Willy Street Co-op helps locals live sustainably on Earth Day and year-round
Since former Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson founded Earth Day in 1970, people around the world have embraced an environmentally friendly ethic every April 22. And for the bulk of that time — 41 years, to be exact — Madison’s Willy Street Co-op has been doing its part for the planet every day of the year.
Call it a Johnny-come-(just a bit)-lately, but the co-op was on the vanguard of an organic and sustainable food movement that’s only recently started to go mainstream, and it’s reminding customers this Earth Day that there’s still a lot that they — and society as a whole — can do to shrink their ecological footprints.
“Now you can walk into convenience stores sometimes and find organic food, which even 10 years ago I wouldn’t have thought would have happened.” — Brendon Smith, director of communications, Willy Street Co-op
From April 20-26, the co-op is hosting a slew of Earth Week activities, including free bike tune-ups; sustainable food demos; classes on smart, sustainable shopping; and screenings of The New Green Giants, a film that takes a closer look at the fast-growing organic food industry.
“[The film is] a pretty candid look at the organic food movement and some of the bigger corporations that are getting into organic food, and looking at whether they’re living up to expectations about what organic food means,” said Brendon Smith, director of communications for the Willy Street Co-op. “So it talks about what certified organic food is, it talks about which companies are offering organic food, and kind of what happens when a smaller organic food company is bought out by a bigger company.”
Over the past several years, organic food and locally sourced food have become a hot trend, and food co-ops have been among their biggest cheerleaders. As the Willy Street Co-op gets ready to celebrate Earth Week, Smith is reminded of the role that co-ops across the country have had in raising awareness.
“Co-ops have done a lot to help promote local food and organic food and sustainability, so much so that now you can walk into convenience stores sometimes and find organic food, which even 10 years ago I wouldn’t have thought would have happened,” said Smith. “But co-ops have really helped to bring those concepts more into the mainstream so that now sustainability, in grocery stores specifically, is much more common than it was when we started, and even 10 years ago.”
One of the co-op’s featured Earth Week activities will be a class demonstrating the advantages — for consumers and the planet — of buying bulk. Titled “Simply Bulk: An Introduction to the Bulk Aisle,” the class will be offered twice, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. April 22 at Willy Street West and 6 to 7:30 p.m. April 23 at Willy Street East.
According to Smith, the co-op has started offering more in the way of bulk products — including eggs — and some items, like syrup and laundry soap, go beyond what most people normally think about when they’re making bulk purchases.
But buying in bulk can make a huge difference when it comes to reducing packaging waste, if consumers can get in the habit of doing it.
“When you look down a grocery aisle and see all kinds of colors and names and things like that, I think it’s just a habit — that’s the way you buy products,” said Smith. “You look down the aisle and you see a name you recognize, and you pick that up. … So it does take a little shift in your mindset.”
The co-op will also offer customers a chance to win a $25 gift card if they use a reusable bag or register for the drawing at the customer service desk. It’s a good way, says Smith, to promote waste reduction, which is a year-round emphasis of the co-op.
“We’ve never used plastic bags in our store,” said Smith. “We do use paper bags for our customers, but we have a lot of people who bring in their own bags, whether paper bags or reusable shopping bags or a backpack. We give out a bag credit of 10 cents per reusable bag used, or 5 cents per paper bag used, and last year there were 525,000 paper bags that were not used because people brought in their own bags.”
To promote bicycle commuting and bike ridership in general, the co-op will also host a free bike tune-up event in partnership with DreamBikes at Willy East on April 21 and Willy West on April 23. And on April 23 and 25, the co-op will host barbecues featuring Nature’s Bakery Cooperative Tofu Walnut Burgers and sustainable Willy Beef burgers made with grass-fed beef from Scenic Heights Farms in Dodgeville.
To Smith, all the co-op’s Earth Week events provide opportunities to promote business and individual sustainability and build on the progress of the past four decades.
“I think these Earth Week activities are a way to kind of focus what we do throughout the year into one month, and kind of remind people and our owners and shoppers what the co-op does, what they can do — simple things they can do to improve their community and the planet. It’s all about people making individual choices that add up to a big change, so we want to do our small part to help that.”
Willy Street Co-op Earth Week Events
Trail Mixer with Nature’s Bakery and DreamBikes, 9 a.m.-noon, Willy East
Screening of The New Green Giants, 7-8 p.m., Willy East
Demo: Dr. Noodles Gluten-Free Noodles, 9:30 a.m.-1 p.m., Willy East Demo Station
Demo: Dr. Noodles Gluten-Free Noodles, 2-5 p.m., Willy West Demo Station
Simply Bulk: An Introduction to the Bulk Aisle, 6-7:30 p.m., Willy West
Trail Mixer with Nature’s Bakery and DreamBikes, 9 a.m.-noon, Willy West
Demo: Troy Community Farms Sprouts, 11 a.m.-1 p.m., Willy West Demo Station
Demo: Troy Community Farms Sprouts, 1:30-3:30 p.m., Willy East
Burger BBQ: 3-6 p.m., Willy East
Simply Bulk: An Introduction to the Bulk Aisle, 6-7:30 p.m., Willy East
Screening of The New Green Giants, 7-8 p.m., Willy West
Demo: LuSa Organics Skincare, 9-11 a.m., Willy East
Affogato with Sassy Cow and Just Coffee, 11 a.m.-1 p.m., Willy West
Demo: LuSa Organics Skincare, 1-3 p.m., Willy West
Affogato with Sassy Cow and Just Coffee, 4-6 p.m., Willy East
Demo: Cates Family Farm Meats, 4-6:30 p.m., Willy East
Demo: Four Nuts By Nature Cleaning Products, 9 a.m.-noon, Willy West
Demo: Lonesome Stone Mill Flour, 10 a.m.-noon, Willy West Demo Station
Demo: Paleo Mama Bakery, 10 a.m.-noon, Willy East Demo Station
Burger BBQ, 11 a.m.-2 p.m., Willy West
Demo: NessAlla Kombucha, noon-3 p.m., Willy East
Demo: Paleo Mama Bakery, 1-3 p.m., Willy West
Demo: Lonesome Stone Mill Flour, 2-4 p.m., Willy East Demo Station
Demo: Four Nuts By Nature Cleaning Products, 2-5 p.m., Willy East Demo Station
Demo: Four Elements Herbals, 10 a.m.-noon, Willy East
Demo: Fill My Recipe Spice Blends, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Willy East Demo Station
Demo: Four Elements Herbals, 1-3 p.m., Willy West
Demo: Fill My Recipe Spice Blends, 1-5 p.m., Willy West Demo Station
Demo: Driftless Organics Sunflower Oil, 2-5 p.m., Willy East
Click here to sign up for the free IB ezine – your twice-weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. If you are not already a subscriber to In Business magazine, be sure to sign up for our monthly print edition here.