The holiday season is upon us! During this time of year it can be easy to think of the VFC as just another stop on your errand list. But as a cooperatively-owned business, the VFC serves an even greater function in our community than simply as a place to buy good food. As I think about what I’m grateful for this holiday season, co-ops are at the top of my list, and I’d like to explain why.
While I’ve understood the benefits of cooperative businesses for some time, I hadn’t truly comprehended the meaningful impact they can have on real people’s lives until I took part in a weeklong tour of New England this fall as part of my job with Organic Valley. We visited farms, grain mills, and grocery stores that were all in some way tied to cooperatively-run businesses.
A perpetual theme of the trip was the gratitude and pride people felt for cooperatives: the economic stability and support cooperative membership provides to small farm owners as their neighbors struggle to survive; the autonomy of organic grain co-ops that allows producers to break out of the corn and soy mold to explore small and ancient grains; and the amazing power grocery co-ops have (and are successfully using) to keep money invested in local communities, supporting healthy, sustainable food systems for future generations. The stories I heard on my trip halfway across the country reinforced how grateful I am to live and work in this thriving cooperative community here in Southwestern Wisconsin.
One of my favorite stops on the trip was at the Hanover Co-op Food Store, where I had the chance to chat with National Cooperative Grocers Association Board President Terry Appleby. His eyes lit up as when I mentioned I serve on the Board of Directors at the Viroqua Food Co-op. He recalled the success our Co-op had in expanding to our current location, and was excited to hear we are poised to approach our next phase in growth. I’m constantly amazed at how many people from across the US have heard of our little Co-op in rural southwestern Wisconsin. It’s a testament not only to the fantastic work of the VFC staff and the support in our community, but to the strong networks cooperatives have formed across the country to grow and learn with each other.
No cooperative stands alone. One of the seven internationally-recognized cooperative principles is cooperation among cooperatives. In my first year on the Board at VFC, I saw this principle in action over and over again. We’ve partnered with other cooperatives to strengthen the P6 initiative, we lend our know-how and financial support to other emerging cooperative businesses in the community, and we tap into a shared knowledge base with other grocery co-ops so that we can learn from each others’ successes and failures.
As you reflect on all the things you’re grateful for this holiday season—good food, friends & family, a supportive community—I ask that you also reflect on how cooperatives enrich our lives on a daily basis. It’s our mission at the VFC to “create together a work of enduring value,” and I feel blessed to be able to take part in this with you all.
VFC Board of Directors