Brooklyn Bolsheviks Are Tough SOBs

I finally caved. Seeing the positives of the Park Slope Food Coop, I decided I’d like to join. Which is easier said than done. You need to attend an orientation before you can join, and you can only register for an orientation online, but every time I went to the site, all the orientation slots were filled and I was told to keep trying.  It felt like Marxist Mean Girls! But like a good proletariat, I persisted, and eventually got a slot for 4PM August 28th. “He who does not work shall not eat!”

While preparing my notebook (made from salvaged recycled paper) to take notes at the orientation, something caught my ear on NPR.  They said hurricane Irene was going to hit New York City around 4PM August 28th! Mayor Bloomberg was telling certain neighborhoods to evacuate, and the subways were shutting down at noon on Saturday. Surely my orientation would be canceled?  I called the Food Coop just to check.  Apparently my orientation is still scheduled for 4PM this Sunday.

Maybe I can canoe home with some organic kale?

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Rethinking The Park Slope Food Coop

I have written about the Park Slope Food Coop in the past.  From a strictly economic perspective (not considering the draconian penalties, long lines, or the cult-like demeanor of some members) I decided that the savings gained from shopping at the Coop was not worth the 2 hours and 45 minutes.  But I based this on a” back of the envelope” estimates on how much a family might save every month by shopping at the Coop.

But today the Park Slope Patch had a very nice article comparing the price of 20 items at five Park Slope stores: Back to The Land, Key Food on 5th, Met Food on 7th, the Park Slope Food Coop, and Union Market. Among some no brainers, like don’t buy prosciutto at Met Foods, there was a lot if interesting tidbits, like Back to the Land  is cheaper than Key Food. But most interesting was that the average item at the Food Coop was $1.32 less than Back to the Land, the next cheapest store per item.

Although this was hardly a scientific study, it did give me a metric I did not have before.  With fees and working 71.5 hours a year (2 adults) at minimum wage, the first year at the Food Coop will cost you $768 your first year.  With an average savings of $1.32 an item, if you shop every other week and get 25 items each week, you’d save $858 a year, a net gain of 90 bucks! And you’d get $340 in saving each year after that (once you “pay off” the $250 in fees.)

I’m still not sure I’m ready for the Food Coop (do all members really have to wear matching Nike sneakers, or is that just a rumor?) but knowing the real savings might ease my mind when I’m wearing that day glow Food Coop vest.

My Calculations

Hours/Week number of adults Hours worked per year Min. Wage What it costs you to work at the Food Coop (plus $250 in “fees”)
2.75 2 71.5 $7.25 $518.38
Number of items Average Savings per item # of Shops per year Savings per year
25 1.32 26 $ 858.00
Net gain $ 339.63

Did Karl Marx Really Like Organic Lacinato Kale?

“He who does not work, neither shall he eat” – Vladimir Lenin

Let me preface this by saying that I believe in sustainable agriculture. I love Michael Pollan and Alice Waters. I am a foodie progressive. But how come Marxism has become so tied to healthy food in Park Slope? I love fresh insecticide free fruits and vegetables, but do I have to sign-on for The Great Leap Forward to get them? The most popular organic food options in Park Slope require you to make a financial and/or labor commitment.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the communal/coop system of shared responsibility, and in an ideal world it makes perfect sense. But I live in a world that requires most of my time be devoted to my job, and what little I have left goes to my family. So call me bourgeoisie if I do a little research to get the best bang-for-my-buck (and back) before I march to forced labor to get non-poisoned food.

PARK SLOPE FOOD COOP /PARK SLOPE CSA / URBAN ORGANIC

Park Slope Food Coop

When most people think about organic food in Brooklyn they usually think the Park Slope Food Coop. It really is a remarkable organization in their size and longevity. The Park Slope Food Coop, was founded in 1973 by a small group of neighbors who wanted to make healthy, affordable food available to everyone who wanted it, and are now the largest active food co-ops in the United States. They have over 15,000 members who run most day to day operations and the coop carries a wide selection of produce and groceries.

Only members can shop at the coop.

The Park Slope Food co-op requires a $25 membership fee, and a $100 “investment” for each adult.

And each adult is required to work 2 hours and 45 minutes once every four weeks.

So in order to save “20 – 40%” on groceries, my family will need for fork over $250, and work 71.5 a year. Even if you value your time at minimum wage, that’s $768 the first year. (It makes Costco’s $50 membership seem like deal, and the Coop doesn’t even sell caskets.)

So I’ll have to spend over $2500 a year at the Food Coop to make it worthwhile financially, for an overcrowded supermarket, that has no parking, doesn’t deliver, and often gets its politics too involved in its food. Of course you can’t put a price tag on the feeling of your own self regard, (or the weird sense you might be in a cult.)

I know some members will say that is harsh. But harsh is the Coop’s double makeup policy, which says if you miss a work shift, you now owe two shifts. This sounds a lot like predatory credit card practices at the worst, or a lot like “The company store” at the least.

You load sixteen tons of organic onions, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt

Park Slope CSA

Another option is the local CSA, community supported agriculture. CSAs consists of a group who agree to support a farm operation where the growers and consumers share the risks and benefits of food production. At The Park Slope CSA, founded in 2000, you buy a share in the farm, and starting in June, you get 22 weeks of produce. You can’t get fresher food, a wide variety of fruits and veggies, and a lot of it, from June into November. There is also an option to buy flowers, eggs and other goods.

$644 gets you 22 weeks of vegies (20 weeks of fruit.) Membership for the 22 week season requires 5 hours of work (37 bucks at minimum wage) plus a $25 membership fee. So that’s $706 bucks you fork over for 8 1/2 pounds of veggies plus fruit a week. For argument sake that would run $1680 if you wanted produce for a year (which you cant have, damn that Northeastern winter!)

So that will only satisfy your organic jones for less than half a year, and you have to pick up your share either tuesday or Thursday afternoon (also no parking, no delivery) and you are at the whim of Farmer Ted and the weather . If there’s a late spring frost upstate, don’t count on those strawberries, and if there is a bumper crop of collard greens, better stock up on your Paula Deen recipes and ham hocks, you’ll be seeing them all until November.

Urban Organic
Urban Organic is a home delivery service of organic produce based in Park Slope, and has been around for over 10 years. They buy bulk produce, groceries and dairy organic farmers’ cooperatives, distributors and individual farmers.  All of our produce is Certified Organic.  You can also purchase organic dairy products and some other organic groceries.

In addition to a one time $25 membership fee, $34.99 gets you 15-18 items organic fruits and vegetables, (1-3 pieces of each item) a week, delivered to your home. You don’t get to pick exactly what you want, but they post online what the next box will have, and you can make limited substitutions, say you don’t like collard greens. (They also have smaller, $24.99, and larger $44.99 boxes.) $1845 a year for the standard box.

Mind you, this is not for your locavores, its all organic, but a lot of it is from the major agribusinesses, and often shipped from thousands of miles away, especially in late fall and winter.

Other Options…

In Brooklyn there are a lot of options to get organic produce, in addition to the growing organic sections in local supermarkets, there are several farmers markets that have loads of organic produce (although don’t be fooled, just because it grown locally, doesn’t mean its organic), Fairway and Trader Joe’s have decent organic sections, Fresh Direct has a decent and growing organic selection, and while the Whole Foods in Gowanus may be on hold, the Bowery Whole Foods store in Manhattan does deliver to much of Brooklyn.

Many these options have been deemed as being too expensive, but once you factor in the hidden costs of the coop and CSAs, and the fact that I don’t need to spend every 4th Saturday afternoon stocking shelves, they don’t seem so bad.  (And as an added bonus my dad will stop calling me a pinko.)