Case Study – Brattleboro Defines Sustainability: “Working with Our Neighbors”

Case Study – Brattleboro Defines Sustainability: “Working with Our Neighbors”

Columinate | 01-07-2004

MindShifts3When the Brattleboro Food Co-op in Brattleboro, Vermont had an opportunity to potentially move their store’s location outside of downtown, the board engaged the membership’s opinion. “People spoke eloquently about the co-op in terms of social and community issues, not about the food.” said Mark Goehring, president of Brattleboro Co-op’s board of directors. “When we reflected on that as a board we realized we really wanted to look outward and make connections to our community.”

That led to a year-long process of identifying what having a “sustainable cooperative economy” meant to the Brattleboro Food Co-op. The board had comfortably evolved their board policy process, operations were running smoothly, and the board cast about for what was next. The common denominator was that all the board members were passionate about contributing to the community. “To do this work was very new and exhilarating for the board. How do we work together and improve and build community?”

Synergistic happenstance helped the board achieve clarity on the issue—a CGANE board meeting in October 2003 spurred Brattleboro to invite attendees to their co-op’s board retreat in February 2004 centered on the topic of working together for a sustainable co-op economy. “Because of the CGANE meeting it was an invitation to be involved. We realized we wouldn’t be successful without

[the other co-ops].”

Goehring describes how co-op board members made a “mind shift” from thinking about the co-op as a singular entity to thinking about the co-op as a member of a community beyond geographic boundaries. One of the things that grew out of the February meeting was that not only are the co-ops part of a larger community, but that the success of one contributes to the success of all. Goehring noted how the start up co-op River Valley Market in Northampton, New Hampshire affects the success of all the co-ops in the region. “If there’s a local co-op in New Hampshire it helps all of us. That changes the kind of support we might think of providing, and not just altruistically, but knowing that we all benefit if they thrive.”

The boards in the area are interested in taking the idea of a sustainable cooperative economy to the next level. A few of the co-ops have adopted ends policies through their board governance process to support the work. “We’re putting this out as a 25, 50, 100-year vision,” said Goehring. “We want to diversify the role and expression of co-ops. That’s our intention. We are working on answering how we fit in with our neighbors, and with them turn back to our communities together to see how we can improve them.”

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