OPINION: Hunger Mountain Coop Reaches New Milestone

by Kari Bradley

Last month our cooperative reached a new milestone: we now have over 8,800 member-owners, 8,801 to be exact, continuing a pace of nearly doubling our membership over the past decade. That means we are serving one out of every seven people in Washington County. Together we own and successfully operate a modern, full-service grocery store to meet the diverse needs of our member-owners, and we routinely get high marks for service, product assortment, and shopping environment. At the same time, we strive to meet our mission of contributing to a healthy community, sustainable local food systems, and thriving cooperative-based commerce.

At the heart of this mission-driven enterprise is sound democratic governance. As member-owners, we democratically elect our council members from the membership and vote on changes to bylaws and expansions. Members attend our annual meeting and other events to learn and share information about their co-op. Over the past decade, members have played a critical role in various decision-making processes, including topics of membership benefits and a ten-year vision. This past year, hundreds of members contributed to conversations regarding member discounts through meetings, interviews, and surveys. Democratic ideals are not typical in the grocery industry, but they are one of our core values and one of the keys to our success.

Our accomplishments are considerable. Consider:

We play a vital role in the local food economy, giving 502 local vendors an important sales channel. Nearly 40 percent of our sales last year were local products, a new high. That translates to nearly $9 million in purchases from Vermont businesses.

Our co-op is a key source of healthy food in Central Vermont. Last year, we sold $9.3 million in certified organic products, while fresh food sales made up 44 percent of our total.

We value the people who work here and strive to offer a workplace where employees are safe, engaged, productive, and fairly compensated. For the last three years, 100 percent of our 160+ employees earned at least the Vermont livable wage to go along with excellent benefits. Annual employee turnover is currently below 16 percent, and the average tenure of our full-time employees is nine years.

We are improving our impact on the environment through extensive recycling and composting programs, solar energy generation, and reductions in overall energy use. We are recognized by the state as a Green Grocery Environmental Leader for our sustainability practices.

We are working hard to address food insecurity in our community. In December alone, we donated 650 bags of healthy groceries to local families and raised over 800 pounds of food and $5,000 for the Vermont Foodbank. This year shoppers are helping us raise over $11,000 for the Montpelier Food Pantry through our Bag that Bag program.

We support other co-ops locally, regionally, and nationally. For example, last year we played an instrumental role in the opening of the Morrisville Food Co-op by offering technical advice, set-up labor, and a loan.

And our membership continues to grow at a remarkable pace (almost three per day last quarter) as more people value our co-op’s products and cooperative business model.

Our accomplishments don’t ensure future success. There is much to do to better serve our members, meet our mission, and sustain ourselves in a rapidly changing environment for retailers and other small businesses. However, our collective strength and commitment to our shared values should give us confidence. Together we are making a difference locally and beyond.

I hope you share my excitement about our co-op. If you have questions or ideas, please contact me at 802-262-3219 or karib@hungermountain.coop. You can also contact any of our council members. Their contact information can be found at www.hungermountain.coop. We welcome the opportunity to sit down and hear your thoughts. Thank you for supporting our co-op!

Kari Bradley is the general manager of Hunger Mountain Cooperative.

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