Food Co-ops Proliferate as Brooklyn Gentrifies

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Despite efforts to include members from a variety of backgrounds, food co-ops in Clinton Hill, Bushwick, Oakland, Calif., and other gentrifying areas across the U.S. are having a hard time attracting low-income, non-white residents as members, according to a story in the New York Times.

The Greene Hill Food Co-op in Clinton Hill and the Bushwick Food Co-op — two alternatives to the overcrowded Park Slope Food Co-op — are well under way, as more than 120 co-ops open across the country. In Prospect Lefferts Gardens, a group starting a co-op there has secured a storefront space and hopes to open soon, The Brooklyn Paper reported.

The Bushwick Food Co-op organizes tours and other outreach efforts through neighborhood groups; Greene Hill offers discounted memberships for low-income members. But, we would like to point out, because they are new and lack the buying power of a large membership, they cannot offer the extremely low prices and high quality for which the Park Slope Food Co-op is famed. (Prices there are about 30 percent lower than other groceries in New York City, even mainstream ones, according to studies.)

The Times also mentions an African-American-led effort in Detroit, but says recent attempts to start co-ops in East New York and the South Bronx have failed.

The story does not mention the Park Slope Food Co-op’s diverse membership, which includes Hasidic Jews, African-Americans, low-income members, and people who live in subsidized housing. We remember back in the 1970s when food co-ops symbolized a do-it-yourself effort to lower costs and improve nutrition, not yuppification. Perhaps new Brooklyn co-ops could short circuit some growing pains by doing group buys with the Park Slope Food Co-op.

Do you think food co-ops are a positive or negative development for Brooklyn?

Food Co-ops in Gentrifying Areas Find They Aren’t to Every Taste [NY Times]
Thought for Food Co-op in Prospect Lefferts Gardens [Brooklyn Paper]

4 Comment

  • Trying to get low income people to join a coop is going to be difficult because it is hard for them to rub together a couple of one dollar bills much less the money for a membership – even a discounted one. There are also cultural, social and education problems; like thinking that a coke and Doritos is a good breakfast. This is a complex problem that has no quick solution. Many of these areas are “food deserts” that have no quality food stores, so I think that it would be better to open more, better quality and reasonably priced supermarkets rather than these private clubs. It is nice that they are doing education and community outreach, but unless they offer free memberships to poor people, they will not walk through the door to shop.

  • A low income membership costs $25 at the Lefferts Community Food Co-op, with no administrative fee, and can be paid in installments if necessary, while the savings on buying lower-priced goods at the co-op vs. regular grocery stores (and face it, no for-profit enterprise is going to sell “reasonably priced” food if it can do otherwise) will more than cover this cost in a matter of months.

  • Discount for-profit retailers such as BJs Wholesale Club and Costco also have membership fees, and they seem to do well.

  • When the Ft Greene/Clinton Hill coop was starting up, they sent around to the community, and posted somewhere, their business proposal and model. I loved their map of Fort Greene: Myrtle was the NORTHERN boundary of the neighborhood. Since they didn’t even think of the 9,000 neighbors living in Ingersoll and Whitman as part of the neighborhood, how can they be surprised now?