To coop or not to coop: a question faced by many Brooklynites in the South Brooklyn/Prospect Park area. On the one hand, food at the Park Slope Food Coop is cheaper than any normal grocery store and tends to have better quality stock: think Whole Foods food at cheaper-than-Trader-Joe’s prices. On the other hand, the coop can be a huge pain in the ass, with long lines, work requirements, and crazy Park Slope yippies.
Anthony joined the coop three years ago, and I’ve been a member for over a year. I have a number of friends who swear by it, quite a few ex-members who ran astray of the coop’s rules, and many, many haters.
It’s understandable: the Coop is a pretty easy fodder for mockery, combining a number of perennial snark targets, from Park Slope and the people who live there (limousine liberals), its lefty lifestyle politics, and to the obtuse bureaucracy that comes with having 15,000+ members. The Coop requires all adult members to work a 2.75 hour work slot every 4 weeks, with an onerous double make-up shift requirement if you miss your work shift without giving prior notice, and you have to pay a fee and attend an orientation to join. Finally, the place is crowded as all hell, and some of its members seem to be… emotionally unstable. I have witnessed more than a handful of old hippies lose their shit at the coop for a wide range of reasons.
However, if you are willing to put up with all this, your reward is incredibly cheap, high quality food, especially for produce, cheese, and pantry items like spices and cooking materials. And I mean cheap, like spices for under a dollar, organic tomatoes for less than a dollar a pound, and tubes of goat cheese for under $2.
For me, the calculation is easy: as someone who willingly lives in New York, I can deal with crowds and being yelled at by crazy people fine if it means access to cheap, high-quality food. I don’t even mind working, really. I used to work check out and would spend my 2.75 hours chatting with fellow members about their produce purchases, swapping recipes while ringing up their granola. This month, I got a bit of an upper body workout as I was given the task of refilling bulk bins with every manner of grains, flours, and nuts with a very sweet actress/model/yoga instructor. Making up double shifts sucks, but can be avoided as long as I call ahead on days where I can’t show up to work.
Finally, while Park Slope is an incredibly wealthy neighborhood, the coop membership itself is surprisingly diverse. Working check-out, I found that the stereotype of the rich yuppie coop member isn’t accurate: most members don’t even live in Park Slope and there are more young immigrant families, grad students, elderly people, and food stamp recipients among the membership ranks than you’d think. The Coop also waives the joining fee for low income members and also provides free child care for members working their shifts.
While the Park Slope Food Coop is the most famous coop in New York, there are actually several others in operation or in the process of forming.