Kensington co-op searches for a permanent home

The Kens­ing­ton Com­munity Food Co-op, which just hit 250 mem­bers this sum­mer, is look­ing for a sol­id loc­a­tion. Its mem­bers re­cently toured Philly co-ops like the one it hopes to open soon in the Kens­ing­ton area.

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 sne­w­

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