New York real estate is famous for its cooperatives, housing arrangements governed by a board, which decides to whom an owner can sell his apartment. Perhaps lesser known are food co-ops where folks work so they can buy groceries at the co-op more cheaply than at traditional super markets.
In Brooklyn there is the 40 year old Food Coop, the oldest and largest of its kind.
Brooklyn Food Coop brings together 20,000 members and each of them has to work there for three hours a month for free, or rather in exchange for the opportunity to shop at the store. Of course the Coop has several permanent salaried workers who oversee the work of the members – and thereby manage to maintain this utopian system. Mark-ups are minimal and food comes from eco-friendly destinations. All eggs, for example, come from free-range chickens. Any genetically modified foods carry a big red warning label. Since the Coop is a non-profit, products are very fresh. Every evening fruits and vegetables that have not been sold are donated to local homeless shelters.
We are of the members of the Coop . Our feelings are mixed. We like the pro-social activities and assistance to the poor. We like not having to focus on reading labels and figuring out where the product originates; the co-op staff does it for us.
We like the elimination of plastic bags. If you forget your bags you can get a cardboard box, but you will not find plastic bags.
The downside is that the Coop is very bureaucratic. Purchases take more time here than at a traditional store because the cashiers are members and not professionals. It took us nearly a year to get our membership approved. Due to the many volunteers, the application process for the admission of new members is very slow.
But perhaps the coolest thing about the co-op is that it is the last place in New York where rank and wealth do not matter. When Brooklyn parents sent their nannies to do their shifts, the Coop barred the practice. Even celebrities have no privileges. All members have the same rights and obligations. Adrien Grenier was thrown out of the Coop because he missed his shifts. And Maggie Gyllenhaal worked in the Coop like everyone else!