The Co-op Looks Forward: The Next 5 Years

By Steve Cooke, General Manager

Just after we opened in 2011, the board of directors and a few members of the management team, including myself, spent a weekend creating a document which defines how and why the world will be different because the co-op exists. There was a very lively debate, and lots of visionary ideas were offered up, debated, tossed around and defended. Post it notes with words like sustainable, local, organic, healthy,  fair trade,  friendly, connected, regenerative, and grass-fed were stuck up on walls and voted upon to prioritize what was important to this community-focused group. When the weekend was over, we had a draft document that ultimately became our Ends Policy:

Friendly City Food Co-op exists so that the Shenandoah Valley has:
A vibrant, local economy;
Fair and friendly relationships;
Healthy, informed consumers and producers;
And a healthy environment.

This policy is more than a mission statement. It is the basis for all of our business planning and budgeting, and it guides all of our activities and operational decisions.

A vibrant, local economy means growing, creating, and sustaining jobs; circulating dollars within the Valley; sourcing as much as feasible from Valley producers while inter-connecting with local economies outside the Valley for products not produced or grown here.

In the coming 5 years, our co-op will continue growing and thriving within this community. Our goal is having one-third of our store purchases come from local vendors.

We are exploring a commercial kitchen space for use by our kitchen crew to create new value added products from smaller, “ugly” produce, and ultimately to train workers in diverting potential food waste by preserving and converting it into jams, jellies, sauces and pickles. This will reduce food waste in our area, give farmers more revenue from their produce and add jobs, all of which will improve our local economy.

In the coming year, the store hopes to launch Phase II of our expansion project which will include more space for produce, deli, grocery, and beer/wine. There will be improved classroom and meeting room spaces available for employees, owners and the public to use. The goal for completion of this renovation/expansion is the end of 2018, or 2019.

Fair and friendly relationships are the foundation upon which we build all of the other programs, and relationships within the community. “Fair and friendly relationships” are considered in a 360° manner to include: member-owners, board directors, team members, team leaders, vendors, producers, distributors, suppliers, delivery people, neighbors, business partners, business community, domestic and wild creatures. “Fair” means considerate, compassionate, equitable, and based on creating “win-win” outcomes for all involved either directly or indirectly. “Friendly” is in our name and carries special significance for this reason. Customer service can be a subjective thing as different people have different expectations of what great service entails. Our job is to discern how each individual would like to be treated and provide that type of service.

Friendly, attentive service will continue to be our standard and we will steadily raise the bar as our community learns that businesses can be engaged, conscientious and nice through our example. We will engage our community to learn how we can best serve its needs through surveys, focus groups, listening sessions and just talking to our customers.

We will introduce new Fair Trade products as available. Fair Trade is a great example of being transparent and fair with producers. Wholesale costs are slightly more than in free trade situations, so that the producers can afford access to education and health care in their communities around the globe. Purchasing from other cooperatives helps us to fulfill the Sixth cooperative principle, cooperation among co-ops, and keeps us connected to the cooperative community. As a nice bonus, many international fair trade products also come from cooperatives.

Healthy, informed consumers and producers guides our entire operation, especially in marketing and outreach efforts. Healthy consumers achieve that condition best when they have sufficient, valid resources and data on which to make good decisions regarding their physical and mental status. We believe that we should not be the judge of what is good or healthy for anyone, but rather provide objective information so they can make decisions for themselves. Additionally, we offer positive information on ways that citizens can improve their lifestyle or health condition, without attacking those who benefit from promoting unhealthy ingredients, synthetic chemicals, or highly processed foods.

We create and strengthen relationships between producers and consumers by offering our vendors time in the co-op providing samples and talking directly with our customers. This allows info to flow in all directions, so producers know what consumers want, as well as what the consumer may not want in their food or other consumer goods. Consumers should also know how their food is produced, and what the working conditions are like for the producers and their workers.

Because our producers can’t be here all the time, staff training is our best link between consumers and producers. By taking our team to visit farms, and artisanal food production sites, or bringing producers here to provide training, our team becomes more effective at conveying the high standards of quality and benefits to our local economy.

The expanded store will include a larger classroom with kitchen which means more cooking classes to empower our community to cook with local/healthy ingredients. We will continue our school visits, student and adult tours of the co-op; expand our farm tour programs, and promotion of our partnerships with local farms providing CSA (community-supported agriculture) shares.

A healthy environment has cleaner air, water and soil. Wildlife is given equal consideration to human life. Conservation of natural resources and utilizing renewable energy are higher priorities than exploiting the earth.

Promotion and support of local, organic, and sustainable agriculture will increase the availability of local, sustainable fruits and vegetables within the Valley. Re-focusing our attention on reducing food waste and promoting bulk foods, which minimizes wasteful packaging will shrink our impact on the world.

One interesting parallel is that our Ends Policy closely aligns with Triple Bottom Line business theory, in which organizations serving the public operate with more than just the traditional financial bottom line. They also monitor and measure progress towards social and environmental bottom lines.

Join us as we go boldly into the future, with our common values held high, and confident in our wisdom that our community cares about each other, our planet, and creating a sustainable future for all of us together.