At the October board meeting, during the education segment, we watched the documentary "Shift Change." In it, we observed a wide variety of co-operative businesses, mostly worker-owned.
In the Basque country of Mondragon, Spain, there are 120 independent co-operatives, employing 84,000 people and earning $25 billion annually. Mondragon has the lowest unemployment in Spain. They have the largest supermarket chain and one of the world's largest construction companies, a university research institute, and a machine tool company among other giant manufacturing businesses.
They also have a small co-op which assists women in starting their own co-op housecleaning businesses with a two-year incubation period. As some of these businesses are now in their fourth generation of ownership, there is concern that the younger people may lose sight of the original importance of the cooperative structure.
Spain's co-op movement was started in 1941 by a visionary priest. In 1956, the first industrial co-op was formed by five graduates. In 1959, a co-op bank was started with profits going to workers. Now, all of Spain's co-ops gather at an annual congress in Mondragon to address their common issues.
Benefits of working for the co-ops include everyone being a part of the decision-making process, one person/one vote. CEO's only earn three to five times the wages of lower level workers (In the US, that difference can be as much as 300 times more for the CEO). More people making decisions about the company has meant that no one is fired when it is a rough year.
A number of US co-ops were included in the film as well. Isthmus Engineering, Union Cab, and Community Pharmacy in Madison, WI were among them. Union Cab uses gas-saving Prius cars. We observed Evergreen Co-op Laundry and Evergreen Energy Solutions, worker co-ops in Cleveland, Ohio, as well as Equal Exchange Coffee company. Clearly, just about any business can be run in a co-operative manner.
After the film, the board discussed how worker-owned and consumer-owned co-ops are different. The main difference is that Bloomingfoods exists primarily to satisfy the needs of the consumers while still trying to create a good employee environment, whereas in the worker-owned models, keeping people employed (including decisions that lower everyone's wages during stressful times) is the prime objective.
Last month, you, the member-owners of Bloomington Cooperative Services, elected three new board members. Each of you had one vote. Your board will continue to make decisions based on the shared values of our member-owners outlined in the Ends Statement, Co-op Principles and Mission Statement published in every issue of our newsletter. Thank you for participating in this democracy.
for the Board of Directors
Two new board members, Kristina Wiltsee-Meeker and Dedamia Whitney, were welcomed to the board in November. As is our practice, the Ends Policies were read and our first hour of discussion focused on a review of the formal Business Plan and how it relates to those policies.
It was emphasized that being a sustainable business is just as important as being a profitable business. Creating a strong community is a necessary part of sustainability. Money earned by the co-op stays in the community. Supporting local growers feeds the local economy.
BCS participates in many local events, gives talks about the co-operative business structure and donates to many local charitable organizations. With five stores and ongoing involvement in our community in so many ways, BCS has become a very important part of the sustainable local economy.
Ten percent of the businesses in the city of Bloomington are non-profit organizations. This shows us that as a whole, we are very oriented toward helping each other in all kinds of ways. Co-operation in all its forms is an outstanding mark of Bloomington itself.
We may live different lifestyles and have widely varying opinions on specific topics, but we value being able to discuss and learn from each other. We are a spontaneously self-organizing system. As we become aware of local issues and trends, we respond in ways that bring order. Sometimes this involves personal discipline, often humor, and always a sense of respect for the history of rules that have been created and knowing when it is time to change them.
Part of the board's responsibility is to continue to review the "rules" which we call Policy Governance and make sure they are still leading us where we want to go as peacefully and efficiently as possible. Some of these "rules" are called the Co-op Principles and Mission Statements printed in the newsletter and the Board of Directors Policy Manual and Employee Manual available to those in these positions. We find that the more clear we are about this foundation, the easier it is to spontaneously act to bring about the benefit of the whole.
You keep this method alive by shopping at Bloomingfoods, voting for directors that are intelligent and experienced, and continuing to share your ideas with us. Your involvement, whether just a verbal comment or serving as a volunteer, an employee or dropping us a note in the store or on the web continues to be of primary importance in creating the kind of stores you need.
We live in a world of nearly limitless choices at this point in time. It can be overwhelming. Just trying to learn about the best forms of nutrition for your own body, then research brands, read all the labels, understand the unpronounceable ingredients on the packaging, buy the product, figure out what to do with the packaging, prepare the food, then finally eat it can involve hours and hours of your seemingly shrinking available time! Bloomingfoods stores have narrowed it down for you while still providing a variety of options. Come in, find what is tasty and good for you and still have time to chat with friends. We are part of Bloomington's history, and with your very present support, we will still be here for you in the future.
for the Board of Directors
You can do so many things online these days, nearly everything in the world seems only the touch of a screen away. But, so far, we have not been able to replace our need to feel textures and temperatures nor to taste and sniff our objects of desire on screen. Perhaps it is in this era that our co-op grocery has an advantage.
If you take the time, you can meander down the aisles, smelling, touching and sampling tastes, delighting all the senses that are neglected in the world of screens. You might even hear the live voices of friends and decide to sit and sip while you engage in a conversation longer than a Facebook message.
Keeping in touch is not only about updating information, it is a mandate for satisfying all of your senses. Our eyes and ears are often overloaded with media input, but our hands and mouths may not be bringing in the kind of nourishment that keeps us not just physically healthy, but emotionally healthy as well.
With our amazing technology, we have plenty of delightful eye candy. Photos of delicious foods invite us to come on down, try a new recipe, engage in a feast for all the senses. Sure, you can rush through shopping, list in hand, efficiently gathering supplies, but what if you thought of shopping as a sensuous experience? Come on in to one of our small, intimate stores, take a deep breath, look around, say hello. Pick up one of our frequent samples that await your tasting. See if there is someone with whom you might share a kind word. Listen. Attend to the moment. Often, there is a customer who needs help finding something and would appreciate your guidance.
Back home or at the office, we can type messages to people on the other side of the world, and the messages most of us like to share are about our real life experiences, the experiences of our senses. Good weather, good coffee, vacations, family interactions, feelings about life – these are the multi-sensory incidents that we claim as our real life.
At its core, a co-op is a business founded by people who want to enrich their own lives by being involved with others who share mutual goals. It is about people helping each other by staying aware of each other's needs. It is about maintaining connection more than it is about money.
It is easy to forget to make that connection when your life is busy and responsibilities loom large. It is at just such challenging times, however, in which most co-ops have been started. We share a common purpose. Thank you for remembering that this purpose is to benefit each other. Our BCS member-owners do this well. Next time you are in the store, open all of your senses and enjoy the experience.
for the Board of Directors