All posts by John Brantly

Corey Photo 3

Co-op Camp Attended by Chapel Hill Student

Corey PhotoEditedEach summer the Cooperative Council of North Carolina holds a Cooperative Leadership Camp for high school students. The students who attend are sponsored by a North Carolina cooperative. This year, Weaver Street Market sent its first student to Co-op Camp—Corey Pahel-Short, a rising high school senior at East Chapel Hill.

We selected Corey for the leadership qualities she is already cultivating as she balances commitments to her school’s cross country team, her academic studies, and her volunteer work with NatureWay and at UNC. When we asked her the question, “What leadership skills do you see as important for cooperatives?” she responded as follows:

Since cooperatives bring together a diverse group of people with different skills, a leader must be inclusive, flexible, and open to new ideas. This allows for the free sharing of ideas, which will create opportunities for the co-op to grow. Having a vision for the co-op and community is a fundamental quality of leadership. But having a vision is not enough; a leader must be able to articulate his/her ideas and follow through with them. This requires commitment.

Corey Photo 10We asked Corey to share some of the highlights from her week at co-op camp:

This summer I received the opportunity to attend Cooperative
Leadership Camp thanks to Weaver Street’s sponsorship. I did not know what to expect, but I figured I should learn more about how a co-op functions since Weaver Street has always been a part of my life. I grew up in Chapel Hill a few minutes from the Carrboro store, and my father served on the Board of Directors when I was in elementary school.

Corey Photo 2Students from all across the state attended. I was the only student from a food co-op.  At the camp, we organized a t-shirt cooperative by electing positions such as president, the board of directors, and the general manager. We divided into different teams responsible for the various aspects of the co-op, such as finance, marketing, and distribution. I joined the community relations team, which was tasked with organizing a service project. Inspired by Weaver Street’s work with the charity TABLE, I suggested the idea of sending letters of encouragement to terminally ill children in hospitals. Personally, I was at a loss for what to say to children in situations much worse than me, so my letters were mostly drawings of superheroes and Disney characters. The event was a success, and we accumulated a significant stack of letters.

threeTogetherSmallUpon arrival at the camp, we were split into four teams: Blue, Green, Yellow, and Red. Throughout the week we competed against each other in challenges that tested our ability to work with others and take on leadership roles. Many of the challenges required trust, a sense of humor, and a willingness to get wet! Blue Team was the best, of course, which I am definitely not biased about as a member.

My favorite of these activities was a tower building contest. The goal was to build the tallest tower starting from a tabletop. We could only use the materials in our envelope (markers, tape, paper clips, and paper); we could not move the ceiling tiles; and we had just 15 minutes to complete the tower.

While my group was debating how to build a sturdy tower, I realized that the rules said nothing about taping the tower of chains to the ceiling and having it hang down to the table. We discreetly began making paper chains that we would connect to the ceiling at the last minute. Unfortunately, we connected ours too soon, and other groups copied us with the remaining time. We ended up getting second in this activity due to our chains being less “sturdy” than the Red Team’s tower. I would like to point out, however, that the flexibility of our tower would better withstand an earthquake.

Corey Photo 5Despite some setbacks, Blue Team emerged as the overall winner of the week’s challenges! We were a group of outspoken individuals, but we formed a good team because we always supported one another.

I should mention that this camp took place in White Lake, NC, right along the water. The trees all featured Spanish moss, and the sunrise in the morning was absolutely gorgeous. Every day we were allotted free time to do as we pleased, which I mostly spent on the water with new friends. Although we were total strangers at the beginning of the week, we managed to build a community.

We are thrilled that Corey represented our co-op at the camp. Cooperative Council President Jennie Gentry shared with us that Corey was a “bright spot at camp” and described her as “one AMAZING young lady!” We are not surprised that she won the “Unsung Hero” Award—for her creative contributions, her positive attitude, and her commitment to the cooperative principles.


Co-op to Co-op Wine Trade with La Riojana Vineyards

Co-op to Co-op Trade

LaRjohanaWIneryScenery2What if you could get a great wine at a fantastic price and know that LaRjohanaBottlingyour purchase goes to support a small producer co-op? You can do that when you purchase La Riojana wines from our sister co-op in Argentina.  As soon as you try them, you’ll know that these are terrific wines. The Riojana Malbec is one of the best entry-level Malbecs we have tasted. It offers lots of dark fruit, subtle complexities, and a smooth round finish—everything we look for in a Malbec. The Chardonnay, Cabernet, and Malbec blend are all of equal quality and taste. The most pleasant surprise about these wines is their price—only $6.99/bottle, half as much as you might pay for similar wines elsewhere. Taste them for yourself at the Co-op Fair on September 20 or at our wine shows in October.

La Riojana is a wine co-op in northwest Argentina that has over 500 members, the majority of whom are small-scale farmers with less than seven acres of land each. The region in which most of the co-op’s farmers live is remote and historically a rural and poor part of the country. Through its Fair Trade projects, La Riojana has greatly improved living conditions by developing a water system, a secondary school, and a hospital, among other projects. The co-op is also working on creating sustainable villages with solar power and organic farms.  Although La Riojana sells a lot of wine in Europe, it has yet to break into the US market in a significant way. Weaver Street Market has been instrumental in connecting La Riojana with co-ops across the US.

2LaRjohanaWInerypeople2LarjohanaPaletCasesThe Riojana wines are certified by Fairtrade International (FLO). A contribution on your behalf of $2 per case is included in the price to help fund La Riojana’s community programs. Initially, that money will be split between a hospital construction project and organic certification for the farms. The members are farming organically but have not yet gone through the process of getting certified, which is expensive for small family farms. Part of our $2 per case contribution will be used to help them gain organic certification. In the meantime, we will have a letter from La Riojana stating that they use organic practices.LaRjohanaVertical

La Riojana wine is such a good value because we order directly from the producer. The retail price of a typical imported wine includes a minimum importer margin of 30% and minimum distributor margin of 30%. Co-op to co-op trade fills this middleman role with a single 23% margin by buying direct and working with a local distributor who also serves as the importer. This is a pilot program. Once we get the network set up, La Riojana is interested in selling us “reserve” wines—a premium label wine with a $20 value that we can retail for $10. If successful, the program will be expanded to import wines from co-ops in Europe.

To find out more about La Riojana, visit their website:



Behind the Scenes with a Baker

JonMcDonald2012Our artisan bread is known throughout the Triangle for its authentic Old World style. We sell over a thousand loaves each week in our stores and to local restaurants and other co-ops, and in 2015, we won the Independent’s Best in the Triangle award for Best Bread in Orange/Chatham County. We’ve always sourced organic locally milled flour from Lindley Mills, and we’ve recently added flour made from locally grown wheat from Carolina Ground in Asheville.

Jon McDonald is one of our lead bakers as well as a Board member of the co-op. Here he shares with us some stories about life in the bakery.

We used to have a window in the bakery. It opened to a completely uninteresting view of the brick side of the next warehouse. But nonetheless, every morning between six and eight in the morning, depending on the season, the sun would begin to rise and send a wonderful ray of light onto our production floor. I have a specific memory of challah one Thursday morning: the entire team crowded around a table, shaping braid after braid, joking with each other about this or that; Mana or LCD Soundsystem or T-Pain playing in the background; and that ray of light illuminating the ambient flour in the air like we were actors in a Terrance Mallick film.

Bread-photo1-with-Jon&DavidWhen I was asked to write this piece about the bakery, it was hard to narrow the focus. Do I talk about the baking experience itself? It’s hard to put it on paper: shaping takes time, repetition; it requires more mental capacity than I’d like to admit to calculate water temperature at two in the morning. The real story of the bakery is more like the time we spent an entire week assigning each other Sesame Street characters. Or the sunrise coming through the window. That window is gone now—our bagel program required extra cooler space—but the memory, along with many others, remains. So here are a few of those other memories.

I came to baking by accident. A friend emailed me an ad for an opening in the bakery the year it planned to move to Hillsborough. I had no business getting the job. In fact, I found out recently that Rob (the bakery manager) was going to pass on me if not for random luck: my boss at the time, an editor at Algonquin books, happened to like me and literally lived next door to Rob. I don’t know which lies she told him, but I’m glad she did.

Despite not having any baking experience, I was in good hands. I’ve been able to learn from the most interesting group of people. A trio of brothers from near Oaxaca, who grew up baking in their father’s adobe oven; a woman from Texas with multiple PhDs in the middle of a career change; an ex-farmer with the most telescopic attention to detail; the former head baker of a rival bakery one town over; artists; multiple chemists.

I recently tried out for the USA baking team. This is a sponsored team of three bakers who compete in the most recognized international bread competition, held in Paris every four years. I had no business trying out: a kid with minimal experience, no culinary training, no baking pedigree. The tryout was relatively straight-forward: eight hours to bake five different types of bread from start to finish, about 70 loaves total. I was able to rep the Carolinas using heirloom grains from Anson Mills and Carolina Ground. (I actually stenciled our state motto, esse quam videri, onto one type of bread.)

But what was most exciting was describing our little operation to all the big-name judges. The benefits, the vacation hours, our worker-owner stake in the company…these all piqued the interest of my fellow competitors and the judges. It didn’t seem like anyone loved his or her job quite as much as I did.

Profile: Memo Martinez

Bread-photo3-brothers&Tiffany-crop-out-BrendaMemo is our longest tenured baker. He’s like clockwork: never late, never sick. He’ll stand for hours in front of the oven on Saturday mornings, churning out hundreds of loaves, each one baked to perfection, right on time, and not break a sweat, the floor clean and the oven wiped down as if the bread baked itself and magically appeared on the shelf. In what threatens to be the most adorable relationship at WSM, he’s married to lead pastry baker Tiffany, whom he met when the bakery was in Carrboro. He’s the second oldest of six brothers. His older brother, Pablo, was the former longest tenured baker until he returned to his family in Oaxaca, and Chivo, a younger brother, also works in the bakery.


Impact of the Community Food Partnerships to Fight Hunger

WSM Brings Community Together to Combat Local Hunger


“Making healthy food accessible” is perhaps the most fundamental of Weaver Street Market’s 2020 Goals. We pursue this goal as a food retailer. Healthy food continually flows in and out of our three stores and food house. Yet there is another segment of our community that does not have access to sufficient, nutritious food for their daily needs. In Orange County, an estimated 20,900 individuals are food insecure, and the lack of access is primarily due to insufficient income rather than availability. For families who live below or at the poverty level, a missed day’s work to stay home with a sick child or simple car repairs can deplete precious funds needed for food and rent.

Local hunger-relief organizations work in our communities to provide food for families faced with ongoing or emergency threats of hunger. In 2015, WSM made a commitment to expand our healthy food focus to include the food insecure. The first step was to form the Community Food Partnerships. Through this program we are partnering with four local hunger-relief organizations—PORCH, TABLE, Orange Congregations in Mission (OCIM), and Interfaith Council for Social Services (IFC)—to develop year-round access to healthy food for those in need in our communities.

BANNERimageOur simplest contribution would be to place food collection bins in each store where shoppers could drop off canned and packaged goods. We have a vision of making a greater impact, one that connects all the interrelated elements at play in this important opportunity:

•    The needs of our hunger-relief partners and the unique logistics involved in their work
•    The nutritional needs of the families they serve
•    The value our shoppers and owners place on healthy natural foods
•    Our unique position in the community as a food hub and community center
•    The willingness and ability of our shoppers and owners to donate to these programs

For 2015, we are hosting a food campaign each quarter. The first two have been immensely successful, with more than $30,000 collected for each campaign. (Read about the two campaigns below.) With each campaign and subsequent delivery of the food, we are learning more about how we can connect more of the pieces to create an even greater impact on hunger. Our happiest surprise is the willingness of so many co-op owners, shoppers, and staff to contribute to these efforts. Our two campaigns generated more than 6,000 donations and 390 volunteer hours. As Board Director Linda Stier observed, our food partnership is successful because “it’s rooted in community.”

PORCH “bag of produce” campaign

PORCH is an all-volunteer grassroots organization that raises about $20,000 each month through its monthly food drives in 150 participating neighborhoods in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. Our PORCH campaign supported the organization’s Food for Families program. Once a month PORCH delivers bags of pantry items and fresh food to 270 families identified as living in extreme poverty in our community.

PORCHpostersOur campaign focused on where we could make the most impact—providing fresh produce and eggs. We asked shoppers to donate bags of fresh produce for $30 a bag, and we offered half bags for $15 and quarter bags for $7.50. We set a very ambitious goal of 1,000 bags of fresh produce or $30,000 in donations. The results were astonishing—in two weeks our shoppers donated almost $32,000. We believe the campaign was such a huge success because we offered a donation that resonated with WSM shoppers: bags of natural and organic produce—enough vegetables, fruits, and eggs to feed a family for a week.



With our buying power, we were able to turn the $30 bags of produce into boxes filled with 35 to 40 pounds of fresh produce. PORCH opted to receive the donations over a 10-month period and selected the 100 refugee families in its Food for Families program as the recipients.

An important new piece of the partnership emerged as we explored the most efficient ways to purchase and deliver the produce. We discovered that we could help PORCH by buying and storing the purchased food at our Food House facility, holding a volunteer-based food sort with PORCH at our Food House facility, and delivering the boxes of food directly to the PORCH pickup sites.

Because of the donations our shoppers made, PORCH has been able to increase the number of families they serve and to provide additional sources of nutrition in the monthly food distributions, including whole chickens and bags of rice.

We have delivered boxes of food for the PORCH refugee families for six months, and we will continue through November. We will hold our second PORCH campaign next January, and our intent is to reach enough donations to provide a full year’s support for the refugee families.


TABLE “backpacks of healthy food for kids” campaign

TABLE provides healthy food to hungry children in preschool, elementary school, and middle school, primarily through its Weekend Meal Backpack program. TABLE relies year-round on community support to provide food for 350 to 400 children during the school year and on school breaks. Their goal is to provide weekend food for 500 kids by the end of the year.


Our TABLE campaign asked shoppers and owners to donate healthy food for TABLE’s Summer Program, which provides weekend food for 200 to 350 kids for 8 weeks of the summer break when kids do not have access to free school meals. We asked shoppers to donate backpacks of healthy kid-friendly food, including non-perishables, fresh fruit and vegetables, shelf-stable milk, and freshly baked WSM oat bread. Our shoppers met our goal of food for 2,100 backpacks, and by finessing our buying power, we were able to provide food for all 2,800 backpacks.


As with the PORCH campaign, we discovered that a significant contribution we can make is ordering, receiving, and delivering the food products to TABLE. TABLE has a regular group of volunteers who sort, bag, and deliver the bags of food to the kids at camps and summer school.

WSM hosted two community food sorts on the patio of our Carrboro store so that our shoppers and owners could see the food purchased with their donations and help with sorting and bagging the food. The train of volunteers pushing grocery carts of food down Weaver Street to TABLE showcased the community roots of our new food partnership.

Over the 8 weeks of Summer Table, we delivered 8 pounds of healthy food for 2021 backpacks. Because the projected number of 2,800 backpacks of food was not needed, we’ll continue to provide healthy food for the backpacks when TABLE starts its school-year program late August. We will host a second food campaign for Summer TABLE next May, and we intend to help them reach 500 kids next summer.