My Co-op Story
By Laura Coffee, Marketing & Owner Services Manager, Co-op Owner
When I first came across the GreenTree about thirteen years ago I was just looking for a place to buy bulk herbs and spices. On my first or second visit someone explained Ownership to me and I joined right away. I wasn’t a regular shopper, but I liked the idea of a Co-op and I wanted to support it. Fast forward two years – I had recently graduated from CMU and decided to stay in Mt. Pleasant. The Co-op, my Co-op, happened to be hiring and I thought, this place is cool, I’m going to apply. After a couple of interviews I was hired and began training. Fast forward eleven years. I’ve learned a lot from working at GreenTree during that time; about food, supplements, farming, and community. Of course, it’s not just me who’s learned something new.
Over the last decade GreenTree has undergone a lot of changes too. We’ve reorganized, remodeled, expanded our hours and selection, and just generally streamlined the way the store operates. While some changes have taken longer to get used to than others, in the long run I think they’ve all been improvements. We have more variety, more local products, a bigger staff, and, in my opinion, a store that’s much easier to work and shop in. But hey, why am I looking back on all of this now? It isn’t our birthday (that’s in March) and the New Year is still a few months off. There is a reason for this reverie though. October is when we celebrate Co-op Month, and that has got me thinking about Co-op stories.
GreenTree has been around for forty-seven years now. I won’t get into that history, but if you are interested you can read about it here. The national celebration of Co-op Month was established in 1964, just seven years before GreenTree was created by members of the Mt. Pleasant community. I don’t know exactly how it was celebrated back in our Co-op’s early days, but now our focus is on building Ownership, celebrating environmentally-friendly and cooperatively-made products, and telling the Co-op story. It’s the story part that has me thinking about the events of the last decade.
It strikes me that my attachment to the world of cooperatives has been a long process of learning and growth. It began with a search for a few particular ingredients, which slowly expanded to fill my kitchen, cleaning shelf, and bathroom cabinets almost entirely with Co-op products. I learned about production (I grew up on a small farm in the UP and had no concept of industrial agricultural practices until later.) and made different choices because of it. I learned about the cooperative business model and began to make visiting Co-ops a regular part of my travel routine. As my job responsibilities expanded I began to network with other Co-ops and learn about the effect we can have on commerce and the economy at a national level. (Check this out to learn more about the national Co-op your Co-op has joined.) The main take-away for me has been a broadening of perspective. It is because of GreenTree that I understand the impact of my daily choices on the bigger picture of our food system and our planet as a whole. I’m not perfect, nobody is, but I do think that I make better decisions and a more positive impact on the world as a result of my long relationship with the Co-op.
You might be in a different place in your relationship with cooperatives than I am. Maybe you’ve been shopping at Co-ops, making healthy choices, and looking at the bigger picture since decades before I was even born. Maybe you’re just looking for a place to buy an organic avocado once in awhile. Either way, I think that’s one of the most amazing things about cooperatives. Because we are owned and run by the community this store is like a running river. People come and go in an ebb and flow – some hop in a canoe and ride the river for years, participating in its health and upkeep as they go. Others step into the river for a short time, letting it all wash over them, then stepping out and moving on. There is a continuity created by all of that effort, participation, and change. It allows for a relationship with the business that is unlike any other. Here you can effect the course of the river and the shape of the community. You can change it a little or a lot, that’s up to you.
So the next time you’re shopping at GreenTree or visiting with us at a community event, take just a split second to think about Co-op Month. Whether you’re looking for an ingredient, sharing a recipe, or chatting with a friend who happened to be picking out a snack just as you stopped by, know that we are building something. Each one of these interactions and choices is part of something much bigger. We are building something here – have been building it together for a very long time – and it has the potential to be truly amazing. So this October I want to thank you all for being a part of this Co-op story. It has shaped many lives, including mine, and I appreciate your participation. Good job everyone! Keep up the good work. After all, it’s only been 47 years, we’re just getting started!