An Irishgirl abroad — New York life through a European lens

Time for the Co-Op

Posted in Brooklyn, Local by Frieda on December 8, 2009
The Park Slope Food Co-Op at night -- eerie, or friendly? (Pic is from image from

The Park Slope Food Co-Op at night -- eerie, or welcoming?*

Ah, the Park Slope Food Co-Op. Today I pulled two brown cloth bags bearing its logo over my shoulder and made my way to the subway for my twice-a-month expedition there. It’s 10 minutes away from me by subway and an average shopping trip takes one-and-a-half hours minimum.

The Co-Op is a divisive entity in Park Slope, Brooklyn (which is where I live). It’s a food co-op where you buy organic/freerange/greenie items cheaply, but at a cost — you have to work there. You really do. The work requirement is two and three quarter hours per month and if you do a cleaning shift, like I do, that shrinks to two hours. If you miss one shift you have to do two within  the next month. If you miss two, you’re out, suspended. You can’t shop there until you make up the work you’ve shirked, which by now will be about eight hours.

But the benefits are brilliant. Contrary to what lots of people say, food is extremely expensive in New York. I’ll never forget an evening in my first month here when I popped out to a local deli (bodegas, they call them here) to buy pasta and sauce and an onion — and came home with $20 less in my pocket. The PS Food Co-Op makes it possible for an impoverished journalist like myself to live on a diet of organic wild Alaskan salmon, free-range eggs, seasonal organic veg, etc., etc. This is important in a country where scary food stories are rife.

Two hours per month may not sound like much but in a busy city life it feels exhausting, on a Monday evening even once a month, to trail my way to the Co-Op and clean and mop and scrub from 8pm to 10. The Co-Op has 15,000 members, which is a lot, but the work requirement is what puts many Park Slopers off. They feel vehement about it. At a recent dinner in a family member’s house in Park Slope, my uncle and cousin disagreed with me about a minor detail of the Co-Op work requirement, insisting they were right, even though they don’t work or shop there, and I do (they were wrong, I checked later).

The burdensome work requirement has also spawned a spate of articles about the place. Park Slope is full of writers and you annoy them at your peril.

So today in the Co-Op I picked up the Co-Op’s own little paper, the Linewaiters’ Gazette — probably so called because you will often stand in a line for up to half an hour before you reach the cash register. It’s usually highly entertaining, full of letters complaining about how certain workers don’t have the right attitude and don’t smile enough. Anyhow an article on the Gazette’s front page read, “They write about working when they don’t do the work.” The author went on to complain about the writers who write pissy articles about the Co-Op in the New York Times.

I’m between two minds about the Co-op myself. As I said, it helps me keep healthy, but on the days my work was piling up and I was under pressure, hauling out my bike and cycling through the dark (or getting the subway) to clean floors seemed like a terrible punishment. And the system is inflexible. A friend of mine left the Co-Op because when he called up to say he couldn’t make his shift since his grandmother had died and he wanted to attend her funeral, the person on the other end of the line said, “We only let you off your shift for death of immediate family members.”

My next work-shift is December 21, when I’ll be flying through the sky to Dublin. I won’t get away with missing it, though, I’ll have to swop the shift with someone. But after today’s shop, my fridge is stocked with veg and that wild Alaskan salmon ($2.15) is in my freezer, and I’m making a wholesome vegetarian shepherds’ pie for dinner tonight. You might hate or love the Co-Op — in my case, it’s both.

[* The pic above is from image from


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  1. […] a commune/co-op where food and chores were shared among six occupants. Everyone was a member of the Park Slope Food Coop. There were two guys and four girls. The house was a gorgeous Park Slope brownstone with original […]

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