Sustainable Living in NYC: Brooklyn’s Food Coops

Photo courtesy of blip.tv

Photo courtesy of blip.tv

The Park Slope Food Coop (PSFC), located in the heart of Park Slope, Brooklyn, was founded in 1973 and has more than 15,500 members today. The member-owned and -operated store serves as an alternative to commercial profit-oriented stores, saving members 20-40% on groceries in exchange for working 2.75 monthly hours at the store in such roles as checkout, stocking, packaging of bulk items, and walking members home with their groceries in a shopping cart. Only members are allowed to shop the PSFC’s selection of products which include local, organic produce; pasture-raised and grass-fed meat; sustainably farmed fish; bulk grains and spices; and other standard supermarket items.

Members of the PSFC can be sure that the products they buy are organic, cruelty-free, and eco-friendly. Even the cleaning supplies sold there meet the standards set by the Coop’s environmental policy, which states that goods must be “environmentally benign.” The Coop avoids stocking products with excess packaging, and carries local goods to reduce energy used in transportation. In addition to prioritizing quality and eco-friendliness, the Coop seeks to meet the needs of the varying cultures, needs and economic capabilities represented by their members. As a result, kosher products, payment plans for members, and an ever-expanding inventory make the PSFC a place where everyone can shop for eco-friendly, quality goods.

psfcveggies

Photo courtesy of brooklyn.about.com

The Coop’s current values are the result of a long history of members working hard to create an eco-friendly, sustainable, and fair organization. General Coordinator Janet Schumacher, who is retiring this month, has been a member since the PSFC’s early days and has been instrumental in the development of the Coop. According to the Linewaiter’s Gazette (the PSFC newspaper, written by Coop members whose monthly job is to write articles for the paper), Schumacher and her peers were responsible for starting the PSFC’s work share policy, expanding the inventory to meet changing expectations of members, and the Coop’s commitment to diversity and equality. Today, the PSFC’s “lifers” set an example for newer members by encouraging them to think critically about their consumption – for example, Schumacher cautions against misleading labels on products that claim to be “organic,” “fair-trade,” and “local.” She also encourages members to look at their food consumption from a global perspective, considering the labor practices used to grow and ship food, as well as the environmental impact on native forests around the world.

Nearby in my soon-to-be-home of Ditmas Park, the Flatbush Food Coop offers a similar set of organic and eco-friendly products, and has allowed non-members to shop there since 1980. Customers can find the usual bulk foods, organic produce, and fresh baked goods along with vegan, gluten-free, and kosher products. Like the PSFC, the Flatbush Food Coop carries products that use sustainable agricultural practices and meet ethical labor standards. The full-service deli and juice bar are open to non-members as well, but members enjoy benefits such as coupons and specials, discounts on events and classes, and voting rights.

Photo courtesy of flatbushfoodcoop.com

Photo courtesy of flatbushfoodcoop.com

If you’re interested in joining one of these coops, you can pre-register for a new member orientation at the Park Slope Food Coop or fill out an application for the Flatbush Food Coop at the FFC’s customer service desk. The PSFC charges a $25 joining fee and and asks members to contribute a $100 investment, but payment plans and fee reductions are available. Members say of their monthly 2.75 hour work shift that it’s completely worth their time to have access to such delicious, fresh, and sustainable produce at the lowest prices around. The Flatbush Food Coop does not have a work requirement, but asks for a $200 investment along with the $15 application fee (payment plans are available here as well). To learn more, you can check out the PSFC’s product blog and price list, or you can read the Flatbush Food Coop’s weekly sale flyer.

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