Thomas Kester

 
1. Please introduce yourself.
 
I moved to Barre Street in Montpelier back in 2013 and have lived there for about three years. I graduated from Vermont Law School and work as legal counsel for the Department of Vermont Health Access in Waterbury. I love my job because every day I get to improve Vermonters’ health and well-being. Before working at DVHA, I was an attorney at Martin & Associates in Barre engaged in the general practice of law. 

The interconnections between human health, nutrition, and our food systems have always fascinated me. I worked on the "GMO Right To Know” campaign with VPIRG in law school and helped conduct a meta-analysis cancer study that showed, among other things, a correlation between the prevalence of cancer and diet. 

Being originally from Maine, I have a wicked love of alpine racing, being in the great outdoors, and, of course, the occasional lobster bake with steamers. I can, however, trace my Vermont roots back a couple hundred years and want to add to that number. I started my Co-op membership in August 2017 but have shopped at the Co-op for over two years.     
   
2. Why are you interested in serving on the council?
 
I am interested in making a difference for my community, working with members to make the Co-op a better and greater institution, and ensuring that our community can get the greatest benefits and use that the co-operative model offers. It will never be lost on me that I represent the members’ interests, and that Hunger Mountain wouldn’t exist or be where it is without them. I see the potential to accomplish great things as a council member but, at the same, am cognizant that it will take time, dedication, and hard work. 

I am an ambiguous and driven person, and I want to channel my energy toward achieving the goals that members have laid out for Hunger Mountain Co-op. My job as a lawyer is to provide answers and solutions to important (and, many times, difficult) questions. I see this council position as an opportunity to acquire additional skills and knowledge that will serve me in becoming a more informed and effective voice for members. But, ultimately, it will be the members and the community who gain the most. I am ready to take on the ever changing business, agricultural, financial, and societal realities that Hunger Mountain Co-op faces.
 
3.What strengths and skills would you bring to the council?

Although it might sound like the punchline to a bad joke, I bring my lawyer skills and strengths. That means I first listen and understand the issue. This involves researching the issue, viewing it from various perspectives, and knowing its relationship to other matters. Second, critically thinking about effective solutions. Next, selecting, materializing, and executing the solution. Finally, measuring and assessing progress towards achieving that solution. 

I enjoy collective decision making and striving toward a resolution where everyone wins. I am open to hearing other points of view and challenging my own beliefs because, I’ll admit it, my position may not be the best. However, I am not afraid to speak my mind and, as a former state debating champion, and therefor can articulate the members’ interest. 

Co-op council requires simultaneously understanding the multifaceted needs and functions of a Co-op (like business and finance, a community’s needs, governance mechanisms, etc.). That sounds really interesting to me. Understanding the statutory and regulatory intricacies making up America’s healthcare system isn’t inherently easy to understand but, then again, that’s what I love. I will approach the council position with a similar zest to learn and serve.       
 
4.What do you think are the most important opportunities and challenges that you see in our co-op’s future?

We must persist in the face of some harsh challenges: the financial pressures from competitors and outside markets that Vermont food retailers and farmers are increasingly up against, Vermonters feel the challenges from the ever widening divide between their income and their cost of living, and there will be situations that will arise and test the Co-op’s mission and core values. I think the Co-op will be better off if we can face these head on. 

The market and technology strive toward easier, faster, and cheaper. We must keep pace. Strategic partnerships can spread the Co-op to more people. Technology can make members more informed and present financial savings. These tools will help us keep up with evolving local food trends.  

The availability of affordable, wholesome, and plentiful food is a social detriment of health. I want to see the barriers to Co-op participation within arm’s reach for anyone who so desires. 

Sadly, my crystal ball is out for repair at the moment so what’s down the road isn’t going to be clear. Nevertheless, we need to ensure that Hunger Mountain Co-op can weather whatever storm is brewing. I can help contribute to the solution as a vigilant and responsive council member.    

  

Hunger Mountain Coop
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