Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Let’s Keep This Conversation Going!

By Brian Rohter

Like many of you I picked up this morning's Oregonian and read the front page story about how Country Natural Beef, the Eastern Oregon co-op of ranch families that has been our long time supplier of natural, locally grown beef, is being negatively impacted by the dispute between the United Farm Workers and Beef Northwest. Beef Northwest is the Oregon feedlot for Country Natural Beef.

There are a few things in that story that I'd like to comment on. First of all, New Seasons Market definitely hasn't taken sides. We have a lot of respect for both the United Farm Workers and Beef Northwest and think that, if they will start talking again, they will be able to find a fair solution. One thing that I haven't heard anyone disagree about is that the workers at Beef Northwest should be allowed to decide on their own if they want to be represented by the United Farm Workers. My understanding is that the hold up is about what methods should be used to provide a fair process for that decision to be made.

We also strongly feel that the ranchers at Country Natural Beef shouldn't suffer as a result of this. They are not part of this dispute. The Oregonian says the co-op "has become collateral damage in the fight" and we think that's a tragedy. Their ranches and way of life are at stake as a result of this dispute and that is just wrong. We've been business partners with Country Natural Beef for many, many years and they're a model for how to build a regional food system and bridge the urban rural divide. They supply our shoppers with healthy, sustainably raised beef. Their environmental practices have been third party certified by The Food Alliance. And, the co-op is an economic engine for Oregon agriculture.

I'd also like to emphasize that the United Farm Workers never asked us to stop selling Country Natural Beef. Steve Witte, the organizer from the United Farm Workers that I've talked to, is quoted in the Oregonian as saying, "We never used the b-word. We never asked them to boycott." That's definitely true. In my various communications with Steve, he never suggested that we should stop doing business with the co-op.

Steve did ask us to help with the situation and we definitely have. We've been very proactive about this over the last year. I've personally met with representatives of the United Farm Workers, the Oregon Farm Worker Ministry, Beef Northwest and the ranchers at Country Natural Beef. I went over to Boardman to visit the feedlot at Beef Northwest. We've done our best to facilitate a conversation between the parties. We've been in communication with the other retail stores and restaurants who also buy from Country Natural Beef to see how we, as a group, might be able to help. We've formally requested that Governor Kulongoski use the influence of his office to get the parties to sit down with each other again and we thank him for his leadership on this difficult issue. So, I'm not sure where the statement in today's Oregonian that "we didn't reply to pleas for help from the United Farm Workers" came from, because it definitely isn't accurate.

Please know that I will continue to follow this issue really closely and do what I can to help find a just solution for everyone involved; all the people who work so hard, day after day, to bring this great, locally and sustainably raised food to our community.

If anyone has any suggestions about what else could be done I'd love to hear from you.


susan1649 said...

I won't be shopping at your store, even though I have been. $1,000-$1,200 a month. Will be going to Whole Foods to support UFW. Let us know when you can choose a side.

Anonymous said...

To paraphrase the GB, if you are not for unions you are against them. I'll be taking my business elsewhere until and if you can take a stand supporting unions.


Anonymous said...

Unions are often beurocratic tools to accomplish what can or should be accomplished in modern civilized society through the consumer's decisions. Consumers will always have what tend to be more costly options that are of higher quality and greater benefit to our people and planet, and will also have generally less expensive choices from less desirable sources. This "competition" causes the manufacturers of the higher quality goods to find cost effective and efficient ways of production to compete with the lower priced options, thus preserving the American Dream by increasing production and decreasing cost so that we can all have a higher quality of life, and as a by-product, waste less natural resources and energy.

At the end of the day, you the consumer is still the decision maker. There are products to support and avoid at all supermarkets, and if consumers stop buying a products, stores will stop selling them.

Anonymous said...

I would like to commend you for not boycotting Country Natural Beef because of the potential union problems at the Boardman Feedlot.

While I agree that all people have a right to fair wages and safe working conditions boycotting Country Natural Beef, like Whole Foods, is not the solution to the problem. Boycotting in this situation does more harm that good.

I have shopped at New Seasons for several years and enjoy my trips to your store for your weekend tasting, especially the weekend that you host the Country Natural ranchers as it isn't often that one gets to meet the people that put food on your table. With the opening of the Tanasbourne Whole Foods they are now roughly the same travel distance from my house as your Cedar Crossings store and while I did a small amount of shopping at the Whole Foods store simply because their selection of some products, like cheese, is greater than your Cedar Crossings Store I feel that I need to support businesses that truly support Oregon and will I will spend the majority of my food dollar at New Seasons and the local farmer's markets.

I do expect that New Seasons will do what it can to help resolve the situation in Boardman but that you use a level of maturity and ethics that is apparently lacking at Whole Foods.

Gary Scott
Aloha, OR

Paul said...

On June 3 I emailed a comment to Whole Foods about their decision as reported in the Oregonian. On June 4 I received a reply from Whole Foods. Following is the exchange of emails:

My Comment - - The article in The Oregonian today says that Whole Foods has decided not to carry Country Natural Beef because of a labor dispute at Beef Northwest feedlot. According to a statement by WF spokeswoman Kate Lowery, the WF concern is about your brand being used to push the union agenda. Your decision threatens to undermine the business and reputation of Country Natural Beef, a rancher's co-op that has pioneered sustainable agriculture and is a national model. The impact to the co-op business and to the ranching families who are co-op members is extremely serious. I understand Whole Foods being concerned about your brand being dragged into a dispute that is not yours, but your decision has dragged Country Natural Beef into a position that threatens their very existence and market share. Certainly Whole Foods can weather this tempest in an Oregon teapot by taking a principled stand to stay un-involved in the labor dispute while supporting an unusual and important agricultural partner that has goals and mission similar to that of Whole Foods! I am not a rancher - in fact, I usually choose not to eat beef. I am a supporter of sustainable industry, including ranching, and am also a supporter of workers' right to organize. The facts of this labor dispute are unclear, but one fact is clear, the action of Whole Foods has put a viable sustainable industry into danger. Please reconsider your decision. Thank you...Paul Fishman

The Whole Foods Reply - - Thanks for taking the time to write to us.

Please understand that we are STILL offering beef from Country Natural (Oregon Country) Beef (CNB). Because we feel it is unjust for the UFW to continue to use our brand to push its own agenda, we have asked Country Natural Beef not to place any additional cattle at Beef Northwest that is destined for sale at Whole Foods Market. While we have absolute compassion and respect for farm workers, we cannot step in and settle a dispute on behalf of the UFW or Beef Northwest as we have no practical or legal authority to do so.

We are looking into feedlot alternatives while we wait for the dispute from Beef Northwest and the United Farm Workers (UFW) to be resolved, but there are still plenty of Country Natural Beef cattle destined for Whole Foods Market on the Beef Northwest feedlot. The Oregonian article did not fully explain our position.

We were pleased to learn the Governor of Oregon is looking into this issue, and we hope his involvement brings a swift resolution as we have been very satisfied with the quality of the products Country Natural Beef provides us.

We hope you will continue to shop our meat department with confidence knowing you are getting the best tasting, freshest and most wholesome meats from compassionate sources. We are proud of the controls we have in place to ensure that all meat sold in our stores meets our strict quality standards. These safeguards include an affidavit process verifying compliance of our standards and on-site visits and assessments which help us ensure that beef provided by our suppliers is not commingled with conventional beef.

Again, thanks for contacting us. We hope we have helped set the record straight.

Kind regards,

Jessie Walker
Customer Communications Specialist

Barbara Gicking said...

It's good to see from clarification regarding both New Season's and Whole Foods position. It seems the Unions are using strong arm tactics and seem more interested in self interest and preservation, rather than what the workers want. Hard to know, if you aren't party to the negotitations. That said, I fully support NS, they are a quality operation from start to finish. I wouldn't shop anywhere else. Barbara Gicking

Anonymous said...

You have gained a new customer due to your decision to keep using Beef Northwest as your supplier. I have delt with unions and their strong armed tactics before. Beef Northwest already treats their employees with good wages and benefits and does not need the union. We also like to support our local suppliers.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for continuing to supply Oregon Country Beef.

I have been a customer of New Seasons since you opened the Raleigh Hills store. It is very important to me that I continue to buy meat from Oregon Country Beef as I want to support Oregon ranchers in a long-term relationship.

Thank you so much for trusting them and not closing down on your purchases, like Whole Foods.

This process has made me realize why it's important to support a local grocery store - because the decision making stays local. For some other large companies I suspect that the decision whether to stay with Oregon Country Beef at this time is made based on public relations assessments.

For New Seasons, I'm confident that the CEO was personally involved and talked directly with the suppliers. So it's clearer to me that buying local includes buying where the decision making is local.

Eugene L.

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to take a moment to say thank you for your decision to continue doing business with Country Natural Beef, and the supportive, facilitative role that you appear to be providing in this situation with CNB, the UFW, and Beef Northwest. I really like the business model that CNB has built, the quality and source of their meat, and their overall philosophy. Your support of them and the fact you carry their products is is one of the prime reasons I shop at New Seasons. Your decision in this controversy is in clear contrast to the major firm that has mistakenly and destructively decided to boycott their products. You'll keep my business, not them -- thanks and keep up the good work.

Craig A.

Anonymous said...

I want to compliment Brian and New Seasons for not bowing to pressures from the union, as Whole Foods has done. I wrote Whole Foods a couple of days ago and they seem to think they are innocent, but clearly Brian Rohter is the good guy in this.

I have been so impressed with New Seasons sense of community since I've become acquainted with this store. When Brian contracted me to come into your store and shoot photography, this opened my eyes to the heart of this company and it seems like a really good way to run a business.

I really appreciate this company and it's sense of moral responsibility.

David B.

Dede said...

I would like to commend you on continuing to support Country Natural Beef despite pressure from the farmworkers union. I am a longtime customer of New Seasons, starting from when you opened the Raleigh Hills store. That continues to be my regular grocery store and I'm there at least once a week. I enjoy shopping there for many reasons: the WONDERFUL, friendly people who work there, the labels you use in the produce department so I can make thoughtful choices about my consumption, and your support of the community from local non-profits to local farmers to the elementary school down the road. I appreciate New Seasons' continuing to support local cattle farmers by continuing to purchase Country Natural Beef. From what I have read, the workers at the finishing lots DO have a choice to organize and have not, yet, felt the need. It doesn't make sense to put our local cattle ranches at risk by boycotting the feedlot. Your stand is one of many reasons why I continue to shop at New Seasons and will not shop at Whole Foods.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, New Seasons, for keeping Country Natural Beef, and treating all sides with respect to contribute to a potential resolution. You (and your fantastic meat dept. @ the Concordia store) are a great community citizen!