Great Barrington — Troy Bond is clearly passionate about what he does for a living. A scant 24 hours after arriving in Great Barrington from the east coast of Florida, the Berkshire Food Co-op’s new general manager was more than willing to sit down and chat about what makes him tick, both on and off the job. From a glossy red ladderback chair in the newly rebranded store’s cafe, Bond shared a little bit about himself, how he made his way to the 413, and what he envisions for the 38-year-old food co-op going forward.
Hannah Van Sickle: What was the path that got you here, to this position?
Troy Bond: The type of work is based from my lifestyle. [Years ago] I was in Los Angeles, and I took my first yoga class there. This was a long time ago, when yoga was not as popular as it is today. They talked a lot about the entire lifestyle, not just the poses and the postures. But what about the effect diet has on your body and peace of mind? At that time I switched to a [mostly] plant-based diet, almost entirely, and the benefits were amazing. I felt better, I had more confidence, it was one of the best things I have ever done. I had come from Iowa, where it was definitely meat and potatoes, the SAD diet (standard American diet) and so now I was in a place where I felt great—I was able to shop at small, regional places [like Trader Joe’s which was fairly new and Mrs. Gooch’s Natural Foods, which was ultimately bought by Whole Foods). I then moved to Seattle and joined the People Consumer’s Co-op, probably the first time I walked into a store and said, “I feel like it’s home.” The people who worked there were more engaged, the produce was organic, and even if I had a question (like, do your maple syrup producers hang bacon strips on a string over the boiling sap to reduce the amount of foam?), and I got an answer like they cared. That’s where it started for me. And later on, when I got my English degree and didn’t know what to do with it, I saw a niche in my community [Cedar Falls, Iowa] and that’s when I started a natural foods store 10 years ago. I realized, at the time, I didn’t know anything about the business side of it—I had the mission figured out, but [after three years] I needed some good training so I ended up getting a job, straight out of there, as a store team leader at Whole Foods Market. And that’s what taught me the business.
HVS: How is the Berkshire Food Co-op a “coming home” of sorts to a community-based operation?
TB: I just moved from Fernandina Beach, Florida, where I was with a natural foods store that served a small town—Amelia Island is only 2 miles wide by 7 miles long—where there is a great deal of tourism traffic. So I had a feeling for the rhythm of the business when it comes to that. Coming back to this is exciting for me because I love the size of this store—it’s not too big, but there’s a lot of room to grow. And it has a huge fan base here. Yes, there have been struggles in getting the new space open, and parking remains an issue, but it’s just going to get better and better.
HVS: Beyond the job, what was the allure of the Berkshires?
TB: [Berkshire County] combines the small towns that I love and also good educational opportunities—definitely a plus. When I was in Fernandina Beach, I learned to surf; I like to try new things like that. I immediately found out that Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville met on Monument Mountain, as they were hiking and enjoying champagne and poetry, and thought “This is my kind of place.” I’m a big fan of the classics. We get a little bit of winter here, but it’s not like Iowa. My kids just started learning to ski for the first time and they liked it—they were never into the beach. So this is big for us. To be two hours from New York City and two hours from Boston—I can’t wait to take my kids there.
HVS: How is this an auspicious time for the Berkshire Food Co-op, beyond the new space?
TB: It’s a really interesting time—and I think it’s a real perfect time—for strategic planning [now that the new Co-op is open]. That’s the fun of it. What are we going to do this year—and in two years, three years, four years—to continue to grow and make this a fun, vibrant place that brings the community together? That’s going to be my challenge. Once this all settles down—I just got news today that it might even take longer for [the former co-op building] to be demolished, so we have to deal with [construction] a little more. The most important thing is to be able to meet the managers and, as a team, to communicate what our needs and concerns are and get them addressed and move forward in a positive direction within the framework of the co-op, which is to involve the community with events and ways to bring in local growers, purveyors and manufacturers of food. And that’s the beauty of the co-op: We make the decisions here locally on what is best for the community. So I’ll be all ears as to what works here and what customers want to see as we move forward, not only from customers and members but also from staff. Trying to integrate that will make this a fun, vibrant place. A lot of natural food stores are having a difficult time in certain areas of the country because they are impacted by some major competition. And the one way they can actually compete is to differentiate themselves in a meaningful way—and there is no more meaningful way than this being a neighborhood space. You just don’t get that from other places, and that’s the connection. I have always said, in my management, we need to make this a “third place”—first place: home; second place: work; third place: where one finds community. All of our events, all of the decisions we make about marketing and spending, will always be shaped by: How can we bring the experience in the store and elevate it to a place where everyone feels welcome?
HVS: Great Barrington has been a trendsetter locally in the elimination of single-use plastics; is this practice new to you?
TB: No! In fact, at the only other co-op in Cora, Iowa, I got rid of plastic bottles—and this was 10 years ago. We encouraged the use of reverse-osmosis filling stations, which was free, and we made it easy for people. We had washable cups and I am definitely on board with that. And in Fernandina Beach, our store was one of the first to get rid of plastic, single-use bags, which we did just before I left. I think we should be a leader, there’s no doubt, and I will definitely push the envelope [I asked, for instance, about washable cups at the new co-op]. And I think we have support. There’s always the immediate-inconvenience factor, but if we can get out in front of it—tell people what we are going to do, do it and make sure there is an alternative if people need it—it’s only going one direction, this whole getting rid of some of the things we can’t recycle.
HVS: Do you have a favorite item in the produce section this week?
TB: Today, the cherries are awesome; it’s a perfect time for the cherries—stone fruit, without a doubt. They [all] eat like candy.
The Berkshire Food Co-op was founded in 1981 by local families who wanted to provide our community a place to shop, gather, eat and learn by offering good food and sustainable products at reasonable prices through cooperative ownership and responsible business practices. The store’s current location, which opened last month, is its third; what began as a buying club in the granary building on Rosseter Street expanded to Bridge Street in 2003. Berkshire Food Co-op is a cooperatively owned grocery store that specializes in sustainably and responsibly created food and products for body and home. The Co-op is the center of a flourishing community that cultivates generosity, cooperation and care for our environment. Anyone can be an Owner and everyone is welcome to shop.