February 24, 2004

GreenStar Offers Cooperative Shopping

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Consumers looking for variety in their food-shopping needs may want to try GreenStar Co-op supermarket located on the 701 West Buffalo St. A consumer-owned and democratically-run cooperative, the store carries hundreds of natural and organic products. It also offers volunteer opportunities, special discounts, and many other ways to give back to the community. As a co-op, Greenstar is controlled and owned by its members, who work to benefit each other and their community.


As its website states, GreenStar’s goals include “emphasizing the sale of nutritious food in as natural a state as possible, exercising ecological responsibility and leadership in [its] choice of product line and in store operation,and emphasizing and promoting locally-produced goods and items made or distributed by other cooperatives.”


GreenStar’s values stem from its beginnings in the ’60s and ’70s. In 1971, people in Ithaca who wanted to obtain whole and organic foods started up a buying club. According to GreenStar history, members in neighborhood regions would put in orders every week for whole grains and produce. They also got together to divide the work of distributing nut butters, grains, and flours.


The group called itself the Ithaca Real Food Co-op (IRFC). IRFC offered the opportunity to obtain whole foods typically unavailable from other sources, and interest in the club continued to grow. Soon the co-op began to allow consumers to purchase products from its inventory. No longer was there a pre-ordering of grains, and as a consequence, the name “Grainstore” arose. In 1982 the co-op changed its name to GreenStar, and today is a place that prides itself on giving back to the community.

“In addition to what we sell, we also promote the vision of GreenStar,” said Joe Romano, marketing coordinator of GreenStar.

GreenStar’s vision is “a world that reveres the earth and the web of life it supports, where our choices are guided by stewardship, sustainability, and social justice. 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.” These ideas serve as the foundation for the store’s practices.

GreenStar appears not to have the typical concerns of larger supermarket chains in relation to making money. “We are not interested. At GreenStar, the community is getting the money,” said interim store manager Tim Page.

He added that GreenStar donates to non-profit groups, has a scholarship fund, and carries more local products than any other grocery store in the area. The store has strict product guidelines as to what types of items it carries, and does not sell products such as white sugar, for example. It only recently began carrying poultry and fish.

Members of GreenStar are able to vote for the store’s council, which is made up of community members. Members also get to vote on changes that they want made in the store. Other ways of voicing concerns include a “two-cent” board — a message board that hangs near the entrance to the store — and a newsletter members can write to called The Greenleaf.

In the democratically run store, “Everyone has a say,” Romano said. All members receive an automatic two percent discount each time they shop. When co-op members volunteer in the store, their discount increases accordingly. Greenstar is also owner of Ithaca Chai , a fair trade tea that uses all organic spices and local honey. Page noted that one of the best things he likes about GreenStar is, “I’m not working for a boss. I’m working for my community. . . [for] myself.”

Archived article by Ikea Hamilton