This week our meeting was with Janna and Bill Beckler, partners for 20 years of Slope Park Food, one of the oldest food retail cooperatives in the world located in Brooklyn, New York, which has inspired and continues to inspire people from several countries to build a new business model for the sale of food and that has been called “the most beautiful social project in the United States”.
This unique initiative was born in the 70’s in the heart of New York . A group of neighbors in the Slope Park section of Brooklyn started a “buyers club” to shop for groceries together and save money and time. That idea was transformed into a cooperative that now has a large store where they sell food and household products for its 20,000 members who are in turn the owners of the company and its employees.
Only those who are members can buy in the cooperative. In order to do so, they must work there for three hours a month, performing the logistics and administrative functions that every food distributor needs. This model is the one that allows them to reduce prices of up to 30% in many of the foods and products they sell. For example, Bill, who in his daily life is a professional, in the cooperative three hours a month is in charge of dividing and packing the cheeses and canning the cinnamon. Janna, who is also a professional, helps whoever needs it to transport the purchased food to the car or the train. She sometimes performs other functions: “I often work at the cash register. I love being there, because I can see all the products and at the same time talk to people”.
The operation sounds easy but behind it there is a huge sense of belonging and a need for community ties. The goals of the Cooperative are both personal and collective: They tell us that they have set out to achieve three things: “First we want to have very good quality food at a good price. Second, we want to gain a community experience . Finally, the cooperative gives us the opportunity to support a small business instead of the big supermarkets”.
The type of products sold in the Cooperative is also thought from the perspective of the common good . They favor organic products, purchases from small local producers and processors, and have made a point of having a limited number of shelves of products that contain high percentages of sugar. One of their characteristics is that they do not have a marketing department nor do they receive money from large producers to display their products in the most visible places in the store.
When we asked them what they value about belonging to Slope Park Food and what role it plays in the neighborhood, they told us with conviction: “It is their center of gravity. Many members decide where to live according to the location of the cooperative. She brings many values to our lives, for example, in the relationship with our food, our community. The most important thing is that the time we spend in it is very pleasant. It is not work that pays us, it is work that gives us value because we are producing for our neighbors and community.”
This ingenious associative and community business model has inspired, especially in recent years, the creation of similar forms around the world. An article published on TheNews.Coop portal , the English-language cooperative dissemination body, highlights that at least 18 new markets have been opened in recent years in Europe, with a similar scheme, and acknowledges the influence of the experience of Brooklyn neighbors. Three of these new organizations are the cooperative La Louve (la Loba) located in the heart of Paris, The Bees in Belgium and Alter Coop in Luxembourg.
There is no doubt that the collective ownership of food distribution can be one of the most ingenious and promising solutions to face the rise in food prices and to build the long-awaited fair trade for producers and consumers. It is also a path that gives us back sovereignty over our food.
Listen to the full interview translated into Spanish:
Watch the full interview in English here:
Images taken from: https://foodcoop.film/es/el-documental/