It’s not easy being Green(leaf)

While the coffee and couches stay the same, the Greenleaf Coffee Co-Op is constantly changing.

Located in the basement of Mary Hobbs Hall, the Greenleaf is a cooperative, volunteer-run coffee shop serving fair-trade coffee and local baked goods. As a non-hierarchical organization, Greenleaf members promote consensus and transparency within the co-op.

The Greenleaf started in 2005, almost a year after the original student run co-op, The Underground, was shut down.

“The Greenleaf was only rarely about the coffee,” said former co-op member Diesel Robertson ‘08 in an e-mail interview. “In the early days, only a few of us were very good at that part … what kept people coming were the community and the atmosphere.”

Original members had many ideas, such as a cooperative building, that never made it off the ground.

“In the beginning, some of the staff wanted the Greenleaf to serve alcohol,” said former co-op member Steve Watkins ’06.

Watkins said while not part of the Quaker values, some hoped it would reduce driving accidents, as students would not have to drive to a bar off-campus. This proposal was never passed.

“The Greenleaf was also a hub of activism on campus,” said Robertson. “You could count on socially conscious conversation, literature, and people hanging around anytime you were down there.”

Watkins said that when the Greenleaf was first formed, there was tension as members tried to find a balance between a welcoming space and a politically active space.

“One year we would be political, but not that bad,” said Robertson. “The next year we were all declaring ourselves Marxist.”

While the Greenleaf is still an area for free speech, the staff has begun efforts to combat the exclusive stigma it developed.

“(The Greenleaf) originated from organizing a point of solidarity for political campaigns outside Guilford,” said senior and Greenleaf member Zak Wear. “A big change is we’ve moved away from that. It’s been a passive movement.”

In its mission statement, the Greenleaf establishes its values of anti-oppression, social and economic justice, and sustainability. One of the ways they attempt to support these values is through community-building, reads the mission statement.

“There is a strong sense we have been unsuccessful in creating a positive, well-known space on campus,” said senior and Greenleaf member Alex Knox. “A lot of people are taking initiative to address the issues of lack of integration.”

The history, provided in the Greenleaf manual, records the co-op being “seen by non-members as semi-controversial and standoffish,” as early as the fall of 2005.

Currently, members are aware that outside opinion is one of the challenges of the co-op’s politically active history.

“It’s important for people to understand we are very accepting of everyone’s viewpoints,” said first-year and co-op member Billy Millman.

Knox notes the positive changes he’s seen over the last four years, such as more sustainable practices (seen in compostable cups), higher training standards, and better quality coffee.

While members hope customer satisfaction will continue to attract students, some are considering plans such as reorganizing the internal structure and adding new non-coffee based drinks.

A new approach to reach the digital generation includes the Greenleaf’s new Wikia page and Twitter feed.

“At first, I was kind of against them,” said senior and member Meredith Luby. “But it’s fun to look and see who’s on shift.”

From posting upcoming events and general information to random pictures and inside jokes, members hope to use the sites to reach parts of Guilford that would otherwise not know about the co-op.

Robertson, present at the Greenleaf’s founding, says she supports the web pages if they get more people into buying the Greenleaf’s coffee.

While many senior members leave at the end of this semester, many feel optimistic that the Greenleaf will continue strong.

“In the past, a group of people knew how to do things, and when they left, others had to learn,” said Luby. “Now we are focused on skill sharing, to carry knowledge through.”

This transferred knowledge will help to uphold the levels of professionalism members strive to keep.

“The Greenleaf never fails to achieve customer satisfaction,” said Knox. “That is the bottom line to achieving good relations with the community.”

Many co-op members are hopeful that the Greenleaf will continue to reach out in the Guilford community and attract a greater variety of people.

“I feel the perception from outside the Greenleaf has changed for the better,” said Luby.

If it continues with its current motion, Knox believes the Greenleaf will become a more diverse, representative space.

The co-op is constantly evolving as people join and leave each year. The future and success of the Greenleaf depends on student involvement, both inside and outside the organization.  

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