Casey Szymanski
Wheatsfield Board of Directors
June 19, 2020
I hope you had an opportunity to read the statement shared earlier this month from the Co-op about why we stand with Black Lives Matter, demanding justice for those that have suffered and died due to police brutality and demanding an end to the oppression and dehumanization of Black people in our communities.
One of the reasons that I have been passionate about Wheatsfield, and cooperatives in general, is that the cooperative movement arose as an alternative economic model centered on community and equity in response to oppression of class, gender, and race. There is an incredible historical legacy of the Black community’s contributions to and involvement in the mutual aid and cooperative movements in the United States. Successful farming and food cooperatives arose in the south during the late 1800’s as a tool toward the elimination of economic exploitation for Black people. They were able to purchase land together, share resources, provide jobs and affordable goods, and build leadership and networks throughout the country. However, unlike white-led cooperatives these businesses faced the additional challenges of state-sanctioned disinvestment and violence, and racist economic policies. Many of these early Black cooperatives eventually ended under the oppressive legacy of the Jim Crow system. Today, there are successful co-ops that predominantly serve Black Americans despite continuing to face steep economic challenges while existing in a cooperative movement that is dominated by white voices that have been largely quiet on issues of racial inequity.
Wheatsfield was founded on the principles of working for justice, sustainability, health, and concern for community. As a board member, with a responsibility to oversee that we continue to be guided by our principles, it is clear to me that unless we are an explicit and actively anti-racist organization, we are not aligned with our values. Systemic racism permeates every facet of our society and we will not realize a just food system without working for racial justice for all members of our society.
The incredible staff of Wheatsfield, even amid the challenges of the ongoing pandemic and the daily challenges of the grocery business, have already committed to initial concrete and immediate actions:
  • Review hiring and recruitment practices to expand our reach for new employees
  • Create a staff committee on equity at the co-op
  • Include training on equity issues for managers and staff
  • Explore a low-income membership program
  • Donate money to organizations that support racial justice
  • Evaluate product selection to ensure we have products and price selections for all sections of our community
In addition, as a board whose positions are currently filled by all white people, it’s especially important for us to articulate specific immediate actions we can take in addition to our long term commitment. In a transparent effort to assign accountability, we commit to establish as a board or, as applicable, complete the following actions within the next year:
  • Review and transform board candidate and committee member recruitment strategies to prioritize People of Color. This includes, but is not limited to, updates to board candidate application, critical discussions around relationship building and removal of recruitment barriers, and intentional recruitment of People of Color to the board.
  • Review Wheatsfield’s core values and vision statements to explicitly articulate our commitment to anti-racism, inclusion, and equity.
  • Support staff and their new committee on equity through participation and dialogue, where appropriate, to help build an anti-racist and inclusive store culture together.
  • Review the onboarding process for new board members to include anti-racism materials and appropriate resources on inclusion and equity with the goal of stimulating intentional conversations about our commitment to Wheatsfield’s values.
  • Commit to holding a board retreat on a regular basis that allows conscious space for education, discussion and evaluation of our actions to live up to our anti-racist and other values of the Co-op.
Transforming organizational biases rooted in white supremacy is a long-term culture building process, but I believe that with a commitment to difficult conversations, reflective learning and accountability we can work to build an anti-racist culture within our governance, employees, and community. Beginning with the above actions, we are working to create a permanent foundation so that this work will continue. As always, the board and staff welcome the input of all Wheatsfield member-owners, especially those that have been marginalized due to our inaction. We are committed to being transparent and sharing updates with which we hold ourselves and each other accountable to be a truly equitable community, in spirit with the foundations of the cooperative movement.
In solidarity, Casey Szymanski
on behalf of the Wheatsfield Board of Directors
*To learn more about the incredible and courageous stories of the Black cooperative community, I would recommend the books Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice by Jessica Gordon Nembhard and Freedom Farmers: Agricultural Resistance and the Black Freedom Movement by Monica M. White