughter to health? Go watch the YouTube video of this Mom’s compelling story…

…please take the time right now – it’s only 9 minutes long – and watch Your Ecosystem on MSG.

View a 16 minute, more detailed version, here.

And visit the website of the brand new nonprofit Dr. Reid founded, Unblind My Mind, where “We believe every healing journey begins with a closer look at what we are eating!” Boy, is that right up my alley!

You’ll find Dr. Reid’s blog at Unblind My Mind, here, extremely informative. And here is her list of ingredients containing processed free glutamic acid, which you can cross-check with the lists at the the Truth in Labeling Campaign, Battling the MSG Myth and the Australia Food Intolerance Network.

MSG Truth is another very reputable website founded by former food process engineer and food scientist, Carol Hoernlein. Top notch scientific information! See their list of research about the toxic effects of MSG. MSG Truth also recommends these food & health-related movies to watch: The Beautiful Truth, Food Inc., Fast Food Nation, Sweet Misery, Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? and Vaxxed. Here is MSG Truth’s FB page, for breaking news’ updates about MSG.

Here is MSG Truth’s list of foods to avoid.

Here is an example of an MSG Truth Alert, from their May 4, 2016 FB page:

I’d like to warn you all about a product called Umamix. It is a blatant attempt to mislead the consumer. The product is basically straight glutamate taken from the sources of glutamate I am always warning you about = seaweed (the food MSG was first isolated from) plus concentrated tomato, mushroom and sea salt. They are trying to sell this as a substitute for MSG, but basically it is MSG without the sodium part. [11]

(So, my suspicions about sea salt were right!!! I will read MSG Truth’s FB page and report back what I learn about innocent-sounding “sea salt.”)

Dr. Russell Blaylock, a board certified neurosurgeon, is an acknowledged expert on issues of MSG, aspartame, and excitoxins. Listen to Mike Adams, the Health Ranger interview Dr. Blaylock on MSG and brain-damaging excitotoxins. (Read the text of that March 14, 2012 interview at Truth in Labeling or at Mike Adams’ Natural News.) Read this article by Dr. Blaylock entitled Aspartame, MSG, Excitotoxins and the Hypothalamus and this interview about aspartame, another excitotoxin. Although it was written in 1996, I would still read his book Excitoxins: The taste That Kills. And, I would check out his newsletter, here.

Did you know they are now spraying processed free glutamic acid on growing crops? [12] Is it allowed to be sprayed on certified organic crops? Truth in Labeling and their FB Page will inform you about “AuxiGro.”

Is MSG included as an ingredient used in those sprays of water all the supermarkets and food co-ops use to keep their produce hydrated? Better find out. You have to keep ahead of industry as an alert, informed consumer of organic food.

Mike Adams, the Health Ranger, who hosts a very reputable website, has a 2012 article / video about MSG in vaccines, entitled “New Health Ranger video exposes the truth about MSG, mercury and formaldehyde in vaccines,” here. He has a very recent article, June 17, 2016, entitled “Gluten-free food FRAUD exposed in new Health Ranger video: They’re loaded with MSG and GMO,” here.

BTW, add the Health Ranger to your list of go-to places:

Mike Adams, “known as the “Health Ranger,” is an outspoken consumer health advocate, award-winning investigative journalist, internet activist and science lab director.

He is the founder and editor of NaturalNews.com, the internet’s most-trafficked natural health news website. He is also the creator of CounterThink.com, FoodInvestigations.com, HealingFoodReference.com, HonestFoodGuide.org and several other websites covering natural health topics.

Adams is a prolific writer and has been called “the best health and natural products writer on the scene today.” (by Ronnie Cummins, founder, Organic Consumers Association)

Adams’ new book, Food Forensics, The Hidden Toxins Lurking in Your Food and How You Can Avoid Them for Lifelong Health, just published in July, 2016, appears to be just the ticket for those of us concerned about those invisible, non-labeled ingredients in our food supply, which can harm us. His book promo states:

This book, Food Forensics, is Big Food’s worst nightmare. It exposes the toxic chemicals and heavy metals that Big Food manufacturers are using to POISON you … this breakthrough book is such an important victory for grassroots food consumers (and why Big Food is terrified that this book might succeed…)

Mike Adams has created a website, Science.NaturalNews.com, which archives scientific articles & studies (the food industry won’t willingly publicize); he has made it extremely easy to search.

See these studies about MSG:

2010 Effect of systemic monosodium glutamate (MSG) on headache and pericranial muscle sensitivity
2008 Association of monosodium glutamate intake with overweight in Chinese adults: the INTERMAP Study
2008 Monosodium glutamate (MSG): a villain and promoter of liver inflammation and dysplasia
1991 MSG and hydrolyzed vegetable protein induced headache: review and case studies

Look what I found when I searched!:
2009 Neuroprotective evaluation of extract of ginger (Zingiber officinale) root in monosodium glutamate-induced toxicity in different brain areas male albino rats
2015 Attenuating effect of Lactobacillus brevis G101 on the MSG symptom complex in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study (Aha, L. brevis, one of those “good” bacteria / probiotics!)
2006 Monosodium glutamate-induced oxidative damage and genotoxicity in the rat: modulatory role of vitamin C, vitamin E and quercetin
2012 Quercetin ameliorates glucose and lipid metabolism and improves antioxidant status in postnatally monosodium glutamate-induced metabolic alterations

Buy this book, Food Forensics! Buy Dr. Philip Howard’s, Concentration and Power in the Food System: Who Controls What We Eat? Buy Adrienne Samuals’ The Man Who Sued the FDA and It Wasn’t Alzheimer’s. It Was MSG.  Don’t forget Dr. Russell Blaylock’s Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills; an interview with the ‘Health Ranger’ Mike Adams (audio or print); and The Blaylock Report. And while you’re at it, buy Wenohah Hauter’s new book Foodopoly. Ask your food co-op to stock these books on its shelves. Get a food co-op reading group started – discuss together – and bring your information to the Committee which oversees your co-op’s food buying policies and to your Board of Directors.

Knowledge is power. First step: get the knowledge.

LABELING: BIG ORGANIC’S 21st CENTURY CORPORATE “WORK-AROUNDS”

       Let’s take a minute and recap. How do the labeling strategies for MSG compare to the brand new labeling strategies for GMOs?

Well, in both cases, BIG ORGANIC is the worst offender – moreso than BIG FOOD – because it grabbed the coveted term “organic,” knowingly added dangerous chemicals to those foods – a fact which it is desperate to hide – and then it slapped on a higher price tag, to boot.

Boy are we suckers, or what? (No, by way of kindness to us, we are honest & trusting people who have been taught to simply believe what we read on food labels):

  • With MSG, their corporate labeling divisions devised a slick strategy of removing the “offending” term “MSG” from food labels and replacing it with (anywhere from 50 -129) terms that serve to keep families in the dark as to the presence of MSG. There is still information on the label – it’s just anonymous, camouflaged, in code.
  • With GMOs and the Dark Act, BIG ORGANIC was complicit in taking the “offending” term, “GMOs” right off of the label! Being anonymous and camouflaged wasn’t good enough …GMOs are outright gone from the label – utterly invisible, in fact, non-existent. Gone. Erased. Vanished. (“Out of Sight, Out of Mind:” is that the name of that particular spin doctor campaign or multi million dollar PR, Marketing and Lobbying Plan?)
  • What’s next? Let’s just get rid of labels entirely, they’re in the way?

So, BIG ORGANIC didn’t work to create more healthy, nutritious organic food; rather, it put its corporate energy into becoming more adept at hiding what it doesn’t want you to know.

So, add GMOs to that list of “since it’s invisible and not listed on the food label / product it must be ok to eat and my family is safe.”

Not.

You – my alert, vigilant, they-can’t-pull-the-wool-over-my-eyes family food guardians & watchdogs – are forewarned! What are your family’s “work-arounds” to BIG ORGANIC going to be?

ARE WE ARE ALL BEING DOSED WITH MSG 24 / 7?

       You now understand that MSG aka processed free glutamic acid is present in virtually all processed foods, including processed organic foods. If we eat these processed products, we are being dosed – daily – with an excitotoxin which – in the tiny amounts present in whole, unprocessed, unadulterated foods – our bodies are designed to process; however, when confronted with the toxic levels of “free,” unbound glutamate (“manufactured free amino acid produced in food and/or chemical manufacturing plants[13]) – ingested cumulatively at breakfast, lunch and dinner – our systems cannot cope.

Alarmingly, data compiled in 2010 by Dr. Adrienne Samuels at Truth in Labeling, informs us that The Young are Particularly at Risk for Brain Damage from Ingestion of MSG. [13]

BIG ORGANIC, especially, needs to be exposed for this practice of secretly including MSG aka processed free glutamic acid in its products labeled as “organic.” It is deceptive and harmful to us, our children and our families. Since they won’t stop… …WE NEED TO STOP BUYING THEIR PRODUCTS.

SENOMYX: “YOU THOUGHT MSG WAS BAD?”

       While you are over at Truth in Labeling and their FB Page, look up the American bio-tech company, Senomyx …the newest way to introduce chemicals (via taste) into our food supply. Senomyx is busy getting a bunch of patents on human taste. Yes, you read that correctly!

Senomyx seeks patent protection to cover our discoveries, including:

  • Receptors, and nucleic acid sequences encoding receptors, that are involved in taste
  • The use of taste receptors to identify flavor ingredients
  • New compositions and uses of these compositions as flavor ingredients

As of December 31, 2015, Senomyx is the owner or exclusive licensee of 530 issued patents and several hundred pending patent applications in the U.S., Europe, and elsewhere related to proprietary taste science technologies. We intend to continue to pursue comprehensive intellectual property protection for our evolving technologies. [14]

Mike Adams’ website, Natural News, has an article about Senomyx – ‘Secretive’ Chemicals Being Hidden in Food Under ‘Artificial Flavors’ Label – which ominously begins:

You Thought MSG Was Bad? [15]

Check out the Senomyx website here and their “roster of collaborators,” here. Why am I not surprised that the Ajinomoto company – you know, the one which invented MSG back in 1908 – is one of Senomyx’s “collaborators,” as well as PepsiCo, Firmenich and Nestlé.

A 2005 NY Times article by Melanie Warner reveals additional BIG FOOD involvement:

Kraft, Nestlé, Coca-Cola and Campbell Soup have contracted with Senomyx for exclusive rights to use the ingredients in certain types of food and beverages, although the companies declined to identify those categories. [16]

How many of those Senomyx “collaborators” have “natural” and “organic” corporate arms or subsidiaries? How many of those are utilizing Senomyx proprietary products in their “natural and/or “organic” lines? How would you know?

You know what one (just one) of the side effects of these group of chemicals is purported to be? Temporarily shutting down or disabling your body’s innate ability to perceive bitter / poison through taste.

WHAT?!

Our human system was designed with an innate alert system to warn us if something we are about to eat could poison us. Lifesaving measure! Senomyx products can possibly disable this in a human body?

Doesn’t this warrant further investigation?

Here ya go: Senomyx’s latest Press Release dated August 31, 2016: SENOMYX ANNOUNCES APPROVAL OF BITTERMYX® BB68 AND SWEETMYX® SR96 FLAVOR INGREDIENTS IN CHINA.

Vegetarians and vegans, I’d be alert – their sights are set on you:

Bittermyx BB68 is used to reduce the bitterness of certain ingredients and can be used to reduce bitter taste associated with hydrolyzed soy and whey proteins… [17]

Hydrolyzed soy and whey proteins are on all the consumer ‘hidden MSG lists’ I consulted. A chemical used to cover the bitter taste of another chemical? Do I have that right?

What about all the “organic” foodstuffs our food co-ops are getting from wholesalers like United Natural Foods, Inc. (NASDAQ: UNFI) , which are sourced from China?

…This regulatory approval allows Senomyx to pursue commercialization of these flavor ingredients in China in a wide range of foods and beverages.  These ingredients are available to flavor houses through Senomyx’s direct sales Complimyx® line and can also be commercialized by two Senomyx collaborators in certain product categories… [17]

After reading this Press Release, are you still going to buy any “organic” foods for your family which are sourced from China?

If this sounds way too sci-fi for you – shades of Robert Heinlein, who would advise it’s time to get off the planet, time to find a new one – just go read what Dr. Mercola has to say about Senomyx here and here, and, as well, the take of Truth in Labeling and their FB Page, and Mike Adams’ Natural News.

And don’t expect to find a lot of information on the Web about Senomyx (NASDAQ: SNMX). There appears to be – what is, in this day and age – a virtual news blackout on the Internet relating to this corporation and its patented products …the corporation which is pursuing “comprehensive intellectual property protection for our evolving technologies.”

One day, will a farmer selling an apple have to pay a fee to this corporation because their patent on the taste of “apple” is owned by them?

“CLEAN LABELS” – THAT’S ALL BIG FOOD & BIG ORGANIC CARE ABOUT

       This quote, from Natural News’ ‘Secretive’ Chemicals Being Hidden in Food Under ‘Artificial Flavors’ Label, says it all:

“We are helping companies clean up their labels,” said Kent Snyder, chief executive of Senomyx.

I bet you you thought I was kidding when I said “Revealing” is not the primary goal of a food label anymore.”

Score 1 for the GRASSROOTS ACTION blog!

If you care about “clean food” you’d better get cracking and start researching ’cause this stuff – GMOs, processed free glutamic acid, Senomyx patents – ain’t going away, in fact, it only aims to get worse.

Protect your family.

HERE’S WHAT TO DO: CAVEAT EMPTOR

       The ethical question an alert and informed consumer, family member and food co-op Member-Owner will be compelled to ask is: will I park my family’s food dollars with these “natural” and “organic” corporations which are silently and invisibly putting GMOs, processed free glutamic acid, Senomyx patents, and a host of other additives, preservatives and chemicals into my family’s food?

Buyer beware.

Quite simply, and because you are a Member-Owner of a food co-operative, you will intuitively resonate with these answers:

  1.  Know the source of your food …and stay tightly connected to it.
  2.  Buy local.
  3.  Buy organic.
  4.  Buy fresh.
  5. Eat whole, nutrient-dense foods.
  6.  Support local organic farmers and organic farm families as much as possible.
  7. Don’t buy any foods with more than 5 ingredients. Read ALL labels.
  8. Carry those lists of ingredients containing processed free glutamic acid with you and don’t buy food which contain any of those ingredients.
  9.  Limit or eliminate your purchase of all processed foods: i.e. cook “from scratch.”
  10.  Insist on the fresh produce / meat / cheese which you buy being labelled with its  place or origin (i.e. is the “organic” vegetable from China (non-trusted source) …or is it from a local, truly organic farm 30 miles away?)
  11.  Ask your co-op to develop a policy of doing farm visits: that is, a team of co-op Member-Owners/employees actually conducts regular farm visits to verify the quality of the food.
  12. Grow your own organic foods.
  13. Read the Weston A. Price Foundation website and join WAPF for top-notch food information.
  14. Join NOFA-NY: the Northeast Organic Farmers’ Association.
  15. Finally, get back to being active at your locally-owned food co-operative.
  16. BTW, HWFC Member-Owners, do your research: does the newly-revised, proposed HWFC Food & Product Manual (coming up for a vote very soon) contain adequate language about our buying policies on processed free glutamic acid? …GMOs?

HWFC MEMBER-OWNERS GET INVOLVED!!

       Honest Weight Food Co-op Member-Owners, attendance at Board meetings has fallen off dramatically! We are not out of the woods by any means. You need to stay active, stay current with what is going on in governance and participate in governance.

For example, do you have any idea what has been going on with current bylaws’ revisions? Do you know that you are going to be asked to vote on new bylaws at the October 23, 2016 Membership Meeting? Are you aware that there are important changes being proposed to our bylaws? Do you know what they are? Do you agree with them? Do you have questions …suggestions?

All the 720 people who showed up at our emergency Special membership Meeting on November 30, 2015 need to get re-involved! A co-operative’s backbone is its Member-Owner participation.

Without our Member-Owners’ participation we will become just another one of those nice, cool, über-hip, friendly, natural foods’ grocery stores …and not remain a vibrant, locally-owned, locally-operated and active, grassroots food co-operative …which is tightly connected to its regional organic farming community.

Seriously, folks, the quality of your food is at stake and HWFC is one place we, as consumers, can effect change and can exert control over buying practices, sourcing and the quality of the food we buy. And we can demand that more local, organic food show up  on our co-op’s shelves and in our bins …and we will be listened to! Why? Because WE are the ones in control of the sourcing & quality of food our co-op buys …all of us, together.

And, seriously, there are some undercurrents at HWFC on our Board which need attention. Member-Owners, you are needed to keep balance, add your energy and viewpoints and contribute your time, effort and reason!

Get back up on the HWFC horse! See you at the next Board meeting, Tuesday, September 20, 2016 at 5:45pm at HWFC.

(NOTE: All information provided by this blog is intended solely for consumer educational purposes only and is not intended to offer medical advice, nor substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment of any disease or condition by your doctors and health care providers. Discuss any information with your doctors and health care providers, first.)

© 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 [18]

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

[1] Huff, Ethan A. Are you sensitive to gluten, or just Roundup? American wheat often doused with toxic herbicide before harvest. Natural News, December 04, 2014. See: http://www.naturalnews.com/047962_Roundup_glyphosate_wheat.html

[2] Reid, Dr. Katherine. Reading Labels: “No MSG Added.” Unblind My Mind blog post, January 21, 2014. See: http://unblindmymind.org/2014/01/reading-labels-no-msg-added/

See also: http://www.truthinlabeling.org/V.RegulatoryHistory.html

[3] This 2011 article, MSG For You And A Coffin, Too! Ajinomoto Bribes US Dept of Agriculture and University Professors to Sanctify Poisons, by Dr. Betty Martini, details her concerns about a joint research project carried out by a partnership between Ajinomoto, the creator of MSG, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Listen to this 2013 YouTube clip interviewing Dr. Betty Martini on Sanitas Radio – The Truth About Aspartame, MSG, and Excitotoxins – Segment 1, here, and see her website Mission Possible World Health International and her data about MSG, here.

[4] See the Truth in Labeling Campaign blogsite, unknown date. See: https://www.blogger.com/profile/02130039743339790651.

[5] Truth in Labeling Campaign. Umami: the “fifth taste” that MSG-sensitive people can’t taste. Truth in Labeling Campaign webpage, unknown date. See: http://www.truthinlabeling.org/The%20special%20case%20of%20Umami.htm

[6] Meyers, Ronald L., CNC. EXCITOTOXINS Death by Profit Margin. 2004. See: http://www.wnho.net/excitotoxins_death_by_profit_margin.pdf

[7] Here is the complete text of my email to General Mills’ Muir Glen:

Dear Sir or madam:

     I would be very appreciative if you would answer the following questions for me. We have been longtime customers of your products, particularly because they are organic. My questions pertain to the ingredients in your product “Muir Glen Organic Tomato Basil Pasta Sauce:”

1. Why do you include two products (aside from sea salt) which are NOT organic? Those two products are: citric acid and calcium chloride.

2. Why don’t you include organic citric acid and organic calcium chloride?

3. Do you add any MSG to this product? Do you add any monosodium glutamate to this product?

4. Do any of the individual ingredients used in this product contain MSG or monosodium glutamate?

5. Does this product contain any processed free glutamic acid and/or free glutamic acid?

6. Does the citric acid contain any processed free glutamic acid?

7. Does the calcium chloride contain any processed free glutamic acid?

8. What, if any, is the percentage of processed free glutamic acid in this product?

9. Why do federal organic regulations, as they pertain to food, allow your company to add non-organic citric acid and non-organic calcium chloride to a product labeled as organic?

10. Why does Muir Glen add citric acid and calcium chloride to this product?

11. Would Muir Glen consider making a line of organic tomato sauce which contains no citric acid?

12. Would Muir Glen consider making a line of tomato sauce which contains no calcium chloride?

Thank you for your time. It is my hope that your responses will continue to allow me to purchase your organic products as we have used them for years.

Yours,

[8] Food Identity Theft website. Tomato Sauce Scam webpage. Food Identity Theft Powered by Citizens for Health, unknown date. See: http://foodidentitytheft.com/culprits/tomato-sauce-scam/

[9] The Organic and Non-GMO Report. Sugar Beet Industry Converts to 100% GMO, Disallows Non-GMO Option, June 2008. See: http://www.non-gmoreport.com/articles/jun08/sugar_beet_industry_converts_to_gmo.php

[9a] Truth in Labeling Campaign. What is MSG?  Truth in Labeling Campaign webpage, unknown date. See: http://www.truthinlabeling.org/WhatIsMSG.html.

[10] Reid, Dr. Katherine. Reading Labels: “No MSG Added.” Unblind My Mind blog post, January 21, 2014. See: http://unblindmymind.org/2014/01/reading-labels-no-msg-added/

[11] Hoernlein, Carol. MSG Truth Facebook Page post. May 4, 2016. See: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Msg-Truth/133593600016325

[12] Fassa, Paul. MSG Now Used to Spray Crops. Natural News, April 29, 2009. See: http://www.naturalnews.com/026157.html

[13] Samuels, Adrienne, Ph.D. The Young are Particularly at Risk for Brain Damage from Ingestion of MSG: Data. Truth in Labeling website, accessed September 15, 2016. See: http://www.truthinlabeling.org/Proof_TheYoung_TY.html

[14] http://www.senomyx.com/our-expertise/intellectual-property/

[15]  McKinley, Jennifer. ‘Secretive’ Chemicals Being Hidden in Food Under ‘Artificial Flavors’ Label.  Natural News, April 10, 2008. See: http://www.naturalnews.com/022982.html

[16] Warner, Melanie. Food Companies Test Flavorings That Can Mimic Sugar, Salt or MSG. New York Times, April 7, 2005. See: http://www.nytimes.com/learning/teachers/featured_articles/20050407thursday.html as posted to the New York Times’ Learning Network, “a blog for parents, teachers and students that is freely available outside of the New York Times digital subscription service, and does not require registration.”

[17] Senomyx, Inc. Senomyx Announces Approval of Bittermyx® BB68 and Sweetmyx® SR96 Flavor Ingredients in China. Press Release, August 31, 2106. See:  http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/senomyx-announces-approval-of-bittermyx-bb68-and-sweetmyx-sr96-flavor-ingredients-in-china-300320418.html

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

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

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

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.

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

WE HAVE A BUDGET! WE MEMBER-OWNERS ACCEPTED A 4% REDUCTION! (YAHOO? <smile>)

The results from last night’s Honest Weight Food Co-op Quarterly Membership Meeting and Budget vote are as follows (I’m echoing official vote tallies from this morning’s Inside Scoop)

Vote Results 

Budget Passed, Discount Passed

224 Members checked in, along with 2 Shareholders, and 3 Provisional Voters

Vote to adopt the 2016-2017 Budget:
196 Yes, 23 No

Vote to approve member discount reduction ending June 30, 2017:
184 Yes, 36 No

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

Congratulations to our Board, Treasurer, Finance Committee, and acting GM and his staff, for putting together a plan which we all agreed to live with. The presentation last night (and in all the Budgetary Presentations leading up to last night) was superb! Jim Guzewich got a solid round of applause. One Member stated, it was the best financial presentation we can remember in many, many years. Clear, concise, factual and well laid out. Thank you!

And thank you to our Membership Committee for – once again – doing a superb job of organizing the meeting! We appreciate your hard work!

Not only are there -0- planned employee lay-offs in this budget, the staff is getting a 3% raise (based upon brand new staff assessment tools, which go into effect on July 1). The 3% is intentionally graded: the staff on the lowest salary tiers (where the majority of our staffing is) will receive the largest of the salary increases (again, based upon new employee performance criteria); those who make more per hour will see a lower increase (based upon the new employee performance criteria).

The budget includes for likely increases to the cost of staff health and dental plans; thus protecting two important benefits to our employees at HWFC.

There is a freeze on new employee hires, which is a necessary belt-tightening measure.

This budget did an excellent job of protecting our current employees at HWFC, given the economy, and given that many local employers within this industry are either not giving COLAS and/or raises, they are giving less than 3%, or they are downsizing.

We should be proud that we voted for a plan which managed to do these things for our employees!

Member-Owner employees and Member-Owners who work weekly took the brunt of the cuts in the budget: a 4% cut, with our 24% discount going down to 20%. However, it will pop back up to 24% in the 2nd Q (from October 1- December 31) to account for increased holiday shopping. It will drop back down to 20% from January 1 – June 30, 2017.

If we all do our parts – and that is a tall order! – we can see that 24% go back to permanent status on July 1 , 2017. Keep that as a goal and watch each quarterly budget report like a hawk! Hey Owners, we gotta “watch the till” and keep us moving in a positive growth direction!

Quite a change to the Member Meeting last June, don’t you think!

One of the most important parts of the evening, for me, was when Chris Colarusso and Rita Nolan stood up and reminded us about our situation one year ago. It was last year – at the June Membership Meeting and Annual Budget Vote, that Chris and Rita stood up and warned us not to vote for a decrease in our Member-Owner discount, as that (former) Board was requesting of us.

It took them a great deal of determination and grit to be allowed to get on that agenda (and they were only allowed, I think, ten minutes); and they took a barrage of criticism at the meeting from a select few. (You may remember the shouting …and those microphones “mysteriously” dropping-out …at inopportune moments for (only) the Member-Owner speakers). (Did they think we were born yesterday? And, hey, I’m a musician, I know from microphones!)

Never-the-less, that was the wake-up call for some of us; that moment, last June, when two lone individuals stood up, together, bucked the crowd, went against the prevailing wind of the reigning Board & Management ..and shouted a warning cry across the hull of our co-op.

Except they did not shout. They spoke simply, eloquently and passionately.

That took a great deal of courage. Chris and Rita, thank you.

Chris reminded us that it was only four months later – in October, 2015 – that we petitioned for an Emergency Special Membership Meeting and she said, “We wouldn’t be here today if we hadn’t done that.

She got a solid round of applause for that. We know.

I remind everyone reading today, that is was Chris Colarusso who brought that petition for an emergency meeting to challenge the machinations of an out-of-control Board & Management, to the Member-Owners on the morning of Saturday, October 23, 2015.

Chris then went on to assure us that the budget we were being presented with this time, this year, was factual, accurate, complete, verified …and trustworthy (unlike last year’s, as we now know).

She and Rita recommended – one year later – that we all vote for a cut to our Member-Owner discount and that we support the budget.

We listened to them. We believed their words last June, and voted no to a reduction to our discount …and we believed their words this June. We voted yes to a 4% cut and we supported the new budget.

~~~

Every once in a while, in life, you are witness to a moment, moments – fleeting and ephemeral – which are remarkable in their power to positively affect and change human life …to positively and greatly change a community for the better.

And, sometimes, just sometimes, you are aware of those moments.

Such a moment happened last night, when Chris and Rita stood up, when I reflected back to them standing in that same spot last year…

…and I realized: these two people – whom we are all blessed to know! – quietly took a stand and moved an entire food co-op.

GRASSROOTS ACTION and Invasives ARE POWERFUL!

Posted by Laura Hagen, HWFC Member-Owner

GRASSROOTS ACTION IS POWERFUL!

Today, my usual quote from 1790 by John Philpot Curran, about “eternal vigilance,” [1] is replaced by this – clearly derivative – quote about “incessant vigilance” from 1859:

“At the outbreak of the Civil War, bindweed was becoming quite troublesome … William Darlington (1782-1863) [made] this comparison in 1859: ‘We are told that incessant vigilance is the condition on which alone the rights of freemen can be maintained…I believe the farmer will find a similar condition annexed to the preservation of his premises [from bindweed].'” [2]

REMINDER: Please attend tonight’s May 3, 2016 HWFC Board meeting at 5:45pm at HWFC. Attend & remind others, too. See you there!

REMINDER: Don’t forget to see this month’s Co-op Voice, here.


   LESSER BINDWEED, the POSSESSION WEED

          I am a gardener. So were my Dad and Mom and they taught their children well! My worldview, when push comes to shove, always comes down to a gardening metaphor. Think about it, anything that happens to you in life …is also happening in a garden.

I adore gardening books, with their exquisite botanical drawings – some of which I inherited from my Dad’s wonderful collection  – books I remember flipping through when I was a child. Dad’s well-thumbed 1957 edition of Geraniums Pelargoniums by Helen Van Pelt Wilson, with water colors and line drawings by Natalie Harlan Davis; The Nursery Manual from 1896 and the 1910 Manual of Gardening both by the famous Liberty Hyde Bailey and the 1926 Garden Guide The Amateur Gardeners’ Handbook by Alpheus T. De La Mare (whose wife, Mrs. A. T. De La Mare, had a rhododendron named after her!)

I would recommend not using Garden Guide  The Amateur Gardeners’ Handbook, if you need help narrowing down choices for your garden. I salivated over these descriptors:

the geranium … well deserves its commanding place among the most satisfactory of old-fashioned flowers. …its magnificent trusses of  single, semi-double or double flowers, surmounting a wealth of bright green, healthy foliage … never fails to gain the highest admiration. (p. 115)

The hardy Pinks [Dianthus] rank with the time-honored gems of the old-fashioned garden. Splendidly adapted for beds and borders, they deserve a place in every garden, not only on  account of their great beauty and free-blooming qualities, but also for their usefulness as cut flowers. (p. 133)

The Poppy [Papaver] should be given a place in every garden, it is so graceful and delicate and beautiful. There is nothing more fairy-like than a bed of these grand single poppies, with their long, slender stems surmounted by silken blooms of the most charming tints. (p. 134)

Could the real beauty of the coloring of the Iris [Greek for rainbow] be expressed in words, such a description would be a masterpiece. …it is most dainty and elegant and surpassed by few other flowers. (p. 118)

It is very interesting to grow amusing looking flowers; the Snapdragon is such, for each flower is a lion’s head; one must merely press the sides of the head and the mouth opens. (p. 135)

I remember the time when my father surprised & delighted my brother and me when he expertly snipped off a pink snapdragon bloom for each of us – their fragrance was powerful on a winter’s day in the warm, moist greenhouse! – and taught us how to make the lion roar. Although I do remember pondering at the time, why wasn’t the flower called a snaplion because weren’t we – in point of fact – making a lion snap, not a dragon? (Dad had, quite clearly, read & studied Mr. Alpheus T. De La Mare’s book!)

Totally devoid of color drawings, simply reading De La Mare’s chapter – Some Garden Favorites and How to Grow Them – will fire your imagination, scratch your plant collector’s itch, and have you running to your local nursery (come to HWFC and buy beautiful, local, organically-grown perennials!), spending your annual garden budget in one fell swoop!

Two of my favorite modern gardening books, notable for their exquisite art nouveau artwork, layout and enchanting essays are edited by Ferris Cook: Remembered Gardens and Garden Dreams. And, of course, the 2004 Bungalow Details: Exterior by Jane Powell, with Linda Svendsen, photographer [the bungalow author/photographer team to read] and Paul Duchscherer’s 1999 Outside the Bungalow: America’s Arts and Crafts Garden, are treasures for the owners of modest bungalows & homes who wish to create welcoming outdoor rooms & quiet sanctuary for our guests & friends. [3]

Published in 1870, the short My Summer in a Garden by Charles Dudley Warner, an American novelist, essayist and onetime co-editor of the Hartford Courant, is a must-read. Warner says,

To own a bit of ground, to scratch it with a hoe, to plant seeds, and watch the renewal of life – this is the commonest delight of the race, the most satisfactory thing a man can do. [4]

Warner was a Hartford, CT neighbor, friend and co-author with humorist & author Mark Twain, who contributed this gem to our base of American horticultural knowledge:

A cauliflower? Just a cabbage with a college education. [5]

(As as aside: can you imagine if, every Sunday morning over your cup of tea or coffee, you could read Mark Twain’s blogpost?! O.M.G. ROTFL!)

Of course, the beloved children’s book The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett – a tale of healing through gardening – cannot be missed by both young and old!

~~~~~

       These old garden books teach our families in words that are as relevant today as they were almost 100 years ago. Once again, looking to the 1926 Garden Guide  The Amateur Gardeners’ Handbook we food co-op people find sage advice:

The hygienic value of fresh vegetables and fruits is beyond question; their value to the family cannot be estimated in terms of money. The writer knows this and thousands of fortunate suburbanites will testify to its truth. A good garden is Nature’s antidote for all ills flesh is heir to; it certainly does not make for a source of revenue to the physician. Fresh fruits and vegetables, each in their season, taken from your garden, are something quite different from the much handled and frequently stale products one buys in the city. [6]

If you have not yet read Jean Giono’s 1953 The Man Who Planted Trees, go now and order it from your library. This book will inspire you to remember that every seed you plant, every plant you tend, matters.

LESSONS IN THE GARDEN

          Now, one of the things gardeners are good at is observing and being aware of patterns: spring comes after winter, for example – that’s an easy one – or the plants which get more than enough sun, thrive, or if you forget to pinch off the tips of your plants they get leggy.

We all know that the plants with the best compost & growing conditions, seem to always grow the biggest, sweetest, juiciest vegetables & fruits.

Patterns that harm are also noticed by the attentive gardener, for example: not enough sunlight, too much water, poor soil, not enough bees, too little NP or K, or an invasive doing its level best to take over …these can all threaten the beauty, the charm & delight, the stability & function and the co-dependence of things in a well-ordered garden.

A striving for balance is most important.

Since I was a kid, my father taught me to look for patterns, to seek for data & answers and to draw comparisons …that’s the gardener’s daughter training in me. Simile and metaphor were Dad’s favorite teaching tools. He regularly questioned my brother and me:

Why do seedlings need their potting soil loose? Why do air bubbles pop up when you water a pot? Why is that good for the roots? Why do tomato plants have prickly, spiny hairs on their stems? What happens when you forget and leave water lying in the soil around roots? What happens to this geranium cutting if you plant the stem too deep? Why did these plants die and these plants live? Why do flowers smell? What’s the first thing you should always do after you transplant any plant? What’s turning these leaves yellow?

What happened when you forgot to water these plants on Friday, Laura?

The most important questions inevitably involved soil, worms (a gardener’s best friends) [Thank you Jessica, for those composter redworms!] …and gold. Gold, as in What’s ‘black gold,’ oh daughter o’ mine and people of my people?

This daughter knew Dad meant – not the shiny, golden metal! – oh, no, he was referring to the deep, dark, rich, moist stuff created, like magic, from garden scraps: the treasure piles tucked away somewhere in a garden’s corners, silently created by heat, micro organisms, decay …and time.

My favorite lesson involved strawberries. Why do these strawberries taste better than those strawberries?

Now this was something I was an expert at. My berry-red tongue could easily distinguish the best strawberry plants, and often did, especially when picking quarts of strawberries for hours on end, for Dad to sell. He kept telling my brother and me we were eating into his profits, we were worse than the bugs. We didn’t care! For my Dad grew a damned good strawberry.

My mother’s chiding of me, as her adult, married, daughter, didn’t touch on the nuclear topics like Are you sure he’s the right man for you? or my delinquent housekeeping habits with Geez, Laura something stinks in your refrigerator, you didn’t notice?

No, as we sat together on my front porch one sunny, summer’s day, Mom’s fingers busily moving, expertly dancing over my baskets of petunias, she gently poked Gee, Laura, you behind on your deadheading, or what? Your poor plants!

INVASIVES

          One spring day, I was about 10, a question came up about invasives in a garden. What were they?

Slugs.

The subject came up while Dad, my brother and I were kneeling around some seedlings. I had just picked up a moist flat of – something, some annual, marigolds, portulacas, alyssum? – shaded next to the greenhouse (Dad had my little brother and I schlepping flats from here to there, and there to here – something we seemed to do a lot of as kids) and underneath my fingertips I felt a mass of wet, thick, cool, gushy, slimy blobs. Like lightening, I quick-released that flat straight down to the ground which, of course, smashed my flip-flopped toes, making me jerk sideways, causing my glasses to fly off, while I screamed in pain. This was followed by me jumping up and down, dancing around and howling, while I wiped my slimed fingers rapidly up and down my shorts. Yeecchhh.

My father and brother stopped dead. In unison, they both turned and quietly stared up at me.

Yes, alright so I got all girly-girl but come on. Gushy? Wet? Slimy? Cold? Can’t see ’em? You know there’s more lurking? A girl simply has to draw the line somewhere.

Anyway, I’m wiping slime off my hands, glaring at the eight market-pac mess of seedlings at my feet, and there goes Dad – squatting to help me rescue my dirt-smudged glasses (and his seedlings) – launching into teaching mode: why’re there slugs on that particular flat bottom? How do you get rid of them? Is there any place you can think of where they really could be a beneficial, Laura? [No.]

You see, most everything – from a gardener’s standpoint – can either be classified as an invasive …or a beneficial.

You know where slugs shake down.

~~~

          Another favorite “it’s gotta go” conversation around the gardener’s cottage was, “THAT damned woodchuck.” It involved a woodchuck who had taken up residence in the compost pile behind the greenhouse one spring. He just appeared out of nowhere, beady little eyes glinting as he waddled here and waddled there. Waddled because he was getting fat off the tasty morsels Dad threw in that pile every day! All he had to do was roll out of bed every morning, open his mouth …and eat! Woodchuck heaven!

Every evening that spring Dad would tractor home from the greenhouse for dinner, muttering and cursing as he came through the front door, replaying his latest scheme to get rid of THAT woodchuck. He tried everything. You name it. He had to because THAT woodchuck had discovered the wooden sill, above the fieldstone foundation of the greenhouse, and he was bent on eating the whole thing, stem to stern.

The compost pile just wasn’t tasty enough for him anymore, he had moved on to bigger and better things – or maybe he was just sharpening his teeth, I dunno – but anyway this now directly involved him cutting into Dad’s time and profit. And that had to stop.

Well, “everything” didn’t work. I know it involved poisons, traps, schemes, and lots of cursing and reading up at night, because we were told, in no uncertain terms, Kids, stay away from THAT compost pile!

Dad’s solution (the one which worked) – we ended up hearing second-hand from Mom, because Dad refused to talk about it at dinner that night – involved his grandfather’s shotgun …and a firm resolve to move THAT compost pile when he had time to get around to it. (Which never happened, gardens and greenhouses and priorities being what they are.)

~~~

          Now, weeds, I won’t even go into the subject of my Dad and weeds. Practical, he was a huge fan of black plastic and, also, straw mulch – which he grew and harvested – and an even bigger fan of one’s children being roped in (as often as possible) after school got out.

Benevolent – rather, damned wily – he (rather, Santa) provided my brother and me one Christmas with portable, battery-operated transistor radios you could hook on your bike’s handlebars, the hottest thing! (Oh, how innocent and thankful we were in December …and oh how jaded by May).

But, the world now opened up to us! We could each tune into our favorite rock & roll station…

…in the greenhouse, that is.

After school, all the other kids had their transistors perched next to their school books on their desks at home. My brother and I, on the other hand, had to search for ours …pushing aside market pacs, fresh with new seedlings or digging with soil-encrusted fingers among the piles of dying weeds we had just pulled, trying to fine tune the dial to AM 77 WABC’s Scott Muni [scroll to 1′ 57″ for a promo to join the Beatles’ fan club] and Dan Ingram [scroll here to 3′ 36″ for a “W A Beatles C” Beatles’ hits promo] and Cousin Brucie [click on the Airchexx icon below the article] and The Beatles.

…Listen, doo dah doo, do you want to know a secret, doo dah doo, Do you promise not to tell? Wo-o-o-oh, Closer, doo dah doo, let me whisper in your ear... [7]

Nobody could stop me from jumping up and practicing my twist moves among the strawberries, when Twist and Shout [scroll to 4′ 51″] came on, lemme tell you!

Yes, my brother and I were among the generation of kids who anxiously awaited each new Beatles’ hit as it came out and listened over & over (driving our parents’ crazy!) ’til we got all the words right (or not). When Hey Jude first aired, I thought it was the most beautiful song I had ever heard. Ditto, Let it Be. [This is the first time I ever saw this Beatles’ Hey Jude clip; it has 19+ million views on YouTube! It first aired in the US on October 6, 1968 on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.] [You  gotta just love musicians, don’t you?]

I remember Mom – who always had the radio on, singing while she worked in her flower shop – singing Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da. (Most parents at that time tried to ignore the youth phenomenon that was Beatlemania and the Beatles. Not Mom.)

There she is, tinny radio blasting into the hot, humid greenhouse, watering the coleus & begonias, alternating swinging her hips with pulling the hose, as she smiles over at her shy, teenage daughter and belts out …life goes on, La la how the life goes on.. [8]

My mom and her beautiful, sweet voice could have been a singer with the band!

And I secretly (I can now finally admit) also adored the Monkees (Micky was my favorite). I lay that shame to rest as I join the Monkees singing Neil Diamond’s I’m a Believer and point you to this 2011 version of them singing Neil Diamond’s A Little bit Me, A little Bit You! [I love the sax player, one of the rare female instrumentalists in an industry rife with boys’ bands.] And here’s WABC’s Cousin Brucie, in 1967, introducing the Monkees’ #1 hit, Daydream Believer [scroll to 1′ 20″] from a special Christmas Show taped and sent to “thousand of guys in Viet Nam…”

~~~~~

Slugs & woodchucks & weeds, oh my! We do have a long history together!

INVASIVES USUALLY HAVE SUPERIOR CAMO

          My favorite invasives’ story – as an adult, now – involves a thing of great beauty. It is a plant – a weed, actually – which is one of the twelve weeds featured on my set of “good dishes,” the “company” and holiday dishes. (Yes, I feed my company on weeds.) It’s a pattern from Portmeirion from Stoke-on-Trent called the Queen’s Hidden Garden. It includes six different patterns, with two different flowers in each pattern, for a total of twelve …weeds.

You will not, however, find these twelve weeds in any old garden. They all reside uniquely and together in the Queen’s garden at Buckingham Palace in England: weeds as treasure which pleases a Queen!

The book, by Sir David Bellamy, called Queen’s Hidden Garden: Buckingham Palace’s Treasury of Wild Plants, tells the story and includes the exquisite botanical paintings by Marjorie Lyon, used to adorn Portmeirion’s lovely dishes.

So, a few years back I was in my garden, in the morning, and I notice this beautiful, delicate, viny kind of plant. Thin, elegant leaves. It had trumpet-shaped blossoms that looked just like a morning glory, with paper-thin, delicate white petals and a blushing, light pink tinge toward the center.

The blooms appeared in the morning – unraveling exactly like a morning glory – and faded as the day waned, just like a morning glory.

I admired the plant, assumed it was some kind of a wild morning glory, decided to let it alone, and moved on to weeding down the row.

A few days later, I wandered over to that same area of the garden. This time, that beautiful, delicate plant seemed to have spread. And there was a defined thickish web of vines present now. No matter, I admired the blooms – again, this time so many more of them! how lovely! and made a mental note to come back in a week and tackle this area.

In the back of my mind the subtext is Beautiful flowers, multiplying effortlessly …and I didn’t have to do a thing. Jackpot!

I was taken in: I got schnookered. Bamboozled! Conned!! Flimflammed!!!

Well, three weeks later I made it back. Talk about muscling in! I, literally, could not find my garden. (And, you have to understand, my garden consists of perennials which – my gardener girlfriend “C” and I both agree on this – have to pass the litmus test of can’t kill ’em with a blowtorch before we’ll ever plunk down hard-earned cash: hostas being just one example of same.) I could, however, beneath a 2″ impenetrable mat of thin, delicate, viny, green stems, see the tips of what once was my garden …layered atop with an absolute profusion of glorious, smiling, delicate morning glory blossoms, beckoning and waving gently in the morning breeze, singing Come Hither! to any bee wandering the neighborhood.

Something clicked in my brain. Something looked familiar from somewhere.

I threw off my gardening gloves, ran into the house, and opened the corner cabinet with my good dishes and searched among the six different dinner plates ’til I found the one I was seeking. (Yes, in my family we run to dishes to check horticultural facts, as opposed to the more customary pages of a plant encyclopedia.) Clover blossoms and the corolla of those morning glories, paired so beautifully together, thank you God for artists like Marjorie Lyon!

There, in front of me, blooms painted in pale pink colors with grey-green, arrowhead-shaped leaves, was my morning glory plant. Or, I should say, that plant that looked like a morning glory, behaved like a morning glory and charmed like a morning glory. So innocent looking! So, delicately drawn! A flower a Queen adores! One of twelve. [Carolynn, that one is for you.]

Its name, my book now informed me, is: Lesser bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis L.).

THAT WHICH WE CALL A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME WOULD SMELL AS SWEET…[9]
(In other words, it ain’t what it’s called but what it is that counts)

Byndweed…is as it wer[e] an [imperfect] worke of nature learning to make lilies.
1562 [10]

          Lesser bindweed is also know as Field bindweed or European bindweed, Withy wind, Withwind, Bellbine, Corn-bind, Sheepbine, Bearbind, [Anythingbind!], Creeping Jenny, Devil’s guts, Laplove, and Possession vine. The ancient Romans called it volucrum majus,  literally meaning “a large worm that wraps itself in vines.” Its scientific name, Convolvulus arvensis, comes from the Latin verb, convolvere, meaning “to roll together” or “to entwine,” and arvens, Latin for “of the field.” [11]

A 1710 herbal, Botanologia The English Herbal or History of Plants Adornd with Figures The whole in Alphabetical order, written by William Salmon, M.D. (and dedicated to, who else but The Queen), gives us woodcuts of bindweed, including Bindweed Common (looks very familiar doesn’t it!) and informs us,

This Great Bind-weed is so like unto Scammony [a bindweed native to Eastern Mediterranean countries], that … one would think it to be one of the kinds of Scammony, whose many slender winding Stalks run up, and wind themselves upon whatever stands next, or near to them. [12]

What?! Stalks that run up and wind themselves on whatever stands near to them? You mean the names “Sheepbine” and “Bearbind” may actually have a basis in reality? I suspected as much.

Being a curious soul, I decided to check further back in history, maybe this 1710 citation was an aberration. Let’s go back 100 years or so, to the most popular 17th century herbal. This 1597 London herbal, John Gerarde’s The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes dedicated To The Right Honorable His Singvlar Good Lord And Master, Sir William Cecill Knight, Baron of Burghley [etc. etc. etc.] … and Lord High Treafurer of England (of course, the Lord High Treasurer of England …not the Queen, but Gerarde knew where his bread was buttered) had this to say about Blew Bindweed:

Blewe Bindweed bringeth foorth long, tender, and winding branches, by which it climeth vpon things that ftand neere vnto it, and fouldeth it felfe about them with many turnings and windings, wrapping itfelfe againft the funne contrarie to al other things whatfoever, that with their clafping tendrels do imbrace things that ftand neere vnto them… [13]

So, in 1597 Bindweed’s clasping tendrels embraced things; not quite so bad as in 1710 when the stalks ran up and wound themselves around whatever stood nearby! Not much else new here, except I am a teeny bit worried about “wrapping itself against the sun contrary to all other things whatsoever,” and that term “fouldeth it felfe” (which is probably “foldeth itself”) but – I’m now thoroughly jaded – sounds a little too close to “soldereth itself” for my comfort.

Gerarde’s 16th c. woodcuts of some “Rough Bindweeds” and some “Great smooth” and “Small gentle” bindweeds are … well, as viny then as they are now!

Gerarde informs us that Plinie (C. Plinius Secundus or Pliny the Elder who died in 79 CE [AD]) knew of Bindweed; Gerarde states: [Plinie] “who writheth in his 24. booke 10. chapter, that it is also surnamed Nicophoron.” (BTW, Pliny’s book was dedicated to the Emperor Titus. QueenLord High Treasurer of EnglandEmperor. I’m beginning to recognize a pecuniary pattern here, as an author.) [14]

Well, I went back and checked Pliny’s Natural History, here and here. Some scribe got something wrong – unless I got it wrong, more likely; I couldn’t find Nicophoron in Chapter 10 of book 24. (And BTW, the first click-on is the 1847-1848 re-publication of the first English translation done by Dr. Philemon Holland in 1601. The second click-on is the more complete 1855 English version translated by John Bostock, M.D., F.R.S. and H.T. Riley, Esq., B.A.)

Pliny’s Natural History was among the first of the classical Greek and Roman texts to be printed (mass produced books using moveable type, as opposed to being hand-written in manuscript form) during the Renaissance; it was published in Venice in 1469! (The Gutenberg Bible was first printed by moveable type in 1454 or 1455, so you can see how important Pliny’s book must have been to Renaissance culture.)

Pliny, himself, was born in 23 CE [AD] in Verona, Italy; Verona is the same city which Shakespeare memorialized in Romeo and Juliet roughly 1,574 years later!

Now, did you happen to notice what you and I  have just, together, done? We stepped into the equivalent of the Ancient Library of Alexandria, built in the 3rd c. BCE [BC]!! Indiana Jones’s we are, indeed! Lured by the tantalizing trail of books and manuscripts, which begins when you but open to a page… …or click on your browser!

STOP. AN OFFICIAL ASIDE, SOTTO VOCE: LIBRARIANS, MY HEROES!

          Do you realize what we just did? We just jumped from a 21st c. blog, to a 1710 book, to a 1597 book, to a 1601 English translation of a book (in Latin) started in 77 CE. (Yes, I said 77.)  That book’s author, Pliny the Elder, died in 79 CE during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius at Pompeii!

We were just perusing the words of an author who started writing his book 1,939 years ago!

Marvel at this for just one moment.

Up until very, very recently, you  could only view these books at a physical library, maybe somewhere far, far away. You had no chance in your life of ever seeing these books and, as important, of reading & studying their contents.

Now, here we are thumbing the pages of books and manuscripts, going back 2,000 years, virtually!

I’ll bet you never thought you’d end up taking this kind of a journey when you started reading a blogpost about flowers and invasives, did you!

You have simply got to love libraries and the librarians, who are the most unsung heroes I know of! Thank you to all librarians out there for the work that you do for all of us, including all the digital librarians out there! (Especially to David Lasocki, music librarian & recorder researcher extraordinaire!)

Please consider donating to the 501 (c)(3) Internet Archive, here, which is one of the groups responsible for digitally archiving books & manuscripts from many centuries, so that we all may benefit. Brewster Kahle is the Founder & Digital Librarian of the Internet Archive. Support their work!

See also the awesome Project Gutenberg which “offers over 50,000 free ebooks … free epub books, free kindle books…” here; read about its founder, Michael S. Hart, and consider donating to Project Gutenberg.

BACK TO THE 16th C. AND BYNDWEED

         That 1562 quote, above, (“Byndweed…is as it wer[e] an [imperfect] worke of nature learning to make lilies.[10] ) even earlier than Gerarde’s 1597 herbal, doesn’t pull any punches; it states right out there that byndweed is a mistake of nature.

In a future blogpost I will report back what Shakespeare himself, who lived from 1564-1616 (and who was two when somebody astutely deemed Bindweed a mistake of nature), had to say about Byndweed. He can’t have ignored a plant so rich in metaphoric possibility!

Trust me, he didn’t, and what I uncovered is truly very, very interesting for those interested in horticultural history!

I LIVE, THEREFORE I WEED.

          Any gardener who has ever had to tackle Lesser bindweed knows that what you see on the surface is only 1/1,000th  of what’s going on underground. In fact, that last time I saw the profusion of blossoms – making a mental note to get to it – I remember thinking: Jeez Luise, this plant spreads like it has roots all over the length and breadth of our backyard and down to China!

Turns out I was not too far off. The hidden root structure of lesser bindweed is famous for just that pattern. It starts out its life – just six weeks in – with tap roots down to 2 feet and six lateral roots, for good measure (a belt & suspenders kind of a plant). One lesser bindweed plant can spread outward ten feet in just one season. Three seasons unchecked and its roots spread laterally 18 feet and penetrate to a depth of 30 feet!

If you thought I was kidding about the bindweed root system, see Gerarde’s 16th c. woodcut of the roots of the Rough Bindweed of Peru.

Now, that’s just one plant! What about the seeds?

The seeds of C. arvensis may remain viable in the soil up to 50 years and around 144 hours in the stomachs of some migrating birds. [15]

A bird, traveling up to six days from somewhere, can fly over your garden, deposit some bindweed seeds on the fly, behind your back, and with you none the wiser?

So, although this plant is featured as one of the twelve weeds beloved in the Queen’s hidden garden by the Queen of England herself, and I greatly admire its beauty in my hidden garden (hidden, at the moment, by Lesser bindweed)…

…as a gardener I know to ruthlessly rip it out when I see it beginning to wind its innocent, delicate, thin fronds and tendrils up to the tippy tops of my tall vegetables, herbs, best-loved perennials and, especially, roses (those things with thorns which draw my blood when they and lesser bindweed meet). I don’t waste a minute, I don’t fret or mourn, I simply strip it away from the garden plants I cherish …and deep six it in a hot compost pile. Burning it is an even better option because when your back is turned, bits of its rhizome can re-sprout – repeatedly!

I don’t have the luxury of a bevy of Under and Over and Head Gardeners, tending to the Twelve Royal Weeds. If its gotta go, its gotta go now, while it’s in front of my nose!

Seeds, rhizomes, lightning-speed growth, birds spreading its progeny from the air, and monster tap & lateral roots: coupled with its innocent & fetching beauty, this plant is a force of nature, evilly propagating itself into eternity here on earth!

This noxious plant is, in fact, the evil perennial relation to the innocent annual Morning glory I tenderly baby in a south-facing bed near the porch. However well-camouflaged, however pretty, and however fetching, it is an enchantress, an invasive and a parasite of the worst order. Weak-stemmed, with no spine of its own, it grows up and over everything and anything in its path, gaining ground by stealing its support from other plants. It gains, I’m sure, 12″ a day, each & every hot summer’s day (of course snickering while your back is turned, like that monstrous, evil Venus Flytrap, Audrey II, in the 1986 movie Little Shop of Horrors).

It is a gardener’s worst nightmare. It will choke, smother and kill any patch of garden it attaches itself to. It will assume charge and take over. That is its nature as a parasite (well, technically it’s not a parasitical plant, it might be an epiphyte …well, technically it’s not an epiphyte …and since there are no agronomists to hand… …ahem  …oh, except my brother and he will know, when he reads this. Back atcha, bro!)

Not only is Lesser bindweed on the noxious weed list for 35 states, it

has an impressive array of survival techniques which has enabled it to become one of the world’s 10 worst weeds. [emphasis added] [16]

So, I have to do my job, and protect the plants I both need for life & health …and cherish for beauty.

Therefore, I weed.

It is an evil twist of fate that this plant is not called Greater bindweed, it is called Lesser bindweed. Lord help me, I wonder just how bad Greater bindweed is? Lesser is clearly the Greater of two evils and someone clearly misnamed it! (By the way, just like butterflies. Shouldn’t they be called flutterbys? Somebody got that wrong, too!)

Perhaps in the naming, that first gardener sought to provide needed camouflage to this deadly, invasive beauty. [17]

It’s name belies its power!

Lesser bindweed lives by supporting itself upon the backs of other plants, creeping, choking, twisting, entwining, binding, smothering, and killing to gain the upper hand.

Nice.

The utter, destructive, planet-wide power of this camouflaged, invasive Lesser bindweed must have come from a curse: the Bindweed Curse, I’m guessing. (Do you have a better answer?)

Allow me drop into fantasy for just a moment: I’m imagining the hypnotic, powerful & frightening voice of the wizard, Gandalf the Grey (the beloved Ian McKellan – you did see him in Mr. Holmes?!), darkly and invisibly intoning a curse uncovered, placed secretly over the world – and my little patch of garden – centuries ago. (Please do not utter out loud, ever Ash nazg thrakatulûk   Agh burzum-ishi krimpatul. …One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind[weed] them In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.) [18]

Now, it did not escape my attention when I first read J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring when I was 12, that it was a gardener whom Frodo Baggins chose to go with him on his perilous journey to Mordor. Whom else? I’ll bet Master Samwise and his old Gaffer were old hands at dealing with the likes of Lesser bindweed in their Hobbiton garden!

INVASIVES (IN THE LAND OF MORDOR WHERE THE SHADOWS LIE)

          Well – here comes the gardening metaphor, you knew it was coming (thank you Dad) – there is a pattern of invasives emerging at our food co-op you cannot help but notice, once you pay close attention. There is camouflage: people, circumstances, events appear one way when they are, in fact, another. The invasive roots keep re-invigorating, popping up where you don’t expect them and where they do great damage.

Turn your back, and they’re back.

So, to fellow gardeners at HWFC – and there are a lot of us!: Notice. Be aware. Tease out patterns. Note anomalous behavior. Learn to recognize camouflage for what it is and seek what’s behind the camouflage. Observe repeated, destructive patterns. See when something just doesn’t fit …or when it fits like a glove.

For example, are you aware of the pattern of notable disruptions, which seem to keep happening, over and over and over again, keeping our co-op in a constant state of agitation and divisiveness?

Not hard to spot …once you start paying attention.

The fact of the matter is, we at HWFC, have a former Board which spent – very recently – $500,000 (!) to end Member-Owner control & ownership of our co-operative corporation. They invested this half-million dollars (our dollars!) – behind our backs, camouflaged by national .coop consultants, a local consultant, two law firms, and a Strategic PR  firm, in an attempt to re-structure our co-operative corporation.

The Bylaws Task Force (with its Bylaws Research Team advised by CDS Consulting Co-op who were also members of the Bylaws Task Force) and the Strategic Planning process – both appear now, in hindsight, to have been camouflaged operations of this former Board with a true motive of manipulating us and securing our buy-in so that we would, willingly & unwittingly, let go of our own corporate control and ownership.

A bloodless coup attempt.

An Organizational Change Agent was employed to shepherd the Strategic Planning process and, likely, “smooth ruffled feathers” should any co-operative corporation owners start seeing through the camouflage and ask uncomfortable questions (“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain![19]). This Organizational Change Agent could help create the bridge between the old corporate order…

…and the new one.

This amount of  planning and money being invested was not just a lark. They meant business.

And remember, we were never supposed to find out about these plans and the $500,000 utilized to implement them. It was just supposed to go down. We did find out because a bunch of us are “eternally vigilant” …and we saw through the camouflage of the invasives.

However, the influence of that $500,000 didn’t just end & disappear when two (former) Board members did not stay Board members on November 30, 2015, or when four (former) Board members resigned on January 5, 2016, when two (former) top Managers resigned (and one did not), or when a brand new Board of nine got reconfigured on April 17, 2016.

A half-million dollars – and all it purchased, both locally, as well as nationally, especially nationally – can leave behind a lot of roots, both tap & lateral roots, which then need some camouflaging…

…which will require constant uncovering if the garden is to survive.

Patience, observing patterns …and weeding out invasives with vigor, when needed, seem to fit the bill here.

We are a locally-owned food co-op tended for forty years by a bunch of – a veritable tribe! – of families down those four decades: a beloved, thriving, local community-owned food co-op. We have a long and strong history of families supporting other families, producing, buying, sharing and eating fresh, high quality, local, organic, real food, and working co-operatively and together.

Our food co-operative is a community institution …as are all the locally-owned food co-ops across the United States, started by families, farmers, grandparents, hippies, and economically-smart, ecologically-smart, community-minded people. We are part of the long and honorable history of American co-operatives (and farm granges, 4-H clubs, and the like) which have blessed & economically supported local groups of U.S. families since at least the 18th century. (And, as my study of history assures me, groups of families must have certainly been behaving co-operatively together for many, many more centuries before this, especially around the issue of food.)

It does so figure that Benjamin Franklin is credited with starting the first American co-operative in 1752 …a mutual fire insurance company which is still in operation! [20]

That this institution – locally-owned & operated American food co-operatives – is under attack is clear.

We owe it to all those HWFC families, to the institution of American co-operatives – and to ourselves – to continue to defend our independently-owned, locally-owned and operated food co-operative. Watch-dogging of our borders (“eternal vigilance“) is still very much needed.

LESSER BINDWEED, THE POSSESSION WEED

          Most of us – I would say the great, large majority of us! – seek to create and maintain the beauty, the charm & delight, the stability & function and the co-dependence of things at our well-ordered food co-op: that is, we are striving for balance in our “co-op garden.”

Many, most of us at Honest Weight are gardeners of one sort or another: and gardeners are good folk.

However, it does appear that there is a camouflaged invasive doing its level best to gain ground. That’s what invasives do.

We do appear to have a bad case of Lesser bindweed, the Possession weed, going on.

With yearly sales of $24 million – one of the top-producing food co-ops in the entire United States – invasives, from a gardener’s perspective, cannot, I suppose, be avoided.

Like slugs and weeds, they need to be managed.

Eternal vigilance  – and weeding – truly are the tickets called for.

~~~~~

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

[2] See the website of the Weed Science Society of America, here. Quote from:
Darlington, W. 1859. American Weeds and Useful Plants. Orange Judd & Company, New York.

[3] Every gardener I know has a long must-get list of garden books. Mine includes: the 2010 Gardens of the Hudson Valley by Susan Daly; Jane Garmey’s 2013 Private Gardens of the Hudson Valley; the 2010 Landscape Gardens on the Hudson by Robert M. Toole; the New York Historical Society’s 2009 The Hudson River School: Nature and the American Vision and the brand new 2014 Historic Houses of the Hudson River Valley by Gregory Long. I can usually score affordable copies at Biblio or E-Bay.

[4] Warner, Charles Dudley. My Summer in a Garden. New York: The Modern Library, 2002. Page 5. (Originally published in 1870) Print.

[5] Ibid, [p xi].

Take a day trip! Go visit the Mark Twain House & Museum, in Hartford, CT.

[6] De La Mare, A. T. ed. Garden Guide  The Amateur Gardeners’ Handbook. New York: A. T. De La Mare Company, Inc., 1926. Page 8. Print.

[7] Lennon, John and McCartney, Paul. “Do You Want to Know a Secret” from Please Please Me. Perf. The Beatles. Parlophone, 1963. LP.

[8] Lennon, John and McCartney, Paul. “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” from The Beatles (also called the White Album). Perf. The Beatles. EMI Studios, 1968. LP.

[9] Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet, II, ii, 1-2. Print.

[10] See the website of the Weed Science Society of America, here. Quote from:
Simpson, J. A., and E.S.C. Weiner. 1989. The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed. Clarendon Press, Oxford.

[11] See the website of the Weed Science Society of America, here.

[12] Read the chapter about Bindweed Common, from the 1710 Botanologia  The English Herbal: or History of Plants written by William Salmon, M.D. The chapter was proofread by Nick Jones and this electronic version of the translation appears on the website of Helsinki, Finland herbalist Henriette Kress. Thank you Ms. Kress for providing access to this wonderful 18th c. herbal! See the story about this online reference here.

See also this electronic copy of the book itself at the Internet Archive: here. Awesome! You can read this 1710 book and even more herballs from the 17th and 18th centuries! Please consider donating to the 501 (c) (3) Internet Archive, here. Brewster Kahle is the Founder & Digital Librarian of the Internet Archive. You gotta just love librarians!

 [13] You simply must study the delightful cover of this late 16th c. book!

The complete dedication continues: Mafter of the Court of wardes and Liueries, Chancellor of the Uniuerfitie of Cambridge, Knight of the Most noble order of the Garter, one of the Lords of hir Maiesties most honorable priuie Counfell, and Lord High Treafurer of England [NB: Working on this citation.]

[14] (NB: Working on this citation, as well.)

[15] See IDAO, “an open source plants identification software selected to be a part of the global PlantNet project,” here, and its page about C. arvensis here. What a fantastic tool!

[16] See the website of the Weed Science Society of America, here.

[17] Please also see endnote #11. The 1710 Botanologia, or The English Herbal written by William Salmon, M.D. makes a distinction between the Common Greater Bindweed and the Lesser Blew Bind-weed: “The Lesser is like the Greater in most respects, except the Magnitude.”

[18] Tolkien, J. R. R. The Fellowship of the Ring. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1966. Page 60. Print.

[19] LeRoy, Mervyn, & Fleming, Victor. 1939. The Wizard of Oz. USA: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). Also see IMBD for movie quotes, here.

[20] See the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Co-operatives website, here.

© Laura Hagen

GRASSROOTS ACTION Needed by Bloomingfoods Food Co-op Owners in Indiana

PLEASE see the update to this blogpost, dated June 14, 2016, here.

GRASSROOTS ACTION IS POWERFUL!

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: I received many requests from readers to re-post this story, which I did so this morning. Originally posted here as GRASSROOTS ACTION and Large Voter Turnout Tomorrow WILL SAVE OUR CO-OP on April 16, 2016, it now has its own brand new title. Content about our HWFC Annual Nominations & Elections has been deleted (because they are over and we won! and here and here are those results!)

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.

See the online Herald Times article in Bloomington, Bloomingfoods Elm Heights Grocery to Close in May, here. Read the comments and post comments, if you are a subscriber to the HT.


April 16, 2016
Updated April 27, 2016

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 as HWFC (~13,000 to HWFC’s ~12,000).

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, liberal mid-western college town – 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 the Member-Owners by attempting to end our Member-Owner Labor Program (MLP) which would have both removed us from store operations and also, 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] [2b]

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: a team of national .coop “experts” and a firm whose work includes “… 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] [9a] [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]

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.

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.

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. Disinformation was rampant and our our grassroots’ strategies were sabotaged almost before we implemented them. [13a] [13b]

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 of co-operative experts, 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, their massive PR & astroturf campaign to change our bylaws, remove us from operations, end our Member-Owner Labor Program and, thereby, the power of our vote …were uncovered, as was the (previously unknown) $75,000 in bonuses paid to our three-person Leadership Team (top Management) 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]

One of the first moves our new Board members took, in January, 2016, was to place an immediate moratorium upon the use of all consultants & an immediate review of any and all lawyers’ projects. That bleeding was stopped dead in its tracks …as was the whispering of national .coop consultant experts into the ears of any and all Board members & Top Management who cared to listen. [19a]

The former Board’s secret DOL letter & secret DOL meeting had been intentionally launched after the Board had been explicitly told by the Owners of the corporation to stop! Their letter was hastily hand-couriered: two days after acting President Deb Dennis had placed in her hands the petition calling for an emergency meeting and Board recall elections. Their meeting took place: two days after our emergency Special Membership Meeting, attended by 620 voting Member-Owners!

As one of her last moves as our co-operative’s acting-President, Deb Dennis, with a little help from the PR firm she had hired, participated in an AP interview – not disclosing the fact of the interview until it was over. According to Dennis, this interview took place on December 2nd or 3rd, also after our emergency Special Membership Meeting. This January 3, 2016 article, Will work for food? Co-op programs end amid labor-law fears, advertises this Board’s perspective on their secret DOL meeting and it serves to dish up fears about food co-op MLPs …to a national AP audience. [19b] [19c] [19d]

Clearly, completing this undercover NYS DOL mission was a top priority – as was spinning it nationally. And, just as clearly, Deb Dennis’s Board knew no bounds when it came to usurping & wielding power.

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: [19e]

“‘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. In Tim O’Brien’s Times Union article published the following day, Four Resign from Honest Weight Food Co-op Board, Dennis confirmed

that her Board spent about $257,000 on legal fees in six months in “‘an attempt to change the bylaws and end the [Member Labor] program…’ ”  She complained that the “board’s new majority … has ‘put together a proposal to maximize member labor, to do even more.’ ”  The article continues, “A state Labor Department spokesman told the Times Union in November no co-op in New York had ever been cited for minimum wage violations, and the question of whether members should be paid would depend on how ownership is structured.”

Three months later, on April 17, 2016, at our Membership Meeting & Annual Elections, we took the Board, (mostly). Approximately 385 people attended the meeting, 371 were eligible voters and 355 ballots were cast (of these only one was spoiled). Of the three Board members we elected at our emergency SMM on November 30, 2015, all three have maintained seats on the Board; Carolyn Presser and Kate Doyle were re-elected by a large majority in April, and Nate Horwitz, who was not up for election, remains seated as our Board President. [22] [23] [23a]

That small piece of paper tacked up to the Board’s cork board – pulling the trigger on their stealth plans to end our 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, Member-Owner 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.

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.

Chris came to that Saturday morning co-op meeting, prepared, with her small piece of paper. We all owe a large debt of gratitude to Chris for her unerring & clear-thinking ability to gauge the temperature of the times …and act at the exact right moment demanded by the tsunami overpowering our co-op’s strong, local, community footing. [23b]

Democracy prevailed.

This story is an incredible 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 modest upstate NY food co-op doing spending a half-million dollars (!) to buy the services of: two law firms – one with DC offices; PR strategists & registered lobbyists – partners to a NYS top-ten lobby firm; a nationally-recognized .coop firm – building airtight Board-GM alliances  …and an organizational change agent?

Was this merely the oft repeated tale of a local, community Board filled with visions of its own grandiosity …or is there another layer to this .coop story?

Clearly we food co-op Member-Owners need to stay on our guard.

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] [27a][27b] [27c] [27d] [27e]
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; [28]
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; [28a]
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. In June 2015, its operations had been temporarily assumed by a nationally-based corporation, National Coop Grocers. [32a]

NATIONAL CO-OP GROCERS AND UNITED NATURAL FOODS, INC.: THE BIGGER PICTURE

Bloomingfoods, like Honest Weight Food Co-op, is a member co-op of National Coop Grocers. NCG is “a business services cooperative for retail food co-ops located throughout the United States.” It “…represents 143 natural food co-ops operating 196 stores in 38 states, with combined annual sales of $1.8 billion.” NCG’s primary distributor is United Natural Foods, Inc., (Nasdaq: UNFI), with whom it signed a “primary distribution agreement” in 2015, good through at least July 2021.  NCG and UNFI have had a contractual relationship since 2006. [33] [33a] [33b] [33c]

In the August 20, 2015 press release announcing the new UNFI / NCG agreement, UNFI’s President and CEO Steve Spinner stated,

As a virtual chain, NCG is one of our largest and fastest growing customers in the last 10 years. Our connections to food co-ops go back to our company’s founding and we are excited to be selected once again as the best fit to serve the needs of this important sector. [emphasis added] [33d]

(Note: readers are advised to research and understand the economic & marketplace term “virtual chain” or “virtual value chain.”) [33e]

UNFI is also the primary distributor for Whole Foods Market (Nasdaq: WFM) and has had distribution agreements with WFM for 17 years. Their “primary distribution agreement” was also re-negotiated in 2015; it extends until September 2025. WFM is “UNFI’s largest customer.” [33f][33g] [33h] [33i]

UNFI’s net sales for fiscal year 2015 was $8.18 billion. 32% came from the category called “independently owned natural products retailers, which include buying clubs;” this includes NCG and its US food co-ops, with combined annual sales of $1.8 billion. [33j] [33k] [33l] [33m] [33n]

Whole Foods Market, UNFI’s only supernatural chain, made up 35% of UNFI’s net sales in FY 2015. [33o]

With conventional supermarkets making up only 26% of FY 2015 net sales, UNFI’s independently owned natural products retailers, which include buying clubs – which also includes NCG and its member co-ops – are, at 32%, vying with Whole Foods as UNFI’s largest customer. [33p]

TALKED TO THE LOCALS IN BLOOMINGTON

          What stunned me at Bloomingfoods 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-OWNER LABOR PROGRAM?

          On April 10th, I emailed Bloomingfoods and asked what had happened to the Member-Owner 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…[34a]

I was instantly sensitive to the use of the terms “volunteer-owner” “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 virtually disappeared.

In addition, using the term “volunteer” when referring to Member-Owner Labor, sets up a red flag! A nationally-recognized expert on co-operative and nonprofit law, Laddie Lushin, Esq., in his 2009 article, Co-op Member Labor Programs Under the Fair Labor Standards Act: A Matter of Economic Reality, recommends as a first priority to not utilize this word, when strengthening your food co-op’s Member-Labor Program! He states, “Using volunteer terminology thus prejudices the co-op’s legal posture by suggesting a basis for exemption that is clearly bogus.” [34b] [34c]

Yet, here, we find Bloomingfoods’ descriptors and PR intentionally waving this red flag!

The information in Ms. Kautt’s email about the owner volunteer program being discontinued last summer, conflicts with what the minutes from B’foods October 18, 2015 Annual Meeting state. In those minutes we find no mention of the ending of the “owner volunteer program,” rather, the statement:

Bloomingfoods Ambassadors Volunteer Program. We are extremely limited on in-store volunteer opportunities due to labor law and other factors, so we are introducing the Bloomingfoods Ambassadors Program to allow our owner-members to volunteer with organizations in – line with our ENDS statement for a discount/incentive at Bloomingfoods. [emphasis added]

Once again, the standard and vague “labor law and other factors…” language is utilized.

It appears the “owner volunteer programwas replaced with the “Ambassadors Volunteer Program.” Please read this document,  A Letter to Shareholders, written by HWFC Member-Owner and attorney, Kate Doyle, to understand the significance of Member-Owner work as part of store operations. This will explain how removing Member-Owners of a food co-op from operations, serves to threaten Member-Owner ownership of that same co-op. [see 2b and 34a]

Getting rid of “owner volunteers” and replacing them with “ambassador volunteers” is not just semantics: intentionally choosing the word “volunteer,” while also eliminating the word “owner” has legal consequences for the Owners of the co-operative corporation. And, the program itself has also, handily, eliminated the  “owners” from day-to-day co-op operations; another action which has legal consequences for those who own the food co-op.

This may serve the needs of the Board & Management (and outside consultants); it does not serve the Ownership rights of Bloomingfoods’ co-operative corporation Member-Owners.

Clearly, expert legal advice was utilized by Bloomingfoods Management (?), Board (?), consultants (?) in morphing Bloomingfoods’ Owner Volunteer Program into its Ambassador Volunteer Program.

This same move, by the way, was played at our co-op, in New York.

We responded by calling an emergency Special Membership Meeting and stopping it dead in its tracks.

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

I also would like it confirmed that B’foods brand new labor union – the UFCW Local 700 – (see 27e) 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-Owner Labor at a co-operative? Really?

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; if anything, New York is the state always blamed for its onerous regulations & complications!

~~~

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 their 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.

This attack appears to be coming from the top down – from the national level – not from the bottom up – from the community, grassroots level.

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

       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. 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
NATIONAL CONSULTANTS HAVE OUR BEST INTERESTS AT HEART?

          It is noteworthy that both co-ops, Bloomingfoods and HWFC, have been or are clients of CDS Consulting Coop; in fact, Bloomingfoods is a featured client on CDSCC’s website 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, Vermont 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…and their borders. 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. [emphases 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? [emphases 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, the strengthening of the axis of power between Board & Management, and the too-cozy connections between national .coop corporations. (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.

Four months ago, 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…

…that is because we uncovered and fought off a well-funded, orchestrated and strategic push to change our perfectly good bylaws (which you can read about here, GRASSROOTS ACTION and current bylaws ARE POWERFUL!, and here GRASSROOTS ACTION and Bylaws (Again) ARE POWERFUL!) To learn about the gag orders required of participants on the HWFC Bylaws Task Force, dig into those blogposts and ask: what’s a “signed non-disclosure agreement” doing as a prerequisite to working on bylaws at a food co-op?!

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 the Putney, Vermont story Ms. Yahn told, about a “…lengthy discussion at the December meeting over their proposed [bylaws] change, which would allow members to attend, but not participate in general meetings. [see 52]

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 co-op Member-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” …add a bunch of new “shareholders” (as opposed to “Owners“) to the Membership …and a handful of people, at the top, will control your co-operative corporation. [57a]

What they then do with your co-op – or what once was your co-op – is up to them (…and the teams of national consultants who may – or may not – still be circling the co-op wagon.)

~~~

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) CDS Consulting Co-op clients. [57b]

To quote Mimi Yahn, the “…very notion of cooperative governance has been perversely turned upside-down and repackaged by corporatist shills as the new future of co-ops.” Your food co-op may be “the biggest, grandest, hippest emporium of upscale organic food in the region” but if you Member-Owners all don’t control it, if you all don’t own it …what does all that matter?  [57c] [58]

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

Our former Board ignored our bylaws, at their convenience, and, at the same time, made a strong push to try and change them, as Mimi Yahn also described. Bloomingfoods Member-Owners are being leveraged to do the same thing …if it is not  already too late.

If I were a Member-Owner who had loaned Bloomingfoods money, I would demand an immediate accounting of that money and a written answer as to why I hadn’t been recently (or ever?) contacted. Be nice to have all investor names and emails, as well; they need to talk to each other.

Bloomingfoods’ Member-Owners & families, listen to other grassroots, food co-op Member-Owners: protect & defend your co-operative corporation and protect your bylaws! Your co-op belongs to you and your Member-Owner families.

Organize. Your. Grassroots. Now.

UPDATE, Monday, April 25, 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 and a bunch of consultants & lawyers: 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, locally-operated food co-op on November 30, 2015…

…and did so again at our April 17, 2016 Membership Meeting and Annual Elections.

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 has yet to defend its co-operative corporation.

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? Orsome were union employees and some not?

No.

ALL the Members of Bloomingfoods – Owner and Owner-Employee alike, union or non-union employee, alike  – are facing the same possible future: 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.

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, even worse, may be seamlessly assumed by a large, national corporation; formally ending its life as a locally-owned, member-owned and operated American food co-operative, and becoming …something else.

Strong grassroots action – family-helping-family – kept us here at Honest Weight Food Co-op from that fate. Let us hope that Bloomingfoods’ Member-Owners and Bloomington’s families can rise to the challenge and defend their ownership of their locally-owned & locally-operated food co-op.

And, we here at HWFC are still on our guard. That does not end, especially when $500,000 was recently spent by the former Board to weaken and eliminate our control and ownership. (Please refer back to the blog header, by John Philpot Curran.)

WE OWNERS DEFENDED OUR LOCALLY-OWNED CO-OP: A SIX-MONTH ADVOCACY BATTLE

          We defended what is ours.

Our new Board is (mostly):

-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

Our annual elections are over, by just eight days. We have a newly-configured set of nine new Board members, and Member-Owners invigorating all of our Committees. We have a brand new Member-Owner newsletter, the Co-op Voice! We are invested – and investing – in strengthening the roots of our locally-owned and locally-operated food co-operative.

LOCAL INDIANA CO-OP VOICES SPEAK: WE NEED TO LISTEN
THERE BUT FOR THE GRACE OF STRONG GRASSROOTS ADVOCACY, 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, brought in from National Coop Grocers (NCG, https://www.ncg.coop/), 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

[2b] The term “on the floor and administration” is significant: Owners of a co-op hold responsibilities for the operation of a co-op store; traditionally met through Owners completing a regular (weekly, monthly) work shift in the store. Booting us out of the store “and administration” means we are severed from store operational control: leaving the coast clear for Management to assume 100% control of operations, and for the Board to be able to reasonably argue that bylaws’ changes are in order. (See also endnotes 34a and 57a.)

Please read: A Letter to Shareholders, written by Member-Owner and attorney, Kate Doyle.

[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 and/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, which is elected by the Membership, is a Committee which serves at the pleasure of the Membership; whom, in this case, it ignored.

See here, under section entitled, Secrecy.

[9a] Member-Owners see here for Ms. Abrams report:  http://www.honestweight.coop/uploads/BdNwsltr/1449203735_Inside%20Scoop%202015-12-03.pdf

[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] We citizen, grassroots advocates were up against a vicious, well-funded fight to stop our actions and silence us. My contempt for fake grassroots or astroturfing – usually funded by silent, monied corporations or those with political ends, and executed by professional Strategic PR operatives – knows no bounds. The fact that it was our own Board & top Management (LT) which participated in this – and funded this operation with our own collective co-op savings! and used it against us, the Owners & families of the food  co-operative – leaves me beyond speechless.

[13b] This November 11, 2015 post, GRASSROOTS ACTION and Stifled Communication ARE POWERFUL! gives a taste of what we were up against, 19 days into it.

[14] A recent review of invoices from this firm, Corning Place Communications, has confirmed former Board payments for such “astroturfing” activities. 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] Member-Owners see the Board minutes here: http://www.honestweight.coop/uploads/BoardMin/1453937765_2016-01-05_Board_Minutes_Edited.pdf

[19b] Ms. Dennis confirmed the fact of the AP interview to a packed room at the December 15, 2015 Board meeting.

[19c] See the AP article by Michael Hill, here: http://bigstory.ap.org/article/0d4fa593e5944ae09c0a2a773f0fd47e/will-work-food-co-op-programs-end-amid-labor-law-fears

[19d] Also, see my December 16, 2015 blogpost, GRASSROOTS ACTION and Executive Committees ARE POWERFUL! here. It is shocking that a locally-based AP reporter would focus on Dennis’s agenda and completely ignore the fact that a historic HWFC emergency meeting with ~720 participants had just taken place, 1-2 days prior to his interview. Not newsworthy enough?

[19e] 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

[23a] Member-Owners, see the official election results here: http://www.honestweight.coop/uploads/BdNwsltr/1461700126_Inside%20Scoop%202016-04-26.pdf

[23b] I think the many gardeners here at Honest Weight, would agree: Chris, you fed the roots when they needed feeding!; and thereby, you protected the plant.

[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 the October 3, 2014 statement at the UCFC 700 website: http://ufcw700.org/2014/10/03/support-bloomingfoods-workers/

[27a] 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/

[27b] 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

[27c] See this December 4, 2014 Indiana Daily Student (IDS) article, Fighting to be Heard: http://www.idsnews.com/article/2014/12/fighting-for-a-voice

[27d] See this July 23, 2015 article Bloomingfoods Workers Ratify Their First Union Contract at the UFCW 700 website.

[27e] See this July 13, 2015 article, Bloomingfoods Agrees To Tentative Deal With Union Workers from Indy Public Media: http://indianapublicmedia.org/news/bloomingfoods-agrees-tentatative-deal-union-workers-84813/

[28]  HWFC also received advice to commit to two (2) expansions in one year, 2013, as well! We moved to a brand new building (which went way, way, way over budget) and we opened a small venue at the Empire State Plaza (ESP), located near the state capitol building in downtown Albany. Too much, too fast; where did this advice come from?

[28a] http://indianapublicmedia.org/news/grocery-options-grow-bloomington-local-shop-struggles-83801/

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

and

http://www.heraldtimesonline.com/news/local/by-whole-foods-market-on-way-to-college-mall/article_5bc3b87e-7923-5555-b22b-cdd5d1478356.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/ and http://www.bloomingfoods.coop/bloomingfoods-future-leadership/

[32a] See here: http://www.bloomingfoods.coop/bloomingfoods-future-leadership/

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

and

National Cooperative Grocers Helping Bloomingfoods Be Better Grocers

[33a] https://www.ncg.coop/about-us

[33b] See: http://partners.ncga.coop/sites/default/files/2016%201st%20Half%20NCG%20Program%20Introduction.pdf

[33c] See: https://www.unfi.com/

[33d] See: https://www.ncg.coop/newsroom/ncg-signs-primary-distribution-agreement-unfi and http://www.theshelbyreport.com/2015/08/20/ncg-signs-primary-distribution-agreement-with-unfi/

[33e] “Virtual chain” or “virtual value chain” is the business model NCG utilizes with its food co-ops. See the  “Frito-Lay” example in Exploiting the Virtual Value Chain by Jeffrey F. Rayport & John Sviokla, here: https://hbr.org/1995/11/exploiting-the-virtual-value-chain/ar/

See here for general explanation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtual_value_chain

See NCG and “virtual chain,” here:  http://partners.ncga.coop/sites/default/files/2016%201st%20Half%20NCG%20Program%20Introduction.pdf

[33f] See: http://www.theshelbyreport.com/2015/08/20/ncg-signs-primary-distribution-agreement-with-unfi/

[33g] See: http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20151102005138/en/United-Natural-Foods-Extends-Distribution-Partnership-Foods

[3gh] http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/united-natural-foods-inc-extends-itshpartnership-with-whole-foods-market-95400729.html

[33i] See: https://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/

[33j] It is unknown what percentage of UNFI’s FY 2015 net sales from the category independently owned natural products retailers is represented by NCG’s “combined annual sales” of $1.8 billion. It must be a large percentage, given the fact that UNFI holds a “primary distribution agreement” with NCG.

[33k] See here: https://www.last10k.com/sec-filings/unfiunder “Business.”

[33l] See here.

[33m] See here.

[33n] See here. https://biz.yahoo.com/e/150930/unfi10-k.html;_ylt=AwrBTzihoyNXGcoAhKxXNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTBybGY3bmpvBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwMyBHZ0aWQDBHNlYwNzcg&#8211;

[33o] See here: https://biz.yahoo.com/e/150930/unfi10-k.html;_ylt=AwrBTzihoyNXGcoAhKxXNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTBybGY3bmpvBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwMyBHZ0aWQDBHNlYwNzcg&#8211;

[33p] See here: https://biz.yahoo.com/e/150930/unfi10-k.html;_ylt=AwrBTzihoyNXGcoAhKxXNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTBybGY3bmpvBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwMyBHZ0aWQDBHNlYwNzcg&#8211;

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

 [34a] Our Board &Management tried to pull this same manuever on us, ending  Member-Owner Labor “on the floor and administration;” we immediately filed legal papers for an emergency Special Membership Meeting. (See endnotes 2b and 57a.)

In the minutes for Bloomingfoods 2015 Annual Meeting on October 18th “NCG Consultant Paula Gilbertson and the Bloomingfoods’ Consumer Services Department” is this:

Bloomingfoods Ambassadors Volunteer Program. We are extremely limited on in-store volunteer opportunities due to labor law and other factors, so we are introducing the Bloomingfoods Ambassadors Program to allow our owner-members to volunteer
with organizations in – line with our ENDS statement for a discount/incentive at Bloomingfoods. [emphasis added]

What is reiterated is the use of the vague statement “labor law and other factors” as a reason to halt Member-Owner Labor in the store. See: http://www.bloomingfoods.coop/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/151018-AnnualMeetingMinutes2015-DRAFT-1.pdf and an explanation of “ENDS:” ENDS Statement: http://www.bloomingfoods.coop/co-op/about/

[34b] 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.

[34c] Lushin, Laddie, Esq. Co-op Member Labor Programs Under the Fair Labor Standards Act: A Matter of Economic Reality. Braintree, VT, 2009. See: here.

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

[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.

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.

The Gold Standard for Member-Owner Labor in a food  co-op, for many of us here in Albany, is the Park Slope Food Co-op in Brooklyn. Every member must work and this is rigorously supported (and enforced); they have very few paid employees; the public is not allowed in to shop (but they can always become a member!); Member-Owner discounts range from 20-40% off. Park Slope recently joined the national  NCG network, see: https://www.foodcoop.com/ and https://www.ncg.coop/partners-find/ny/park-slope-food-coop

[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 (http://www.grocer.coop/ ) lists, as its three sponsors:
CDS Consulting Co-op          (CDSCC: http://www.cdsconsulting.coop/ )
National Coop Grocers          (NCG: https://www.ncg.coop/ )
National Cooperative Bank  (NCB: https://www.ncb.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

[57a] Please read the Letter to Shareholders written by Member-Owner Kate Doyle, here, for a clear explanation of the difference between a shareholder and a Member-Owner of a food co-operative.

Another way co-op bylaws are being manipulated (e.g. this was recommended to HWFC by CDS Consulting Co-op, in documents they prepared for HWFC), so as to gut Member-Owner power & control, is by adding new shareholders and, at the same time, removing Member-Owners from store operations (end MLPs). The PR slogan “One member, one vote” is being utilizedutilized move this agenda.

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 with a Board in control.

The term “Member-Owner” or “Owner” belongs to a co-operative corporation.

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. (See endnotes 2b and 34a.)

[57b] 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

[57c] See Ms. Yahn in Losing Our Principles, here: http://www.commonsnews.org/site/site05/story.php?articleno=11411&page=1#.VyegkL69gVD

[58] See Ms. Yahn’s December 3, 2015 letter to the Member-Owners at HWFC thanking us for “standing up to this co-optation, perversion and corporatization of cooperative governance!” here: https://hwfcinfohub.wordpress.com/2015/12/03/more-from-mimi-yahn/

[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 & 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 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:

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

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!

~~~~~~

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

~~~~~~

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

Statements from Board members

Rossana Coto-Batres, recently resigned member of the HWFC Board, asked that the resignation letter be published here that was co-signed by herself, Deb Dennis, Leif Hartmark, and Roman Kuchera.  It’s here:

Resignation Letter

Another statement has been published in response to the resignations by current Board member Ned Depew.  You can read that here:

https://memberownedhwfc.wordpress.com/2016/01/10/message-from-ned-depew/