From the Board of Directors: The Strength of the Network that Holds us Together as an Alliance

Joe Wade
June 28th 2020

by Joe Wade – member Board of Directors, Provender Alliance

I’ve tried to start writing this Message from the Board several times over the past weeks, only to find that events overtake anything that I say within a few days. This time I’m going to finish come hell or high water – but even as I say that I secretly worry that the next few days might just bring hell, high water, not to mention further outbreaks of Covid-19 and potentially violent reaction to the uprising Black Lives Matter movement. If that happens, I’ll re-write this again.

What a year to be a member of Provender Alliance or on its Board! We began the year with intense debates about our future, even to the extent of considering a future without Provender. The difficult questions we asked ourselves led to painstaking self-analysis and wide-ranging outreach to dedicated members and former Provender leaders. We had to take a hard look at what we are and what we are not.

We finally came to a renewal of our commitment to take Provender into the future, just as Covid-19 was breaking out. This put a new spin on our commitment to increasing our outreach to a new generation of individuals, businesses, and organizations that now populate our community – many of which were not around for the early years of the Alliance. We put on our facemasks and committed to changing to reflect our community as it has evolved. As we evolve with our membership, though, we’re even more clearly remembering our bedrock commitment to the principles of independence and integrity.

These principles are more important than ever in the business and social environment of which we are a part. As consolidations and mergers in many parts of our business world lead to dominance by a few players, Provender is a community of independence. As genuine dissent is marginalized and divisiveness is promoted, Provender is a community of individual and corporate integrity.

Belief in these principles has got us from the very bleak days of our beginnings when we had to invent every tool of our own survival, to the relative strength and prosperity that we enjoy today – and will get us through the challenges we’re facing as a community today.

As you read this, we are underway in planning the first-ever online Provender Conference. I hesitate to call it a virtual Conference because our aim is to create as genuine an experience of coming together as possible. You know that the extraordinary synergy at our Conferences has always been a great strength of our Alliance. Have you ever said that the Conference recharges your batteries for another year of “the work”, whether that work is making products, running stores, or teaching? You’re in good company – everyone that I talk to who has been to a Conference eventually says that. That’s what we’re aiming for.

We are also building an ongoing membership drive. This isn’t to maximize the number of our members, but to make sure that every like-minded company, group, and even individual throughout the PNW knows that we’re here and what work we do and what principles we stick to. New members will find a ready-made community that may reflect their ideals of integrity and independence.

There’s another thing we’re working on, too; the strength of the network that holds us together as an Alliance. This effort is born from the challenges that came with the epidemic. This isolation is good for preventing the spread of the virus but isn’t much good for anything else. We’ve had a Newsletter and a Journal for a long time, but now we’re going to add in conversations. By the time you read this, we will have had our first two Provender Community Conversation events – open-ended phone-in or video-based informal Zoom gatherings of our Alliance. I hope you were on one of those calls and enjoyed the contact. If not, please join in for an upcoming call.

There’s a lot of work that we’ve laid out, and we could sure use some help from you. One way to define work is those things that you don’t want to do that you only do if someone pays you to do it. Well, neither is true in this case. We’re not paid to do this, and we want to do it anyway. We do it for a variety of reasons, I’m sure. Some do it for the business value of the networking that Provender provides. Provender is easily the best networking opportunity available to someone in the natural food movement in the PNW. Other people help Provender along because there is so much to learn and take away from the conference each year.

These are great reasons to think about helping Provender with some of your time. The value of the return is easily worth more than the time you might invest. But there is something else. We’re all in this movement by choice. We share a culture of our own making. Many of us have been making our living within this community, but it goes without saying that our community is far more than the sum of all the business we do. Far more.

Please remember this – when we reduce our interactions to just transactions, we miss the greatest value that community brings. When we act as though we’re in a community, then we are. When we remember that, also remember that each of us brings something unique to this community, and together that’s what adds up to our greatest wealth.

Please reach out to our Executive Director, Abigail Harris, to find out about opportunities to pitch in and help strengthen our Alliance. Together we can continue to invent the ways to help our movement evolve into an uncertain future.

Long live the Alliance!