When I mention shopping at a food coop—a grocery store where the shoppers are the owners and workers—people kept saying not everyone had access to coops. I wondered why they suggested they were a privilege. I know there aren’t as many food coops as supermarkets and bodegas, but I didn’t understand why they acted like people without access were helpless.
At last I realized people saying such things didn’t know what it was like to grow up in a household with many kids and parents who couldn’t make ends meet, where cooperating with neighbors on food was a solution to not having time or money.
When my parents were married they helped organize ten families to buy food together. Each family took a turn driving to the distribution center in South Philadelphia at 4am to buy produce for all for a week.
This cooperation benefited everyone:
- Taking turns saved time, only driving one out of ten weeks.
- Shopping for everyone at once saved money.
- Going at 4am meant the best selection and less traffic.
- Working together created community.
Eventually the group folded into a local food coop. I grew up seeing the community they helped create and the higher quality, lower cost, preferentially local food. (As a kid I didn’t always appreciate it: the coop only sold unsweetened peanut butter, which is why I liked the sweetened welfare peanut butter so much.)
It took me a while to learn why people today push back on sustainability solutions, claiming they cost more, took more time, lacked accessibility, and such. I grew up seeing not having money or time and having three children as reasons for fresh, local produce—because it saves money and time and is healthier.
Here is Weaver’s Way coop in Mount Airy, which my parents’ group folded into:
I wish I could convey how much this little store represents a way out of poverty and not having time, as well as fresh local produce, community, health, and wholesomeness. It’s one of the best parts of my childhood.
On a related note, today, few farmers markets exist, resulting in the laws of supply and demand driving their prices up, as one effect contributing to people mistakenly seeing problems with sustainability. A solution to high farmers market prices is more farmers markets—basic supply and demand. Once all markets were farmers markets selling local produce.
If you want to help increase access and lower prices, help create more farmers markets.
Another related note is credit unions as opposed to payday loan stores and regular banks. I do as much of my banking through credit unions for similar reasons as preferring food coops. They also help communities and keep money within them.
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