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A Food Co-op of their own? - Brooklyn Paper

A Food Co-op of their own?

Kathryn Zarcynski (right) and DK Holland, juggling produce that they bought at the Park Slope Food Co-op. They hope to recreate the Co-op in their native Fort Greene.
The Brooklyn Paper / Nicole Braun

Fort Greene and Clinton Hill foodies are contemplating the organic crime of the century: they’re considering starting a rival version of the Park Slope Food Co-op.

Kathryn Zarczynski, the Clinton Hill-based operator of the eco-friendly Web site guiltfreeshopping.com, and DK Holland, a Food Co-op member who lives in Fort Greene, are actively plotting to open their own members-owned-and-operated supermarket.

“I was talking to DK and said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we had a food co-op in our neighborhood?’” recalled Zarczynski.

Holland took to the idea like a vegan to Quorn mycoprotein patties — in part due to her enthusiasm for the Park Slope Food Co-op, the Union Street supermarket between Sixth and Seventh avenues that Holland joined in July.

Holland speaks of the Park Slope Co-op like a woman in the blush of first love, effusing about its diversity, civility and absence of commercialism.

She’s even grown fond of the two-hour and 45-minute shift she’s required to put in every four weeks — the bane of many of the Co-op’s longer-serving members.

“My first job at the Co-op was as a check-in person, and on my first day, a blind person walked in and asked if he could have someone shop for him,” said Holland. “Someone was assigned, and I thought, ‘This is the way the world should be.’”

The Park Slope Food Co-op was founded with just 10 members in 1973 on do-gooder ideals of community, teamwork, and the notion that one should actually work to attain those things — principles for which it is alternately esteemed and mocked.

In 2006, the food blog Chow ran a feature story called “Won’t work for food” about the Co-op, in which the writer skewered its long lines and stringent work requirements, which she likened to a “Soviet-style re-education camp.” Meanwhile, Gawker dubbed the Co-op the “world’s most annoying grocery store.”

But the very principles that irritate outsiders — coupled with the lack of affordable foodie-oriented stores in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill — is what prompted Holland and Zarczynski to pursue the idea of a co-op of their own.

Fort Greene and Clinton Hill do have their share of grocery stores, but none that would meet a gourmet’s discerning needs. There’s the Pathmark at Atlantic Center, which Holland calls “a pit”; the Associated on Myrtle Avenue, which satisfies Zarczynski’s basic needs, but nothing more; the Bravo on Myrtle Avenue, which has limited foodie appeal; and the new Fresh Garden on Fulton Street, which has plenty of foodie appeal (but high prices to match).

So far, Holland and Zarczynski have won the support of some acquaintances and, perhaps most importantly, of Joe Holtz, the general manager and a founding member of the Park Slope Food Co-op, who said that his 13,454-member grocery store has hundreds of members from Fort Greene and Clinton Hill.

“[A Fort Greene co-op] is a great idea,” said Holtz. “I think there should be more food co-ops.”

If it sounds odd that Holtz would support this organic uprising, don’t forget that the Park Slope Food Co-op prides itself on “co-operation among co-operatives” — one of the seven principles set forth by the International Co-operative Alliance.

If Holtz is so willing to take on Holland and Zarczynski as mentees it’s probably because the Co-op is surging with membership, up nearly five percent from last year. Each member has at least $100 invested in the store, giving the $29-million-a-year store assets in excess of $1.3 million.

“We’re not officially or unofficially looking to lose members,” said Holtz, one of 60 paid staffers who handle the day-to-day operations of the store. “But overcrowding is a problem.”

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