Front of the Park Slope Food Co-op, Brooklyn. Photo: Marisa Marcellino
Wednesday, December 4th: a Park Slope Food Co-op member in a green safety vest escorts a fellow member, pushing a shopping cart, to her apartment down the street. This may look like a Good Samaritan gesture but it is simply part of the monthly work requirement at the Co-op. Members pay a small fee for healthy and affordable food, but most of all for access to a community that shares similar values and principles. Maybe.
There is some trouble in paradise. Joe Holtz, manager of the Park Slope Food Co-op, declined to talk to The Brooklyn Ink but told The New York Times that theft within the store in November was up to $1,200 per day, accounting to $438,000 a year. That’s a lot of kale. A member and suspect, Tami Ephross, was charged with petty larceny last week after being caught on tape, Holtz also told the Times.
The Co-op is comprised of more than 16,000 members who pay a $25 non-refundable fee to join and also must invest $100 in the Co-op (which is refundable if a member terminates his or her membership). Membership saves shoppers 20-40% on groceries for healthy, local and sustainable food according to the Co-op’s website which states that, “as a member of the Coop you share ownership of the Coop with 16,000+ fellow Coop members.”
Non-members may not shop at the Co-op. Therefore, all theft within the store is by someone with a stake in the Co-op itself. As Regina Weiss, 25-year member, put it, “people have to understand they’re stealing from themselves.”
So, why would owners steal from their own company? What does this say about…everything? The Brooklyn Ink stood outside the Co-op yesterday and asked some members what they thought.
Ieva Zadina, a retired minister and publisher turned political activist, was a member of the Park Slope Food Co-op for 10 years. She now lives too far away but was outside the Co-op yesterday handing out fliers about food safety. Zadina blames the shoplifting on the “whole social system over individuals,” evidence of much larger problems in society, including the growing poverty rate and government corruption. She does note however that “we’re supposed to be counter-cultural and against the corruption. Even though we have an oasis, we’re not really protected.”
The Park Slope Food Co-op is the largest member-owned and operated food Co-op in the country, established in 1973 as an alternative to “commercial profit-oriented business.” The Co-op mission statement explains that members are asked to contribute labor because “working together builds trust through cooperation and teamwork and enables us to keep prices as low as possible within the context of our values and principles.”
So shoplifting seems particularly troubling, “If it doesn’t work here, where can it work?”, Zadina asks. She sees the problem as a “symptom of our whole society.”
Still, some members shrug off the thefts. Regina Weiss, 25-year member, seems to almost expect it saying, “there were thefts with 800 members, there will be with 16,000 members.” Alice Joyce, current Park Slope Food Co-op member since the 1970s, came by. “I’m not surprised by it,” she said. People are people.”
Joyce explains that the Co-op holds general meetings once a month where members can bring up issues that concern them. Shoplifting has been discussed, but as Joyce puts it, “it’s awkward.” She brings it back to the state of America, mentioning cuts to food stamps as a possible reason for the shoplifting.
Ieva Zadina calls the Park Slope Food Co-op “very socially conscious” which is evident when passing by the store. Members, some of whom double as activists, pass out fliers on food safety and the concern over the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement and its potential affect on free trade (The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement is a free trade agreement currently being negotiated by nine countries).
It seems that some members of the Park Slope Food Co-op community would rather deal with the problems of the world than those at 782 Union Street in Brooklyn.
Anyway, my apartment is a mess; I’m going to go clean the ocean.