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Community co-ops are the only truly local grocers | Opinion

This Saturday, October 19th, we celebrate the first-ever Philadelphia Grocery Co-op Day.

Jon Roesser at a Weavers Way Farm Dinner at Henry Got Crops Farm at Saul Agricultural High School in the summer of 2018.
Jon Roesser at a Weavers Way Farm Dinner at Henry Got Crops Farm at Saul Agricultural High School in the summer of 2018.Read moreCourtesy of Weavers Way Co-op (custom credit)

For lovers of great food, it’s a good time to be a Philadelphian. Two decades into the 21st century, we’re in the midst of a Philadelphia foodshed rebirth. Throughout the region, small plots of land are being farmed and people are getting our city back into the business of baking bread, roasting coffee, making cheese, churning ice cream, and curing meats.

These new food businesses are small scale operations, but what they lack in size, they more than make up for in exceptional product quality and local ownership. They are our friends and neighbors, and they have brought new vigor to our region.

Values-driven consumers, who care just as much about where their food comes from and the integrity by which it is produced, are a key component in our resurgent local foodshed. And there’s no better place for values-driven consumers to access local food than a grocery co-op.

This Saturday, we celebrate the first-ever Philadelphia Grocery Co-op Day. Our city is fortunate to have quite a few co-ops. Weavers Way, my co-op, has stores in Mount Airy, Chestnut Hill, and Ambler. There’s Mariposa Food Co-op in West Philly, Swarthmore Co-op, the brand-new Kensington Community Food Co-op, and the soon-to-open South Philly Food Co-op. Together, we provide a critical link between awesome local food and the values-driven consumers who seek it out.

All grocers claim to support local. Few do. It’s not even their fault. Big, out-of-town grocery chains simply aren’t set up to cultivate relationships with local farmers and food producers the way locally controlled grocers like food co-ops can. But that doesn’t stop the big guys from trying to convince consumers that they “do local” with labels and deceiving marketing campaigns to that effect, when in reality only an average of 6% of conventional grocery store sales come from locally sourced products, according to the National Co+op Grocers.

Combined, the five Philly co-ops support over 500 local vendors. Some are big, but most are small: often it is the owners themselves delivering their stuff to us in minivans, out of the trunks of their cars, or even by bicycle. They are paid a fair price that allows vendors to sustain their businesses and cover costs, and this money is then fed back into the region’s economy.

The overwhelming majority of consumer food dollars are spent at out-of-town, for-profit, multinational corporations. These chains care little about Philadelphia, which for them is merely a marketplace from which profit is to be extracted.

Grocery co-ops, which are owned by our members and thus truly locally controlled, stand in solidarity with the region’s farmers markets and family-owned independent grocers to offer consumers who truly care about the local economy an alternative path to the corporate galoots.

This Saturday and every day, we welcome you to come visit one of our stores, learn about what we’re all about, consider becoming a member of one of our community-owned enterprises, or learn how to get a co-op started in your own neighborhood.

These are indeed exciting times in the Philadelphia foodshed. Food lovers can help it flourish by shopping at co-ops.

Jon Roesser is the general manager for Weavers Way Co-op in Mount Airy, Chestnut Hill, and Ambler.