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LES Residents Plan New Food Co-op

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A strong desire for fresh, regionally grown and sustainable food brought more than 60 Lower East Side residents to the Educational Alliance last night. They took part in an organizational meeting for a food cooperative, an idea initiated by Danny Rosenthal, an Educational Alliance vice president. Over the years, he's gotten an earful about the absence of quality fruits and vegetables in the neighborhood.

Most of the people attending live in the Grand Street cooperatives, but residents of other buildings were represented, as well. In the past, members of Grand Street's fractious co-op developments have been only slightly more unified than, say, Israel and Iran. So, it was notable that the meeting took place at all. By the end of the evening, a steering committee had been formed to begin making preliminary plans.

Rosenthal said the Educational Alliance was happy to be involved in any way the group desired. He has had casual talks with people at the Park Slope Co-op, who have expressed a willingness to offer advice and guidance. Last night's gathering was intended to get a conversation started about whether there was a desire for a co-op. The answer was a resounding "yes."

Going around a large table, each person in attendance explained their frustration with the food options in the neighborhood. The Fine Fare on Clinton Street was criticized for the quality of its produce, as well as poor customer service. Some people, however, noted they've responded to complaints in the past and made small improvements. The Fine Fare has a very limited organic section, but some people complained that the prices are unreasonably high. In the past, they said, store managers have indicated low demand for the organic offerings.

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Earlier this year, members of the Grand Street CSA, selecting produce at a drop-off location, on the steps of the Abrons Arts Center.

A few people said they were members of the Grand Street CSA, an organization we profiled back in May. CSA stands for community supported agriculture. A group called "Just Food" connects communities with regional farmers, who deliver fresh produce to a central drop-off location once a week. But since there's a waiting list to join and there are no deliveries during the winter, everyone agreed there's a need for something on a larger scale. There was also some discussion about the Grand Street Green Market, operating on Sundays in the summertime. For whatever reason, participation from farmers appeared to dwindle this past summer, perhaps due to a lack of business, and/or the weak/rain damaged harvest. 

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The Grand Street Green Market, last summer.

Generally speaking, a food co-op is an organization owned by its members, focused on making naturally-grown/locally grown foods more affordable. Cooperators are usually called on to help manage and run the co-op. In the next several weeks, the steering committee will focus on information-gathering. They'll continue the conversation with the Park Slope Co-op, and also reach out to the 4th Street Food Co-op.

Among the participants last night: Seward Park Co-op President Michael Tumminia. He expressed interest in providing space for the propsed new venture in an empty lot they own on Hester Street, or in an indoor location, if that's what the group prefers. Tumminia also said, as Fine Fare's landlord, the Seward Park Board would talk with the store's management about the concerns raised at the meeting.

Brian Crowley, a Grand Street resident and member of the Park Slope Co-op, offered to set up a Google group. That will be the primary means of communication as the fledgling organization takes shape.

If you would to participate in planning for the new co-op, email Brian at: bcrowley8@gmail.com. Or you can email Danny Rosenthal at the Educational Alliance, Danny_Rosenthal@edalliance.org, or Dana_Weissman@edalliance.org, the Educational Alliance's director of community programming.

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