Those co-op thoughts were a little rusty

I feel compelled to respond to Rusty Sivils’ very aptly titled commentary, “Get Back” [May 28]. In the interest of full disclosure: I am married to a current member of the board of the French Broad Food Co-op, and my only participation other than paying yearly fees was being a worker member for the extra discount back in the early ‘90s. Before joining FBFC in the mid-‘80s, I was a member of the Hogtown Granary co-op in Gainesville, Fla., and I have experienced numerous co-ops in my travels—from grocery stores to laundries to restaurants. (My personal all-time favorite was Mama’s Home-Fried Truck Stop in Eugene, Ore.: great food and great entertainment!)

I also know Rusty personally and have been impressed with his dedication to varied causes over the years. However, in his piece he doth protest too much—and he leaves out important facts. For example, just a few years ago the FBFC faced insolvency for a number of reasons, some of them having to do with local competition from places like Earth Fare and Greenlife. If the FBFC had been replaced by some obnoxious chain store, this whole debate would be moot. I remember the member discount at the register—and wish it were still there—but unfortunately we do live in a pervasive capitalistic economy favoring the bigger fish over the small and local. If eliminating the discount helped FBFC survive, so be it.

From my experience, the FBFC offers ample opportunity for democratic expression from the membership to the board. Anyone may apply for board membership; meetings are open to all members, and at the few I have been to, everyone was able to express themselves without hindrance. No, there is not direct democracy in the best sense of anarcho-syndicalism. But I have never been to a general meeting attended by more than 25 people out of a total membership of hundreds. Thus the board is often left to infer what is in the overall best interest of the membership. I will continue to trust the board’s guidance and governance, especially when—for the first time since this program was enacted—there will be an actual patronage rebate [this year].

I have struggled to understand why there is a union at FBFC, but I was not in the shoes of those who felt compelled years ago to form one. I support both unions and co-ops but always thought that in a perfect universe, they would be mutually exclusive. Nevertheless (as Rusty says), contract rules do not allow worker-members to do jobs that paid staff does—a fact of life in the unusual history of the co-op, not the fault of the current board or management.

There is actually a current worker-member program open and functioning, based on various tasks that don’t violate the union contract or labor laws. And according to board members I have asked, there are annual financial reviews—and the co-op’s CPA recommended that annual audits are unnecessary. So what is Rusty implying? Is someone sneaking off to an organic eco-resort in the Virgin Islands on co-op fees?

Lastly, Rusty talks about his recently ended seven-year stint on the FBFC board. Does he eschew responsibility for unsolved problems he attacks so strongly now? Where was he when the board stumbled over the issues he criticizes? I think he has lost sight of today’s changing world. Who’d have thunk a unionized co-op? An organic section on every aisle in Ingles? Two gigantic Earth Fares in Asheville?

I support the FBFC because I appreciate its community-friendly atmosphere and the products it offers. I also support the co-op/credit-union/community-based-agriculture/etc. movement.

Yes, Rusty, it’s been a long strange trip and it’s fixin’ to get even stranger out there; but come on man, this is Asheville—and you can’t go home again.

— Tom Craig

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10 thoughts on “Those co-op thoughts were a little rusty

  1. Coops destroy the environment by obscuring the real causes of pollution, immigration, public schools and zoning.

  2. Kelly

    Just wanted to thank Tom for his insightful, positive, extremely well-written LTE in this week’s Xpress. Long live FBFC and co-ops everywhere (not just food stores — energy co-ops, funeral services co-ops, cafes, farms and so much more!)

    In cooperation,

  3. Carrie

    Hey Moderator, Steve? (not sure if you’re still here)
    When are you allowed to stop posting like, “Alan7”, that never really has anything to do with the topic? He says the same thing in every post, regardless of the topic.

    Thanks to Tom for the article.

  4. If your topic is a polluting waste of paper, designed to displace and therefore suppress important issues, then I have the right to say so, liar. Criticism of the topic is on topic. Many topics destroy the environment, especially when they are printed on paper.

  5. Here’s something on topic and I only put part of it in the post on the other coop letter.
    Direct democracy doesn’t need meeting attendance, especially in an internet age. Any decision that is not time sensitive, including the repeal of all policies, can be put to referenda just like the city one that repealed partisan elections, except that far fewer signatures are needed.
    All any organisation needs to do is accept referenda peteitions and every 3 months, the 50 petitions with the most signatures get put on a ballot and put to a vote of the members. Ties get chosen randomly, so if 40 petitions have 2 signatures each and 40 have 1 signature, then 10 of the latter get selected randomly to make 50. But the point of direct democracy is to have no shortage of referenda. Ballot candidates should be chosen the same way if they were necessary, such as manager.
    Unions are a response to excess wealth, so if the manager or anyone else is paid too much, then that could justify a union. However at any given budget it is always more ethical to hire more people for less money each than less people for more money each, until nobody is unemployed.
    No union should ever interfere with volunteer work
    So that is how an organisation should be run, but if organisations want to help the environment, they should be working to stop fastbreeding immigration and the exploitation of childless taxpayers for public schools, playgrounds and childcare, or building highrise housing like Kowloon to prevent sprawl (I hope the coop doesn’t exploit childless members for childcare), not worrying about specially made food.

  6. nuvue

    Hey Alan 7,
    You know the saying about education….If you don’t like education try ignorance….
    Also if you don’t like taxes fro the childless, how about the Iraq mess? I don’t like paying for that as a peaceful person.

  7. travelah

    nuvue, don’t get too excited, if you end up electing Obama as your President you will be paying for things you never dreamed of.

  8. travelah

    nuvue, my apologies…. my comments really were off topic and should not be in this thread.

  9. My brother worked at the FBFC for almost a decade. He told me that in addition to providing services to their customers, a co-op’s ultimate goal is to educate the public about the benefits of organic foods. In this respect co-ops have succeeded, but at a price. Now you can find organic food at Target and Walmart… cheap. Co-ops are in real danger of being trampled under the movement that they started.

    I worked briefly as a worker-member back in the 90s. Personally, I cannot understand how they operate at all. Committees were formed to committee other committees. Any singular vision seemed to me to be drowned out. That’s why I own my own businesses I guess!

  10. William P Miller

    The French Broad Co-op used to be an exercise in socialism, sustained by location & modified monopoly. Then Earthfare and Greenlife pulled the customers away with much better prices, AND MUCH BETTER ATTITUDES. I rarely shop FBC, even though their prices are more competitive. Why? Routine non-customer focus and downright rudeness from checkout clerks. How to fix this? Hire LOCAL born and raised Southern people who smile at you and thank you for shopping at FBC. Once I was asked if I wanted a bag or not. When I said “a bag please”, I was met with an angry stare and a brisk bagging of my stuff then a turn away and no thank you. The yankee transplant self-centered stares and silent change exchanges are just not good here in Asheville. Take that back up north.

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