Meet the Board: Jon Barnes

- Ming Kuo

This is the first in a series of interviews, in which Ming Kuo (CGFC Board member) interviews members of our Board. Jon Barnes is a current and former staffer at Common Ground who spent some time in Tennessee starting a small farm. In 2020, he and his partner moved back to the CU community.


Ming: Thanks for making time for this interview, Jon! Let's open with the question, "What brings you to the Board?" What makes it worth volunteering your time and energy?

Jon: I worked at Common Ground from 2010-2016 before moving to middle Tennessee. My partner and I moved back to Urbana this past summer, and I'm excited to be able to return to the Co-op. My first time around, I became very enthusiastic about the cooperative movement, in large part thanks to the insight and passion of our General Manager at the time, JQ Hannah. Having moved to a place that did not have a Co-op made me realize how much I missed being able to shop at a business where more of my money would stay in the community, and which put a great emphasis on being a link in the bigger network of people and organizations in the area. When I was told there was a vacant position on the Board I decided that I'd like to see what I could do to contribute to Common Gorund's further success!


Ming: Do you have any goals for your time on the Board? Or a vision for the Co-op?

Jon: I believe that Common Ground's Ends, as well as the 7 Cooperative Principles it operates under, make a great framework for a business and I'd like to help us carry those out to the best of our ability. In particular, I would like to learn more about what we do to uphold the sixth cooperative principle and our second End, which boils down to cooperatives helping one another. What can we do to strengthen the cooperative movement in our town and region? I would love to see an increase of what I think of as economic democracy, where workers and consumers have more of a say in the way we conduct business and go about our daily lives.


Ming: I see you're on the Owner Engagement Committee - any goals or hopes for Owner Engagement specifically?

Jon: I'm really looking forward to getting to know the diverse opinions and needs of our owners! The Owner Engagement Committee emphasizes communication between the board and our community, and I hope I'll have some chances to discuss the importance of Common Ground. I think it is a great chance to find out what we can be doing to meet the wants and needs of our owners as a Co-op.


Ming: Are there any special perspectives or skills you bring to the Board, from your experiences as a staffer or as a farmer?

Jon: I feel like the amount of institutional memory I bring from my previous work at Common Ground (in several departments) could be useful, as well as my perspective as a current employee. I believe it could be helpful to provide an idea of how things are going in-store, and I'm also hoping to be able to communicate what we do on the board to interested staff because it can sometimes seem a little bit hard to be tuned in.


Having run a small sustainable farm for five years, I've got a small idea of what it takes to operate in our current food system. Our 4th end, "the local food movement is equitable, robust and environmentally sound" is a very big priority to me and I have seen firsthand how hard the work to make that true can be. Common Ground does a great deal of work to support our local farmers and producers, and I look forward to finding ways that we can keep moving that ball forward!


Ming: If there was one thing you could tell people about the Co-op, what would it be?

Jon: One of the great things about cooperatives is how community-focused they are, at a basic level. The money you spend at Common Ground doesn't go to a small circle of shareholders and executives - quite a lot of it goes to members of our community who work here, and to people in our region who are small farmers, local producers, and to community organizations through things like our Round Up program.


Ming: Thanks Jon!


Owners, we hope you enjoyed this chat with one of our Board members and hope you'll keep an eye out for future chats. These interviews will appear intermittently in the "Word from our Board" in the newsletter. Let us know what you think!