Up until about 6 months ago, I was carting home my groceries from either a local chain like Key Foods or the veggie place on the corner owned by a sweet lady who gives out guava candies to regulars. But after a crisp, fall Brooklyn walkabout, all of that changed when I stumbled across the Park Slope Food Coop. It was the sweet and savory aroma of spices that drew me into the store only to be halted at the entrance by a member sign-in area. I had to know more, so I did some research and was shocked that I hadn’t heard of this place sooner!
What Is It?
Founded in 1973, the Park Slope Food Coop is a member-owned and operated food store with around 17,000 members. It’s also one of the oldest and largest active food co-ops in the United States. Because it acts as buying agent for its members, rather than a selling agent to any industry, you can expect to pay 20-40% less on your grocery bill.
Not only is shopping here incredibly cost effective, but it gives me peace of mind to shop at such a conscious place. The Coop is a community of like-minded members that value sustainability and social justice which is evident by what’s stocked on the shelves.
During apartheid, South African items were banned. Nestle products were banned when they ran a campaign to promote infant formula instead of breastfeeding. The Coop has also boycotted Coca-Cola brand products due to the company’s labor practices and exploitation of natural resources in third-world countries.
In terms of sustainability, the Coop was way ahead of the curve when it decided to stop providing plastic bags at checkout and selling plastic water bottles in 2008. Adding to that, most produce is local, and organic, to conventional, or minimally treated. The prices fluctuate with what’s seasonal and local too so as spring and summer roll on, prices will start dropping adding even more savings.
What Do They Sell?
From their website:
“The Coop carries a wide variety of products, including local, organic and conventionally grown produce; pasture-raised and grass-fed meat; free-range, organic and kosher poultry; fair-traded chocolate and coffee; wild and sustainably farmed fish; supplements and vitamins; imported and artisan cheese; freshly baked bread, bagels and pastries; bulk grains and spices; environmentally safe cleaning supplies, and much more. All of this, plus a large selection of standard supermarket items, makes the Coop a one-stop shopping destination. Sales are brisk at the PSFC and our inventory is replenished more than once every week, ensuring that the products we sell are as fresh as possible.”
How It Works
To join you go to one of their member orientations where you learn some of the ins and outs, then you are processed as a new member. This includes paying a registration fee of $25 as well as a $100 investment which you can get back if you ever leave the coop. This investment helps pay for repairs, renovations, and anything else the coop needs to keep running smoothly. These fees are dropped if a prospective member meets certain financial criteria. All adult members of a household that will be enjoying the products of the coop have to become members.
The next step is choosing your work block. Every four weeks each member must volunteer at the coop for 2 ¾ hrs in their own respective “squads”. I work in receiving which is the group that receives new shipments and puts them out into the store. Usually, I’ll be working in the basement pulling produce from the refrigerators and sending them upstairs to be stocked.
Other Squads include: Food Processing which chops and separates bulk items like cheese, olives, and spices into individual quantities. Childcare and Checkout are more self-explanatory. Maintenance, Inventory, and working in the office are also options. You can try out each squad and see what fits best. The paid staff is super friendly and helpful and make joining/working easy.
We go to the Coop at least once a week and are never disappointed by what’s available to us. Our household favorites, olives, cheeses, and spices, are sold for insanely cheap prices. It can get a bit cramped in the store if you go during peak hours, but since there is that community aspect, people are patient and kind for the most part.
Storytime: After racking up a hefty bill buying birthday party supplies a few months ago, I realized that I forgot my debit card at home(they don’t take credit). I went up to the office and told them what happened, feeling bad that now someone might have to put my haul away. Instead, I was greeted with an incredible act of kindness when one of the paid staff lent me the money to buy everything. I wouldn’t expect this to be a typical event, but it just further emphasizes how great the community is. A few days later I paid her back and brought flowers and now I have another Coop friend.
Join now! https://www.foodcoop.com/
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