February 19, 2013

Board Present: Martha Whitman, Marshall Kovitz, Roger Eldridge, Ariana Marchello, Lisa Banwarth-Kuhn, Betsy VanLeit, Susan McAllister, Kristy Decker, Jessica Rowland (Advisory member)

Also Present: Deborah Good (admin assistant), Jennifer Cornish (facilitator), Sarah Skenazy (board research assistant), Terry Bowling (GM), Sharret Rose (HR Coordinator), Bud Knecht and Debbie Williams (Echo Ridge Co-op), Maggie Seeley (UNM Sustainability Studies, Co-op member), and co-op members (most of whom are Seeley’s students): Kara Williard, Christina Vialpando, Julia Maynard, Renee Pecot, Jared Adams (future member), Earl W. Shank, Allix Steward

Board Not Present: Jake Garrity

The meeting started at 5:30 p.m. at the Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Albuquerque.  Jennifer Cornish facilitated and Deborah Good took notes.

  1. General Welcome and Introductions
  1. Approve the Agenda

Issues Raised: Betsy moves and Roger seconds to approve the agenda.

Actions Taken:  The agenda is approved unanimously.

Actions Required:  None

  1. Member Comments

Issues Raised:

  1. Ariana reported on two emails that came to the board email account:
  • Santa Fe member would like the stores to label products to reflect their stance on the GMO initiative.  Ariana forwarded the email to Terri who responded.
  • Two members, one the author, emailed with a paragraph that was published in the Daily Lobo about how the writer grew up shopping at co-op and continues to do so.

Actions Required: None

  1. Consent Agenda
  1. Board Minutes January 2013
  2. Board Development Committee Minutes January 8
  3. Member Engagement Committee Minutes January 28
  4. Nominations & Elections Committee Minutes January 31

Issues Raised: No changes. Kristy moves and Roger seconds to approve the consent agenda.

Actions Taken: Passes unanimously

Actions Required: None

  1. Nominations & Elections Proposal

Issues Raised:

  1. Martha moves and Ariana seconds to approve the proposal.
  2. Marshall introduces the proposal, which asks that the N&E Committee take on work that would normally be delegated to the GM. The proposal is related to signage in the store encouraging members to give the Coop their email addresses. The push for email addresses is motivated by the need to reach members electronically to encourage participation in elections. Proposal is that signs be positioned directly above the cash registers in all stores so they are visible but do not interfere with operations.
  3. Marshall says the committee may want to track the number of additional emails obtained after the signs are hung.
  4. Marshall also raises the possibility of amending the motion so that the committee could choose to have signs hung elsewhere in the store, if deemed appropriate. This would mean adding language to the proposal “as well as in other locations in consultation with management.” Martha moves and Ariana seconds to approve the change.
  5. A member reports that the New Mexico Educators Federal Credit Union has close to 75% of members voting in their elections. Perhaps they have ideas.

Actions Taken: Passes unanimously. N&E Committee will move forward accordingly by next month’s meeting, March 19.

Actions Required: None

  1. Bylaw Proposal

Issues Raised:

  1. Betsy moves and Kristy seconds to approve the proposal.
  2. Martha reviews the proposal, which requests permission for the bylaw committee to come back to the board with bylaw proposals regarding the patronage dividends.
  3. Following a question from Roger, Martha confirms that the board’s lawyer and CPA will review the proposal before it comes to the board.

Actions Taken: Passes unanimously.

Actions Required: Bylaw Committee will have proposal(s) ready for the April 16 board meeting (in two months).

  1. La Montanita Fund Income Distribution Proposal

Issues Raised:

  1. Martha moves and Ariana seconds to approve the proposal.
  2. Terry explains that the fund is distributed to investors, who are all in the state of New Mexico. The program is growing. He is pleased with the fund and the return rate. The proposal requests approval to distribute the funds.
  3. Roger: Wasn’t last year’s return percentage higher than this year’s? Terry: It could have been but there were significantly fewer loans (resulting in less fees paid).

Actions Taken: Passes unanimously

Actions Required: None 

  1. Management Monitoring Reports – Staff Treatment X2.5, Data Privacy X9

Issues Raised:

  1. Betsy moves and Roger seconds to approve the report.
  2. Terry:
  • First, sales have been good this month. After a few challenges, all documents for new store have been signed. We are in the permitting and architectural planning stage.
  • We have a new store team leader, Michael Smith, at the Gallup store. He has been with the Co-op for about two years, and I think he is going to do well. I am hopeful about sales growth at the store.
  1. Sharret Rose (HR Coordinator): This month’s report compares co-op wages with statewide data, and for most categories of employees, the co-op’s wages are slightly lower than the state average. A few things to remember:
  • There are limitations to the comparisons because of the way employees are categorized in the statewide data.
  • The staff discount (18%) on co-op purchases is not reflected in the wages.
  • Insurance is high compared to years past
  • The living wage went up in Albuquerque, and we are raising the entry-level wage on March 1. The co-op’s “living wage model” does not necessarily mean you are paid a living wage at entry.
  • Because we have a lot of employees in their first year, it brings the average wage down. Most of our employees who leave do so because they are moving on. Very few leave because they were unhappy with the job.
  • We have about 230 employees.
  • Hiring in Santa Fe is more challenging than in Albuquerque. The city’s more transient population results in turnover. In Santa Fe, the quality of candidates has gone down. In Abq, in contrast, there is a lot of demand for co-op jobs, so we are able to select very strong candidates.
  • Our privacy policy provides a very controlled and secure system.

Actions Taken: Passes unanimously.

Actions Required: None

  1. NCGA Growth Survey

Issues Raised: NCGA wants the co-op to complete the survey as one body. Martha facilitates a process for completing the survey as a board.

Actions Taken: None

Actions Required: None

  1. Board Study – La Montanita’s Ends: Opportunities and Challenges – Sarah Skenazy

Issues Raised:  See Attached

Actions Taken: None

Actions Required: None

11.  Board Functioning

Issues Raised:

  1. Attending the CCMA Conference in Austin – Ariana, Martha, Lisa, and Terry
  2. Martha and Marshall going to Arizona this weekend to provide consulting/assistance to Food Conspiracy
  3. There has been a large number of guests at recent board meetings.
  • This is in part due to Maggie Seeley’s course requirement that students attend a meetings, although this requirement may not continue.
  • Martha: Do we need additional guidelines for guests at meetings? We want to be transparent and helpful, but this is a business meeting.
  • Board members who spoke appreciated table configuration at today’s meetings, which had board members sitting in a central square and guests sitting on two wings.
  • Task: Susan and Jennifer are working on an agenda template with explanations of the standard items on the board meeting agenda. The document will be laminated and can be shared with guests. They will have it ready by the March 19 meeting.
  1. The Nominations and Elections Committee asks board members for ideas for signs. The group brainstorms some ideas, and agree that a variety of signs might be best. A banner at the information desk might also be a good idea.
  2. Next Board Development Committee meeting: April 4 at 5:30 at Martha’s

Actions Taken: None

Actions Required: None

  1. Administrative Assistant Duties

Issues Raised:

  1. Deborah and Ariana request an additional month for updating policies in manual and surveys (Item #6 on task list)
  2. Martha will again write the Co-opera article, due March 5

Actions Taken: None
Actions Required:  None

  1. Meeting evaluation

Issues Raised:

  1. Pros: good food and interesting conversation during Board Study; done early despite a long agenda
  2. Survey was clumsy, but it worked..

Actions Taken: None

Actions Required:  None

  1. Next Meeting Agenda Construction

Issues Raised:

  1. Board members will complete first half of B survey.

Actions Taken: None

Actions Required:  None

  1. Adjourn regular session

ATTACHMENT A: BOARD STUDY

Topic– La Montanita’s Ends: Opportunities and Challenges

Goal for group conversation: Read three articles on the future of organics, the potential of co-ops, and the competing priorities of natural food cooperatives, and reflect on how these align or conflict with our Ends.

Readings:

1. The Food Co-op: Food or Co-op? – an article written in 1978

2. The future of cooperatives: An executive roundtable an article commissioned for IYC

3. A Twenty Year Vision for Organic Agriculture from a panel at a Bioneers conference

Key Themes in Discussion:

1.     Food or Co-op: Do we place greater value in our ends on selling organic products or on the cooperative governance model?

  • Martha: This provides a way to defend our position (e.g. because of our commitment to local and organic foods, our prices are higher than they would be otherwise).
  • Roger: I have been assuming that if people really understood how a coop works, it would be a no-brainer. They would choose the coop system over a more conventional capitalist model. But the article says that goods and services must be of similar quality before governance matters in people’s choices.
  • Marshall: People do care that their needs are being met. They care about that more than whether the organization is making a profit. Meeting member needs is at least as important than the bottom line. That could have been discussed further in the article.
  • Ariana: Food or co-op – this is a false dichotomy. Our mission has not been to provide inexpensive food. I don’t think we should sell conventional food to get more members.
  • 2.     Socioeconomics: Our commitment to selling good food means that those of less means cannot afford to shop.
  • Betsy: I am teaching a course on health disparities, which are getting worse and worse in this country. Economic status is the big factor. We [the co-op] do good food and we do humane food, and I’m really happy for these things. But equitable food? We are not accessible to a lot of our region because of prices. I do not want to become a social organization or a charity, and I understand that food issues are very complex, so perhaps it is my own issue. But it is bothering me that our members are not diverse or representative of our community.
  • Martha: I am interested in building more bridges – how do we really talk about people who are on the other side? How might we engage electric co-ops who aren’t aligned with us environmentally, or representatives of Big Ag?
  • Betsy: Our context is very different from the Rochdale Co-op. We are a long way from our roots. Maybe we could look at some of those examples in this country and other areas of the world.
  • Could the co-op own a patch of land for a farmers’ market? That could be a way of making lower cost food available.
  • Sarah: La Montanita is not a radical start up born out of desperation. What would it mean to build alliances with people who are in that situation? I’d be interested in learning more about the history of relationships La Montanita has had with smaller groups. It would maybe be interesting to look at examples of co-ops more focused on food access for low-income folks.
  • Martha – The Cooperative Initiative, Stuart Reid. Maybe we could learn something more about what they are doing.

 3.     Beyond Organic: Should we consider selling food that is not certified organic?

  • Organics is now an industry, no longer a movement.
  • Susan: We might want to focus more on local than on organic because it supports the local economy. That could be a niche that would help us compete with larger organic sellers like Whole Foods. I think we could still meet our ends, just having our focus shifted a little bit.
  • Jessica: Organic agriculture is important, but focusing just on that eliminates many NM growers, including traditional growers. Could we broaden the focus to think about what sustainable agriculture means, beyond just the organic certification?
  • Terry: A lot of the organic market is controlled by large companies. Honest Tea is a Coca Cola product. We have to learn to coexist with big companies. More and more of organics are going to be bought out. (Martha: That pressure could lead to more land being used organically.) Could be a good thing.

 4.     Co-op Role: What segment of the market can we influence?

  • Ariana: Policy changes can begin to affect the market and consumption among pockets of the U.S. population (e.g. the new NYC regulation on soda). Co-op is not competing with Walmart or Whole Foods on a national level, just locally. Part of what we need to do is identify our effective market.
  • Lisa: Changes in agriculture (to no chemicals, rotating crops) means the producer can’t focus just on profit, which is what is driving big agriculture now. Other motives are needed. We can be a voice for local products to say, “We’re not going to sell your product with those additives in it.” We have done that, and they’ve taking it out (e.g. Bueno). We can be local pressure.
  • Lisa: One role is to educate the consumer to create the pressure on sellers. If the only pressure is to lower prices, that is how the sellers will respond.

 5.     Agricultural Subsidies: Government subsidies for conventional agribusiness have encouraged conventional practices and resulted in artificially low prices.

  • Kristy: There were generations of organic farming. Then there was this huge shift, government-aided, to non-organics. Now there is some shift back the other way, but what would it take for it to really shift?
  • Marshall: Government subsidies for not good food is part of what creates the inequities. Those are the things that have to be changed. I am fine with accepting that we are going to meet the needs of a narrow niche, as long as we are making efforts to influence policies, specifically the subsidies that are reducing prices on non-organics. To some degree, our narrow niche is not something we can control.
  • Roger: Intrigued with idea of eliminating subsidies to level the playing field, which would benefit small, sustainable agriculture. But suppose that happened. What effect would that have on the price of food in general? Would all prices go up? I fear is the price of food would rise significantly and it could be a catastrophe. Maybe if it could be done more gradually.
  • Ariana: It would affect processed foods and livestock feed. That’s where commodity foods go–Corn. Meat would cost more. Chips and other processed foods would be more expensive, or those company profits would go down.
  • Betsy: People used to spend a greater % of their money on food. But housing was more affordable. And people probably also had more time to grow and prepare their own food. Wages have been kept artificially low. Housing has become more expensive and food has gone down.
  • Sarah: There’s also more money being spent on entertainment than in the past. Maybe the subsidy question is a good topic for a future board study. If the conventional agriculture system keeps going as it is, resources will run out – soil will be depleted, there will be no more land.
  • Jessica: There are some positive subsidies – food stamps. Perhaps calling for a shift of some of the subsidized dollars to these sorts of social support would be a good approach.

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