Eldred Harris - GreenStar Council Member

Council Member, Eldred Harris with his niece.

By David Durrett – a current intern at GreenStar Food Co+op, David Durrett is a lifelong resident of Ithaca as well as a graduate of Ithaca College. He is a freelance reporter whose work has also appeared in Tompkins Weekly and The Ithaca Voice, among other publications. 

Eldred Harris, a self-described “serial entrepreneur,” brings his track record of leadership and service to GreenStar’s Council.

Eldred came to Ithaca as a graduate student in 1989, when he attended Cornell’s law school, and left Ithaca in 1999 to work in Washington D.C. Back then, he had heard about GreenStar, but had not gone to the Co-op until he returned to Ithaca in 2005.

“That was one of the things on the top of my agenda – go see GreenStar,” Eldred said.

Eldred’s first experience with GreenStar was shopping at the Dewitt store, GreenStar’s Buffalo Street location, since his friend and long-time GreenStar Council member Jan Norman, had recommended the store. His first impression was positive. The store had healthy food and the members owned the store, so he talked to people to learn more about it, resulting in him joining as a member in 2008. Also in 2008, he moved a business, Diaspora Gallery, an African-centered boutique to the downtown area within walking distance to Dewitt.

Eldred ran for a seat on Council in 2018, out of a belief that he could use his business, political and legal expertise to make a positive difference. He has won two elections – once as a challenger and once as an incumbent. Over the course of his career, Eldred has run businesses, practiced law, worked for the large international corporation Claritas, raised money as a professional fundraiser for two large Universities and served on several local boards of directors, including the Ithaca City School District Board of Education.

One ideal Eldred considers important is food sovereignty, which he says is about providing people with food that is relevant to them. As just one example, various ethnic groups have traditionally eaten certain types of greens, so ensuring Greenstar offers those specific types would help promote this sovereignty,

“Food is a critical component of life,” Eldred said, “it promotes not only health, but a sense of security; of belonging; and of joy. Folks should be able to find food that matches their identity.”

Eldred also takes diversity seriously, and is proud that GreenStar has diversified its staff by adding more indigenous, Latino and African American cashiers. He would like the coop to continue diversifying its staff, member-owners and customers, and continue expanding its culturally relevant “foodstuffs” for sale.

To Eldred, cooperative markets like GreenStar give back to the community in ways that larger corporations may not, and establish positive working relationships with local farmers.

“By allowing members to have a share in ownership, Greenstar offers an alternative business model to typical corporate structures,  which may or may not invest heavily back into the community,” Eldred said.

Eldred hopes that GreenStar, as a cooperative market, will collaborate with other kinds of co-ops in the area. These include housing co-ops, transportation co-ops, banking co-ops and other member-owned enterprises.

“These are the kinds of things that will empower communities and allow people to feel more secure in times of these large events that we can’t necessarily control, like financial collapses, global pandemics, recessions, etc.” Eldred said.

Eldred said anyone who wants to be a part of GreenStar’s Council should be prepared to work, and demand clarity and accountability from committee leaders.

“In other words, it’s not good enough to just sit there and get a discount,” Eldred said. “We need creative, intelligent people who are going to be active and will be critical thinkers.”

Eldred wants to see GreenStar use its Council/committee structure most efficiently and proactively. He believes that Council should bring together people with needed expertise in areas such as human resources, finance, policy making, legislative advocacy and other areas to be able to help the Co-op move forward.

“Greenstar is a complicated organization, a $25 million organization now, and Council should support our executive and high-level management to make the best decisions,” he said.

Eldred thinks of GreenStar as more than a food store, but also as a place that can offer a meeting space for community organizations, education for residents around nutrition and food sovereignty, and other services. All this is summed up in a phrase he coined – serving the community “beyond the basket.”

“I hope GreenStar can one day go beyond just thinking about a larger basket of food, and create partnerships and collaborations with other cooperative entities in town,” Eldred said.