By Jacqueline Kantor
Carrboro Commons Co-Editor
At the annual Weaver Street Market meeting on September 23, community members looked toward the future with a new meeting format.
Board members, co-owners and local citizens discussed the next eight years of Weaver Street—a future centered around four goals that the Triangle-based cooperative seeks to achieve by 2020 to encourage economic viability, social responsibility and environmental stewardship.
The four goals of the 2020 plan focus on promoting healthy eating, driving the growth of local and sustainable foods, invigorating downtowns and using net zero energy and creating zero waste. The meeting at Panzanella gave co-owners the opportunity to meet in small groups and brainstorm ideas to address each of these goals.
“I think that the perception initially was that we were going to have the same old meeting—but it was a complete change-up,” said Curt Brinkmeyer, 32, a worker-owner and chair of the board of directors.
“There was a lot of momentum behind these four goals, and you just saw the people light up with ideas,” he said. “The board just plans to take that excitement and run with it.”
After opening remarks, Weaver Street Market honored the recipients of the 2012 Weaver Street Market Cooperative Community Fund Grants. A committee of owner volunteers reviews grant applicants each year to determine three local nonprofit groups working on issues important to the Weaver Street Market goals and efforts in the community.
The 2012 grant recipients, each receiving $600, were Farmer Foodshare, Chapel Hill-Carrboro Meals on Wheels and Chestnut Ridge Camp.
Farmer Foodshare was represented at the meeting by founder and executive director Margaret Gifford and board member John Whitehead. Gifford said the organization plans to use the grant to print out postcards to distribute at donation stations to better communicate Farmer Foodshare’s mission. Farmer Foodshare will also use the money for chalkboard easels to display at donation sites to provide a running tally of money and food raised.
Weaver Street Market has helped Farmer Foodshare in the past by donating boxes and providing technical assistance with food safety.
“Weaver Street Market has always been really interested in supporting us,” Gifford said. “They have an interest that is very similar to ours, which includes building a community through local food.”
Stacey Yusko, director of Chapel Hill-Carrboro Meals on Wheels, accepted the grant for her organization. She said the $600 will be used to offset the organization’s subsidy. Approximately 15 percent of program participants who cannot pay anything for their meals, and this will cover their costs. The publicity from the grant is important to gaining support in the community, she added.
“The wider the base of support you have, the better a job you’re doing at getting your message out to everyone,” Yusko said. “We as a community need to address this because these people live next door to us, across the street from us.”
Chris Burtner, farm manager and equestrian director, and Jennifer Carson, garden coordinator, accepted the award for Chestnut Ridge Camp. The camp will use the money to initiate farmscaping at its community farm as a holistic ecological approach to pest management.
“We’re installing a lot of flowering plants that will then bring beneficial insects in hopes of reducing pest insect population,” Carson said.
With a 10 percent increase in sales from last year and three times the patronage dividend, Weaver Street Market is in the position to translate its strength and presence in the community into results, said Ruffin Slater, founder and general manager.
“We’ve worked 25 years to develop the resources to address these issues,” Slater, 54, said. “We have people who care enough to be here, who care enough to be thinking. It’s ambitious, but it’s doable.”
In his opening remarks, Slater referred to the ingenuity of Eric Henry, president of TS Designs, as an example for Weaver Street’s 2020 goals. Henry’s company produces all of the Weaver Street Market T-shirts and promotes sustainable textile manufacturing in North Carolina.
“In community shops like this, your voice counts,” Henry said. “With a goal as far out and as big as this one and depending on such a long period of time, things can change. So what we’re doing tonight is getting people set into a general direction, and the further ahead we get, we’ll get more specific ideas.”
Each of the 15 tables in the meeting was given notecards to write an original idea for enacting one of the four goals. Ideas ranged from turning the air conditioning down in stores to continued economic investment in employees.
Solar panels on store locations was a popular idea and a favorite of both Brinkmeyer and Slater. Weaver Street owns the building in Hillsborough, which would make paneling very feasible, Brinkmeyer said.
The Southern Village and Carrboro locations would take more discussion with the building owners and fellow tenants. Brinkmeyer was also encouraged by community support for providing micro-loans to small, local farmers.
Another of Ruffin’s favorite ideas was to promote healthy snacks, and to do something as simple as redesign the Market’s snack bar to give more display space to healthy options, as opposed to just what’s on sale.
“In the next year, I’d like to see progression on all of these goals,” Brinkmeyer said. “Right now we’re just building ideas and we’ll start making measurements, then building measurements on measurements.
“All of the owners have a responsibility and play a fundamental role in accomplishing goals. It’s only with their support that we can actually achieve this.”