Just back from an uplifting and energizing visit to the Park Slope Food Coop. I left Brooklyn confident that the commitment that Joe Holtz, Founder and GM, and Ann Herpel, a General Coordinator assigned to work with new coops, had to their coop was only a part of their heartfelt commitment to spreading the rich culture, fine quality, and reasonable prices that have been the hallmark of their cooperative for forty years. They provided guidance and printouts on governance, labor law, finances, inventory, sales, and refrigeration/facilities. I left with 200 pictures and a 2″ pile of forms that we can tailor to our operations. They generously offered to answer questions as they arise and extended an invitation come back for staff training. Our relationship with the Park Slope Food Coop will save us months of work and costly trial and error.
The most striking features of the cooperative are its incredible diversity – members of all races and ethnicities, all ages, all income levels – and their wonderful food. The coop serves everyone, from hedge fund managers to those on food stamps. At 85% organic, with 84 feet of produce and 8,000 organic sku’s, they offer a wide range of high quality products, including household wares, organic baby products, beauty products, and vitamins, in only 6,000 square feet of selling space. You might wonder at their low $.57 price for organic Yukon Gold potatoes and $2.37 for organic leeks, especially in NY where the cost of food is easily 10%-20% higher than in Santa Fe. The same products at Whole Foods in Santa Fe sell for $1.99 lb. and $3.99. Lest I mislead you, the Santa Fe Community Coop’s shoppers-members-owners won’t experience this level of savings for a while.
And, despite a robust Farmer’s Market, an excellent health food store, several gourmet markets, and the recent opening of aTrader Joe’s, the Coop’s sales have grown more than 20% in the last couple of years, from the $39.4 million reported by Fortune in 2010, to their $48 million in 2012. Joe reminded me that when I was a member, there were only 5,000 members; now there are 16,000+.
Some might say that the reason for Park Slope’s success is that the coop is located in Park Slope, in Brooklyn. But Park Slope boasts a resident count of only 73,595 and historically, the coop has drawn its membership from
a mile and a half radius. And while those who live by Prospect Park are quite well off, those who live nearer 4th Avenue are not. And yes, their median income is higher than ours. But I would suggest that healthy, affordable food is even more important in Santa Fe than in it is in Park Slope for exactly that reason. And, with the USDA reporting that food prices will be rising 4% to 7% annually, healthy, affordable food will become even more in demand than it is today.
Taking action to find a more sustainable social and economic model now will create resilience for our community going forward.