Archive for the ‘Co-ops’ Category

Observations on Our Co-op

Thursday, December 8th, 2016

The Co-op (The People’s Food Co-op in Ann ARbor Michigan) is in a bit of a mess and confusion. Which is not anything new. I’ve been off the board for about 4 years, and have been mostly an observer. Although I do step in every once in a while to serve on a committee, as well as I’ve been called for advice and an historical perspective.
Previously, I was on the board for nine years and served three years as President. Not consecutive years. I also served as Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer. I’ve been a decades long volunteer.
A few years ago we added up the time I had spent volunteering for the co-op and it was as if I had worked there full time for a year.
So I do have a few observations on the current state of the co-op. These issues are of course intertwined.

Here are a few opinions.

The board has been less than honest with the membership about the state of the co-op, and how much money we are losing. The board should be letting members know that we are in trouble. Not letting the membership know that we have been and continue to lose money is wrong, and also dangerous. It is the membership that can pull us out of this downturn, and the membership should be directly called on to be involved with saving the co-op. The silence and side stepping is bizarre. And may be the primary thing that brings the co-op to its termination.

The vote to unionize takes place tomorrow, Friday. I honestly don’t know if this would be a good or bad thing for the workers and for the co-op. And my opinion isn’t going to make any difference. What I can say is that there was a chance to do this with kindness. With dignity. With honesty and a great process. That hasn’t happened. There was no need to surprise the board with the news. And there was no need to make it personal, with direct personal attacks against the General Manager.
I worked for more focus on staff and having a great work environment as well as better wages and benefits. I’ve seen the progress in fits and starts. I also know that the staff having trouble with management has been a long term theme for our co-op. I believe the path to resolution includes a lot of listening, and a lot of kindness. A lot of the board supporting the GM and making sure they have the resources to work well with staff, and careful professional monitoring to make certain that happens. A union may help the co-op through a maturation process. It may also create an even more divisive atmosphere that will harm relationships and make financial recovery even more difficult.
We need to support the legal process required with a vote to unionize, and I ask everyone to be as kind, thoughtful, and aware as possible. That includes reviewing history and learning from previous mistakes as well as building on success.
I think unions are good things. They also change the culture of the workplace environment. Let’s see more kindness and compassion during and after this process. And I hope the vote is an informed vote balancing the staff needs with the stark financial reality that has been obfuscated unnecessarily.

The Co-op is once again without a permanent General Manager. This is a really painful place to be, and is hard on everyone. Thankfully there is policy and plans in place for this situation. And previously our staff have really pitched in to make things work in the interim. It is a total distraction for the board to go through a hiring process. Focus on long term plans, expansion, and pretty much everything else is set aside. It is essential for the board to get help during this time. I’m less and less confident of the board (not just this board but every board including when I was part of the board) having the skill to go through this process and to make good decisions – especially when a long term plan is still missing and without recent membership surveys and input. After my experience with the hiring process, I don’t think the board is qualified to be guiding this process. I believe the consultants from the co-op world, who have experience and expertise, should be heavily utilized at every step of the process. I also now believe the decision making should be shared by board, staff, and members. Without a clear direction and financial stability this is more important than ever.

A lot of people have been chewed up and spit out working for the Co-op. I’m sp very sad about this legacy.This just needs to stop. Moving forward, I would seriously ask the players to continually ask “how can this process be kinder?” “how can we benefit the most people?” “is there a kinder and more inclusive way to do this?” and “how can we empower the people involved and make sure everyone is informed?”

Those are the questions I would hope people will ask, the people who I am entrusting to make decisions that at this point will allow People’s Food Co-op to thrive or to die.

Ken King

Sunday, May 10th, 2009

Rather than repeat myself here, it would be easiest just toread the tribute I wrote for him at The Ann Arbor Chronicle. I was hoping the Chronicle would write about his death, and Mary said they were swamped with other projects. Would I? A wonderful synchronicity of people places and timing then unfolded, and the article nearly wrote itself. Of course.

I hope this is just one of many tributes for this remarkable man who has really touched so many and made a wonderful difference in the world.

Celebrating a Birthday and Free Stuff

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

3:30 AM is an awkward time to begin a birthday, but I often have no choice about waking hours. I did get back to sleep around 5, and of course Nala is a regular day break up and about dog. I was on line and forgot to eat breakfast again, a recent problem. I never want to eat breakfast, it is just a god idea for weight loss and to keep blood sugar levels level.

I stopped by Zongerman’s for a free 1/2 dozen bagels. They are so happy to be giving away food! I munched on a half while driving to my bodywork appt. The highlights were hand and foot massages, but also progress on the tumors becoming much smaller. Fibroid tumors, no cancer. There is notable and palpable change in size – a really remarkable thing. The largest change is this exploration of men and male energy, apparently there is a strong link. I need to explore that further but meanwhile — it’s working. I may be able to skip additional surgery. And that is good news on a 50th birthday!

I swung by the Co-op and bought fun stuff to eat, and cream cheese for the bagels. Someone suggested I sit in on a meeting — no no no, it’s my birthday. I don’t do that.

I went to Seva for lunch on my own, it has been a long time eating at a restaurant with table service by myself. I didn’t do a lot of eating out the last year. I indulged in yam fires but only got part way through, and same with a smothered burrito. It will be lunch today. But entrees are free on your birthday.

I had a moment at home and with Nala before heading back to the co-op to meet with Laura M – picke up her daughter and headed to the Botanical Gardens. IF you’re a friend, my facebook page has lovely photos of the flowers and plants and Sylvia enjoying the fish. Oh, that one year old curiosity. And she kept signing “fish” rather insistently as we wandered around. Back to the fish!!

I worked one summer at the Gardens, when I was 16. It is both weird to see the plants that are still there 34 years later, as well as sad that so much changes, as well as of course it changes!

That was a great summer for me. I learned so much. And taking home plants, being a new driver with my dad’s massive ford pick up, being in love, working hard and I even learned to drive a dump truck.

I bought a few new plants for my living room. And back home to pick up my patient dog.

We drove over to our favorite place – Barton Dam – and walked in the lovely light snow. But it got COLD! with the wind. I took some photos of the ice, again, on facebook.

Home again for a bit to catch up on all the facebook greetings, enjoy a few cards that arrived, and some phone calls. Back out again to pick up one of my many other friends named Laura, Laura G. She enjoyed the trip in the smart car, we parked and went to Gratzi’s. It has been a very long time since I went to a nice restaurant with great fod, attentive wait staff, and wonderful ambiance. I remember this! And I hadn’t been to Gratzi’s for at least a decade.

The buffalo mozzarella with tomatoes was amazingly good for this time of year. A light dressing was perfect. I had the butternut squash ravioli, and although it could have been just a little hotter, it was excellent with the sherry flavor coming through perfectly. A side of polenta with asiago cheese was amazing. Laura went nuts over it. Perfectly creamy, just a light bite from the cheese, the sweetness of the corn was present, it was something to savor.

A free cannoli with candle was the end piece. Laura and I discussed what to wish for – so many possible things — and we found the perfect expression of hope and future thinking. No, I can’t tell you here. It was great to catch up with her, getting ready to move away from Ann Arbor. The inclination is to pull away form people who are — technically speaking — abandoning me. But instead, enjoy and appreciate them and hope this is for the best. And now one more reason to travel to California. She is another friend I will always be able to just drop in on by phone or e-mail or in person. Glad I have so many of those.

I watched a few episodes of The Daily Show I had taped, and got a phone call from one of the men I’ve met online to wish me happy birthday. That was nice.

Through out the day, the facebook and e-mail happy birthdays were frequent. Strange and fun. I was friended by a woman who was a student teacher at Community High when I was there. She thought it was significant that she found me on my 50th. Yeah, 35 years ago when we first met no one would have imagined we’d be back in touch! We are old old old! How wonderful.

But I truly love the birthday wishes from old friends coast to coast.

So I have indulged, I am indulged, there will be a bit more of this on Friday when I have an actual party. And then a fundraiser/birthday party in May.

50. I feel as though I am on the other side of something. Slightly different perspective. I went on line and raised the age of who I am looking for to 58. But you know, at this age, 58 is both very young and alive as well as those looking old and moving slowly. There is a lot of sorting out, and also paying the price for earlier lifestyles.

For a great list of free things on your birthday, go to arborwiki.com

What a great resource!

People’s Food Co-op

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

We are looking for board members. One to be appointed to fill a vacancy (two years left) and two vacancies that need to be voted in.

We use policy governance, and right now the board is friendly and working well. We meet once a month, and there is also committee work. So — 2 hours a week on average. Maybe a bit more. But hey, it’s the Co-op! Time to do your part to support this alternative kind of way of doing business.

You can let me know if you’re interested. Or come to the next board meeting, Jan. 15th.

My dad in the news

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

The Ann Arbor Chronicle did an article on the group my father started. Read the article for an explanation. Both of us are involved in building community, exploring alternatives to the waste of a single family home by exploring sharing and combined use of resources. I’m glad his project has taken off, and is helping people have greater contact and be outside of the usual resource heavy system of consumption and waste.

His influence has been large, and my creating the cabin to be a co-using situation as well as my regular drop in dinners are based on ideals he shared with us as he was teaching courses in decentralism and talking about intentional communities.

This is simple and pratical. Good work.

Music

Saturday, September 13th, 2008

I went to a memorial service today, for a friend’s father. He was 91. I so appreciated hearing and learning more about him and his life and accomplishments. Not being a Christian much of the assurances and thanks to God are hard to relate to, but I try and use it as a time to learn about other people’s beliefs.

So I was grateful that there was music. I’m not comfortable praying out loud with other people, but so love singing in church. I was in a Presbyterian church choir for three years, fourth through 6th grade, and just loved it. The attendees sang two songs together and there was a soloist for two songs, including Oh Danny Boy. That section with the high notes just makes me happy everytime I ear it done well, and it was done very well today.

At the end of the service the entire choir filed in, they were there for a retreat and wanted to participate for a former choir member. They were very very good. So lovely. That was when I wanted to start to cry.

And just now, many hours later, Peter Paul and Mary are on Public TV and they started to sing “We Shall Overcome” in a slow, reverential way and I cried again.

In between I heard my friend Chris in his band Mutual Kumquat. They sang a lovely song about Rutabagas and Squash and Arugula at the HomeGrown Festival – which was a great success even with torrential rain. I spent some time hanging out at the PFC info booth.

Singing. Very powerful stuff.

Interview and Article

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

Last week I had the fun experience of climbing on a teeter totter with “Homeless Dave” who actually lives in a wonderful home very nearby…

He does interviews with people while sitting on the wooden plank with fulcrum… a rather pleasant way to spend time with someone and an interesting addition to an interview. I’ve enjoyed many of his past interviews and suggested a ride talking about wild edibles available locally would be a great topic. We went off on many other tangents, but you can read it for yourself if you’d like. This link is to the intro, and you can link form there to the interview or go straight to his transcript with photos.

We did get into the recent experience with the Co-op and the question about boycotting Israeli products. Another article that came out recently, I co-wrote with Kevin Sharp on the process – what we did wrong, what we did right. It was printed in The Cooperative Grocer, a national publication for Co-ops, May/June issue. The target audience is other Co-ops planning for boycott requests.

That’s my news for now… i have a whole stash of links I want to put up but life has been busy as well as peculiar stresses this time of year creates (grading, gardening, trying to swim as much as possible…)

What Would You Do?

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

This theme of kindness, helping, seems to be morphing into some interesting areas.
I withdrew a somewhat large amount of cash from my Credit Union’s ATM last night, after depositing even more in checks. (Large for me – I usually just do $20s and $40s) If it is over $100 I make sure my large dog is with me…

When I went to count the fairly large stack of bills it didn’t add up. It was more than I had asked for, more than what the receipt showed I got. An error of almost $100.

What would you do?

Does it matter that it is a credit union and not a bank?

Would the amount make a difference?

That this has been my “bank” for 37 years?

“Found” money is pretty fun. But — it didn’t feel right to keep it.

I sent an e-mail today alerting the Credit Union and asking what I should do.

This is the second time it has happened. The first time was a drive through teller, who gave me an envelope with my money but someone else had already put other money into it before she added to it in a different pocket. I didn’t realize it, but when I got home the teller called me to ask if a bunch of Canadian currency was in the envelope. I checked, and sure enough, over $100 in Canadian bills. I drove it over to them the next day. Back when Great Lakes Bankcorp was still around.

It feels better to be honest, there are people who make up the institution, I would never forget it if I essentially stole the money. It just isn’t what I do.

ex-president

Thursday, May 8th, 2008

I’m relieved.
Two co-presidents have taken my place, and I am no longer the President of the Co-op.
I feel very much relieved.

Interesting timing, I’ve had a couple of interesting offers just today for teaching and other opportunities. That I would like to pursue.

There is a path, appropriate and congruent work for me to pursue, and I need to stay focused. I tend to overwork and need to be cautious.

It has been a long and difficult year. Now I’m just a board member for the next year. Yeah.

There isn’t really much more to say, other than I’m glad I’m not in that position of leadership at this time. I hope to sleep better tonight. And canoe tomorrow.

reflections on the year

Tuesday, May 6th, 2008

A year ago, I was newly elected to the People’s Food Co-op Board of Directors. And I was then elected President.
The year as president ends Thursday.

It didn’t go the way I thought it would.

Four major events became huge events for me. First, the movement to require the Co-op to boycott Israeli goods dominated the first 6 months on the board. The time it took to provide leadership with that issue ranged from 10-20 hours a week. Of volunteer time. And emotionally it was intense – being under personal attack, even members of my family being dragged into it, and of course the very constant communications with members that were constant and took tremendous amounts of time.

I feel good about how the board dealt with the question, and the process of the members practicing democracy. But it was also exhausting and emotional and a tremendous amount of time.

About when the time and energy from that experience was over, as I was processing the emotional components and helping the board to move on, Zomba died very suddenly. Which still causes me to cry, I still miss her deeply and painfully, every day. She was my closest friend and companion and the being that opened up a whole new world to me of love and communication and positive reinforcement, and trust and unconditional love. That was devastating.

Within a few weeks of Zomba’s death form a neuromuscular disease, David was tentatively diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. I had warned him that something serious was up when I did a session with him, I apparently has suggested he would either need surgery or something worse was going on. I don’t have memory of that conversation but he did of course. Denial. It began there even as I felt his body and weakness and knew something was drastically wrong.

And the news and the experience and watching him decline has just been all downhill from there, with just a few exceptions. And it is hard, and doing the bodywork with him I’ve felt it directly. He is one of the people I am closest to emotionally and he has been one of my primary advisers and confidantes for the last decade. So speaking selfishly, it is a jarring thing to watch this strong man lose strength. And we move into different roles. But watching a strong brilliant spirit decline physically to the point where even walking is difficult – it is deeply disturbing and very hard to stay with emotionally.

A few weeks later, Nala came into my life. I said I was ready to be with Ridgebacks again, but hadn’t planned to have a new dog so quickly. But she needed a home, I needed a dog, we collided at a time that was right for both of us but certainly unplanned.

But this wild willful funny smart and lovely soul also overwhelmed my life. I went from a aging dog who had grown calm and slow – partly because of the disease that led to her death – to a wild puppy who needed hours of active attention and activity. And retraining. We jumped into out life together full blast, both feet (literally) and had to learn to trust each other and be together.

So that was a lot, and there it was winter. Zomba died just before Halloween, Nala just before Thanksgiving. And then just before New Years I met Gary. And activity and involvement took another huge leap. It has been a truly long time (embarrassing to confess) since having a close relationship with a man. So life took another large turn and inspired even more activity, action, possibilities, and more. And especially time. So much time as well as emotional attention and consideration. Joyful fun silly time, but a radical change nonetheless.

So the last 6 months I haven’t done as well as President of the board. Which bothers me a lot, I’m used to be competent and more. And it just wasn’t in me. Because of David and also Nala and Gary I’ve wanted to enjoy a lot of my life and spend more of that time doing fun wonderful stuff more than ever. What seems important has shifted. David demonstrates that life is short, opportunities may be cut short, I’m going for it now. I’m happy that for now I have two major companions to enjoy life with and dozens and dozens of other people and experiences that are so affirming and joyful and interesting and educational and wonderful. It is hard to focus on stuff that is hard right now. And I’ve also been very responsive to the positive aspects of my environment, not so much the negative nasty depressing stimulus.

I’m happy to be ending this year as president. I pretty much suck as a leader at this point in my life. It isn’t in me. Not now. I’ll stay on the board, do the committee work, but I want to be much more free and not hold all the details in my head, not have the larger vision and foresight, not have to invest in the long term considerations and considering motivations and ways to make things mesh and work. I’m just too tired of it and so very distracted by the things in my life that give more immediate pleasure and positive results.

The last part is feeling guilty for not doing better the last 6 months. I can’t easily get away form my perfectionist nature. And the truth is – here I am writing it for anyone to read – I just didn’t do very well. And I’ve explored the reasons the factors and the troubles. When my mom died I went back to regular work and responsibilities too quickly. Same with Zomba’s death. I took off work for a week, and part time the next. But the rest of my work and responsibilities never ended or let up. I need to have it be OK, and in a few years it will be. I’ve been human lately. More so than usual, for me.

I welcome the humaneness, I love the activity, I think it is a healthy happy refocus, with a foundation of many tears and fears. It will just take a bit for the other responsibilities to catch up and become blended with my refocus.

So enough about that – I have kale to plant, and seeds to sow. That will make me happy.