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

6 Comments

Festerville July 27, 2012 at 4:24 pm

Good grief! This is an excellent expression of the current situation.

Thank you Susan! All recent the ‘listening’ and empty rhetoric and promises have not changed the concerns you raise a jot.

The mortgage payoff represents a massive failure of vision and commitment on the part of the ONF community. $2m is a very high price to pay for not paying the right kind of attention.

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frustrated owner July 27, 2012 at 5:38 pm

Thank you Susan for this very concise and insightful statement of the problems facing our co-op

Thank You TFW for having the courage to re-visit this issue and get “the other side”!

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An interested customer July 28, 2012 at 11:13 am

I am not appalled I am still curious. As I read the article I was left with the following questions:
Why did the 2 board members become the target for the employees and Land? No facts were given just innuendos from those interviewed. Whoever heard of striking because of personnel issues? “obstructionism” wtw? These 2 board members caused Land to feel “uncomfortable” grow up!

What grievances were filed? Why did the board feel the need to have a closed session?

Wasn’t Land fired by a previous board and got rehired because she threatened a law suit?

What other agenda’s by “people”?
What “wrongs” went unpunished?
Why did the board reinstate Land once again as she has caused “rifts” over several years?

Why doesn’t ONF hold an online owner’s meeting as many of their members live so far away?

The reason Youngblood gave for hiring Land back was disingenuous. “because she fit the organization best right now”….seems to me she is the impetus behind all the trouble.

And finally it would be interesting to know just why Ms Land is able to weld such a stranglehold over ONF and I for one would like to see a follow up investigating her tenure at ONF.

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aviva July 28, 2012 at 11:08 pm

MUCH needs to continue to be said and discussed out in the open where reports may be brought to the attention of members of the community who may not be aware of issues at hand, their history and the effects decisions and actions are likely to have.

I thank TFW for recognizing this need. I thank SS for showing that this door cannot be sealed.

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Wheatsville Fan July 29, 2012 at 12:08 pm

Finally!! We hear the REST of the story, and the truth. Thank you Susan for your explaining it so thoroughly. You are spot on in every regard. I don’t miss TX but I do miss Wheatsville Co-op and I hope ONF will one day become the co-op I thought I was joining when I moved here. As it is now, I can’t afford to shop there. I, and many other owners, are effectively disenfranchised.

The huge changes that are needed seem unlikely under current management. ONF is not a co-op anymore; the word has even been dropped from its name. We owners are suckers, bankrolling a glory ride for Ms. Land whereby she can point to huge “successes” that are mirages. What a shame.

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h theron July 30, 2012 at 1:09 am

susan, thank you. TFW, write another story. see if locals even know what is happening at the ozark natural foods right now? when i was employed, the GM’s desk was butting-up to the HR’s desk. if a question was asked to the HR, the GM had to approve. that is not transparency, that is a invasion of the truth. this is just an example. i know why susan was let go and it was because of asking too many questions. i know why others have been let go also. it was because they wanted to do a true job and when they asked too much were canned. the BOD needs to allow complete recordings of their meeting to exist. when you shop at the co-op please remember it’s your store and others are running it.

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