Thought for food co-op in Prospect Lefferts Gardens

Price check: Karen Oh helped the Lefferts Community Food Co-Op secure this storefront, which is rent-free for now.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

Prospect Lefferts Gardens could soon have its own food co-op, if enough people sign up.

Organizers have already secured a space for the member-owned grocery store and they say buying in should be a no-brainer for neighbors.

“There’s a general need for food in our neighborhood,” said Karen Oh, one of the lead organizers for the planned do-good grocery store. “We don’t have a lot of fresh grocery store options.”

Oh said the idea for a co-op started back in 2009, when she saw a city study about the availability of fresh food in the neighborhood. Since then, she and a dedicated crew have tried to gauge the community’s interest and started laying the foundations for a store that would operate much like the storied 41-year-old Park Slope Food Co-op, where Oh is a member.

The group estimates it needs between 300 and 500 member-owners to buy into the Lefferts Community Food Co-op in order to get things rolling. Members would pay a one-time investment fee of $125 and work one shift per month to have the opportunity to shop in the store, where prices would be cheap.

The shop boosters also hope to offer a reduced fee for low-income families.

“We want to be a service to the existing community,” said Oh, who has called the neighborhood home for nine years. “We don’t want to just attract the sort of new people in the neighborhood, but also the long-term residents.”

One of those long-timers is Cheryl Sealey, who has lived in the area for 19 years. She was a member of a food co-op in Crown Heights during the early 1980s and said Prospect Lefferts Gardens was a desert for fresh, affordable food then, and still is now.

“The concept is the same, and we do need it,” she said. “Some of the food in our community is not up to par. And when it’s more nutritious it’s more expensive.”

Organizers for the Lefferts Community Food Co-op cleared a big hurdle last year when they secured a storefront on Empire Boulevard between Rogers and Nostrand avenues. The space is owned by a local who told organizers he would not charge them rent until the store opens.

“He believes the neighborhood needs this,” Oh said.

The group has experienced some technical difficulties in setting up a system to track membership and accept payments, but they hope to start signing people up by this spring. They also plan to conduct a volunteer store clean-up session on Feb. 15.

Brooklyn has become a hotbed for work-in-exchange-for-cheaper-food shops over the past five years, with new co-op stores opening in Clinton Hill and Bushwick, and others in various stages of cooperating in Williamsburg, Bay Ridge, and Windsor Terrace. Each followed in the footsteps of the granddaddy of them all, the Park Slope Food Co-Op.

Proponents insist competition among cooperatives is a good thing. And the Park Slope Food Co-Op is putting its labor where its mouth is, counting members’ hours spent helping out at the budding granola vendors in nearby neighborhoods towards their monthly quotas at the Slope store.

“We think we’ll be a really good compliment to the other stores,” said Oh.

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260-8310. E-mail him at mperlman@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.

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