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UN to screen film inspired by Greenfield co-op

— When Green Fields Market asked local filmmaker Steve Alves about five years ago to make a documentary about the little Franklin County coop that grew into a mainstay of the local business community, no one imagined that it would have its premiere screening at the United Nations.

But there’s Green Fields Market, just 12 seconds into the film, with its “Everyone is welcome” motto atop the doorway, making its way to the UN’s International Year of Cooperatives Short Film Festival Tuesday.

In fact, the 15-minute entry drawn from Alves’ feature-length film,“Food for Change,” one of seven films chosen to celebrate the ‘UN Year of the Cooperative,’ focuses mostly on Minneapolis-St. Paul, which has the largest concentration of food co-ops in the country — 12 co-ops in a 25-mile radius of the Twin Cities serving 70,000 members with products worth $151 million in annual sales.

“The Twin Cities Story,” as the segment is called,” will be part of the closing ceremony for the year of cooperatives, which will then open an entire decade of celebrating cooperatives as a way of empowering people around the globe.

The segment is one chapter of Alves film, which he plans to complete next spring. The complete film traces the history of co-operatives to the mid-19th century, with a renaissance in the 1930s in response to the Great Depression and then again in the 1960s and ’70s, as the Baby Boomer generation, feeling its oats, sought to recapture control of food from corporations.

Among the start-ups of that era was the Montague Food Co-Op, started in 1977 by Tom Tolg and others who describe their motivation as wanting to make healthy food available for all classes of people.

The store, which operated out of an apartment before moving to Avenue A and then to Greenfield in the 1980s, now operates its Main Street storefront in Greenfield as well as McCusker’s Market in Shelburne Falls, with a combined membership of 2,150, $7.6 million in combined sales and 75 employees.

“It’s pretty neat,” said Suzette Snow-Cobb, who comanages the co-op. Funding for the film comes principally from Co-ops: 92 co-ops in 28 states, including Franklin Community Coop and River Valley Market in Northampton. Alves said he hopes that the UN presentation will make it easier to do fundraising for the remainder of the feature-length film.

“For years, we hadn’t given as much attention to education about cooperatives as we should,” Snow-Cobb wrote last spring in an appeal for other co-ops to add to their original $35,000 investment. “We believe that a well-made documentary that tells both our history and the current things we are doing to create strong, economically stable communities, is a great way to portray what we’re about. It has the potential to reach millions of people.” In declaring 2012 the International Year of Cooperatives, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “Cooperatives are a reminder to the international community that it is possible to pursue both economic viability and social responsibility.” Green Fields Market will host a local showing of the UN co-op film Dec. 1 from 2 to 4 p.m. with Alves on hand to discuss his work.

Alves said a main theme for the film is human survivability.

“Whatever structure we come up with, it needs to have the elements of fairness, morality, and the interests of larger numbers of people, as well as providing education for more people and dealing with the consequences of poverty across the board for all of us.

“There’s nothing wrong with free enterprise,” Alves said. “It’s the monopolies that big businesses create that end up hammering their suppliers, benefiting a few and seemingly benefiting consumers, but in the long run actually undermining their middle class consumers’ lifestyle.” In fact, Alves, who’s still trying to raise the last $68,000 toward his $300,000 project, points to ways in which cooperative— working together to build efficiencies so they can compete with corporate food chains — have consolidated their own suppliers to create a monopoly.

“If you go to different co-ops, you see a lot of similar products now that are sold in supermarkets as well,” said Alves, pointing out that this was not always the case. And yet he said, coops, which are experiencing a boom today in reaction to the tough economy and the example of successful co-ops, work hard to reflect the unique needs of their communities.

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