On January 28th, the positive vote of the Membership to change the certificate of incorporation allowed us to resume selling what are now termed ‘ownership interests,’ because they are “compliant with what the AG’s office feels is correct for what we do here.” (See Inside Scoop 2017-12-12.) On February 2nd, the Board announced that we are officially welcoming new Owners! ‘Owner’ is the new term for ‘shareholder,’ also voted in by Membership in January. As of early March, 200 new people had been through the orientation process and 40 more individuals were signed up to do so.
This is exciting news; we’re happy to be selling owner interests again! And we hope that many of the new folks will then opt to become Member-Owners by choosing to invest time in our Co-op, provide help on the floor and participate in governance, as well. A steady influx of new Member-Owners will help us survive, thrive, and grow closer to our mission and statements of conscience. Let’s give a welcome to all who have recently joined; they will bring fresh ideas and their individual skills to our cooperative!
Wisely, the Board decided some time ago to return to the practice of requiring an orientation before an individual joins the Co-op. Providing prospective owners with a clear understanding of what belonging to the Honest Weight Food Co-op is all about will increase the likelihood that they choose to invest time in the Co-op and participate in governance, in addition to shopping and enjoying the events and classes. Even if they don’t choose to become Member-Owners right away, they will still have a better understanding and appreciation for our Co-op. To find out about Member Owner opportunities, see this page of the HWFC website.
The Orientation Experience
Judith Brink, long-time Member-Owner, Membership Committee Chair, orientation trainer, and former GRC member, told me that all five March orientations scheduled are fully booked! Additionally, there are time investment opportunities in all departments.
Judith expressed her excitement about the orientations so far. She said that participants often form a friendship group which she sees as evidence they are beginning to become part of the community. Judith noted that the diversity among new owners is amazing, with people from all over, both young and old. Some have never been to the store and some have shopped here for years.
Each session in the community room hosts about 20 people, led by one of four people, with assistance from Membership Committee members. Orientation leaders and assistants help individuals fill out the form necessary to purchase the certificate of ownership, and accompany four people at a time to the customer service desk. A valid proof of NYS residence is required for an individual to purchase an ownership interest.
This is supplementary to a full agenda and a tour of the store. The agenda for each orientation meeting includes:
- Personal introductions
- Customer service training
- Discussion of what is and is not a co-op
- Our Co-op history
- Our Mission statement
- Responsibilities of Membership
- Harassment Policies
- Choosing a department for time investments: descriptions and requirements of available positions, department needs, and contact email
- Encouragement to get involved in Board and Membership meetings, and committees
- Overview of the Bylaws, Member-Owner Manual, and Food & Product Manual (take-home copies provided)
- Sign-up for e-mail and Membership meeting notices
- Parking policy
- Gift cards
- Household vs. Individual membership
- Survey of skill sets
- Installment plan
- Discussion of participant experience at the Co-op and what they like about it.
If you prefer a more relaxed training, come in the evening. For more excitement, come for day training. Judith gets across to orientation participants that, as Owners, we want to make the store even better. She suggests one way to do that is for Member-Owners to fill the time slots for the departments that have the most need.
Live from the Community Room
Alan McClintock led my orientation back in 2008 and he is still at it. I’m glad some new Owners will have the “Alan Experience” because he has a unique way of instilling respect and appreciation for cooperatives and Honest Weight in particular. And, he has knowledge of our rich history to share.
Visiting one of his orientations recently, I walked in on introductions. People were sharing their experiences at other co-ops, comparing the different models, and asking lots of questions. There were 14 people participating, including our own Rhoda Pickus from Human Resources. She explained that she has been waiting a long time to join, but couldn’t until now because we had stopped selling shares on March 3, 2016. One reason she gave for joining is that she wants to have a voice in governance.
Alan explained that while Owners get an interest in the store and a two-percent discount, and Member-Owners are entitled to higher discounts, it’s Member-Owners alone who get to vote at the Membership Meetings. The organization gives owners who invest time in the store a greater say.
Natasha M. from Troy loves the Bulk section and is excited to join. She volunteered at the North Country Food Co-op in Plattsburg and connected with another participant who also shopped there.
Catherine C. loves the Co-op and exclaims that it smells great! A friend who is a Member-Owner convinced her to join.
Julie G. joined to buy more local foods and become a part of the Co-op community. This is her first co-op experience.
A couple from Atlanta moved to Menands for a new job and better climate. They have wanted to be members for the natural, unprocessed foods. Steve shared that the local food trend is growing rapidly in the Atlanta and Chattanooga areas. He enjoys the lighting, product selection, and smells of this store. The discount is nice, but he says he would shop here even without it.
Johanna B. lives in midtown Albany and her partner works at UAlbany. She’s been here for one and a half years. Her family raised her on food grown at home. She joined for the ability to make better choices, ethically and preferentially, and also to integrate into the community. This is her first co-op experience.
Jim V. is from Brunswick and joined to maintain his healthy eating style and manage food allergies. He’s been a shopper for a while. This is his first time joining a co-op.
Alan shared that Honest Weight serves the Co-op community in a variety of ways. One is by being a seed organization and helping other communities start their own co-ops. As he spoke, members of the budding Schenectady Electric City Co-op were meeting in the next room. Alan beamed about how we contribute to the community. He explained that we donated 10k to food pantries just this year and give a percentage of our profits to the community. He encouraged us to bring our reusable bags, so we can donate a five-cent token to one of seven charities on the way to the exit.
Alan talked about our commitment to the growth of the local economy. We support 1,000 local vendors who are farmers and artisans, cheesemakers, and bakers. We want a healthy and strong community. He quipped, “Why do we need anything from California when we can get salad greens here all year?”
The New Store
Alan talked more about our Co-op roots, including the “bodega-like” storefront on Quail Street, the store on Central Avenue, and our new home. The lease we had on Central Avenue allowed us to grow. He shared details of the decisions that were made around the plan to move from Central Avenue once we outgrew that space, including that we borrowed $13 million to build this new store and, if all goes well, we’ll be free of debt in three years. He added, “That’s phenomenal! What’s next?”
History, and the Evolution of Food Policy at HWFC
Alan returned to some more history. In 1976, the founders were largely vegetarians, some were macrobiotic, and others were lacto-ovo and the like. Their common cause was for access to food that was not readily available in the area. They stocked bulk food primarily and there wasn’t much produce. The Hudson Valley Federation of Co-ops would provide whatever was in season at the time.
Someone asked how many of the original founders are still around. Alan responded that Bob Lynn, who works in the Bulk Department, was one of the second managers of the store. Gayle Anderson has been here since 1981. That was back when there were only two paid employees. Gayle managed the Produce Department, which was then mostly outside of the store. The Co-op carried only brown bread from BaBa’s Bakery next door, which had a healthy snack program for kids.
There was a no-sugar policy. (I heard a “wow!” in the group.) They made choices not to carry products for political reasons. There was also no coffee because they didn’t want to support oligarchic states that produced it and there was no chocolate in protest of Nestle, the company responsible for many third world mothers becoming dependent on formula, which was less nutritious and more expensive. He adds that, “we recognize that food is politics even to this day.”
To the delight of the group, Alan recounted the tales of past contraband chocolate exchanges in back rooms. He reminded us that Member-Owners have a role in continually shaping the food policy of the Co-op. Meat has been a big issue. Initially, we only carried meat within a 150-mile radius and the manager visited each farm.
Alan shared that most co-ops have adopted a new consumer model, which bases benefits on profits. At the end of the year, the consumer gets a rebate according to what they have spent. Resisting this type of model is one of the reasons that, a little over two years ago, the Membership stood up to former management and Board. Most co-ops don’t have a time exchange or benefits at the point of sale like we do, which sets us apart. Your role, as Alan instructed, is to see that our Member-Owner model of co-op continues.
Alan observed that today we have to meet the needs of a gargantuan community. People from all surrounding counties come here. He even knows people who drive an hour from Great Barrington. Alan affirmed that the foundational roots of the Co-op have always been of a familial/community environment. That is still experienced with owners making time commitments and things like the Cabin Fever Coffee and Chocolate Event that the Membership Committee hosted in February for Member-Owners. Activities like that build community. Alan says that’s why he has been actively involved for 40 years.
The Discount Benefits
Alan moved on to our current discount benefits, further details of which can be found in the Honest Weight Member-Owner Manual, available at the Service Desk:
- 2% discount for Owners
- An additional discount of 5% is given to Owners when they purchase products in our Local program.
- Senior owners 65 years old and above receive a 5% discount, except on Wednesday, when it’s 8% for all seniors. Senior member-owners can receive the level of discount that they invest time for. Alan added that he is 70 and still values his involvement on the Membership Committee.
- Member-owners who invest three hours (plus one additional hour for every other adult in their household) monthly get an 8% discount.
- Member-owners who contribute three hours a week (plus one additional hour for every other adult in their household) get a 24% discount. He noted that Honest Weight prefers time investments to be made in one department.
A participant asked if we could donate our hours to other member-owners and Alan confirmed that we can. He adds that the Membership Committee is working to additionally create an hours bank that would allow member-owners to donate hours to people in need.
One individual can’t help asking, because he is a lawyer, if there is a 1099 required. The answer is no, it is not work, but a time investment. He told a story of how in 1976, the founders were a happy band of freaks who were anti-everything. They had to learn. An owner had their 11-year-old daughter helping as a cashier. She never asked for anyone’s sign or about who was dating who, he joked, but an owner who also worked for the Department of Labor pointed out that this wasn’t acceptable. Now that we make around $30 million in sales, we have to be more cautious. We pay lots of billable hours to law firms to ensure that we are following the rules.
Alan cautioned that we need to let the Member-Owner coordinator, Yevette, know when we take time-outs for vacation and other things. If not, the Co-op will continue to deduct hours every month. A member-owner added that it is also important to let Yevette know when you want to change your discount. Rhoda shared that you get hours for orientation and Membership meetings, and asked that you be mindful that department managers rely on you. Alan articulated that we expect responsibility towards one’s ownership. It’s our business and our community.
I hope you enjoyed this update on our recent ability to continue selling owner-interests. As you can see, orientation is a huge undertaking. Gratefully, we have the Membership Committee and great orientation leaders like Judith and Alan to make it go smoothly. Notice how interesting and curious our new owners are! Please welcome and get to know them! While you’re at it, tell them about the Co-op Voice!