Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at the Community Food Co-op

March 13th 2018

By Amanda Grelock, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Coordinator

Discussions on how create a more welcoming atmosphere in our stores for communities that are outside traditional co-op demographics are on the rise in co-ops around the country.  While cooperative values are clear as day when it comes to management and food, a path towards equity and inclusion for non-white communities has been elusive. In 2017, the Community Food Co-op in Bellingham, WA decided to analyze our blind spots and listen to feedback.  Here is what we’ve done so far.

Identifying blind spots is, by definition, impossible to do without help. The first step in our journey to bring equity, diversity, and inclusion into our co-op was to engage a consultant to offer trainings to bring those blind spots into the open.  Trainings attended by senior managers and supervisors included Race Based Dialogue, Racism 101, Scenario trainings, Decolonizing the Mind, and Applying the Racial Equity Lens.  These topics were challenging, but through them many staff became dedicated to learning and to social justice, which makes the work dynamic and fruitful.

Employee participation and ownership of the work is key to progress. We’ve established Racial Equity Teams at all of our locations, each teams consists of seven employees from different levels. The Racial Equity Team (RET) acts as think tank and culture keepers to drive the work forward, but participation doesn’t stop there.  Racial Equity Committees have been formed that include RET members and senior managers. These committees will examine organizational policies, practices, and procedures through a racial equity lens. They will systematically apply a racial equity lens to our everyday systems for hiring, orientation, evaluations, and policies and propose changes to the senior management team.

Another way to stimulate change is by sparking conversations in the community and leaning in to listen consciously. We put this into practice by hosting a Town Hall event that brought different communities and member-owners together for a conversation about equity, diversity, and inclusion.  Truthfully, at times the team organizing the event felt apprehensive about going public because our work had only been internal thus far. But thanks to our expert facilitator, the event was successful and productive with over 150 people in attendance.  Brave voices shared personal stories and the feeling in the room was receptive and real.  The event provided an opportunity to collect ‘community informed information’ that will help us plan future outreach and engagement events, as well as inform and direct the way we interact with customers in our stores.

Bringing people from different walks of life together is the big picture.  Sharing a hello in the aisle, a meal in the cafe, or a pleasant exchange at the checkout creates a sense of community. These exchanges are the catalysts to larger shifts of consciousness within individuals as well as the collective.

How do you do equity, inclusion, and diversity right? You don’t, but you try. What we’ve done so far has not been easy, but ensuring our stores are welcoming and inclusive to all communities is our commitment.

Amanda Grelock has been working with the Community Food Coop for over a year and works as the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Coordinator. She will be hosting a workshop on “Inclusion and Diversity” at the 2018 Provender Conference.