I love shopping at the Co-op and the sense of being involved in the business of ONF as an owner. I’m interesting in joining the board to help secure its future, and to learn more about what goes on behind the scenes at the Co-op in terms of food retailing. I have an academic background (Ph.D., Cornell University) in rural sociology, and all of my research has been related to food and agriculture. I know a great deal about the farm situation in the U.S. and globally, and especially about the difficulties faced by smaller family farms. I’d like to learn more about what happens at the retail end of things that can help carry the concept of sustainable agriculture all the way to the consumer/owner.
For example, I’m very supportive of ONF’s efforts to feature products from local farms in the store. It responds to the growing demand by consumers to know more about where their food comes from and how it is produced. At the same time it strengthens the local economy and helps protect our environment.
Cooperatives have a long and impressive record of making these kinds of positive change in their communities. In terms of my future vision for the Co-op, I would like to see ONF as the undisputed leading actor in positive cooperative efforts in NW Arkansas in 2020.
I think the Co-op will need to pay close attention to the expected population growth in the NW Arkansas area in coming years to secure a strong future. We should expect competing stores such as Whole Foods to eventually come to the region and perhaps give ONF a strong run for its money with our customer base. To counter that, I would like to see ONF taking a close look at the region’s current and projected demographic makeup to analyze where they bring the most value-added to the customer. We need to keep a close eye on who is shopping at ONF so that we know what they come for and what they need, and we make sure we provide that. As a sociologist, I think I can help with this aspect as I’m well trained in survey development and analysis.
ONF’s current focus of paying off the building is a good move in my view. It will lower ONF’s overhead and so make it more able to lower prices in the future without compromising the sustainability of the Co-op as a business. I believe the key to overcoming future outside competition will be to build the strongest ties possible starting right now between our owners/customers and the local food system of farmers and other food providers.
We need to be able to offer our consumers the products they want in a context of personal attention and social connection that new competitors will find hard to match. We should be able to carry everything the average person needs in terms of the basis of a healthy diet, and do that in a cost effective way. If we work with the people who shop at ONF to make sure we are responding to their needs, and do that in a way that also gives them a sense that they are maintaining a strong connection to their wider community and their environment, then we should have a solid basis of support from our owners and other shoppers into the future.