by Bill Pardee, Board Member
On a Saturday in late September, all seven board members, General Manager, David Lester, and seven Co-op staff members met in a large room in the country for 7 ½ hours to examine 3 questions for the Co-op: Where have we been? Where are we now? Where do we want to go? Barb Ettleson, with long experience in strategic planning for both large and small organizations, planned and guided the workshop.
Lorado Adelmann, 30-year member, periodic Board member, and the Board president who introduced our current form of governance. He gave us a short history of the Co-op’s evolution from $10,000 in sales per year to now with roughly that much in sales per day. Long before the recent stories of giant egg factories spreading salmonella across the country, he told us that the Co-op community has always been conscious of the destructive effects of the industrial food system on our bodies, our communities and our environment.
Lorado also told us that the Co-op always had both low-income shoppers seeking economical good food and affluent customers seeking uncommon spices or simply better food. Now, awareness of this need for healthy food and a sustainable environment has spread to much of mainstream America. This mainstream desire for “our kind of food” is both an opportunity and a threat. If we don’t meet the need, someone else will.
The GM, the staff and Board members did research beforehand on national economic, co-operative and whole food trends. Many brought articles and books to share. A Co-op staff member told us movingly of her desire to protect her young daughter from herbicides and pesticides.
The staff did comparative shopping at our indirect competitors. Teresa Wiemerslage of ISU extension and the Farm and Food coalition told us about the substantial and rapidly growing strength of our local food system. The Co-op is the leading organic and local food grocer in a large region of NE Iowa.
Then we turned to developing possible answers to the question, “Where do we go, now?” The possible answers were many, all good. The group discussed the relationship of potential initiatives to the Board determined Co-op Ends. We have a fairly small staff who already work hard. Setting specific targets requires detailed analysis in balancing costs and gains. The General Manager and his staff will do this in preparing the business plan for Board review in December.
This meeting between the Board, representative members and the GM and staff educated all of us. We understand more about our business climate and each other’s concerns. Working together, we will help the Co-op to continue to serve the community successfully.