A Message from New General Manager Ari Derfel


Dear Co-op Members,

Monday, July 16th marked my first day as the new General Manager of the Kootenay Co-op. I am grateful to the Board for giving me the opportunity to play this role with my fellow staff – a talented, kind and inspiring group of people. Moreover, I am honoured to work on behalf of all of you, our wonderful community of members. I would also like to acknowledge our former General Manager, Allan Broom, for his leadership during the transition of the past two years. We all wish him well in his future endeavors.

As long as I can remember, I have wanted to have a positive impact on the world. In my teens and early twenties I thought I would achieve my dreams through government work and public service. I studied political science at various universities around the world and interned for numerous US senators. It was in my mid-twenties that I realized my true passions have always been healthy food, people, and a profound love for the earth. Looking back I can see it all clearly­ – my very first job was stocking shelves at a natural grocery; my mother used natural foods and supplements to survive chronic fatigue and cancer; and the most memorable and meaningful moments of my life were those spent with small groups in backcountry wilderness areas across North America.

I shifted my focus and have spent the last twenty years as an entrepreneur at the intersection of sustainable food and responsible business. I started the first organic catering and sustainable event-production company in 2001, opened numerous sustainable restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area, and dedicated two years as the national Executive Director of Slow Money, a non-profit focused on catalyzing investment in local food systems.

Though my career was satisfying on many levels, I yearned to live closer to the land, in a smaller community, where I could work more closely with my neighbors on building an ecologically sustainable and socially just world. In 2014, my wife and I were introduced to the Kootenays. During our first visit we were delighted to discover the Co-op in its former location at the other end of Baker Street. We were amazed that such a bountiful store existed in this remote mountain hamlet and that people had access to local and organic foods. We instantly fell in love with this magical place, and the Co-op played a major role in our decision to uproot our lives and replant them here in Nelson.

A lot has changed since 2014. The Co-op staff and members decided a number of years ago to build a much bigger store, with more departments, more services, more products and more staff, to rise to the challenge of providing even greater access to sustainable foods and supplements in our rapidly changing world. Through the changes of these last few years, many members and staff have spoken up and called upon the Co-op to reconnect to our purpose and commitment to being a force for good in the world. We listened, and last summer we unveiled our refreshed vision, mission and values.

We are proud to say that our new store has indeed allowed us to rise to these new challenges and we are manifesting our mission more than ever! We have more True Local vendors and offerings; more organic products; a nearly 100% organic produce section; more employees enjoying fair compensation and a just working environment;  more members with more opportunities to engage through onsite cooking classes, a book club, and other events; and we are continuing to support local organizations that enrich our community.

As we look towards the future, we remain steadfast in our commitment to our cooperative principles and our vision of thriving communities with resilient food systems, where all people have access to affordable food that is healthy for our bodies, our communities, and the Earth.

It is with sincere humility that I accept this new position and I am excited by this opportunity to put my passion to work for the Co-op as General Manager. I am committed to listening, observing, and working with each of you to continue building on the Co-ops’ remarkable success over the last 43 years.

I look forward to meeting many of you in person in the coming months. I invite you to attend our upcoming member orientation on August 23rd and our Annual General Meeting and True Local banquet on September 12th. In addition, I plan to host some town hall style meetings beginning this fall. Stay tuned for details.

In the spirit of cooperation,

Ari Derfel

General Manager
Kootenay Co-op