By Alexis Alexander, Membership Manager, Laura Buttenbaum, Membership Administrator/Capital Campaign Coordinator, and Holly Baker, Director of Marketing and Owner Services

Fall is always an exciting time in Ithaca! Students have arrived, the streets are bustling with activity, and the energy level heightens with the autumnal beauty of the Finger Lakes region. Whether you’re a new student in the area discovering GreenStar for the first time, new to shopping at GreenStar, or a long-term customer or member-owner, this is a great time to reflect on what it means to be part of a cooperative community, both locally and globally.

Over the years, GreenStar has gone from designating those who join and pay equity into the Co-op as “members” to calling them “member-owners” and, at times, “owners.” To be clear, the terms do not reflect a difference in benefits or someone’s status within the Co-op.

As member-owners, we pool our resources through our equity investment and patronage to meet our shared needs and achieve greater economic results than any of us could do individually. It’s local owners, not distant investors, who benefit from GreenStar’s financial success. In return, member-owners receive a patronage refund in years that the Co-op is profitable. When the Co-op has a profitable year, owners can receive a patronage refund based on the amount of their purchases for the year, not how much money they’ve invested.

We also benefit from goods and services our Co-op provides. We receive special savings through Owner Deals, owner-only coupons, Owner Appreciation Days, case-sale special pricing, and 10 percent off most bulk products on Thursdays. We’re eligible to receive discounts on purchases through our Volunteer Program and FLOWER, our food access discount for qualifying individuals. We can attend Co-op classes at a discounted price and special-order our favorite products too.

But, owning a co-op is significantly different from being a member of a typical store discount club, not only for economic reasons, but also because of the values and principles cooperatives stand for and operate under. The word “owner” gets to the heart of what co-ops are really about.

As a GreenStar member-owner, you have influence and decision-making power through our democratic governance process. It’s our right and, many consider, responsibility to exercise that influence by voting in elections and on specific policy decisions, referendums, and some real estate decisions. Member-owners who are interested can volunteer on the Board of Directors (Council) or committees.

GreenStar is run locally by and for those who own it. By taking ownership in your local co-op, you become an active participant in an international cooperative business model that helps create a better and more just world. Through joining GreenStar, we take ownership of our values by collectively supporting local farmers and producers and food justice initiatives. We partner with local organizations and businesses to promote diversity and inclusion, enhance opportunity and education within our community, and strengthen our local economy — among other things.

When you spend your dollars on Fair Trade products at GreenStar, you directly support small farmers and artisans in developing countries, who, just like GreenStar, are operating in a democratic and sustainable manner while promoting fair labor practices and wages.

The cooperative movement is strong and growing, here in Ithaca and around the world. We love the definition that several co-ops have adopted recently: “A cooperative (or co-op) is a business operated or democratically controlled by its membership of owners to meet their common needs and aspirations.” While the definition emphasizes the fact that we are a membership organization, the people who join are really, truly, owners.