What’s Important?

What’s Important?

by Bill Pardee, Co-op Board President

I am almost 67 years old. Twenty-five years from now, at the end of 2036, I intend to still regularly buy healthy local food at the Co-op and carry it out of the store, myself. That personal goal framed my perspective as the Co-op Board informally discussed priorities for the Co-op at the August Board meeting.

The Board, as you know, hires the General Manager (GM) to run the Co-op. The Board governs, not manages, the Co-op by a) setting limits on what the GM is allowed to do, b) defining the benefits, which we call “Ends” that the GM is to obtain, and c) verifying systematically that those Ends are achieved without violating those limits. If you like, you can read the specifics at


The Co-op has eight defined Ends. All are important; all are being met at some level. The Board informally asked itself the question, “For which Ends would improved results have the greatest value to our members?”

Before I talk about the results of that Board Strategic Conversation, let’s examine what that 25-year goal of mine requires. The Co-op must still be in business and financially healthy. That means it must have sufficient resources to pay its bills, its debts, and to make repairs, like replacing the roof this summer. It must attract new members to (at least) replace ones who depart for one reason or another.

Healthy local food must still be available in 2036. That suggests a need for sustainable practices to grow food. Topsoil washed down the river or poisoned cannot be replaced. Aquifers contaminated by surface pollution cannot be purified. Though each of us can easily become focused on this month’s chores and bills, as Wendell Berry writes1,

“We cannot have life or health or wealth apart from the health of the natural world—of land, water, air.”

Why local food? Local food helps sustain a healthy local community. Local producers spend some of their income on local services and products, and some of that money is spent again locally, multiplying the initial impact on the economy.  That healthy local economy helps keep the Co-op successful.

Secondly, local food is less sensitive to rising fossil fuel prices. It is much less vulnerable to terrorism and because the Co-op requires good food safety practices by our suppliers, it is likely to be as safe as possible.

These are summarized in the first End, which this Board agreed to be most important,

[There will be] “a retail source for food and other products that, to the greatest extent possible, are organic, sustainably produced, locally grown and/or processed, and affordable.”

This End represents who we are, and success with this End provides resources and opportunities for all the other Ends.

The Board agreed on two other Ends as especially important to meeting our members’ long-term needs. One was that

[The Co-op will be] “a business that encourages the expansion of sustainably grown local food sources.”

This goes beyond selling sustainably produced food to actually encouraging the expansion of sustainably produced local food. Energy prices will rise, probably a lot. The climate has been changing for the last 30 years or more, and sustaining food production requires adaption to higher intensity rainfall and longer periods without rain.

The third End that the Board endorsed as especially valuable is

[There will be] “a community that is educated about food and other products that are healthy for people and the environment.”

We in this Driftless Region are a community. Our actions affect each other. Con-sciousness of the consequences of our choices may result in more decisions that are good for all of us.

Education also helps me to meet my own goal that I be healthy and strong at age 92. In addition to good luck in the genetic lottery, which I cannot control, that goal requires healthy living. I can control major factors by eating the right foods, avoiding the wrong ones, and through other elements of healthy living, such as exercise. The Co-op’s educational role helps me to learn more about how to live a healthy life.

I described this Board discussion as “informal.” We did not require that the GM act on this discussion. We do believe that eight needs is too many for our fairly small organization to strengthen simultaneously. This discussion will resume. If you have comments, please write me at oneotapardee@gmail.com.

 1Wendell Berry, What Matters? Economics for a Renewed Commonwealth, “Simple Solutions, Package Deals, and a 50-Year Farm Plan. ” (2009)