In 1844 the Rochdale Society, possibly the first ever successful Cooperative venture, was founded to provide affordable food to local craftspeople in Rochdale, England. It became a popular and widespread business model. One hundred and twenty-six years later (in 1970) a buying club was started at a small meeting, convened by a CMU student, in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan.
It was a collaborative effort and at first the only items ordered were vegetables, which were purchased from the Grand Rapids Farmer’s Market. After an exciting mishap involving late night partying and a misplaced coat, the group decided they needed to make things more official and the Mt. Pleasant People’s Food Co-op was formed. Later a small distribution space was found on Adams St and bulk items became available. The space wasn’t suitable in the long run though, mainly because it lacked heat. The Co-op then experimented with neighborhood based distribution, and a student organized concert was held to benefit the Co-op. It not only provided the Co-op with some much needed capital, but led to the formation of the Wheatland Music Organization!
It wasn’t until 1977 that we, then the Mt. Pleasant Food Co-op, moved into our current space. (The name wasn’t changed to GreenTree until 1991.) At that time the front half of the building was an apartment, and the only entrance to the Co-op was on the right side, where the greenhouse is today. It would be another 15 years before we could expand to fill the entire building. And now after 45+ years of new spaces, name changes, and reorganization, we’re still going strong. Who knew you could build a business and a community out of veggies, granola, and a couple of nuts?
The last 15 years have been big ones for GreenTree; a greenhouse was built, a walk-in refrigerator added, lots of remodeling was done, and most recently, we acquired a new freezer and produce cooler, and lighting for the new sign out front. In 2009, for the first time in the Co-op’s history, we had over $1,000,000 in sales in a single year. In 2011, we built an on-site deli kitchen. Now, GreenTree is looking for a new location, with plans to expand to three times our current size! And when you consider changes in the Staff, the Board, and the Ownership, it’s amazing that things run as smoothly as they do around here! But if you take a look at the Co-op model things start to make a little more sense…
The goal of a Co-op, any Co-op, is to provide its owners with what they need, whether that’s food, loans, medical care, or access to farmland. A Co-op does this through direct ownership; an organization that is owned by its customers cannot help but have their best interests in mind! This responsiveness to the needs of our owners is why, even after more than 45 years, GreenTree is still committed to providing healthy and sustainable alternatives to conventionally made products and foods.