Greetings to our Owners, Community Partners, Customers, Staff, Friends and Family! We are marching towards the end of 2017 with some exciting stories to tell and accomplishments to celebrate. Our long time leader, Susan McGaughey, is ready to enjoy a well deserved break and new adventure. Susan announced her retirement, effective October 31, 2017. The board engaged the services of Keystone Search, an executive search firm to help us find our next CEO.
Our new meat processing business, Valley Natural Meats, is up and running with an MDA certification. This is an exciting way for us to build on the success of our Fresh Meat program. We can do more wholesale business with other co-op partners while supporting local farmers, too!
Expansion has been on all of our minds for several years. It is a path with twists and turns, but we have come out with a plan to serve you better. The expansion of our Burnsville store will enhance our already tip-top customer service and allow us to add new services and features that you have asked for. Things like online order and pick up, more prepared food options and a larger education space. One important part of this expansion project is, of course, funding. As we have done in the past during major capital projects, we will not be issuing Owner Patronage this year. This will keep our finances strong and continue our practice of reinvesting in the co-op and community.
Many of you have been with us from the start, while some have joined in more recent years. Everyone has a story to tell of how our co-op has changed their life. 40 years is time enough to do amazing things, but our job is never done. We have communities to serve, farmers to support and children to grow.
“We had members helping members,” says Susan McGaughey, co-op volunteer, staff and leader at Valley Natural Foods for 37 years. She recalls the 1980s at Colonial Ridge Shopping Mall in Burnsville when members shared their skills with others, such as how to make yogurt or bake whole wheat bread.
“We provide real food produced by real people, for real people,” says Susan. From the early beginnings of volunteers gathered in the Colonial Ridge basement to the co-op’s current ownership of property on County Rd. 11, people have come together over the idea of eating healthier.
It reminds Susan of her recent trip to Norway where neighbors chip in to help. It’s similar to the hands-on authenticity and face-to-face shared passion that drives the relationships at the co-op. “We are about relationships and building relationships,” says Susan. It defines the engaged core that built the community cooperative in 1977.
The 2017 40th anniversary celebrates the passion behind the equation “you + us = 40 healthy years” because it reflects the importance of engaged relationships. While profitability and business sustainability factor into four decades of success, it’s rooted in people-centric values.
During the first decade, volunteers operated the bulk food store with more heart than business expertise. The co-op was built by sweat equity – the volunteer labor of its dedicated membership. That volunteer structure changed following a catastrophic fire in January 1989.
The question was whether or not the co-op would transition to ownership. Over 100 co-op volunteer members gathered at an elementary school gymnasium and voted to become invested owners in Valley Natural Foods. From 1990 forward, each member-owner of Valley Natural Foods owns four shares of stock in the business.
Challenges continued. It took another 11 years before the co-op could raise the funds and financing to buy its own property in Burnsville. As general manager, Susan considered different locations and encountered many hurdles. Some properties only wanted national chains. While the co-op pressed on with its search, other stores opened and closed.
Authenticity remains vital to relationships the co-op fosters. Susan has walked the fields of kale at Gardens of Eagan with Atina Diffley, sharing raw
leaves and swapping stories about their grandchildren. More than 90 percent of the produce sold at Valley Natural Foods is organic and local when in season, which shows the relationships the co-op has with food, how it is grown and who grows it.
Food invites reverence. Susan reflects upon how a plant dies to fruit and produce more seed, thus repeating the cycle of life. It mirrors the passion required to start, grow and maintain a co-op. Authenticity is people being real with each other. It’s fresh food found outside the box.
Valley Natural Foods grows its own gardens, committed to sharing the experience of food at its source. Susan, along with her granddaughter and others, plants in the soil outside the store. Owners, shoppers and children from nearby schools watch real food cycle from seed to harvest. Inside the store, authenticity continues through service, choices and food prepared in an onsite kitchen. It’s an extraordinary experience. As the co-op expands its County Rd. 11 property, Susan speaks of the future and the co-op’s goal to deliver that great shopping experience in an expanded and refreshed environment. Plans include wider aisles, upgrading refrigerated units to improve energy-efficiency, a larger kitchen for prepared foods, a new classroom space and online ordering for easy pick-up.
Susan says, “Our values remain the same – nutritious food, circulating dollars locally.” The co-op pays a living wage and it’s a community where
people feel valued. Owners are still teaching one another, which is something Susan hears often in the aisles. One will ask another how to use a product. It’s nourishing to have a place where people feel connected. Even though future business is shifting at the speed of technology, Susan points out that the co-op remains grounded in its values and the impact it makes on the lives of those who shop and work there. As she contemplates retirement and spending more time with her grandchildren and other young people, she admits that the changes coming are a blur; it’s in flux.
And yet, Susan also acknowledges the strength of Valley Natural Foods after 40 years. She says, “Our co-op community has grown to over 12,000 members. I don’t feel responsible for the growth; it’s the support of the owners and staff.”
Susan passes on the torch, explaining why the co-op exists: to make a difference in the lives of those the co-op serves.
“We exist to make a difference in the lives of those we are serving. In everything we do, we believe that authentic relationships and transparency build kindness and community. We believe that nourishing food, grown with integrity, paves the way for better health. We believe that paying attention to the smallest details creates opportunity for the biggest impact. We just happen to sell groceries.”