Here We Grow — by Felicia Sevene

On Sunday, March 11 the Amherst Food Co-op held an event at the Unitarian Meetinghouse in downtown Amherst to share our latest progress with the community and to introduce our newest Board member, JuPong Lin, and our new Outreach Coordinator, Andy Grant, who is the Co-op’s first official employee. About 50 people attended the event, including a number of co-op member-owners, regular supporters, and those eager to learn more about the project.
As we created the agenda for the event, I was asked to speak about why I chose to become a Board member: what drew me to the project and what’s kept me involved, despite the many challenges and obstacles the project has faced. Being a somewhat shy person, my first inclination was to decline, but upon further reflection, I realized that this project is important enough to me that I should acknowledge my fears and take action anyway. I decided that the best thing for me to do was to write down my thoughts and speak from the heart, an approach which has never failed me. These were my remarks:

I first got involved in this project back in 2012, when my husband Alex came home from a meeting with a group of recently graduated UMass students interested in starting a food co-op in Amherst. That group of four young women, plus Alex, our longtime Board member Elliott Crowe, and few others, created a steering committee, which for the next couple of years met every week in our living room to discuss how to go about making this idea a reality. Every now and again I’d hear them talking from the other room and I’d be drawn in to listen and to add my two cents, which was often some version of: “It’s important that you make sure it’s affordable.” “I hope you’re thinking about accessibility for everyone.” And so that was the beginning of my involvement in the Co-op.
In 2013, I went off to graduate school at the Smith College School for Social Work. Integrated into the entire Smith curriculum was a focus on anti-racism and anti-discrimination. It was through that experience that I began to see this project with new eyes, and began to understand that what we were attempting to do could and should be approached within a larger context of social, racial, environmental, and economic justice. I realized that we weren’t just building another food store that happened to be owned by the community and the workers (which of course, is a great thing to do) or just happened to be supporting local producers (which is also a great thing), but that this was an opportunity for all of us to engage at the local level in community organizing and education, in building community resilience, and in addressing the very real and complex issues of food justice, environmental justice, racial justice, worker empowerment, and many other important issues that were also playing out on the national and global stage.

In 2016, I officially joined the Board because I realized that as someone who, for much of my life, had experienced both food scarcity and economic instability, I had an important voice to offer to this project. Additionally, as someone who had arrived in this community more than 20 years ago as a low-income single mom, and who by some great good fortune was able to move from that social position into the one I now occupy: that of an upper middle-class, property-owning, married, white woman, I felt and feel that, not only do I have a unique perspective, but because of my working-class background and all the support I’ve received along the way, I have an obligation to work with, and on behalf of, my neighbors who remain marginalized and underserved — to use my newly gained privileges to help them access healthy, affordable food and to be able to participate in this great community resource. I know that their voices matter and that they’ve got just as much to contribute to this project as anyone else in the community. And I also know that it’s only with their important voices and contributions that our project will have fully earned the right to be called a community grocery store.

I know firsthand what it feels like to not be able to participate in something that most people would agree is good and healthy and positive. And I know what it’s like to feel as though I don’t really matter. Knowing that I have the opportunity to help create a community and worker-owned, full-service grocery store that is striving to be socially conscious, culturally relevant, is building community resilience by creating meaningful jobs and supporting our local farmers, is resisting the corporate takeover of our food system and keeping profits local, and is addressing issues of food justice, environmental justice, racial justice, and economic justice, well….Hello?? Where do I sign up?

So it’s been ALL of these factors combined that has drawn me to this project and keeps me excited and motivated to continue doing the work. And it is hard work. And it is right work. And it’s gonna take the support and the energy and the contributions of the entire community to make it happen. So if you haven’t already, I hope you’ll join us and get involved in a project that we believe has the potential to bring us together as community and to help make our community a model for others. Are you in?”
Presented at the March 11, 2018 “Here We Grow!” progress update event, Amherst, MA

Felicia Sevene — Board Member, Amherst Food Co-op