This fall, Christine Johnson hopes to bring together North Brooklynites over something she believes we can all agree on: food. More specifically, inexpensive, locally sourced, sustainable food. Working with a small group of community members, the Williamsburg resident is developing a neighborhood food cooperative with some lofty social goals, including bridging North Brooklyn’s various ethnic groups and providing an education in co-op literacy to the community.
Unlike traditional retail shops, co-ops are consumer owned meaning members are its sole decision-makers. They choose what to purchase and how to distribute, frequently tying in social goals with operating policies. They also differ from corporate owned supermarkets and chains because consumer/members set pricing policies. This keeps costs down, Johnson explained, because members’ interests generally lean towards lower food prices rather than maximized profits.
In the case of the Williamsburg/Greenpoint Food Co-op (WGFC), working members will be compensated with reduced mark-ups on purchases. Initially, they will pay a 14% mark-up instead of the 24% non-working members will pay. Membership will run $20 for both working and non-working members, with the latter committing to attend two monthly meetings. Non-members will pay a not yet determined mark-up, which will exceed 24%. Once operational, the WGFC will function democratically, with decisions made by consensus at meetings. A mechanism will be in place so members unable to attend can still have a voice.
The WGFC will start off as a buying club, in September, from which members can purchase their food online. The ultimate goal is to open a storefront for the co-op within a year or two. Participation in the buying club will be limited to members, but the store will be open to the public. Johnson envisions a space which will be “a positive for the community,” complete with a grocery section, a cafe with wifi, and a multipurpose space for community events, educational workshops or even performances.
Johnson has other ideas for “bringing the various groups in the community together.” One way she plans to accomplish this is by to translating co-op literature into the languages of Greenpoint and Williamsburg; Polish and Spanish initially, and later Yiddish, Chinese and other languages commonly spoken in the neighborhood.
If the WGFC catches on, it will become the seventh food co-op in the borough. Success seems likely, given Johnson’s experience as Northeast Regional Organizer for the Cooperative Food Empowerment Directive (CoFED), a non-profit that works with college students to start co-ops on campus, and for whom she is currently employed.
General meetings of the WGFC take place on the first Monday of every month at 7:00PM (the next meeting is August 6th). To RSVP for the meeting, e-mail email@example.com. For more information about WGFC or to become a member, visit http://willypointfoodcoop.wordpress.com/.
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