Chris Maher, General Manager
I would like to thank everyone who joined us this past October at our Annual Owner Meeting. It was an incredible night that offered us an opportunity to reflect on the success we have experienced in the past ten years at our “new” Sierra College Drive store. And perhaps more importantly, to begin crafting a vision for our cooperative future. This article is adapted from my remarks at that event.
I am very proud of how financially strong our Co-op is. As we all know, though, it is much more than our financial performance that makes us important and valuable to our community. In the ten years we have been here we have grown significantly. We serve more people than ever and the demand continues to increase.
The world of retail grocery is changing faster than ever before. People have so many more choices as where they’ll buy their favorite food products. Organic options, which were once only available in stores like the Co-op, are now so ubiquitous that you can find them on the shelves of gas stations and convenience stores. There is also more negative pressure on retail and on our food system overall than ever before. This means that it’s more important than ever for us to identify the things that make the Co-op relevant in the food system and important to our community. Our financial success makes it evident that our community understands the benefits that we offer. Our shoppers and members appreciate that we serve a more noble purpose that has impacts far beyond what other stores even consider they might accomplish.
Our Co-op builds strong, meaningful social capital through our work in the local and regional food system. We offer farmer support, loans, and access to retail information for better planning. We continue to offer organic certification loans to partner farms, operational loans through California Farmlink, and scholarships to Eco Farm and other training opportunities.
In this last year we initiated a new partnership with Hospitality House, sponsoring their Culinary Academy which provides job training to their clients and helps them get back on their feet with new jobs. All the food cooked for their graduation ceremonies is sourced through BriarPatch. In recent months especially, we have been first on the scene to offer help during unexpected emergencies. Our crew was right there first thing on the morning of October 9th when the local fires broke out, providing food to those in shelters and snacks for the volunteers helping out.
Profits from our business are invested in the programming at Sierra Harvest, and our cooking school reaches hundreds of community members each year. We also consider the environmental and social outcomes of our everyday business decisions. It was in this spirit that we made our first investment in our newly purchased property last year by constructing our 680-panel solar array. It has been in operation for almost a year now, generating an average of 2,000 KWH per day, which offsets over 50% of our electrical demand, which would require and is the equivalent of 60,000 trees being planted annually.
We have also worked at the national level to leverage the collective strength of 150+ Co-ops across the country to improve the food system and create a better world. In 2016 we introduced La Riojana wine and olive oil and made it exclusively available through food co-ops. The power of that commitment has had a profound impact on the lives of the folks that produce it, as La Riojana is itself a cooperative of organic and fair trade sustainable producers. This is just one of hundreds of cooperatively sourced products that benefit communities worldwide.
Our impact reaches farther than we may think. It starts in our own community through our relationships with individuals, community groups, and non-profits. It is simply put, transformational. We use it to create benefits beyond the mere accumulation of wealth, to help make this a vibrant and special place to live. Looking forward, our task is to more accurately measure these non-traditional benefits and to communicate them clearly and increase their impacts so that more people may experience the benefits of our cooperative enterprise.
To that end, our Board and Management is exploring three strategies for our immediate future. We will continue to look at our current trade area, completing the expansion of our facility in the next five years while staying open to new possibilities. We will also begin to consider expanding our trade area into nearby communities, and will seek to engage our regional and national Co-op neighbors in greater depth. We grow stronger together.
Along the way we will want to continue to hear from all our Owners. I would ask you to reflect on the Co-op’s work to date, and your own involvement with it, and then consider these questions: What outcome or impact of BriarPatch’s efforts do you particularly value, or give you pride in your store? What can we do to support that impact and keep it vibrant?
I would like to sign off by thanking you for being a part of our great Co-op and expressing my own gratitude for your support. It is an honor to serve as your General Manager.