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To Park Slope Food Co-op or not?

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Okay, so I've lived in Park Slope for nearly four years and I can't count the number of times I've been tempted to join the food co-op. So far I've resisted for the top two reasons people resist being a part of it -- I can't stand the sanctimonious People's Republic of Organica demographic that is famous for being members there and more importantly, I work fulltime and have two young kids -- my time is quite precious. That said, after buying another quart of nearly rotten mealy strawberries from the 7th Ave and Garfield bodega, I can't help but think yet again that maybe this is something I should consider. So do you mind if we start this tired old thread one more time? Is it worth it? In the summer I hit the GAP farmer's market, but what about the winter? I still go, but one can only have so much kale until the need for different produce becomes too great. Is the produce at the co-op great and varied year round? And if it is worth it, what are the best jobs to do there? I'm looking for one that isn't complete drudgery and -- please don't flame me for saying this because I know how awful it sounds, but -- one that the cool people do. When I say cool I just mean not the sanctimommies, etc. Any and all advice would be greatly appreciated. I know some people will say try Fairway, but we don't have a car. And some will say Trader Joe's is coming (can't wait!!!) but their produce leaves something to be desired.

Thanks in advance for chiming in!

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  1. I finally quit after 5 years -- as a freelancer, seemed something was always coming up on the day I had to work. For me, after being on double secret probation for I don't know how many months, it finally dawned on me that it was insane to not be able to buy groceries (when I was suspended). Seems that's a god-given right, and it just seemed crazy to me that I needed groceries I couldn't just go get 'em.

    When I joined, there weren't any options available, and now there are (GAP always there, but now there's Fairway, Union Market, an expanded Divine Taste, etc.). Co-op is cheaper (and that's actually the only thing I miss), and I did like doing my shift, actually, but at the end of the day, it just wasn't worth the guilt I felt over being suspended, not to mention the fact that I couldn't get groceries when I needed them anyway.

    As for your question about produce, I didn't find it necessarily any better than you'd get at the greenmarket. Sometimes it was good, sometimes not so much. I did find that they'd have weird things thta would get me inspired to cook. But will you avoid rotten mealy strawberries? Not necessarily.

    I suppose the bottom line is, if you think you can always make your shift, it's a good idea. But if not, you quickly find yourself in suspension hell.

    1. The produce at Fairway is terrible. It's varied, sure, but it goes bad within days. You're honestly not missing anything there.

      I've been a member of the PSFC for the last 6 years, and have remained a member even though I left the immediate area 2 years ago. It's the produce that keeps me coming back: it is varied, it's local whenever possible, and the prices for organic are usually in line with the prices for coventional anywhere else. Surprisingly, I've also been able to buy 90-100% of all my grocery shopping needs at the co-op, instead of shopping in 3 different places for dry goods/produce/specialty items like I used to do before I was a member. They carry meats (should you be a carnivore) and have a pretty decent cheese dept, have a huge selection of chocolate and baking goods, plus they have much of the other stuff most people buy when shopping: cereals, rice, pasta, coffee, tea, aluminum foil, light bulbs etc etc etc. The only thing missing (for me) is fresh fish.

      Is working 5.5 hours (2.75 hours per adult in the household) a drag? Maybe for some. Working full time might make it difficult to find an easy workslot for you. It can get crowded and the lines can get long, and many times you'll go and what you went for might be out of stock, so it isn't like this magical place that will satisfy your every need every time you enter. I can't say it will never be a frustrating experience to shop there, especially if you're shopping during a particularly busy time. But the food is good and the prices are good, and as far as the sactimommy factor goes, I've found most people there to be friendly and helpful. I've never gotten a hairy eyeball for buying frozen pizza or ground beef or white sugar, and I like that I can buy these things in the same place that I buy organic kohlrabi, jerusalem artichokes, goat milk ice cream, Nielsen-Massey Vanilla and steel cut oats in bulk.

      But, there are things to put up with and I think being a member does take a certain amount of tolerance. Have you been to an orientation? They last about an hour and because they do, you get a pass to go shopping (your time is worth something, even at that point). Maybe give that a shot, and see how you feel.

      1. It's the mentality. If you don't mind the Stalinist environment, and the PC police who refuse to prosecute certain shoplifters, it might be for you.

        The Co-Op is not that much cheaper if you figure in your time and aggravation.There is good produce to be found in the Heights and PS, and then there is always Fresh Direct.

        Great products, reasonable prices, home delivery, and absolutely no attitude.

        FD is now running a special of 25% off each of your first 2 orders. Code word "trucks".

        4 Replies
        1. re: Fleur

          You have to assume that people who are interested in the PSFC are at least minimally environmentally conscious. Fresh Direct, with its idling trucks and ridiculous packaging, while convenient, is sort of the antithesis of that.

          Where's the best produce in the Heights?

          1. re: JennS

            I think the best produce there is at the fruit/vegetable store about two doors down from Sahadi's (toward the BQE). They have a good selection (though not lots of exotic stuff) and it is almost always really fresh and reasonably priced. The glossiest presentation is at Garden of Eden on Montague, but I have stopped going there. I have bought bad strawberries, mushy grapes, bad apples, etc. I am generally a really good produce chooser, but they manage to disguise bad produce pretty well. (Also beware their cheese. It often always tastes like the refrigerator.)

            1. re: gnosh

              I agree. The produce at the Korean store on Atlantic is excellent, and the prices are low. The people are also very pleasant.

              I have gotten great local strawberries at Fairway, something I have not found in other places. Their peaches have also been excellent.

              1. re: Fleur

                Thanks for the produce tips -- I never would have thought to try that Korean market on Atlantic and I totally agree about Garden of Eden's cheese! I also find that all their prepared foods have a similar plasticy taste. The best produce I've gotten in the Heights lately has been at the greenmarket near the courthouse.

        2. I think it also depends a lot on when you can shop. I freelance, so could go during the week, but if I had to shop only on the weekends? Forget it. The place is a complete zoo. You couldn't pay me to go anywhere near the place.

          1 Reply
          1. re: bebevonbernstein

            I have to agree with this. I also freelance, and shop in the late morning or early afternoon.

            Seems to me that there's no perfect solution out there...until whole paycheck, er whole foods arrives.

          2. i joined after living in park slope for 2 years. i think my ex girlfriend got me to go. i quit after 6 months. it was by far the worst decision i made. im a meat eater, i have a real job and make decent money, and kind of cant stand the people who go there. the smell is also terrible.

            if you're a vege with no money, its a good idea...otherwise, spend the extra few bucks and go to union market...

            1. Look, I do love the co-op, and I didn't find the people all that annoying -- even the staffers that I worked with were great (and I only had one fight with another shopper there, who parked his 17-year-old son in line on a very busy day while he did all his shopping and brought it back to the son's cart). But I really did have an epiphany one day that I was just worrying way too much about groceries and shifts, and I needed to buy groceries -- but couldn't do that at the co-op, which just seemed insane to me. And once you get behind -- and everyone does -- it becomes a huge old burden to get caught up again. Honestly? I haven't really regretted leaving. Would rather book a zipcar and hit fairway and GAP for produce and Divine Taste for bulk spices . . .

              1. I've lived in Park Slope for 10 years now and have NEVER been tempted to join the Coop. Working in the restaurant business, and having 16 hour days, and then going to rehearsals with everchanging schedules, it was impossible for me to have any clear idea of my schedule. If I ever had free time the last thing I wanted was to work even an hour here and there at another place. I was a guest a while back of a member and was impressed by their produce. But the weird attitude of their staff and getting yelled at when i left for not having my receipt out for bag check or whatever that thing is at the door, not my idea a relaxing shop for food. I'd rather support farmer's markets, and stores like Union Market. Also why if they have been there for such a long time are they not open to the community? Couldn't they extend their values and great produce to the community by opening once a month to the public? My friend is a nurse and works at a hospital in Queens. She had to quit the coop because of her schedule. Make her feel guilty about being on call? Forget about it!

                1. Reasons to join:

                  1. sheer variety: the coop is an absolute paradise for foodies, with a fantastic selection of often weird and wonderful products as well as the regular stuff, corn flakes and English muffins. You'll discover all kinds of wacky produce, feast on lovely chocolates, try new teas, consume exquisite meats, etc. More info, see this thread: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/335171
                  2. Price: you like the idea of saving 30% generally over a chain supermarket, or 50% of Fresh Direct. It's true, this is not ALWAYS the case, better deals can be found at Fairway on various products, but is a general guideline that holds up for people who shop there regularly.
                  3. Socially responsible consumption: in this world where advertising is absolutely everywhere, corporations will do anything to their employees to make a buck, the coop is refreshing: no big company is "buying" shelf space and trying to manipulate your purchasing behavior. All the employees get benefits. Coop puts money in local farmers and sustainable operations. Seriously, it's just a nice alternative, if that means anything to you.

                  Reasons not to join:
                  1. You have so much free time on your hands that you really get worked up about the behavior of certain people you mingle with amid the organic vegetables.
                  2. Having to commit to working a shift a month really irks you, because this is America, for God's sake, you should be able to buy groceries whenever you want.

                  1. Don't shop on Sunday nights. It is a zoo. Though often any weekend mornings, or right at closing on Sunday, you'll totally sail through.
                  2. If you work full time, pick a shift when you are predictably around. If you have erratic hours, take advantage of the Coop program that allows you to bank hours.
                  3. If you have to miss a shift, just call and let the coop know so that you won't have to make up more than one shift. Then make it up.
                  4. Some of the more bearable shifts are Check-out, outside worker, and I've heard food prep can be fun.

                  Bottom line, coop is great for people who love food and love to cook, bad for people who have a problem with the idea of committing to the work shift.

                  1. I was going to go into a big explanation about what I thought were the Coops pros and cons but I decided not to waste the effort. MY advice is join. Try it for a few months and see if it's something you can live with. The produce is top quality, organic, and often local. Strawberries from the bodega are mealy because they’re pesticide laden and were picked in Peru 2 weeks ago. If you find it too difficult then quit. No shame in that.

                    But I would like to take this moment to address all the Coop members out there who feel, as I do, that there are policies and rules that are outdated and unfair. This is OUR Coop. We are ALL Owners and members and we all have equal say. If enough of us get together and voice our opinions by going to the monthly meetings, writing letters, etc. perhaps we can change things. I am a proud member of Generation X and I think the time has come to take the reins away from the Baby Boomers. Maybe it's time to bring it into the 21st Century? No offense to the hippies who started the Coop in the 70's but it's gotten to be a little overbearing and ridiculous in its hypocrisy. Enough with all the rules. You're harshing my mellow, man.

                    1. For those can take on the Co-op concept, is it possible to create another Co-op? Perhaps in Fort Green or Williamsburg? The crowds at the Park Slop Co-op definitely suggest that there's enough interest to start another one in Brooklyn somewhere.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Ida Red

                        We have high hopes for the revival of the flatbush food co-op on Cortelyou, which is moving to a new space next month and tripling in size. If they can start to match the quality and variety of their produce to what the PSFC gets, it could be good.

                      2. I've never had a problem with anyone at the coop. I mind my own business, I shop, and I work when my shift comes up. There's only drama if you want drama. The rules are reasonable. The variety and quality of food simply can't be beat. Join and see for yourself. One can always quit.

                        1. I've been in the Slope for a year, and had the same quandry: do I join the co-op or not?
                          I've been a co-op member or shopper in different parts of the country and really enjoyed my experiences there, but those places were VERY different from this one (and the differences don't make me particularly happy). In the end, I decided not to join.

                          1. The greenmarket always has the freshest local stuff, and though crowded, it's not as crowded as the coop on a weekend!

                          2. I can afford to get beautiful produce at Union Market in the winter. (When I was a starving student, this wasn't the case, and the co-op route was excellent for me then. But I also had a lot more free time then, and could easily schedule a shift.) Same with meats, or seafood at a local shop on 7th.

                          3. Fresh direct works for the heavy stuff I buy a case at a time of, and I buy locally the rest of the time. I don't mind going to a few shops throughout the week, in part because I don't need to schedule it! (It's always best to avoid the coop at busiest times, and the times best for your schedule to work fill fast it always seems.)

                          4. Wierd and unusual stuff is easy enough to get at Blue Apron, Divine Foods, or even some of the bodega-cum-natural-food-stores on the corner.

                          5. CSA! CSA! Farm shares are fabulous for directly working with farmers to bring you tasty fresh food throughout the summer. You pick yours up once a week. Sometimes it's more zucchini than you and your family can handle; that's why having work or neighbor friends who are willing to accept a donation of an extra head of kale or armful of heirloom tomatoes is GREAT. You have to sign up very, VERY early (think: snow should still be a possibility in the forecast) but for the cost it's quite good and helps with those warm fuzzy feelings that the coop might otherwise give you :)

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: ChickWithBrains

                            I thought I would post because I just finished working my shift at the coop... once again, I had a perfectly pleasant experience, no altercations with any weirdos, etc. I have never had a hard time with anyone at the coop. And so what if I did? I've certainly had awful people on line with me at Fairway (like the woman who asked for tastes of every turkey before ordering when there were about 20 other ppl waiting) or Sahadi or wherever. I have a busy life - 2 kids, work full time at home, etc etc etc - but I make time for the coop because i like what it stands for (or my version of what it stands for) and for the great quality and prices. While you will find some of the same produce at GAP, you usually don't get the selection there is at the coop- certainly not organic versions of it. I could go on and on about all the great experiences I've had there (a woman with twin babies was trying to check out and one of the babies was screaming - one lady came over and joked with the baby to calm her and another person who was shoppibfhelped the woman bag her groceries to get out faster so she could pick up the baby). I could go on and on about the great stuff I've found there - there was a huge selection of organic seeds for sale this year - I planted a bunch of varieties of leaf lettuce and have been cutting great salads all summer long. Bottom line, it can be a bit of a pain at times but isn't the philosphy of chowhounding that good food is worth a little extra time and effort?

                          2. If you have the time to put in work slots I'd join. The politics can suck some what but for the most part most of the members are pretty cool. The produce and meats are second to none. You really have to try a Hardwick ribeye or skirt along with the organic shitakes. I have seen other posts recommending Union Market and Fresh Direct as alternatives which I don't understand. IMO their quality is sub par and their prices high. I would just attend the 3 hour re-education lecture they hold every Wednesday and go on the guest shopping spree afterwards. If you like it try it, if not you can always tell your kids and grandkids how you escaped the indoctrination camp.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: bigmackdaddy

                              Be prepared for a culture shock when you join, i.e. learning about the rules. If you decide beforehand to be good natured about it and accept people with a sense of humor, you'll be fine. I've left and rejoined so I've experienced both mindsets. The best way to resolve problems is visiting the 2nd floor in person and speaking with a staffer. They're more flexible than you may think.

                            2. We took steps to join the coop once because our daughter was then a vegan but backed out at the last minute. We found the rules and culture overwhelming - finding work for all the members so that they contribute their share means makework and silly jobs like the cart pushers visible all over the neighborhood now. The rules required all adults in a family to work a shift (how silly is that if one has time and another doesnt?) and with work and all the other stuff on my plate, including my weekly recreational food shopping runs, my free time felt to precious to commit for such minimal benefit. Yes, they seemed to have a fair number of good produce items, but no better than the farmers market or other local options. it also seemed like a lot of stuff was bagged up into tteensy bags. There are so many food options in the neighborhood these days that to me the case for the coop is less compelling than it was when the only options were Key Food, etc.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: jen kalb

                                Using this simple formula will help you decide whether to join or not. First decide how much your time is worth.

                                If the money you save on groceries at PSFC compared to other stores is greater than what your time is worth, adjusted for any feelings of goodwill or enjoyment of the work or belonging to the Co-op, then join. If it's not, don't.

                                Personally for me, the savings and the warm fuzzy feelings of community etc aren't enough to justify the time I would spend working there, but for a lot of people, they are.