Saturday, 01 September 2012 16:02
By Joe Romano,
The people, united, can never be defeated!
On Saturday, Sept. 22, GreenStar Community Projects (GSCP), in conjunction with GreenStar Cooperative Market and other campus and community partners, will hold the Second Annual Food Justice Walkathon and Street Fair to benefit Congo Square Market and other initiatives to help ensure that all of our community members have equal access to healthy food. The Keynote Speaker will be Charity Hicks, Co-Creator of the Detroit Food Justice Task Force and founding member of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network. Musical guests are Taina Asili y La Banda Rebelde, Thousands of One, Ernest Verb, Elly Holiday and the Zero Degree Crew Break Dancers. Please consider being a part of this important social justice movement. For those who missed part one of this article, let's catch up on what Food Justice is and why GreenStar has a tax-exempt affiliate like GreenStar Community Projects with such a strong commitment to seeing food justly distributed.
Food Justice simply means putting into the hands of as many people as possible all of the decisions and benefits regarding what food is grown and how it is produced and distributed. If we begin with a premise that there's enough food to feed everyone, and that we simply need to find the will and the way to do it, it's easy to understand why GreenStar and GSCP are so deeply involved with the Food Justice movement. That's how food cooperatives are designed to work, operating on principles that ensure that democratic access to food is part of their foundation. It's woven into the very DNA of any food co-op. To understand how this can work in our community, let's quickly go through our seven cooperative principles as they relate to the issue of food justice.
Our first principle is Voluntary and Open Membership, which means that co-ops are open to everyone who is able to use our services and who is willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination. Being open to everyone may not sound like such a big deal; every retail organization is required by law to be open to all. But co-ops involve their members in the decision-making processes -— of our finances, our buying and selling policies, procedures and practices. When you join a co-op, you are not just a member; you are an owner. Right from the start, everyone is granted the full amount of power anyone will ever amass; each member gets one vote and one vote only.
This leads to our second principle: Democratic Member Control. Cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting policies and making decisions. This is the principle that most makes co-ops a natural arena for Food Justice to be enacted in local communities. Last month, we talked about how GreenStar has become a major player in our local food system, a system that currently simply does not offer the same access and choices to everyone in town. By joining a food co-op like GreenStar, you ensure that your voice is being heard at one of the major institutions in our town that makes decisions about food. Over the years, the makeup of our membership has changed, and the kinds of decisions the membership makes have changed with it. This is what keeps co-ops vital and relevant in our communities. The very idea that an influx of interested members can have an effect on policy decisions makes co-ops important in the work toward Food Justice. Co-ops have the benefit of being large and established institutions with strong ties to the community, while at the same time having the ability to correct course according to the wishes of their members — whether they are new or have been onboard since inception. Tides have changed over the years. For example, with the addition of more members, we've seen changes in our product line that include provisions for the sale of meat and beer and the imposition of a boycott on products from China. As our membership changes, our needs change and different decisions are made regarding our practices. If members of our local community who don't have access to healthy food are trying to find a way to get at least one large food purveyor in the area to meet their needs, joining the Co-op and getting involved is a way to make that happen.
The third principle, Member Economic Participation, is another way to ensure that the resources of the community go back into the community. We already have a commitment to our local growers and producers. The more members of our community make the small investment of joining our co-op and paying for a membership, the stronger we are as an institution and the more we can do to make our local community more livable for everyone. Member investments give GreenStar the capability to buy food at a good price and to turn around and make available the best food we can find to members at the best prices we can offer. The elected members of our Council have oversight over these investments and hire a General Manager who will ensure that staff does their best to deliver what members would like to see in return for that investment. We're currently looking at all our retail procedures to see where we might be able to offer even lower prices, enabling more people to have access to healthy food.
Some of the money we collect from member equity and sales goes to our donation program and our outreach and education programs, as well as training staff and our Council to make better decisions on our behalf. Our outreach and education programs enrich the people in our community with information that is helpful and relevant. The groups we support and donate to are local groups that impact people's lives in our community. The decisions we make about our local community are all our own. Part of the reason we're able to focus these programs so clearly on the real needs of our community is the fourth principle, Autonomy and Independence. Cooperatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If they enter into agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure their democratic control and maintain their cooperative autonomy. Because we maintain autonomy, we are able to serve our members, and by extension, our community. How well any group within our community is being served by our local food system can probably be most directly affected by that group's level of participation in the Co-op.
You may think to yourself, what do I know about food systems? How can I effectively discuss issues of access, pricing, selection, sourcing, distribution, and the mechanics of operating a retail business if I am not informed on all of the options that impact all of these things? That is where the fifth principle, Education, Training and Information, comes into play. Cooperatives provide education and training for the public, their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperatives. They inform the general public — particularly young people and opinion leaders — about the nature and benefits of cooperation.
The sixth principle, Cooperation among Cooperatives, enables our food systems and other local support systems to grow together. Cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures. So we support local farming cooperatives, do business with our local member-owned credit union and are aligned with the other local co-ops in town to help build our local cooperative base and a local living economy, thereby ensuring the growth of our local businesses. We're also part of national and international co-op organizations like the National Cooperative Grocers Association, the National Cooperative Business Association and others that enable us to operate in a global market and compete with larger organizations that may not have such an interest in our local communities.
This Concern for Community, which is the seventh and final cooperative principle, makes co-ops the ideal place where food justice can be achieved. Cooperatives are not interested so much in benefitting from the community as we are in benefitting our communities. We work for the sustainable development of our community through policies approved by our members.
So it seems that if we want to make Food Justice a reality in Ithaca, we must ensure that the Co-op represents everyone who lives in our area. You can contribute to that personally be becoming an active member. Further, our Council, our staff and everyone who has accepted the responsibilities of membership must seek to make our co-op inviting, open and relevant to all members of our community.
We have begun this journey and our co-op is changing for the better. Our FLOWER program offers a 15 percent discount to those who are in need, and we have several initiatives to ensure that there is diversity and inclusion in everything we do. Let's all join together on Saturday, Sept. 22 to make Food Justice a reality for all of Ithaca.
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...