Every year, we hold our own version of the Oscars: the Local Hero Awards, wherein readers vote for their favorite local chefs/restaurants, farm/farmers, non-profits, culinary artisans, beverage producers and food or wine retailers, and the winners are awarded with a feature in our March/April print issue. Every weekday till the polling booths close on December 31st* we’ll be looking back at last year’s winners.
Today we’re highlighting GreenStar! The below story originally appeared as part of our Local Heroes feature in the 2012 Spring issue.
*There’s still time to make sure your voice is heard! Vote here for your 2019 local hero chefs, farmers, non-profits and artisans.
GREEN STAR COOPERATIVE NATURAL FOOD MARKET
By Sarah Thompson
Last year was brutal for many local farmers. They faced drought, followed by rain, followed by drought again. Then came the tomato blight. Yet through it all, Ithaca’s GreenStar Cooperative Natural Food Market stood by its producers.
“Here’s a strange thing I’m a little proud of,” said Andy Rizos, GreenStar’s produce manager. “I have regularly told farmers to raise their prices to us [if something changes during the season]. We work with them to make sure they have enough money to make it.”
GreenStar’s unique reciprocal relationships with local and regional vendors is paying off for everyone—members, shoppers and producers. GreenStar carries items from over 100 local and regional producers, and according to general manager Brandon Kane, has seen double-digit growth in sales of local produce over the past three to four years. The co-op, founded in 1971, now has 8,000 members, employs 170 staff and boasts sales of $15 million.
Like all cooperative businesses, GreenStar is member owned and -governed, and operated for the benefit of those members. But throughout its 40 year history, GreenStar has embraced a wider view of that benefit, extending it to nonmembers, lower income individuals, community organizations, and most importantly, to local and regional producers.
“We have a broad general commitment to support a local, living economy,” said Kane.
To do this, GreenStar supports local producers on the shelves and in preproduction and storage. Preproduction department managers work directly with vendors on new product ideas. Rizos meets annually with farmers to plan the upcoming season, and to brainstorm new offerings and ideas for season extension. A new wholesale program now allows local producers to buy ingredients from GreenStar at wholesale prices. And GreenStar’s warehouse, the Space @ GreenStar, provides local producers with very low storage rates for their ingredients and finished products.
On the shelves, GreenStar gives preferential placement to local producers, offers them lower margins and provides feedback and advice on packaging. To encourage sales, GreenStar features local producers in the co-op newsletter, displays special signage and encourages in-store demos.
“They’ve done pretty much everything for us,” said Samantha Abrams, co-owner of Ithaca-based Emmy’s Organics. “Every step of the way, they [GreenStar] have supported us.” For small local producers, GreenStar’s services help bridge the gap between increased demand and future sales. “It’s amazing because the rates are cheap and not forcing you to go bigger than you need to grow,” said Abrams.
With expansion on the horizon, Kane needs more local producers to take advantage of GreenStar’s services. It may be a good problem to have, but Kane said that a lack of infrastructure—like affordable local processing, storage and distribution facilities—is a major roadblock. “I’d love to see GreenStar membership work toward investment opportunities, supporting vendors and farmers to extend the season,” said Kane.
Regardless of the hurdles ahead, GreenStar remains dedicated to carefully tending its long-term, sustainable relationships with local producers. “If you find something you believe in, and can help make it work,” said Rizos, “then absolutely [keep moving forward].”
Photo provided by GreenStar
701 West Buffalo Street, Ithaca, greenstar.coop, 607.273.9392