The overseers of a proposed member-owned grocery store reached a key developmental benchmark.
“Imagine a food store where the profits stay in the community, where you can find healthy food for a fair price and where you get to meet and know your neighbors,” Alison L. Fritz said Monday. “We’re making that a reality.”
The president of the two-year-old South Philly Food Co-op can tout her conviction even more, as she and her allies signed up their 250th member-owner at May 19’s Lower Moyamensing Flea Market, Broad Street and Snyder Avenue. That fortunate figure will allow them to pursue a location for their planned grocery store, which would market locally sourced goods and whose identity would depend solely on its roster of investors.
Fritz, of the 1200 block of Dickinson Street, and her board of directors have made the co-op’s existence a lesson in communal outreach, staging food-centric events to stress that large corporations alone should never dictate what fuels bodies. Partial proceeds from this evening’s 6 to 9 Spirit Night at Rita’s Water Ice, 1356 E. Passyunk Ave., will further fund efforts to sate demands for the cooperative venue.
“The co-op’s role is to weave together relationships among neighbors, farmers and local food producers,” Fritz, who used her 2003 to ’05 membership in West Mount Airy’s Weavers Way co-op as inspiration for fashioning South Philly as a nutritional force, said.
Fond of her area’s food history, she yearns to enhance the future, uniting with her team to establish benefits to accepting their pitch. A $200 one-time investment would permit any constituent from a member-owner household to purchase groceries, with each home granted a say in any voting matter. Members would obtain a share in the business, gain a voice in product selection, receive discounts through the Shop South Philly program, stand a chance to earn dividends on profits and have eligibility to run for a board position.
They also would help to strengthen commercial and residential relationships through involvement in “a united business community dedicated to the future of our neighborhood,” Fritz said.
Her Weavers Way autonomy led Fritz to establish similar feelings of ownership and connectedness upon her arrival in Passyunk Square. She has found so many adherents to her call for freshness and friendships that securing the 250th commitment let her check off the first membership benchmark on the co-op’s development timeline.
“We started as a group of strangers and now we are more than 250 members strong, growing every day, representing a community we’ve built from the ground up through a common vision and determination,” she said.
The nation’s first food co-op debuted at 917 Federal St. in 1862, and, 150 years later, the current crusaders are promoting an allegiance to analyzing nutritional selections, pursuing potential members throughout the area. Many owners reside within Passyunk Square, Sixth to Broad Street, from Tasker Street to Washington Avenue, according to the co-op’s website, but Joseph F. Marino, its director at large. has striven to broaden the appeal.
The East Passyunk Crossing Civic Association co-chair and resident of the 1900 block of South Jessup Street is trying to enlist his neighbors, as are representatives from Lower Moyamensing and Newbold. A fourth-generation South Philadelphian, he believes established food providers have yet to forge a marriage between fine produce and agreeable prices.
“My motivation has been to ensure that some landed gentry were involved, to open some doors with politicians, parishes, lifelong neighbors, et cetera and not to have to spend $5.99 a pound for red bell peppers,” he said.
Fritz and Marino have often needed to squash misconceptions about the co-op, with the former having to differentiate between a food co-op and a community-supported agriculture. Like a traditional grocery store, a food co-op encourages purchasing what one wants when one can. A co-op tends to offer more natural, organic and local foods and other products than customary spots and, Fritz said, focuses more on community building and social responsibility.
“In appearance, the South Philly Food Co-op will be a grocery store and a business like any other,” she said. “The difference lies in the ownership structure with results in profits staying with the community and the members dictating the product mix and services.”
Through a community-supported agriculture, members buy a share of farmers’ harvests for a season. The allotment supports a single farm’s budget or many operations, with parties restricted to a season’s yield and having few choices in a weekly share’s variety. A co-op places no barriers on one’s cravings, with the local example serving to foster camaraderie among those with diverse backgrounds and palates.
“Some of the greatest connections we’ve made are between the more recent South Philadelphia transplants and the long-time residents,” Fritz said. “We will continue to reach out to people from South Philly’s diverse population through various efforts, including translation of our materials into different languages and expanded outreach through community groups, civic associations and churches.”
Marino balks at beliefs that those who gravitate toward the co-op are “all hipsters and new neighbors” and has a possible direction for membership.
“We could use a few more long-term residents,” he said.
With the benchmark eclipsed, the co-op vows to establish a real estate committee and to expand the finance body. The first will examine member-owners’ locations, the real estate market, analysis of potential sites’ feasibility and pedestrian, public transportation and vehicular accessibility to all possible sites.
Do you know where your food comes from before it has reached the grocery store? Did you know that some of the pesticides farmers use to dissuade insects from eating their crops are sometimes left as residue on food? Did you also know that a single apple can travel thousands of miles before reaching the grocery store you purchase it from?