Common Ground Food Co-op is imperfect, and I know it.
I know it’s imperfect because it is a great co-op, and a truly great co-op is an organic, growing living thing that reflects the imperfect, messy, human community it exists to serve. Common Ground has evolved in so many ways since it was founded in 1974. Over 40 years, CGFC has been a constant dialogue of values, approaches, needs and wants of thousands of owners, staff and board members. Another change in the constant evolution that is Common Ground is upon us now.
Yes, we’re working to open CGFC’s second store location to serve even more of C-U, a change I am so excited to see our Co-op take on after years of owner requests, but this time I am talking about a change that is more personal to me. After almost nine years serving you and our Co-op community as your General Manager, I will be stepping down from that role at the end of the day on May 15th. I am doing so at a time when I have never been more excited about CGFC’s future, nor more certain of its strength.
I am certain of CGFC’s strength going forward because of our staff. I have watched CGFC’s staff grow in size, skill and voice. I have had the honor of listening to staff ideas, helping them implement their ideas for greater staff voice in their Co-op community, and many times the honor of just standing back and letting them teach me what it is to be a co-op that creates meaningful work and a welcoming place that is far more than “just a grocery store”. The wisdom that runs this successful business does not reside in just me or just the management team, it infuses this staff and continues to evolve, with initiatives like Open Book Management starting this month that invites all staff to participate in the financial planning of the business.
I am certain of CGFC’s strength going forward because of its board of directors. I have watched the board grow in ability and professionalism, improving and learning how to better serve us all as owners each year.
I am certain of CGFC’s strength going forward because of its owners. The number of CGFC owners has grown from 1100 to over 6500 in my time with CGFC but what has never changed is the willingness of CGFC’s owners to engage their board and staff with their ideas, concerns and questions. CGFC’s owners have always been in active dialogue with their Co-op and it is core to what makes our Co-op a great one.
A few of you have come up to me and said, “CGFC will not be the same without you as General Manager”. I’m touched by the sentiment and I agree - it will not be the same. It will not be the same because CGFC is the most precious of things - a growing, evolving community where everyone can have a voice and have what they say become part of the fabric of Common Ground. It is gloriously imperfect, because it’s the real deal. CGFC is not what it was 40 years ago and is not today exactly what it will be next month. And that’s just as it should be.
If I may ask to take a few sentences more of your time, I’d like to share an aspiration for all of us as CGFC owners: let us always remember to take a look around us, to see who else is in this Co-op circle of community, and remember what knits us together and makes CGFC worth participating in even when its imperfections are particularly challenging to us, is our Ends. How I interpret those Ends, how you interpret those Ends as a founding owner, or how the newest member of our staff interprets those Ends having just entered the store for the first time may be very different. That’s the messy part, that’s where sharing perspectives and wrangling with ideas happens. But we’re all here because we believe in them, and no one person’s interpretation of those Ends is the only one or the “right” one. Let us strive to always bring our passion, and our compassion for one another’s perspectives to the conversation that is the lifeblood of this Co-op.
I’ll be staying here in Urbana and continuing to be an enthusiastic CGFC owner. I plan to be one of the first owners in line this fall to make my small loan toward the larger goal of bringing a CGFC store to Champaign. I don’t really have words to say what it has meant to me that you - as owners, as staff, as board members - have trusted me with this opportunity to serve you as your General Manager for these nine years. You’ve changed me, taught me, and shown me my life’s work will always be in growing the cooperative movement. I would not be who I am today if you hadn’t taken a chance on me and there’s no way I can ever thank you all enough. I am so proud of what we’ve accomplished together and what we will continue to accomplish together.
CGFC owner #2761