Maple City Market Board Reflections

May 24, 2024

When I moved to Goshen, I began hearing about the “Co-op”. To me, it was a “healthy foods store” for “other people” but not a place for my family and I to shop at, maybe not a place for people of color or people living under tight means. I lived in Goshen for 10 years, moved away, and moved back before I ever set foot inside Maple City Market. It was an intimidating place in my mind. “Is it only for members/owners?” “How does it work?” “I bet it is way too expensive!” These are questions and thoughts I had when it came to the MCM.

My husband and I decided to explore the store together one day and realized that it wasn’t such a scary place! The staff was warm and welcoming, there were healthier and local options that did fall within our price range, and it was close to home. We learned we didn’t have to be members to shop there and thus began our relationship with MCM. We love to shop locally and support our local business as much as possible!  We have been shopping at MCM for the past 4-5 years and have been members for the last 2 years. We now have a son whose favorite store is MCM and who asks to visit the store on a regular basis. He loves fruit so it’s been nice adding the co-op to our family walk route to buy blackberries, strawberries, or other fun treats to eat! We still have much to learn about healthy eating but I love that he will grow up with more knowledge about what it means to shop local. I love that he will know that he is welcome at a place like MCM.

I am excited to have joined the MCM board this year to represent people with experiences like mine, to learn and grow with the board and the store, and to work towards the goal of MCM to contribute to a healthy community nourished and educated by: EQUITABLE economic practices, REGENERATIVE environmental impact, and INCLUSIVE, socially responsible relationships!

May 22, 2024

I must admit, when I thought about writing on this topic I thought, “How boring. I don’t want to write about that!” Well, as I started writing this article I realized, in part because we have a good system of governance, we are experiencing exciting times and are in a great position as a food cooperative. Hang in there and allow me to explain.

Governance…board of Directors…elections. While those things can sound daunting they don’t have to be. In the past I thought you had to be a well-connected, “experienced”, and “intelligent” person to be able to govern or be on a board of directors. While those are certainly great qualities to have for serving on a board, I’ve learned they are not pre-requisites at Maple City Market. Indeed, we are more interested in having a board with a diverse set of skills, perspectives, and experiences as well as a passion for the cooperative movement and a willingness to learn. And yes, I’m using this as an opportunity to prompt you to consider being on the board. But what if you think you don’t know enough? Not to worry. If you have that passion and a willingness to learn we have great resources to bring anyone up to speed. We have current board members, Brad Alstrom our general manager (who is also one of the most experienced GM’s in the industry) and a consulting group. Culminate, who will collectively provide new and existing board members with a tremendous amount of support and on-going learning opportunities. As well, we have a governance process that is running smoothly which makes our role as board members at times easy and at times invigorating. We are always accepting applications to serve on the board so if you have any interest don’t hesitate to fill out the application here. 

Current election?

So what is governance and how do we approach it? This is where it gets a little exciting. I would describe governance as serving in the role of providing oversight. Who and what does the board oversee? The general manager (GM) is the only person we oversee…that’s it. No one else. As a board we basically put up guardrails and ask the GM to stay within those guardrails as they (and not the board) operate the store. The GM is generally in charge of store operations, hiring employees and managing all of the employees. The guardrails come in the form of policies and are the “what” that the board oversees. While this list is not complete these policies cover things like staff treatment, fiscal responsibility, facilities maintenance, store operations, growing sales, and having a positive social, environmental and healthful impact on/in our community. In summary the board hires a qualified GM and lets the GM do what they do well. If the GM stays within the guardrails, our job as a board is easy and I’m elated to say that our job is currently very easy due to Brad Alstrom doing a phenomenal job running the store.

An outcome of this is that it allows the board to focus on continual improvement and to that end the board is currently conducting a critical review of our existing policies to make sure they are current, relevant and meaningful for our context. Additionally, we are able to have on-going conversations about what growth of the store might look like and mean. Finally, Brad is currently in the middle of a multi-year effort of improving our store facilities and equipment, enhancing our product offering, and growing/developing our staff. Hopefully you’ve noticed the wonderful store and product improvements over the past 1-10 months, as well as an engaged and shopper-centric staff. 

So, we as a board, Brad as our GM, and MCM staff are currently experiencing that invigorating period of time mentioned previously. Why? I think this is in part because we have a healthy mix of sound governance processes and frameworks, passionate board members, a highly talented GM, and engaged employees (not to mention the excitement generated from the recent launch of our beer and wine product offering!). Absent anyone of these characteristics I would expect that we would not be able to experience the excitement that we are currently experiencing. Ultimately, we are invigorated because we now have the freedom to think bigger, or more strategically, about what our store could be. In an age when many small stores are struggling to be profitable we don’t take this opportunity lightly and it is an absolute honor to serve the staff, members and community in this way! 

January 29, 2024

Rather than focusing on the theme of scarcity in January, I like to turn my attention towards creativity and story in the kitchen. Having a complete understanding of place comes with appreciating and moving with the seasons of Northern Indiana. As I cozy up to a warm bowl of stew, it seems important to touch on each ingredient in front of me and where it has come from. When was the cow butchered? How long did the wine sit before it was bottled? Whose hands plucked the peas from the pod and prepared them for freezing? When was the potato pulled from the ground and by the way, how long do I have until the rest of them go bad? Winter cooking is full of reflection and with it comes an intense focus on sourcing. What a luxury it is to be able to purchase from local farms in one central market in Downtown Goshen. 

What makes a co-op like Maple City Market special for me is the amount of storytelling and education that takes place as part of the process of something as mundane as grocery shopping. A blemished pear can strike a conversation about a storm that took place months ago, which then becomes a topic of conversation around the fruit and cheese tray you present to your friends that you invited over a glass of wine. A discontinued spice may spark a sense of nostalgia, flavors of home and solutions on how to replace this item with an alternative one to create a similar yet new recipe. An empty cream shelf can engage you in a dialogue with the sales team about market trends and dairy industry happenings, rather than a simple “OUT OF STOCK” sign to send you into a spiral. 

Shopping at a co-op forces you to be present with your community, your farmers and local artisans as they are feeding you. I have favorite seasons when shopping at Maple City Market, which I can’t say for other grocery stores because well… they’re all the same. Serving on the board throughout the seasons has brought me great joy and an even further education on the system in which I eat. The story of this place energizes and nourishes me. 

December 30, 2023

I grew up on a small dairy farm in the beautiful woodlands and lakes of northern Minnesota. My parents taught me many values including the importance of cooperation. It was essential to work together as a family and with neighbors to sustain our farming way of life. There were many challenges due in part to the extremes of weather and the rocky soil, yet through sustainable practices we had plenty of food to eat, milk to sell, and firewood to keep us warm. I recall as a youth the shift in my mindset from seeing assigned tasks as drudgery to feeling like a valuable participant in the work to be accomplished.

I have always been fascinated by systems and in particular healthy food systems. I learned as a youth that it requires a willingness to collaborate with neighbors to accomplish larger projects. It is also interesting to reflect on the multiple co-ops we participated in to achieve economical goals. We sold our milk through a co-op. Our telephone lines were maintained through a co-op. Our electricity was purchased through a rural electric co-op. We bought feed and other farm supplies through a co-op. It is clear that in our very rural setting, we were not operating alone!

As I fast forward to today, I recognize the ways I continue to value and practice many of the same approaches to life. Being involved at Maple City Market is a natural fit for me. It is a co-op that is committed to the same approaches I grew up with. I am grateful to serve on the board for the past year and a half. This is a setting where I can contribute from my experiences and training in full cooperation with the other members. 

I am also a grower who sells produce from our Half-Moon Rising Fruit, Nut and Berry Orchard. (The board wisely has policies that guide conflict of interest issues that may arise.) I feel very fortunate to tend our 2.5-acre urban farm in Goshen. Here I can practice regenerative agriculture, produce quality food for our own use, and have surplus to sell at MCM. The opportunity to market our produce at MCM is a win-win. They provide an excellent outlet for marketing our fruit and they then have access to specialized fruit that is locally grown without petrochemicals. I am grateful to be a co-participant with MCM in developing and promoting a healthy, generative food system in our area.

November 2, 2023

I don’t know exactly when my parents joined Centre-In Food Co-Op, but I have memories of going to the little hole-in-the-wall that it was on Lincoln Avenue with my mom. My parents were “working members,” which meant dedicating a monthly block of time to helping with tasks like dividing up a really big bag of dried pineapple rings into smaller bags that were weighed and priced for sale. As a first and second grader, I sometimes got to go along with my mom to be an extra pair of hands. Now that I’m the parent of a first grader myself, I’m a bit skeptical about just how helpful I actually was, but what I’m certain of are my strong sensory memories of those trips to the Co-Op. 

I remember drinking in all the whimsical art on the boxes of Celestial Seasoning teas, and being in awe of all the herbs, teas, and spices organized neatly in jars on shelves. The aroma of the Co-Op — a distinct cozy, wholesome smell I can’t identify — was imprinted on me decades ago and greets me whenever I cross Maple City Market’s threshold today. It wasn’t until I was a young adult and worked at the Co-Op in its current location on Main Street, that I started to think about why I value a cooperative grocery store. There were the embedded values I’d gotten from my parents reflected in books like Diet for a Small Planet and Living More with Less. And there were the new insights I had gained from being introduced to Sevananda Natural Foods Market in Atlanta, Georgia during a summer internship: co-ops aren’t just quirks of midwestern towns but places where people of many different colors come together because they care about the food they put in their bodies and the health of their communities. 

Since the 1990s when I worked at MCM, working memberships have receded into the history of MCM, and I must confess that I feel nostalgic for that experience. My consolation is that I get to teach my children how to weigh and label our glass jars when we need a refill on rice, cinnamon, peanut butter, and other goodies. It recently occurred to me that part of what has drawn me to board service at MCM is that this is how I stay connected to my early roots as a “working member” while I raise up a third generation of MCM eaters, shoppers, and hopefully members. 

My kids know the Co-Op is where we can get paw-paw and persimmons from Half-Moon Orchard. It’s where we can bag our own greens from Clay Bottom Farm. This is the place where they can slice their own Zuma Bar, search for free samples, and grab their favorite (frozen) pizza (Field Day Organic Wood-Fired Crust Three Cheese, if you’re wondering). 

Maple City Market is also where my children are being woven into the fabric of a civic community that celebrates both cooperation and our local food system. This is a beautiful expansion of the legacy my parents gave to me through their membership at Maple City Market. I wonder how our legacy will have expanded again when my children are ready to purchase their member shares.

Maple City Market Board Reflections
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