There’s a movement underway in South Philadelphia to bring fresh, affordable food to the neighborhood. Volunteers leading the movement convened in April united by the goal of establishing a food co-op in South Philadelphia.
Alison Fritz is one such volunteer who garnered her co-op knowledge as a member of Weaver’s Way (she ended her membership when she relocated to South Philadelphia). Fritz explains that co-ops are like grassroots super markets, but more significantly, they are businesses built and sustained by members who buy in (for $200-$400) to own a piece of the business and have an equal say in its affairs. Co-ops emerged in the 1970’s and are seeing resurgence as people become more conscious eaters.
Though they are first and foremost businesses, co-ops are deeply rooted in the community. The mission of the South Philly Co-op is to bring “affordable and nutritious food to all residents of South Philadelphia while empowering the local community through sustainable practices, food-centric education, outreach, and community building.” A large part of this particular co-op’s mission will also be to provide low-income families with access to hearty, healthy foods.
If all goes accordingly to plan, it will take about two years to get the South Philly Co-op off the ground. In a city like Philadelphia, it takes a great deal of maneuvering to gain the support of the neighbors, their civic associations, and local politicians, but early research shows that them to be optimistic.
A recent email survey indicated that a typical co-op shopper is likely to be a young adult or young adult couple without children. The next step to gauge interest and understand the demographics (once grant money is received) is a formal feasibility and marketing study. Eventually, there will be door to door canvassing, but for now, the volunteers’ work is mostly about spreading the word and making allies.
The core group of volunteers working with Fritz are passionate, but more practically, they’re smart and business-minded. Fritz describes them as “excited, focused, and dedicated”—qualities essential to surviving long hours of webinars, reading, and booth manning. The steering committee is meeting bi-weekly while several other committees (outreach, volunteer coordinator) are finding leadership and emerging. The organization plans to be as transparent as possible (minutes from their meetings can be read on their site).
One of the biggest obstacles the group faces is time. Holding public interest for two years is difficult no matter what you’re selling and it will take the pledged support of 500-600 households (memberships) to prove the co-op is feasible. In order to maintain momentum and achieve these numbers, the core volunteers are seeking more volunteers to help captivate the public by joining the mailing list, helping man information booths, preparing for civic association meetings, and promoting the organization on social media. There is also a need for accounting, legal, and public relations knowledge.
Though we’re still a long way from a ribbon cutting ceremony, it’s fair to be optimistic about the prospects of a food co-op in South Philadelphia. With volunteers like Fritz working to energize the neighborhood, there is a hearty, healthy future to look forward to.