I have been a member of the Park Slope Food Coop (the Coop) for a number of years. Located in Brooklyn, it was founded in 1973 and is the largest cooperative of its kind. The Coop is a member/worker owned food store that 16,000+ members collectively own, manage, and staff and where we all shop (non-members can visit but cannot shop). Members come from all over New York City (and beyond) and every member of the Coop (except those who are retired, sick or otherwise excused) contributes labor at about 3 hours every four weeks. In exchange, members own a share of the business and are guaranteed prices that are not designed for profit alone (the Coop is a 501(c)3). It seeks to avoid goods that depend on the exploitation of other beings. Entire small and family-owned farms in Florida and the Tri-State area produce food exclusively for the Coop, ensuring that small scale, sustainable farming is supported directly. The Coop is founded on principles of stewardship of the environment, diversity, and equality and is open to all who share these values.
The Coop is relatively small in square footage, which means it is often crowded. And hugely successful; it grosses $6,500 per square foot annually – by comparison Trader Joe’s has an average of $1,750 in sales per square foot (which itself is more than double that of Whole Foods). Despite the long lines and tight aisles, there is an incredible amount of ease, patience, and goodwill. I work on the Receiving Squad which stocks produce and packaged goods, prices certain products and unloads and organizes shipments. Every shift I work I am amazed by the class, race and cultural diversity of the thousands of people working together in support of an alternative form of commerce. And that relative harmony comes from hours of intentional and focused effort – through committees, staff/board meetings, general meetings, petitions, boycotts and challenges as well as humor, dedication, passion and love.
With a small number of paid employees, hundreds of member-workers, plus thousands of member-shoppers moving through the store on a daily basis, this organization is an incredible example of the possibility for ethical, responsible, engaged, collaborative, and successful business. I use what I have learned at the Coop to maintain faith in the possibilities for change and for collective action. For activists and change makers who are disillusioned and frustrated with the challenges of systemic forces of oppression and injustice, the Coop is an imperfectly beautiful model of diverse people working together (literally). A 2-hour orientation at the coop is a hope-producing introduction to the power of long-term organizing and activism and the possibilities for new forms of economic exchange. And the organic produce is amazing!