Commentary

TFW Failed On ONF Story

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I was appalled by your one-sided and poorly-researched article about Ozark Natural Food’s turmoil in the current issue of TFW. It read, in fact, like a piece of PR provided by Ms. Land and her management team, and was one-sided and biased towards them. Where was the rest of the story?

It’s striking that all of this article’s quotes, save for a few sentences from Sue Graham and Linda Ralston, were from ONF managers; not a single owner, or anyone who has differing views for that matter, was quoted in your article.

As an owner and former employee of ONF (from 2001-08), I am all too familiar with the store, observing over the years the move away from ONF being a functioning cooperative to a high-priced gourmet-style food store and profit-driven entity. Many of us came to refer to ONF as Alysen’s Store.

The recent move by several board members to oust Sue Graham and Linda Ralston from the board (and please, could your reporter have dug a little deeper instead of parroting the company line that Sue and Linda made the staff feel “uncomfortable”?) only highlights ONF’s modus operandi: to obliterate any questioning of major business decisions made by Ms. Land.

The up-ending of the cooperative structure with Ms. Land running the Board of Directors rather than the other way around, is the real cause of all this “recent turmoil.” Under a cooperative structure, the board is accountable to the owners. Under a cooperative structure, the employers are its owners.

As for the recent “strike,” I was surprised that your reporter neglected to actually quote owners who in fact were more than (in the words of ONF marketing director Alexa McGriff) merely angry because workers closed the doors and customers “couldn’t access their food.” I find Ms. McGriff’s statement offensive. And a strike organized by unhappy workers? Please! Upper management engineered the store’s lockdown; those managers were in front of the store handing out flyers calling for the dismissal of Sue Graham and Linda Ralston. If that isn’t cause for immediate firing, I don’t know what is. Sue Graham and Linda Ralston have been vilified by the GM, her management team and the board president and several board members for asking tough but necessary questions while doing the job they were elected to do: to keep Ozark Natural Foods, a cooperative business, running smoothly according to its bylaws and mission statement.

Ms. Land’s unfathomable and irresponsible push to pay off ONF’s mortgage without seeking financial counsel and without getting input from its owners, went unexamined by your reporter, as is Ms. Land’s assertion that Whole Foods is “set to move into Bentonville.” The rumor that Whole Foods plans to open a store in Northwest Arkansas has been flying around for years. Ms. Land has been using this fear-mongering as a way to manipulate her staff and several board members. Additionally, her “setting prices to where more people in the community can afford to shop at ONF” is one of those eternally dangling carrots. We’ll believe it when we see it.

In the end, it boils down to one manager (whose motives can only be speculated about) and her team using whatever tactics they can to keep her hold on the reigns of a business which has, gradually, been taken away from its owners.

 

Susan Shore

Fayetteville

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