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Friday, April 18, 2008

Co-op

Many may not be familiar with the concept of the food co-op. The 1960s and early 1970s saw a boom of popularity in the idea. The 4th Street Food Co-op at 58 E.4th Street in the East Village, is the last surviving in Manhattan and one of only two in NYC (the other is well known in Brooklyn).
The original concept is one of a cooperatively owned food store. I was surprised to learn that food co-ops go back to 19th century England and the cooperative principles set by the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers in Rochdale, England, in 1844.
The 4th Street Food Co-op is structured to allow for working and non-working members to get products at a discount - typically non-members can shop at a higher price. The motive is to be essentially a not-for-profit corporation.
I see two problems with the food co-op for this generation.
First, the food co-op is run by members and members are ideally to work there - most individuals these days have too many interests and other priorities to invest time in this manner for a small discount on food. People want convenience not more work and obligation. Non-working memberships are a way of dealing with this.
Secondly, I hate to be cynical, but i think that people's willingness to be politically correct and embrace causes does not include giving up most of the comforts we have become accustomed to. Scaling them back somewhat, but that's it. In regards to the food co-op, people want a much broader selection of goods in a boutique environment - see the rage that is Whole Foods Market, a wildfire spreading across the land. Higher prices, but they are not daunted - the checkout lines are huge. Everyone wants their Ipod and toys. All these manufactured goods have an environmental impact. We may give up the SUV, but not the car ...

12 comments:

Chuck Pefley said...

Curiously we have PCC stores in Seattle which began in this fashion, still require membership dues up to a certain $ figure. I assume there was provision for contributing work hours in the early days, though not sure of that. Today PCC stores somewhat rival Whole Foods. Main difference is PCC remains within Seattle proper rather than nationwide.

Love the patient German shepherd.

J$ said...

there's actually 2 in brooklyn. one in park slope and one in flatbush.

Jenn said...

I love the co-op we have up here in Albany. We don't have the luxury of a Whole Foods or Trader Joes and, being a vegetarian, it's hard to find some of the ingredients I need at the regular grocery store.

An Honest Man said...

I was brought up with the co-op in Scotland, although it's much more restricted now than it used to be.

There was a wholesale society that bought and manufactured in bulk and sold to the individual retail societies. These retailed practically everything; food, clothing, hardware, even funerals. (I used to rub down the shire horses it used for milk and coal deliveries!)

Each member had an individual society co-op number and any annual profit from that society was split up amongst the members - staff and management were employees and paid as such.

Each individual society was overseen by a committee consisting of the senior managers and elected members of the society and each society had a representative on the committee overseeing the wholesale society. Every large town, quite a few small towns and even some villages had its own society at one time, but that is very much a thing of the past.

BTW, that is not a German shepherd is it? Doesn't look like any German Shepherd I've seen.

Rambling Round said...

Sounds like you have the food thing figured out. We just have a few regular grocery stores and a backyard plot for homegrown tomatoes.

Sally said...

Well, it's going to be a bloody rude shock for those people when there is no choice! If peak oil is a biggie, peak food will be somethign else entirely....see the front page of yesterday's NY Times abotu the global impact of the drought in Australia!

Sydney Daily Photo Turns 2 today!

Lucy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lucy said...

Coops may come back in a big way if the organic food prices keep rising and the products become less available because the farmers can't afford to work that way, and according to the NYT that is beginning to happen now. Or we may have to start gardening in community gardens again, as they did in WW2. I read that Americans grew half of their own vegetables during those years, surprisingly.

Therese said...

I do agree with the previous reader: yes definitively. Even here in Arizona home gardens are starting to pop up. A large demand for organic seeds too...

naomid said...

I love the co-ops. New Yorkers who are really committed to shopping and eating responsibly often commit to community sponsered shares of agriculture. All the same values, but food direct from one group of farmers every week! Its delicious, and I know some of your fans are members too!!

Check it out: www.justfood.org/csa/

-kelli- said...

I, too, love co-ops. There's something both comforting AND delicious about paying less for locally grown food (even without membership fee) over paying more at a grocery store for something sprayed with who knows what and flown in from who knows where.
Nice shot, by the way. Cute pup. Looks kind of like a dingo. ;)

Emanuele Cauda said...

Pittsburgh as well has its own coop.
It's great, good food, nice people, fair enough !!
I like it