By Justyn Melrose, Staff Writer
Underneath Mary Hobbs Hall at Guilford College, the Greenleaf Coffee Co-operative thrives. While it is easy to see the small quirky shop as just a place to grab a cup of coffee, the shop stands for much more.
“We’re not just a coffee shop,” said sophomore and Greenleaf member, Camille Lindsley. “We’re a group of students working together and having this overarching vision of social justice. We end up talking about politics a lot more and that’s part of the informal education.”
The Greenleaf is a place for thought, discussion and education.
“The Greenleaf is an experiment in an alternative business model as part of our vision of a better world,” reads the shop’s mission statement. “We are a non-hierarchical, member-run coffee co-operative. We strive to uphold our values of community, anti-oppression, social and economic justice, and sustainability. We attempt to do this through educating ourselves and the community, conscientious purchasing, and supporting other groups that share our values.”
Within the Greenleaf, the shop functions as a worker-owned co-operative. That means that every worker, known as members, share equal responsibility for the shop’s affairs. They combat the assumption that hierarchy is necessary for a business to function, and prove that a worker-owned co-operative business model can and does function.
As every member has an equal say, those involved meet weekly and work together to bring up issues — whether they are aesthetic, financial or interpersonal — and to find solutions via consensus.
In addition to working for internal equality, “We try to make the space welcoming and affirming, a place where people can feel safe no matter where they’re coming from in terms of their gender presentation, in terms of any of these kinds of things,” said junior and Greenleaf member Martha Adams-Cooper.
Junior and Greenleaf member Lyes Benarbane said, “With the way that we treat members inside of our co-operative, I think that we’re pretty excruciatingly invested and involved in striving to eliminate oppressive mechanisms in speech, in the ways of acting, in purchasing. The Greenleaf is an overt organization that is really involved in what it does.”
The way that the Greenleaf purchases also helps them keep to their mission statement. By purchasing roasted coffee beans from Counter Culture Coffee, the Greenleaf is able to sell direct trade certified coffee. Direct trade means that the beans come from the farmer and go directly to the roaster. With fewer middlemen, the farmers receive better pay than they would normally receive even with fair trade business. This way there are fewer hands between the growing of the coffee and the Greenleaf customers’ lips.
The Greenleaf also purchases from and supports Deep Roots Market, a local co-operative that, like the Greenleaf, started in the basement of Mary Hobbs. By supporting Counter Culture and Deep Roots, the Greenleaf is locally contributing to the global movement towards co-operative business.
“The Greenleaf also tries to make itself be a place where you can learn a lot of different things that you wouldn’t really learn in your classes,” said Lindsley. “It’s sort of a political justice knowledge resource.”
The Greenleaf has also hosted educational events related to sustainability and activism, with groups such as the Socialist Workers Party and the Greensboro chapter of the International Workers of the World holding meetings and presentations there. There is also is a zine library, available to all.
Some students, however, have noticed that the Greenleaf seems to dealing with some internal difficulty.
“The Greenleaf is really striving right now to be consistent, to be here for our community,” said Benarbane. “We’re in a rebuilding period right now. We’re trying to get back on our feet and… get the foundations in place to be a stronger organization for the future.”
So to the future, raise a cup of coffee. This one’s on all of us.