During a recent tour of fellow food co-ops around Philadelphia, directors and members of the Kensington Community Food Co-op got an inside look at the type of member-owned grocery store they have been hoping to open for four years.
“It spans the gamut from being a Whole Foods look-alike to the anarchist closet down the street. We’ll probably be somewhere in the middle,” said Peter Frank, vice-president of the Kensington Community Food Co-op (KCFC).
Last Saturday, KCFC members toured Weaver’s Way Co-op in Mount Airy, which has been open since 1973, the 9,000-square-foot CreekSide Co-Op in Elkins Park, which is slated to open in October, and Mariposa Food Co-op in West Philly, which opened inside a former bank in March.
Each co-op now operates an organic grocery store open to the public, just like what KCFC hopes to open within the next few years.
“All of our members are sitting here waiting. Now we’re much closer. But from the beginning, it’s been, ‘We’re going to open now! …Or next summer!’” KCFC president and founder Lena Helen told Star.
KCFC has been bringing organic, locally-grown and –raised produce, fruit, dairy and meats to Kensington, Fishtown, Port Richmond and Northern Liberties for four years through farmers’ markets and events for members.
But all along, the goal has to been to open a grocery store that offers healthy high quality foods to everyone.
“It was always a goal to open a store. The impetus for the goal was the lack of healthy food in the community and wanting to create access to that,” Helen said.
With the KCFC reaching 250 members this summer, it was the milestone they were waiting for to launch their official site search.
“We made the goal of hitting 250 members. Now that that’s done, we’re making a site search committee, to begin looking at real estate,” Frank said.
During Saturday’s tour of Mariposa Food Co-op, located at 49th Street and Baltimore Avenue, a dozen KCFC members and directors examined facilities and foods on display.
ldquo;I’m blown away by the selection,” said KCFC media and marketing coordinator Brian Baughan of the foods available at Mariposa. “It’s not just a store, but a place for the co-op to operate, to organize workshops. That’s our dream.”
KCFC Director at Large Jeff Carpineta, who also serves as President of the East Kensington Neighborhood Association, said he believes that KCFC grocery store will help “heal the neighborhood.”
“A co-op is a place where neighbors meet in the aisles, talk, connect,” Carpineta said. “I’m not sure that happens at aisle 5 in Superfresh.”
The Reinvestment Fund, a privately owned neighborhood revitalization project, recently gave KCFC a $25,000 grant towards opening their store, which will pay for professional market analysis, financial modeling and board governance training. KCFC also recently hired their first paid employee, a fundraising coordinator.
Frank said the membership is built around a shared love for locally grown, organic food.
“The food is fantastic — it’s high-quality stuff, from produce and dairy to vegetables, meat and dry bulk goods,” he said.
Helen said that whenever it occurs, opening the co-op’s grocery store in Kensington will be a cause for celebration.
“I don’t know what I’ll do – dance a jig, maybe. I’m anticipating absolute bliss. It’s really going to be an amazing day for many of us.”
Reporter Sam Newhouse can be reached at email@example.com