Co-opportunity knocks


Do you know where your food comes from before it has reached the grocery store?

Did you know that some of the pesticides farmers use to dissuade insects from eating their crops are sometimes left as residue on food?

Did you also know that a single apple can travel thousands of miles before reaching the grocery store you purchase it from?

Soon, local residents won’t have to travel to Reading Terminal Market or Center City’s Trader Joe’s to purchase locally grown, organic food products. The South Philly Food Co-op, still in its infancy but expecting to open a storefront business sometime in 2012, is committed to carrying high-quality and affordable food.

The 25 active members envision the co-op as a meeting place for the community that will offer consumer education and promote sustainable practices. The main endeavors of the organization are to provide the community with nutritious, locally-sourced food from Pennsylvania and South Jersey, foster connections among the area’s diverse people, build a partnership with existing businesses, offer food-centric education and help the community at large.

“By joining a co-op, you can have more control over the food you’re eating,” Alison Fritz, the co-op’s steering committee chair, said. “You have the peace of mind of knowing where your food is coming from and that there will be no pesticides on it. We will offer healthier, locally-based food in lower quantities to our members.”

The organization was established by a group of area residents looking to supply locally-sourced and organic food at convenient prices after hearing from a Mount Airy co-op spokesperson at a Passyunk Square Civic Association meeting last spring. In April, the group held an interest meeting that more than 50 people attended. Combined with an 18-question survey of 550 local individuals in August about their shopping habits and what they would look for in a co-op, the vast majority showed support and interest for it.

While some members like Rebecca Finkel, the co-op’s outreach committee chairwoman, already make an effort to shop local, a co-op would provide a way to continue this trend with one-stop shopping and a say in the business’ daily operations.

“I buy local whenever possible,” Finkel said. “I get most of my produce through Community-Supported Agriculture. Every week, I pick up a box of local organic produce from a Lancaster Farm Fresh Co-operative drop-off point on Mole Street.”

Co-ops have a history in South Philadelphia with the country’s first opening its doors at 917 Federal St. in 1862. The Union Co-operative Association No. 1 was led by Thomas Phillips and about 20 English immigrants.

The current co-op’s storefront location is still under consideration and will be based upon real estate, members’ locations and parking factors, Even though the targeted open date is about two years away, the organization is seeking members and volunteers to join its outreach, legal and finance committees and help spread the word in the meantime.

Besides buying organic food at affordable prices, there are other perks to becoming a member of a cooperative whose members will be able to own a share of a local business, assist in the product selection process, have voting rights at membership meetings, may be eligible for discounts and purchasing benefits, as well as potentially earn dividends on a percentage of the store’s profits.

“The store is owned by its members,” Fritz, of 12th and Dickinson streets, said, “as opposed to being owned by a conglomerate or business. This helps you know where the food is coming from.”

To become a member, individuals must invest a predetermined amount, payable in one lump sum or smaller installments. A single membership will allow each member of a household to purchase groceries. Each household also is allowed one vote in all of the decisions where voting is required.

“It’s a one-time investment in the business,” Finkel, of Eighth and Tasker streets, said. “… Every member is entitled to one vote. We have not yet set the investment amount, but food co-ops in the area have set theirs between $200 and $400.”

Some co-ops are open to the public, such as Weaver’s Way in Mount Airy while others like West Philly’s Mariposa are member-only. The co-op is in the process of surveying the community to decide how it will operate.

The co-op is planning some fundraisers for the fall, but the details are still in the works. The steering committee meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. Monday while the legal finance committee is holding a Tuesday get-together at 7:30 p.m. The meetings take place at a member’s home until meeting space is obtained.

Members have already actively participated in their community by helping out on East Passyunk at last summer’s annual Doo-Wop Car Show & Street Festival and served up some yummy food at Food Trust’s first Night Market in October. Blocktoberfest, the LoMo Flea Market and Holiday Fair, and a very special block party on the 1800 block of Christian Street are a few of the other events where they’ve provided a helping hand.

“We want to provide the community with different kinds of events,” Fritz said. “We’d like to offer cooking classes on the different kinds of meats and how to can food properly. Our members can choose what events they would like to do, and if it’s popular with the community members, we can do it.” SPR

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