Hank Becker

“Let’s make our Co-op a True Co-operative. I’ve proposed a Consumer Engagement Initiative that provides opportunities for serving the Market, influencing its practices, contributing to the Market Blog, and monthly discussions at a Meetup group.”

Describe your occupation and community involvement. In 2007, I retired from a career in education research and teaching in higher ed, most recently at the University of California, Irvine. Since moving to Chapel Hill in 2008, my main community activities have been:

  •  2008-present: Shared Learning Association of Chapel Hill: designing and leading courses for our retiree membership on food policy, environment and energy, political behavior, and social and political controversies; board member since 2009 and vice president, 2009-12.
  •  2013-present: volunteer with the Friends of the Chapel Hill Public Library, serving as board member and helping to direct the sorting and pricing of donated books and our triennial book sales.
  •  2014-present: volunteer with WSM food distribution for Table and PORCH; and member of the Weaver Street Market elections committee (2014-2015)

BeckerWhy do you want to serve on the Board of Directors? Weaver Street Market would benefit if more consumers had the opportunity to participate in the market community besides shopping for their own family and socializing on the Carrboro lawn. I want to energize the Board and management to create a more vibrant and active community of consumer-members (-owners). Recently, I proposed to them a Consumer Engagement Initiative with three elements:

(1) A consumer-owner led MeetUp discussion group around “Healthy Eating at Weaver Street Market.” The group would focus on two main topics: (a) healthy eating practices and governmental policies and (b) consumer suggestions regarding Market operations and policies. Meetings might include book discussions, invited speakers, or short courses offered by local experts.

(2) A set of consumer-owner committees supporting the Market and managed by Market staff. These might include, for example,

  • A Consumer Welcoming and Information Committee whose overall goal would be to provide information about the Market to consumer-owners and potential owners. Committee members would be trained to provide tours of Market operations (an activity already being planned); and they would staff “tables” for publicizing special sales, donation drives, and membership drives.
  • A Healthy Eating and Culinary Assessment Committee would focus on expanding healthy eating throughout the area, including low-income communities. Members would be involved in taste-testing potential products, helping Market staff with outreach, and recruitment for community groups such as PORCH and Table, and participating in other efforts to expand healthy eating to low-income communities.
  • A set of Store Advisory Committees, one for each retail location, would provide suggestions and feedback to store managers, primarily about stocking, store layout, and similar issues.
  • A Recycling and Zero-Waste Committee would discuss and suggest ideas in pursuit of the Market’s 2020 organizational goal and for influencing consumers in their private behavior.
  • A Music and Events Committee would provide volunteers for various Market events and for loosely affiliated groups (such as the Farm Tour). This committee would also assist Market staff in both the selection of musical entertainers for summer weekly events and help with arrangements for those events.

(3) The final component to this proposal is a major revision of the Weaver Street Market Blog in order to expand the ways that consumers can provide input to the Market and communicate with each other as well. Such changes, for example, would enable consumers to see each other’s suggestions and questions, comment upon them, and enable all to see administrative, staff, and worker responses. This component would also incorporate opening up the website to provide a medium of communication among consumers related to the committees and the MeetUp organization introduced above.

A co-op is more than just a store with the name “co-op” in it. It should be a cooperative effort of a community, and Weaver Street Market is the right place to make that happen. Such an effort will cost money, but the payoff for the market will be more committed members and greater sales volume that will pay for that effort in spades.

What experience do you have with the Weaver Street Market, cooperatives, or small community-minded businesses? When I was much younger, my wife and I participated with about a dozen other young families in a fresh food-buying cooperative. We took turns going to the wholesale market and making purchases that we had agreed upon and that were within our budget, and then distributed our purchases to all the families in the coop. That led me to understand that stakeholder consumers acting collectively can make important contributions to decisions along with full-time managers–with the added benefit of greatly improving their understanding of the systems within which they live.

When we moved to Chapel Hill I was at first excited by the presence of Weaver St., but it took me several years to realize that the somewhat higher prices I am paying is supporting a community of like-minded people who have many food-related values that go above and beyond economy. For more than a year, I have participated in the monthly sorting of food for PORCH at the Weaver Street Food House and almost every week I distribute food to families through Table, using funds contributed by Weaver Street shoppers. And for two years I served on the Elections Committee for the Co-op.

What experience, skills or perspective will you bring to the Board?  I am a sociologist by training and consider myself a fairly rigorous thinker. At the same time, I strongly value the soft virtues of empathy, community, and integrity. Although not trained in finance, I do have a head for numbers (math major), and my research experience has taught me much about how best to measure whether well-intended policies are achieving their intended results.

I am aware of the distinction between policy and operations and the differing responsibilities of the Board of Directors and management. Although I may push the boundaries between them from time to time, I will respect them as well. This is easy to do at WSM because we have such an outstanding and knowledgeable management staff and a similarly well-qualified and congenial Board.

Include anything else about yourself that you may like others to know.  I am quite open to discussing the directions for WSM I have outlined here and other ideas and policies that you yourself may have. I encourage members to contact me.

Contact information:

Email: hjbecker@uci.edu
Phone: 919-932-7356
Facebook: www.facebook.com/ohanka
Twitter: @machank