Friday, 02 May 2014 15:11
By Joe Romano,
What's Goin' On?
I just wanna ask a question
Who really cares?
To save a world in despair
Who really cares?
— Marvin Gaye
In 1971, the world seemed to be in a dangerous place. Richard Nixon was president, nuclear proliferation was on the rise, and the Pentagon Papers had been released, revealing corruption at the highest levels of government. Any leaders who had offered hope, like John and Bobby Kennedy, Malcolm X, or Martin Luther King, Jr., had come to shocking and violent ends. The Vietnam War had been raging for over ten years, and Lieutenant William Calley had been convicted of murder for leading the My Lai Massacre in which over 500 unarmed villagers, including many infants and children, were brutally massacred. Catastrophic oil spills off the California coast, smog clouds over our cities, and harmful additives to our foods were the dirty footprints of our path to the future. Protests and riots were commonplace in overcrowded, drug-ridden cities. To many, the future looked bleak.
That summer of 1971, Marvin Gaye released "What's Going On," an album that critics, artists, and public surveys worldwide consider one of the greatest ever made. He did so against the advice of his record company, which preferred that he continue writing love songs. To that, Gaye responded, "With the world exploding around me, how am I supposed to keep singing love songs?"
With very similar intentions, the earliest members of a burgeoning food co-op in Ithaca, NY were crafting their response to a world gone awry. Marvin Gaye would describe his motivations in creating a vision of change: "I didn't know how to fight before, but now I think I do. ... I'm not a painter. I'm not a poet. But I can do it with music." At GreenStar we have the same vision, and are fighting the same fight. We do it with food.
To that end, we have achieved a great deal since our humble beginnings. We have grown from garbage cans in garages to an over $18 million dollar ethically-operated business that is on track to see its 10,000th member join in the next few weeks.
Rather than revel in our many achievements and successes, let us look forward. The world, it could be argued, is in worse shape than it was when we started in 1971. That is why it is perhaps better that we again ask, "What's Going On?"
As a co-op, we may be in a stronger and better place than we ever have been. From an isolated band of hopeful cooperators, we have broadened our vision. First, to band with other co-ops in a cooperative region, becoming part of the Cooperative Grocers Association of the Northeast, then growing even that vision to become part of the National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA). In its fifteen years, the NCGA has grown to represent 136 food co-ops operating over 180 stores in 37 states with combined annual sales of over $1.5 billion and over 1.3 million consumer-owners.
We have grown, too. GreenStar is budgeted to make $19 million dollars in sales this year and will soon be joined by our ten thousandth member, but that is not even the important part of what's going on at GreenStar. We have become a central, influential, and even indispensable institution in our community. We formed a non-profit affiliate, GreenStar Community Projects, which works to bring food justice to all our neighbors. We marshaled hundreds of volunteer hours this year to help members of our community like Cayuga Pure Organics, when they suffered a fire. We worked to make the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Celebration a success; supported Understand to Overcome, a group that addresses the issue of racism; served at the Food Justice Summit and Walk-a-thon, fought fracking; and supported many other causes and events. We donate money, food, and other items on a daily basis, to the tune of over $30,000 a year. That comprises roughly 20 percent of our profits, and now, we will even donate to a local non-profit if you bring in your own bag when you shop.
Our Council, staff, and members sit on other boards, helping to drive those institutions. We are also influential when it comes to the foods our students eat. We work within the community to fight racism, we influence policy in our city government, and we help to convince others to offer living wages. We are awaiting certification as the first Food Justice Certified grocery in the region, and we are the first business in our area to bring in HowGood labeling of our products.
Wherever you go, you see our green, reusable bags, and what follows is the knowledge that "GreenStar people" are there. Soon, there are vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options available; compost and recycling buckets spring up, and attitudes begin to change, just because we are there. We all share a part in the way the world changes as "GreenStar people" enter the room, and we can all feel the possibility and the empowerment in the effect that we have on the world around us.
Now, we have taken things a step further, with the construction of the Space @ GreenStar, the centralized Kitchens @ GreenStar, and the soon to be fully operational Classrooms @ GreenStar. The establishment of this co-op campus expands our possibilities immeasurably. We can now offer our community an affordable yet attractive space for gatherings of up to 225 people, and even more classes at a large and versatile multi-room classroom space. We now have the capability to offer affordable, healthy, catered meals to groups of almost any size. Soon, we will explore the possibilities of creating healthy wholesale products that other stores can sell under the GreenStar name. This takes us into a new era in the annals of GreenStar's history. It will enable us to get natural food to more people, at even more affordable prices. All of this carries on a mission we started with Marvin Gaye and many others over forty years ago, one we are winning with our food, and our values, and above all, our love for one another. And that's what's going on, today, at GreenStar.
By Laura Buttenbaum,
What is a co-op? This seemingly straightforward question can elicit a wide range of responses, from visceral and intrinsic to completely organizational and economic. According to the International Cooperative Association, "A co-operative is an autonomous association of persons unite...