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AUGUST 2014: Organic, ethically produced food is more affordable when shoppers and owners are one and the same.

Food Coops
Healthy food for the 99%

What would you say you wanted from a grocery store if you were dreaming big? How about a wide selection of organic foods, local produce from small farms, free-range eggs, safe cleansers and recycled paper and plastic products—all at an affordable price?

That's a taste of what I get at the Park Slope Food Coop, which I joined when I moved to Brooklyn last year.

Back in downtown Manhattan where I lived before, I could get most things on my wish list at the neighborhood natural food store chain, but not at an affordable price.

Well, that's just par for the course. Natural foods, produced responsibly, are inherently more expensive and grocery stores do have to make a profit.

Not food coops, though.

Food coops are collective, non-profit efforts by people to supply themselves with affordable healthy food. The mission and mode of operation are decided by the members, who are the owners and democratically govern the place.

Coops range from buying clubs to storefront retail establishments. Some allow only members to shop and require everyone to take a work shift, while others are open to the public but offer discounted prices to members alone.

My coop, the PSFC, is the members-only kind and I work a 2.75 hour shift every four weeks taking returns and providing guest passes. While my shift never seems to come at a convenient time, I find I like the work experience anyway for it gives me the chance to meet members from very different backgrounds with whom I share something important in common. Whether working or shopping there, I always feel part of a community—a rare and precious thing in this increasingly commercialized world of ours.

That said, community wasn't the reason I joined. It was the promise of affordable natural food in tune with my needs and values. I haven't been disappointed.

Let me begin with the savings, which I estimate to be a quarter to a third off what my grocery bills used to be, depending on what I buy each time.

Most produce at the coop is organic, and the less expensive alternatives tend to be minimally processed. The vast majority comes from within a 200-mile range in the growing season, and within a 500-mile, one-day drive outside the season. Between California and Florida, the coop picks Florida because it's three times closer. The food is fresher and the carbon footprint lower as a result.

When all items in a bin come from the same region, the place of origin is identified. If everything comes from a single farm, the farm is named.

Most eggs are free-range and most meat, pasture-raised and/or organic.

The coop offers as many different foods in bulk as possible. My kitchen is now stocked with Mason jars to hold my grains and beans.

The coop favors non-GMO foods, cruelty-free cosmetics and non-toxic, durable goods.

Not only is the coop very environmentally minded, it is equally committed to social equality, as you can see from the preamble to its Environmental Policy:
The Coop will strive to support the best products and practices in regard to the health, safety, and preservation of humans, animals, and the overall biosphere that it can achieve.

This is said with a clear understanding that the Coop membership includes people from widely varying cultures, needs, and economic capabilities, which must be accommodated.
I appreciate the balance and the thinking behind it and am so happy to have found this place. It's not perfect by any means, and has its detractors, due mostly to the work requirement and pesky rules, but the ideals that it strives for—and most coops strive for—are my ideals. The way I see it, there is nothing more I could realistically ask for.

Food coops are located all around the country. If you'd like to join one, but there's none near you, consider founding one with like-minded friends and neighbors. That's how all coops get their start. Begin here.

—Sheryl Eisenberg

Food Coops

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On This Topic


Park Slope Food Coop THE PARK SLOPE FOOD COOP (above), and food coops generally, emphasize fresh, natural, local food. At PSFC, most produce comes from within a 200-mile range in the growing season (and 500 miles outside of the growing season). Hepworth Farms is its most important supplier. Located 88 miles north in the Hudson Valley, this nearly hundred year old organic family farm has even been known to plant crops to order for the coop.

Map with 200-mile radius



Resources


Neighboring Food Co-op Association
What is a Co-op?

Stronger Together
History of Coops

Fortune
The Rise of the Grocery Co-op

Treehugger
How Perfect is the Park Slope Food Coop?

BKLYNR
Beyond the Kale

Food Coop Initiative
Toolbox for Starting a Coop

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FIND A COOP NEAR YOU!
Coop Directory
Organic Consumers Directory


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Sheryl Eisenberg is a writer, web developer and long-time advisor to NRDC. With her firm, Mixit Productions (mixitproductions.com), she brought NRDC online in 1996, designed NRDC's first websites, and continues to develop special web features for NRDC. She created and, for several years, wrote the Union of Concerned Scientists' green living column, Greentips, and has designed and contributed content to many nonprofit sites. Sheryl makes her home in Brooklyn, where—along with her family—she tries to put her environmental principles into practice. No fooling.