CROWN HEIGHTS — They’re trying to share the health.
After years of schlepping to the Park Slope Food Co-Op to shop, Prospect-Lefferts Gardens resident Karen Oh started thinking that her own neighborhood could use a cooperative food market.
Since about 2009, she’s worked with many like-minded neighbors to create the Lefferts Community Food Co-Op, a grocery store that, if all goes well, will be run entirely by those who shop there. After many planning meetings, a market research survey and the project’s official incorporation in early 2013, the group behind the co-op plans to open a retail location on Empire Boulevard between Rogers and Nostrand avenues by the end of the year, bringing low-cost food to anyone in the neighborhood who wants to get involved, Oh said.
“Our goal isn’t to make a bunch of money off the people who live here, because we live here,” she said. “Our goal is to try to get really good food into the neighborhood that doesn’t feel like it’s meant for someone who can afford it.”
But before the store can open at 324 Empire Blvd., the co-op needs about 300 members, Oh said, of which they have about 80 now. Members are required to make a $100 contribution to the project when they join and should expect to work for about three hours a month at the store.
“Maintenance, cleaning bathrooms, stocking shelves, receiving things off the truck and putting it in the store — that’s all run by the membership and they run in shifts,” just like at the Park Slope market, Oh said.
That work and the money invested by members will help keep costs low for the “staples” like rice, beans, grains and fresh fruits and vegetables that the store will carry, Oh said. Though the store will try to have organic and locally-sourced products, “artisanal stuff” is not the focus, she said.
“Our commitment is to sustainability … but not at a cost,” she said. “We really have to be careful about balancing that with price to make sure that we’re not alienating a huge population of people who just see organic as being uber-expensive.”
A generous gift from a local property owner will help keep costs low, as well, at least in the beginning. Guillermo Riley, a local schoolteacher, owns the co-op’s space at 324 Empire Blvd., which he’s agreed to let the co-op use for two years. Riley, who is a vegetarian, said the project is a “great opportunity to educate the community.”
“I’m always doing presentations [at school] about how people should feed their bodies… I thought that would be a great fit,” he said.
Oh hopes to attract members from the surrounding neighborhoods of Crown Heights, Prospect-Lefferts Gardens and north Flatbush, especially those who know the area well.
"[We're] trying to attract people who have been in the neighborhood for a really long time and who have raised their kids here,” she said. “If we can get a quarter of those people to join, they’re going to really be able to shape the co-op … the way it needs to move forward.”
To volunteer, join or find out more about the Lefferts Community Food Co-Op, visit the project’s website.