In 2003 while living West Philly I joined Weaver’s Way after hearing about it from a co-worker and shopped there on my way home from work in North Philly. Though I wasn’t fully aware of all the responsibilities of being a member I remember it being a cool place to shop with a unique selection and a much better alternative to some closer by alternatives.
Seven years later I thought of that experience and wondered, why such a thing did not exist in South Philly?
Do you think a cooperative is a good tool for community building?
Most definitely. Cooperatives give diverse groups of people living near each other a chance to come together and provide for themselves what the market or government has been unable or unwilling to make available. Whether coming together to open a grocery store that specializes in local and sustainable foods, forming a credit union, establishing a school, creating a community land trust or building a solar farm, people have turned to the cooperative model to solve all sorts of problems and make their communities more resilient.
What’s the most common misconception people have about co-ops?
In our experience at the South Philly Food Co-op we’ve found that people most often confuse a food co-op with community-supported agriculture (CSA). We find it helpful to explain it as a store that from the outside will look very similar to other small grocery stores (though the people inside will look much happier!) while behind the scenes the ownership structure will be one that is based in the community and made up of the people who live near or shop at the Co-op.
What advice do you have for startup co-ops that are just beginning to organize?
Be thorough. Take it slowly. Be in it for the long haul. Establishing a co-op is not a quick or easy process but that’s because the capital is raised through a long, slow process of soliciting it in small, equal pieces from hundreds of member-owners. While this can take a few years, the end result is an enterprise that is more sustainable, resilient, and reflective of the will of the community.
Being a co-op member is easy! All it really takes is awareness. Anyone who pays attention to what is happening in the world outside of their own little piece of it and understands the challenges we face is primed to be an active, helpful co-op member. We find that anyone who has this quality and learns about our Co-op jumps pretty quickly from knowing about us to being a member.
Learn more about South Philly Food Co-op at their website.