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A Different Way
Tim Sullivan, Interim GM
I have spent pretty much my whole life working in the food industry. I started at 13 in my dad's small town grocery store where I worked through the first couple years of college. I swore I'd never work in the grocery business again. When I went back to college though, I worked at an independent supermarket in Fort Collins, CO and spent the majority of my career with Hy-Vee Foods. I owned and ran a small restaurant where I bought everything I possibly could from local famers, including whole organic hogs and did most of the processing work in-house. I even did some consulting work for a honey processor and ran a few hives myself as a hobby. I hope I have learned a few things over the years, but my time at Common Ground has given me the opportunity to really explore and think about our food systems in the United States. The only conclusion I came to for sure is; it is broken.
We have been hearing a lot about how broken our health-care system is over the past year, but the way we grow, produce, process, distribute, and consume food is equally broken. The reality is over the long haul our broken food system could do way more damage to our health and the world. Most of my friends back in Iowa are farmers (please don't send this piece to them), so I have a deep appreciation for their love of the land. Unfortunately, our government policies such as the crop insurance program and big ag's stranglehold (especially here in the heartland) have made it nearly impossible for them to change how they farm. It can be done, but it is not easy.
Government policy and big corporate interests have pretty much brought us to this point. With all the science behind climate change and agriculture's role in it, the government should lead the effort to restore us to sanity and sustainable practices, right? Not a chance. Only one thing is going to make that happen; you, me, and all food consumers demanding something different, and doing it with our pocketbook. Currently we see evidence of the consumer's dollar purchasing power in the way the big food chains are jumping on the organic bandwagon.
If you're interested in learning about our food system's challenges and possible solutions, I would encourage you to pick up a book called
Kiss the Ground by Josh Tickell. He tells a story that is easy for non-farmers like me to understand, and I have worked in the business long enough and have enough farmer friends to believe he makes a good case for a better way to do it. One of his key points is a concept called regenerative agriculture. It is a method of farming that will not only produce healthier food, but will help restore the earth's CO2 balance. It is all about the soil. Restore the health of the soil, restore the health of our planet. The good news is we have farmers using these methods here in Illinois, and the Illinois Stewardship Alliance is conducting farmer workshops on regenerative farming.
The last 50 years have been really tough on the planet. Any google search will give you more stats then you can handle. I am unsure humanity will survive if we pour on another 50 years just like the last 50. As a baby boomer I feel a responsibility for those 50 years (not that I believe any other generation would have necessarily done better), and choose to spend the rest of my short stay on our planet doing less damage, and maybe even working to restore some of the damage. That is the only way it will work. One person at a time until there are enough of us to really make a difference.
I am convinced Common Ground and other food co-ops can help lead this effort. We can support and expand local food production. As a matter of fact it is one of our Ends; "Our local food system is equitable, robust and environmentally sound." Will food in the stores cost more? Maybe, probably, but when you look at our food's true costs, it will be way less expensive. (Look for my other article in this news letter to talk about food costs.) Josh says in his book "This is a deciding moment for humanity. Our fate depends on what we eat and how we produce that food. It depends on whether we continue to ignore our impact on the ecosystem or embrace the fact that we are inseparable from it". I believe with absolute certainty that everything is connected, impact one thing and impact it all. What are we going to choose?
I welcome your thoughts and insights on our food system and Common Ground's role.
January through March, we're focusing on questions at the heart of the co-operative model. Phase one of the Why Co-op campaign includes basic and detailed background on what a co-op is, what our co-op is, and why it matters.
Look out for in-store signage, promotional events and classes, staff editorials, t-shirts, bumper stickers, pins, and a Why Co-op website page in the coming weeks.
We believe in the power of good habits to change the world, beginning with our own. That's why we're in the habit of sourcing locally and ethically, educating the community on food issues, and giving back as much as we can.
Your choices matter too.
Where you shop
is where your money goes. When your money goes to the co-op, it's invested into the future of our community. The good just keeps on going.
How you shop
is the companies, practices, and principles you support, as well as the food you eat. The co-op has the highest standards for ethical food. We're a different kind of grocery store.
What you eat
determines your wellbeing and the future of the planet, so eat consciously.
Common Ground is your ally in the
fight for a healthy planet, a healthy community, and a healthy you.
Cooperatives and Socialism
Colin Dodson, IT Coordinator
As you might guess, this is going to get a bit political. The last two years have given us plenty of reason to grow weary of "politics" and lose faith in the political structures around us, but as a cooperative, Common Ground is inherently a political organization as much as it is an economic one, and in my opinion, it's high time that we engage politically with our owners.
As we look toward a new year amidst political and economic turmoil, I want to ask all of us to look back to our cooperative roots. We are a cooperative, but what does that really mean? Let's start with a simple question with a not-so-simple answer.
Are Cooperatives Socialist?
To get an idea of what answers this question might have, we'll need a little bit more context. What is a cooperative? When and where do they come from? And how are co-ops related to Socialism?
There are many kinds of cooperatives which come from several traditions, but we're going to focus on the lineage that Common Ground and most co-ops come from.
For this purpose, we're going to start right around 1800. Revolutions in nearly every aspect of human life marked the turn of the 19th century as the rise of the
, the dying years of monarchy and feudalism, the rise of Capitalism, liberal democracy, and the enlightenment dramatically transformed society.
While developing capitalism and technology were able to create an abundance of material goods, they also created their own new forms of oppression and suffering--artisans' guilds (and skilled trades generally) lost a great deal of agency as their skills were replaced with automation, mass manufacturing, and low-skill repetitive labor, and at the same time, working conditions became more and more dangerous as working hours drew out ever longer in order to maximize the profits of factory, mine, and mill owners.
At the same time, enlightenment era idealists, philanthropists, and philosophers saw this suffering, and a few tried to do something about it. This is where we meet the intersection of Socialism and the Cooperative movement.
Born in Newtown, Wales in 1771, Robert Owen came to work in managing textile mills in Lincolnshire, and eventually to co-own the textile mill in New Lanark, Scotland in 1799-1800. In working in and managing textile mills, Owen developed his own spiritual, social, and economic approaches to labor and community which ultimately led to reducing working hours, providing free education to all workers and their families, and emphasizing the needs and wellbeing of labor when he gained the power to do so.
Owens came to describe himself as both a socialist and a proponent of the Cooperative Movement, and later went on to found a planned utopian socialist/cooperative village in
New Harmony, Indiana
in 1825. This later experiment ultimately failed economically in 1827, but the legacy Owen left continued into the Rochdale movement, and this is where socialism and the cooperative movement in Britain begin to part ways.
The Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers
In 1844, a group of 28 people who were largely displaced skilled tradespeople founded a cooperative enterprise known as the
. In the beginning, it was a very small worker-owned and managed retail business which carried only a few bare essentials such as butter, sugar, flour, and candles. Over just a few years, business boomed, and their selection expanded to include most consumables, and even tobacco and tea. From such humble beginnings, they'd built a business that became renowned for their high quality, unadulterated goods.
What the Rochdale Society also produced were a set of guiding principles which has evolved into the
that we still hold to this day. To put this into perspective with the development of Socialism in the sense we know it today, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published the
Okay, so what does all of this mean?
The cooperative movement and socialism are distinct from each other, but they are close cousins. Socialism demands a whole-scale transformation of society's productive forces, and to immediately end Capitalism. Cooperatives are a little different--they seek to do the best they can democratically within whatever economic system is present. So, cooperatives aren't
socialist, but they share a common root and are, in some cases, fully compatible with a Socialist society.
Cooperatives come in many different forms--from worker co-ops and consumer co-ops to producer - secondary - and hybrid co-ops, but each form shares critical features laid out in the principles by which they operate and the general structure of decision-making and governance within and between co-ops. For example--Common Ground does not have "shareholders," we have "stakeholders," and decision-making power is ultimately rooted in a democracy of consumers. That means
are in charge.
If you'd like to learn more about how to exercise your power as an owner of Common Ground, how to become an owner, or how to contribute to this newsletter, feel free to reach out to our board of directors ( email@example.com ) or our marketing team ( firstname.lastname@example.org ). Remember, this is your co-op and your participation keeps our collective faith in a better business model alive.
Questions? Comments? Reach Colin at email@example.com
|The Seven Cooperative Principles - generally shared among co-ops of all kinds -also known as the Rochdale Principles (see Colin's article above). You can
find these principles illustrated on our mezzanine wall above register 1.
Apply to be a Local Artist featured in our Art Gallery
Apply by March 1st online or in person
Our gallery is located in our highly utilized Flatlander Classroom, a space dedicated to connecting the community, facilitating educational opportunities focusing on healthy living, and providing access to local artists. This multi-use space is ideal for integrating the arts into the urban environment and creating partnerships among artists, the community and the Co-op. This year, we will be hosting two local artist installations every two months, allotting each artist a locked case that is 8' long x 44'' high x 4'' wide. We always welcome kids and group shows to apply before March 1st, 2018 to be considered.
Common Ground will provide selected artists with:
1. Two months, or eight weeks of Art Gallery space in the Flatlander classroom.
2. Closing Night Celebration: Common Ground will provide a free Art Gallery reception including publicity and food.
3. Designed and printed postcards for distribution by the artist.
4. Promotion of artist and closing night events through various media sources (including but not limited to Facebook, Common Ground E-Newsletter, our website, print materials, etc).
If selected, artists will be responsible for:
*Timely installation and labeling of work
*Communication with the Outreach Coordinator
*Completing Art Gallery Application either online or submitted in person.
*Although the artwork is secured in a locked and protective case, Common Ground Food Co-op is not responsible for any damage or stolen artwork.
*To maintain our safe, welcoming environment we require that works are non-discriminatory and non-graphic/explicit in content, and must be appropriate for all ages. Selection is at the Co-op's discretion.
Questions or requests for paper application?
or call 217-352-3347
Yoga at Amara with Kristin Walters
Sunday, January 14th, 11am - 12pm
With the new year, we're encouraging community wellness!
Amara Yoga & Arts and Common Ground are collaborating together for January to put on a FREE yoga class open to Co-op Owners. This hour long yoga class will be taught by Kristin Walters, certified yoga teacher at Amara, Co-op Board Member, and Imbibe Urbana's Community Organizer. Yoga beginners are welcome.
First time at Amara? Stop by five minutes beforehand to learn about their $30 for 30 days newcomer deal!
January Feature: Pizza Sub
Jessica Wiener, Deli Manager
All January we will be featuring our Pizza Sub, made with local Great Harvest Popeye Hoagie - a cheesy Parmesan bread - with roasted red peppers and spinach, local Ludwig Farmstead mozzarella, co-op made pizza sauce, organic spinach and organic caramelized onions with your choice of co-op made sausage-style seitan or all-natural spicy Italian sausage.
We are also introducing a new punch card loyalty program for our customers in 2018: buy 10 sandwiches, get the next one free! Grab a punch card with your next sandwich.
Questions? Comments? Reach the Deli at firstname.lastname@example.org
New Year, New You, New Classes!
Check out our upcoming classes and events in January
Register online via the links below, or sign up in person with our staff at the registers, if you prefer. Unless indicated otherwise, all classes and events are located in the Flatlander Classroom at Common Ground, 300 S. Broadway in the Lincoln Square Shopping Center.
Tuesday, January 2; 4-5
FREE; registration required
This monthly cooking class is for kids in grades 1 & 2. We learn how to use kitchen tools safely while preparing delicious kid-friendly foods.
Thursday, January 4; 4-5
FREE; registration required
This monthly cooking class is for kids in grades 3-5. We learn how to read recipes, use kitchen tools safely, and prepare new foods.
First Friday: Our First Pop-up Event
Friday, January 5; 5:30-7
Price varies per product
Join us for Urbana's First Friday for our first ever pop-up event! Glow by Lola will be in store featuring exclusive wellness items, and Triple S's Stan will be cooking chicken kabobs in our classroom. Cost for Glow items and Triple S meals will vary.
Cooking with Textured Vegetable Protein:Tex-Mex Lasagna
Wednesday, January 10; 6-7
$7 owners; $12 non-owners
Co-op staff, Jennifer, will lead a class on cooking with textured vegetable protein, a nutrient-dense soy product. This hands-on class will focus on TVP's nutritional value, its common uses, while making a Tex-Mex Lasagna with TVP.
Saturday, January 13; 1-3
$10 owners; $15 non-owners
Henna is a long standing tradition in many cultures, with elaborate designs applied during celebrations. Having recently relocated from Pakistan, our new instructor, Sultana, will teach us the basics in henna design and application.
Saturday, January 13; 3-5
$10 owners; $15 non-owners
Following our Henna 101 class, Sultana will lead a cooking class to highlight popular Pakistani dish, chicken biryani.
Art Gallery Reception
Friday, January 19; 5:30-7:30
Join us for a celebration of our two featured artists, Paige Fredricks and Katie Maubach, and enjoy an evening of refreshments, local music, and amazing art.
Saturday, January 20; 3-4
$10 owners; 15 non-owners
Long time kombucha brewer, Holly of Delight Flower Farm will lead a class on home brewing with local flowers. Join us to learn about the health benefits of kombucha and gain experience on making your own!
Sunday, January 21; 2-3:30
$5 owners; $10 non-owners
Interested in natural medicine but don't know where to start? Dayempur Herbals is a regional producer in our wellness department, specializing in herbal healing. Their team will visit the co-op to lead a discussion on herbal healing with a focus on inflammation and how to incorporate their natural supplements into our daily life.
Monday, January 22; 7pm
Located in Lincoln Square Mall Hallway
Common Ground is starting a quarterly Movie Monday event in the Lincoln Sqaure Mall Hallway. Come by the co-op for a free food-related movie and tasty snacks. The movie choice will be announced shortly.
Led by Eric & Alba Burton
Saturday, Jan 27th, 2-3pm
$10 owners / $15 non-owners
Father-daughter duo Eric and Alba are leading a class on parent-child cooking! They are sharing one of their favorite recipes to prepare together: easy vegetarian stir-fry, which involves marinating tofu, making rice, chopping vegetables, and scrambling eggs. Most importantly, this class can encourage elementary-aged kids to get involved in food preparation and cooking at home!
Questions? Comments? Reach Education at email@example.com
December Results: Crisis Nursery
Together, we raised over $4,500 this December for Crisis Nursery, whichcreates an "Island of Safety" dedicated to the prevention of child abuse and neglect by providing 24-hour emergency care for children and support to strengthen families in crisis.
January Round Up For Good: Daily Bread Soup Kitchen
Since 2010, Common Ground has donated $175,000 to local organizations through Round Up for Good! The 2018 lineup is exciting because every organization featured is located in Champaign-Urbana. We are excited to collaborate and crowdfund for these local organizations!
All of January's donations will support Daily Bread Soup Kitchen, the local soup kitchen open seven days a week, "serving hot meals
of soup, salad, entree, dessert and beverage to over 200 guests per day. We are entirely volunteer run and depend on donations from individuals, businesses and local grants.
"Our mission is to feed the hungry of our community regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity. We welcome all volunteers to this service who share an unconditional positive regard for every human being. We provide a safe, respectful, and inviting environment in an atmosphere of hope and dignity."
Want to be signed up to volunteer at DBSK? They usually can accept 3 volunteers per day.
Apply Now to Volunteer
Want to donate food or money?
February Round Up For Good: Education Justice Project
Grassroots For Good with Education Justice Project
Feb 3rd, 12-2pm, in Co-op Mall Hallway
Join us for an educational event co-hosted with EJP. Learn about their work, hear from organizers and volunteers, and newest February feature in the Art Gallery.
The Education Justice Project (EJP) is a vibrant community of incarcerated students, educators, families, and others who are committed to creating a more just and humane world through education and critical awareness. EJP hosts a college-in-prison program at Danville Correctional Center, produces a statewide reentry guide, runs programs in Urbana-Champaign for families of incarcerated loved ones, and engages in public education efforts around issues related to incarceration and criminal justice.
The Cost of Food
Tim Sullivan, Interim GM
Most people are aware the percentage of our income that we spend for food is the lowest in the world. One reason is because our incomes are some of the highest in the world. I think most people would also recognize the low costs we see in food stores is not the true cost of our food. One hidden cost is taxpayer subsidiaries which mostly go to large industrial farms. However, by far the largest hidden cost comes from the ways we produce, process, and consume food. It will come as no surprise that the largest of these is healthcare costs resulting from our unhealthy diets; by some estimates as high as $1 trillion a year. Over-consumption of products with refined sugar contributes the largest share of these healthcare costs. Possibly of even greater concern is the costs associated with our industrial farming methods. It is not difficult to find research that reveals the damage done by our chemical usage or our large confined livestock operations for example. Our nation's farm policies have clearly been designed to support large industrial agriculture, processed food, and to keep our food costs low.
At Common Ground we occasionally hear from customers that the cost of our products are higher than our competition. I would like to share a few reflections on our food costs and what we are doing to control them. As you know most of my career was spent with a conventional supermarket, so I really understand their cost structures and pricing tactics. The 1st difference is, at this point in time organic and local products are more expensive than conventional products. I believe in the old saying "you get what you pay for". For example there is no comparison in the taste between locally grown tomatoes you buy in the farmers market and the ones that come from California. Many local products cost more because of processing costs. It just costs more to process one or two head of beef versus the thousands big Ag slaughters in a day. Is it worth it? If better quality, knowing where your food comes from and how it was produced, and supporting the local economy are important to a person, then it is absolutely worth paying more.
The costs of running an operation like Common Ground are also higher. In my old conventional store my produce or meat buyer ordered all of our product from one supplier. We would order today and it would show up tomorrow. In our produce department at Common Ground we've bought from over 20 different local producers in 2017. At my old store the produce manager spent maybe 6 hours a week ordering, but at Common Ground during peak season it is close to a full time job. Now spread that to every department in the store. Common Ground purchased local products from over 90 different producers in 2017. Over 18% of our store sales came from local producers in 2017, the conventional stores national average is less than 2%. This is one of the reasons it is so difficult for our big chain competition to do a good job with local food. No other food store in the C-U area does close to what Common Ground does with local producers.
Our Food for All program is one way Common Ground helps to make our food affordable for all families. The Co+op Basics line of organic food we carry is priced competitively with any of the organic products you will find at conventional stores. Everyday our buyers are looking for values for our customers. We are constantly looking at operations to see where we can reduce costs without compromising on quality or service. Since our owners are our customers and they care more about healthy food, we do not have to make huge profits as our competitors do. We do need to have some profits on the bottom-line though if we want to be here in 10 years. The net profits of the grocery industry as a whole are less than 1% of sales, so there is a fine line between making profit or going out of business.
Can we do better? Absolutely; we can work with local producers to help them lower their costs, expand their operations, promote them as a local food steward, and bring their products to you as efficiently and conveniently as possible. We can continue to improve our customers shopping experience which will attract more customers. Higher sales really does lower our costs by spreading our fixed costs over more sales. We can continue to explore ways to improve operational excellence in the store. We have a long list to work on in the New Year. It is work that never ends, and we hope that you will continue to share the journey with us.
Questions? Comments? Reach Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org
What does the co-op board do? Visioning is one thing
-- A story of how visioning saved the co-op
by Karen Medina, board member
People often ask what role the board of directors plays in the food co-op. I believe our most important responsibilities include: hiring the general manager, job review of the general manager, firing of the general manager if it ever needs to be done, making sure the ends are kept in the forefront of the co-op, helping to organize the major communication events like the annual meetings of the owners (MOOs), the annual financial meetings of the owners (FinMOOs), and visioning. I want to take this time to talk about visioning, and share a story of how I think the 2005 3-month long visioning process saved Common Ground Food Co-op two years later. I like this story because it also ties several of the functions of the board into one memorable anecdote.
In 2007, Common Ground was given notice that it had to quickly move out of the basement of the church where it had been for thirty years. Our co-op was definitely not prepared for this sudden loss of our physical space; however, we were much more prepared than we might have been. Two years earlier, the board had initiated an extensive visioning process which in turn put into motion a long-term plan for the little co-op. That long-term plan might possibly have been what saved the co-op from closing its doors forever. Below is the whole story.
As Jacqueline Hannah, the General Manager at the time, wrote about the unexpected non-renewal of the lease:
"I did what any reasonable general manager of a tiny co-op (900 square feet of retail, $750,000 in annual sales, and no savings to speak of) would do after receiving such a letter-I put my head down and started pounding the desktop with my fists."
"But all was not as bad as my initial response indicated. Two years earlier, the co-op's board of directors and staff had led a visioning process with the co-op owners. While many different ideas and dreams arose, there was one central theme. Our co-op would need to move out of the basement where we had started over three decades before, to expand and come into the light of our greater community.
"At that time , we did not have a management structure and were still led by coordinators, some of them unpaid volunteers. To get us ready for relocation and expansion, the board began a general manager search and formalized other positions such as grocery manager, produce manager, and front-end manager. [...] and, in August of 2006, finally found their general manager", [Jacqueline Hannah], "With the needed infrastructure in place, we had been planning the move and expansion to take place in 2009.
So "[i]n late 2007, when told we would not be allowed to renew our lease, [...] We were not ready right then, but [... w]e took the bull by the horns and got to work with a plan to expand and relocate [...sooner]. On Aug. 22, 2008, we opened the doors of a beautiful new store in the heart of our community, with more than double our original retail space."
Jacqueline Hannah goes on to write about all the lessons the co-op learned. My personal favorite is,
"Keep the owners engaged. We didn't know it at the time, but a key to our success was our very communicative style with our co-op owners. I wrote to our owner e-list at least twice a week with updates on the project. They knew when the store design plans arrived in the mail, the day the business plan was completed, what new staff we were bringing on board, who the consultants were on the project, all of it. During our member loan program, they got weekly updates, but as we got within two weeks of our deadline they got daily updates on our loan total. The excitement was contagious. We also held open meetings with the board and owners on many relocation issues and conducted a survey of the owners to learn what they wanted in a new store. The owners have since told us that they felt like it was really their store. Engaged owners are committed owners, and they make more loans, bigger loans, and shop more in their new store because of it."
That all happened ten years ago. Looking back on it today, I think a combination of two things saved the co-op. The first was that the board and staff together had conducted a visioning process where the owners, staff, and volunteers all worked together to develop a vision. So even when thrown a curveball, the co-op staff and community knew where we were supposed to be going, we just needed to speed up the process. The second was communication -- the management and the board kept the owners, staff, and media up to date on what was happening.
As Julie Zilles pointed out in last month's board article, visioning is a priority for the board.
What can you do? In April 2018, the board and co-op administration are planning the annual Financial Meeting of the Owners (FinMOO). This a meeting where all owners and staff hear financial reports and are invited to ask questions. Please, please watch for announcements for that event.
I want to take some space here to give a special thanks to the people who told me their stories of the visioning events of 2005 and 2011. Even though I was an owner, I did not participate in either event, but I should have! I was a very poor graduate student at the time of each of these so I thought I had nothing to offer the co-op. I have since learned that I would have been very welcome -- visioning is for all the stakeholders.
This bit of history was compiled and commented on by newly elected board member Karen Medina.
[Most of the quotes come from this article]
"Common Ground Food Co-op: Small co-op expands in a big hurry"
By Jacqueline Hannah
2008 February 8
"Common Ground Food Co-op Announces New Location" [Lincoln Square]
By Marissa Monson
Plus several conversations with people who remember the visionings of 2005 and 2011. A special thanks to all of you who shared your stories and notes with me! I enjoyed every minute of our conversations!
The next board meeting is: January 8, 6:15-8:15 pm, Urbana Civic Center
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