A food 'co-op' where I volunteered a few times just put out a desperate plea via email. Apparently they're twelve grand in the hole, a bad hole. They have suspended all volunteer activity, and they've been forced to close their doors a few days out of the week.

I feel bad for them, but it made me think of the nature of the place.

The food they sold was very expensive. It was great food, but, it was not a place where poor people would go to get hooked up. I worked with really nice people there, but I felt kind of old. It was mostly college age hippie girls, and there was one 'alpha hippie' college dude who ran the store up front. He kept making me me sweep and mop the floor of the store, even when it wasn't really dirty. I got paranoid, and I started to think he was trying to gently push me out by giving me the crappy assignments all the time. The place seemed to be more about style than heart. The customers were folks in BMWs and Mercedes SUVs and all.

I don't know much about the farmers they got their food from. Maybe those guys and girls were seriously in a pinch and a hustle to get by and do something noble. 'Buy local' and 'farm local' and avoiding the 'thousand mile salad' are truly issues worth putting effort into, in my opinion. I didn't get the feeling that I was helping out anybody who really needed any help at this food co-op place...not like this other place where I volunteered one time, Second Harvest.

There was big money involved in Second Harvest too, but they were the donors. The food ended up going to people who really really needed it. I want to go back there and volunteer some more when work calms down a little.


foam said...

Sounds like it was run by snobs and it looks like this second place is where to spend your time.

Anonymous said...

Hunger is a problem, in Europe too. There is an organisation called "Tafel" (older word for table) that collects and distributes foot, mostly left over things from supermarkets or from producers directly. They have a lot to do.

laura b. said...

I like the idea of buying locally, but would rather buy directly from the source at a Farmers Market. What is the purpose of the co-op after all? They seem like a middle man.
Good for you for volunteering though. I am all talk, no action.

Anonymous said...

co-ops just don't offer produce, but offer everything a super market has. it would be difficult, maybe impossible, to get everything at a co-op directly from the source. a lot of people live in areas which may not have farmer's markets year around (like where i do) or have the ability/money to drive from farm to farm to get their would be really difficult to get everything you need from just one farm.

so, a co-op is a middle man, but as a co-op is a cooperative business, meaning it is owned by the people who work and shop there, so you become your own middle man. any mark up they do does not profit any one person, but profits the business as a whole, which again, is owned by everyone. it is a way to pool people's resources together. and since you are not trying to gain profit for faceless shareholders or one shareholder, the idea is that it will benefit the people they buy from (farmers and other food manufacturers--they are not all farmers), while benefiting any paid employees (who usually are consider shareholders), and lastly the consumers (who, again, are also the owners of the business). this is also the reason why many co-op require members to work there as well, as it helps to keep the costs down.

not all co-ops are run the same way, of course, and some are not run well. and you don't always have to be a member to shop at one. it sounds like this particular co-op was not run really well at all...but there are many that are fabulous such as the Park Slope Co-Op or the Brattelboro Food Co-Op.

Bobby said...

Yeah, they were kind of snobby. Those folks at the Second Harvest place were regular old worker bees, the warehouse guys and admins and was work, but it was a cause they were committed to. You could see their eyes brighten when they talked about the amount of food they'd distributed. Good vibes.

I'm glad they have places like this all over...or at least pretty much all over. I remember their being places like this at least with in an hour or two - of every place that I've lived.

There was one coop in dc that seemed to have some more 'cause' going on. Takoma Park. The people who worked there earned credit on food. They had a pretty thriving operation going on.

Wow, I didn't know a lot of this about coops, I can see where there would be a lot of variety among them, how they'd be pretty varied.