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Food Co-Op Experts Advise LES Residents

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Two nights ago, at The Educational Alliance, representatives from the Park Slope Food Co-op (PSFC) and the East 4th Street Food Co-op (4SFC) offered advice and answered questions about how to begin the process of forming a food co-op.  After determining there is a desire for a co-op within the LES community at an initial meeting, Danny Rosenthal, an Educational Alliance vice president, hosted a second meeting in order to get some tips from a few food co-op veterans.

Joe Holtz, one of the founders of the wildly successful Park Slope Food Co-op, (established in 1972 and well over 15,000 members strong) talked about what it was like for a few young activists to start a communal grocery store back in the ’70’s, when Park Slope wasn’t nearly the neighborhood it is now. The co-op started with a hand-full of member/owners and a few hundred dollars.  “You could do a lot more for less back then,” he noted. Mr. Holtz suggested figuring out what will work for the community by staying open to new energy and not becoming too possessive.

He also noted that from the beginning, PSFC “understood cooperation as working together, not simply investing money together.”
The Park Slope Food Co-op has an “all-or-nothing” policy – you must be a working member in order to shop there, and Mr. Holtz thinks this eliminates any sort of class differences between shoppers right from the start (average requirements are 2.75 hrs of work per month for a 20%-40% discount.)

Anne Halpern, who has been a full-time administrator with PSFC for over a decade, talked about the need for transparency and how much hard work is really involved in running the co-op. She suggested deciding on a mission and a working model and then sticking with it.

There was more advice from Lippe (known simply as “Lippe”) from the 4th Street Food Coop, located on E. 4th St., near Bowery.  4SFC does allow paying members who don’t work but receive a smaller discount, as well as public shoppers, who don’t receive a discount. He noted that because of the co-op’s smaller size, the public shoppers subsidize the discounts for members. (The 4th Street Food Coop has about 120 working members.)

Every community, of course, is unique. LES organizers have many decisions to make in the months ahead: Will residents be willing to volunteer their time? Should the co-op be open to the public?  Should there be discounts for low income residents?

A steering committee has been formed to address these issues and more.  It will be meeting on Jan. 19th.  For more information and/or if you would like 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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