Since the last week of April, while attending three diverse meetings with Bloomingfood members, board, and new GM, I have sent out two posts, both entitled “Bloomingfoods and Me.”
Now it’s time to start a new, and I hope, longer series, entitled “Bloomingfoods and Us,” initially inspired this time, by two more Bloomingfoods meetings I attended this week. The first, with about eight of Bloomington’s current and former vendors; the second, one of two get-togethers with the G.M. held this week — the first at the Elm Heights store then in the process of closing, with about 20 people, and the the one I attended in the patio room at the East Side Store with not even a dozen people.
By the way, when I walked in the closed patio door last evening, I noticed a sign which said, “Private Meeting,” or some such. Why didn’t it say, “Come meet the new G.M?”
This post is about the vendor meeting., which I attended with about eight others, including my son Colin Cudmore of the Garden Tower Project — one of the former vendors; Bloomingfoods has asked the GTP to return and Colin is trying to understand what that might look like. As usual he’s thinking big.
At the vendor meeting I was emotionally moved to hear impassioned stories of how Bloomingfoods staff helped some of these vendors get started in their entrepenurial efforts, saying things like “Your packaging is good, except it needs to be more X or Y. Just do that and you’ll sell a lot of product.” I also listened to situations where Bloomingfoods staff had not informed the vendor that they were out of product, and needed more. — Another instance of the communications disconnect that seems to have afflicted so many levels of Bloomingfoods culture, and which the new G.M. and other admin staff are now working mightily to correct.
By and large, however, the vendors appreciate Bloomingfoods immensely, consider it the best venue by far for their products, and one and all, are determined to help Bloomingfoods stay in business. What can they do?
One woman spoke of writing an article to be published locally, detailing the various stories of Bloomingfoods vendors. Another spoke of how the Food Truck Association of Bloomington, (now 48 trucks strong!) could hold weekly or monthly events at either the East Side or the West Side store — or both! — and encourage cross-pollination with Bloomingfoods that way. My son Colin, and others, spoke of the difference between “local” (which at this point, either includes a 100 mile radius or all of Indiana, since the state’s image is on the “local” label), and what they are calling “hyperlocal,” where Bloomingfoods would be supplied with fresh organic produce and other products from say, a 30-mile radius, and/or to include Monroe, Green, Owen and Brown Counties. (By this measure, Indianapolis, one hour north, would have its own “hyperlocal” label.)
Why hyperlocal? Because, once Whole Foods moves in, by September 2017 — to be located only two blocks from the best-performing East Side Bloomingfoods store — then the label “local,” already ubiquitous not just for much of Bloomingfoods produce but already featured in all the large chain grocery stores, would lose even more of its meaning. There is already nothing or not much to distinguish Bloomingfoods produce from these chains; the addition of Whole Foods to the mix would likely spell the death knell for Bloomingfoods.
But, if Bloomingfoods, its board, G.M., staff and member-owners could think and act in a “hyperlocal” manner, by encouraging, communicating with, and doing business with small farmers and other entrepeneurs in this area (both rural and in town), how might that help to distinguish Bloomingfoods from the large chains? The co-op structure itself, so dear to us old hippie hearts in town, doesn’t mean much to younger people. They want to go a grocery that sells what they want to buy. And at least with Bloomingfoods, its stores are small enough that you don’t have to walk a mile looking for what you want — and often, still not find it! Meanwhile, back at Bloomingfoods, had you gone in there, you would have run into at least one person that you know personally; furthermore, you know many of the clerks too, with whom you tend to banter back and forth while ringing up your purchases.
Let’s face it: Bloomingfoods also operates as an extremely valuable community center; which is in part why the closure of the Elm Heights store felt so awful to those who live in that neighborhood.
Perhaps two types of signs: “local” and “hyperlocal,” with some kind of large print sign pointing out the difference, educating people as to how vital it is that we learn to keep our hard-earned money in town, where it can circulate again and again and again, rather than continuously drain out to chain headquarters and big banks.
In the event of a transportation collapse, the term “hyperlocal” is going to instantly assume survival value. Here are two recent stories that give an indication of what may lie ahead for trucking in this country.
We know that people don’t change their behavior, or their world-views, unless forced to. Most people. But Bloomingfoods member- owners could be in the vanguard of those who think ahead, and in this case, those who realize that the more we create and encourage hyperlocal exchanges of all kinds, the more resilient becomes our community in the face of all sorts of unpredictable disruptions that most of us would rather not even imagine, much less suffer through. As more and more people grow food, and make value-added products with that food, or prepared meals — and sell or trade their hand-grown or hand-crafted food products through Bloomingfoods, the more the people of this place and its hyperlocal stores that meet their real needs, can thrive.
As Colin and I left the meeting, the vendors were busy exchanging emails, and planning to recruit more vendors, including from the Farmer’s Market, as they birth a mutual effort to help their own Bloomingfoods not just survive, but to meet whatever the future holds with vision, courage, mutual trust, and a spirit of adventure. Go, vendors!