Forty Years On

By Joe Romano, 

Marketing Manager

un-coop-yearTime flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

— Groucho Marx

The year was 1970. Americans had a dangerously unhealthy diet, the environment was in serious trouble and we were embroiled in an unpopular conflict in Vietnam. These were untenable situations and people responded across the nation and locally, here in Ithaca.

As the year wore on, protests would lead President Nixon to sign the Paris Peace Accord, ending that war. People's concern for the environment would lead to a revitalized Clean Air Act and the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency. And a growing natural foods movement would lead, one year later, in 1971, to the formation of a natural foods co-op that boasts its eight thousandth member this year: GreenStar Cooperative Market.

Today, American diets are about three times as bad as they were in 1971. Then, about 5 percent of our children were considered obese. Today, that number has quadrupled to 20 percent, From 389 grams of carbs a day, we've risen to 490 grams, thanks to added sweeteners. Cheese consumption has tripled — up from 10 pounds in 1971 to over 30 pounds a year, per person. In 1970, a shopper would find about 10,000 items in the average supermarket. Today they find almost 50,000.

But we aren't engaged in an illegal war, right? That's true, today, we've got at least three of them going on. And we have upped the ante by practicing torture and extraordinary rendition and operating an offshore prison camp populated mostly by prisoners who have seen neither a battlefield nor due process.

Certainly the environment is in better shape isn't it? Well, no. We've seen climate change, droughts, and floods; five million barrels of oil have been dumped into an already polluted Gulf of Mexico. Plastic bag "gyres" are eating our oceans as frackers work their way across the countryside and towards our community.

At the recent Iowa Straw Polls voters were paid $30 each to choose among candidates who vowed to repeal health care and dismantle the EPA. This at an event where the most popular new snack was, this is not a joke, a sugar-frosted, cinnamon-spiced, batter-dipped, deep-fried quarter-pound of butter on a stick.

So we're winning, right? In a word, yes. If you read these pages you know that our co-op values are held by almost a billion cooperators worldwide. We are part of a growing movement of people seeking "nutritious food in as natural a state as possible." Every minute we bring more people to our vision, our business model and our commitment to "a world that reveres the earth and the web of life it supports, where our choices are guided by stewardship, sustainability, and social justice." In our local community we are partnering with schools, businesses and government to ensure better lives for all of our citizens.

Every year, GreenStar commits more resources to our community, to environmental, peace and justice movements, and to the cooperative movement. We are growing, bringing in more members and engaging with more local, national and global concerns. As a member, you are part of an organization with a profound vision:

"We envision a world community of people living in mutual respect and peace, celebrated in our individuality and affirmed in our connectedness.

"We envision cooperatives flourishing everywhere, empowering individuals and communities to create and run their own democratic institutions, with GreenStar as a leader."

We are the kind of organization whose members get the styrofoam plates out of local schools, and provide food for those who can't access it themselves, a co-op who established a nonprofit and donates to many others. We are building a future as a central part of a regional food distribution network.

We have been doing this all while operating out of the same space we have had for most of our existence; we know this is going to have to change soon.

As a organization that supports sustainability, we must soon ask our members to bring the cost of their equity payments to a level that will enable us to grow sustainably in the face of forces that daily grow more toxic around us. A modest raise in equity will enable us to continue to provide the natural food we all enjoy and the programs we deliver while meeting the fiscal challenges of the twenty first century.

At a regional "Banana Summit" this month, a group of co-ops and Fair Trade distributor Equal Exchange came to the decision to pay substantially more to banana providers, who for years have been bearing the burden of artificially-lowered market prices.

It is the right decisions like this that make the cost of doing business harder to meet every year. Our staff and our board have been excellent stewards, but to keep up the good fight, we are also going to ask our members to help.

We have asked you to help in the past, and you have. When we asked members to be aware of the impact that credit card use has on any small business, you responded and helped us reduce our credit card fees. When we asked members to help us to cut back on the wasteful practice of single-use plastic bags, you responded bringing your own reusable bags and making our bag share program a success. In the next few months, Council is going to propose equity changes to help support our mission into the next forty years, and we are sure you will step up and make it happen by involving yourselves in the process and helping us create the best plan possible to bring to a vote.

It is no coincidence that the UN has declared 2012 the Year of the Cooperative. The tide is turning and we will be ready for the next forty years. Happy Birthday, GreenStar, here's to many more!

  • By Brandon Kane,
General Manager

    greenstar-collegetown-store-300As I draft this update, GreenStar is only a short time away from closing on the loans that will fund our third cooperative market in Ithaca, slated to open in the late summer of 2016. The funding for this project offers a terrific example of the cooperati...

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