Food Co-Ops

Park Slope Food Co-opby Matt Ficke

All things considered, DC isn’t a terrible place to shop for food. We have good butchers, good fish markets, and, during the summer, some pretty great farmer’s markets. However, unless I’m terribly mistaken, there is one thing we’re missing: a food co-op.

Friends in Brooklyn rave about the Park Slope Food Co-Op, and their stories of good produce and other groceries at cheapish prices leave me envious. I even find the idea of working a few hours a month in the store appealing. We should have one here! I know the Takoma Park/Silver Spring Co-Op is up in Maryland, but I think the city could support one of its own.

Has anyone here ever belonged to a food co-op? What did you like or dislike? And does anyone have experience with what it takes to start one up? Share stories in the comments, along with your thoughts on where you think a DC co-op would best be located.

11 responses to “Food Co-Ops

  1. I always like the music playing in the co-op.

  2. I don’t live in DC but I’m within 5 miles of at least 3 coops (and a half dozen grocery stores) in Minneapolis. I belong to one.

    Likes:

    Good relationships with a diverse set of distributors that provide grass fed beef and other types of meats that I like with reasonable prices.

    Seasonal food grown locally.

    Dislikes:

    They are not fun places to shop. Service – it leaves a lot of be desired. I can get a question answered or food bought in minutes at other grocery stores compared to dealing with some of the people working for coops. I’ve been to the Wedge coop three times and had three different bad experiences. I avoid the place. The others are an improvement but nothing compared to their for-profit counterparts.

    To much use of fear, uncertainty and doubt in marketing materials (factory beef will kill you! and your little dog too! kill you we said! kiiiiill you! bugabuga!).

    I go in and get exactly what I need and get the rest at one of the half dozen grocery stores.

  3. We have several co-ops in Madison. I’ve tried the two closest to me, and I have yet to find a reason to get a membership.

    At one, the produce is awful, and the food is well geared to do Standard Midwestern Cooking. Despite being raised by two native Minnesotans, I *hate* Standard Midwestern Cooking.

    At the other, the produce is good quality and even with the member discount, it costs approximately 1/3 to two times as much as the same produce would at our local farmers’ markets. Our local markets are not exactly cheap either… if you’re good at buying seasonally, you get ok deals but it’s never a great deal. So on produce, the co-op ends up being a total loss. For packaged food, they seem to offer some deals, but we just don’t buy much prepared stuff. Where we do, I can almost always do better at the local Asian markets. Meat is always a better deal at the farmer’s market.

  4. We belong to a great co-op in Carrboro, NC (the graduate students’ Chapel Hill). It has the basics you would expect–local food, great produce, bulk foods, friendly staff who you get to know, etc.

    But the benefits go beyond food. The co-op sponsors music and a farm tour, has a great community gathering place outside on their lawn, and supports local charities when it can. North Carolina is a great place for produce due to our long growing season(s), and Weaver Street has really been instrumental in helping local farmers thrive.

    In terms of dislikes… mass-marketed foods (pastas, cereals, etc.) are really, really expensive. This was a big issue at first, but we found that we simply adjusted how we ate (more fruits/veggies and bulk foods, less cerals and crackers).

    It isn’t perfect, but it is one of the highlights of living in the area.

    Check it out:
    http://www.weaverstreetmarket.coop/

  5. I’m in D.C., want a coop, but have had bad-bad-bad experiences in them, too. I might hold my nose and go to one in the metro area, but none is really accessible by Metro. And no, hiking from Takoma Metro to the TPSS Coop doesn’t count.

    Have something in mind?

  6. ficke – i believe mt. pleasant has had a food co-op for years, unless I’m totally mistaken. I think I know of a few folks who are members.

  7. “Isn’t a terrible place…” is pretty relative. Ward 4 has only 1 grocery store for 75,000 people. Ward 7 and 8 have only three grocery stores between them. I love the idea of a good co-op, but I like the idea of a grocery store in my ward a lot more.

  8. Corey: You’re absolutely right about access problems to grocery stores in many areas of the city. I live in Ward 1, and if you head south starting at my house, you’d run into a grocery store about every 10 blocks. However, that certainly isn’t the case everywhere, and living in the middle of the most concentrated collection of grocery stores in the city does skew my perspective.

    Greater Greater Washington had a good post on the subject earlier this year.

  9. L- I ran into some vague references to this supposed Mt.P co-op online, but wasn’t able to find anything solid. I got the impression that it was more of an informal bulk purchasing club rather than an actual store you could shop in, but I’m not sure.

  10. I was a member of a co-op in Iowa City and I loved it. It was more expensive than regular grocery stores but the employees were very knowledgeable. In order to get a discount I was a working member; I only worked about 10 hours a week but got a 30% discount. I really wish there was one near-by me in DC.

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