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 If the FBFC had been replaced by some obnoxious chain store, this whole debate would be moot.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