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Food Co-ops in Philadelphia

Community Owner Grocery Stores in Philadelphia

By Molly Gavin

Growing up in the Mt. Airy Section of Philadelphia was a great experience. Mt. Airy in is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in America. I had neighbors of all stripes, and the Wissahickon park as my backyard. Parents were progressive and granted there children freedom to hang out in our tree houses until dinner time. Located in the Northwest corner of Philadelphia, Mt. Airy is about 20 minutes from Center City, but it doesn't have the cookie cutter feel of the suburbs. It was a little like a utopian hippy community. One thing all the grown-up children of my generation remember fondly is the Food Cooperative, Weaver's Way. Food Co-ops are community owner grocery stores. Built into a typical stone Mt. Airy home, Weaver's was is the PBS version of a grocery store. Many kids my age from Mt. Airy never saw the inside of a Supermarket growing up. If you mention Weaver's Way to anyone from Mt. Airy you will instantly become friends.

This was the early 90's, before Whole Foods Market and before many people knew what "whole food" meant. The shelves of Weavers Way were stocked with all kinds of fresh, delicious and healthy foods. Things like quinoa, kale and all manner of wheat bread. There wasn't too much in the way of conventional snack foods like Doritos or Snickers but us kids still found a way to have fun. Dessert meant eating the carob coated "Tiger's Milk Bar," or Sesame seeds hardened in bricks of honey. Upstairs they sold health and beauty products and Free Trade Organic Coffee. The products were a far cry from the brightly packaged bootie sold at CVS. They were also organic and free chemicals.

Whole Foods is nicknamed "whole paycheck" and a lot of people equate healthy foods with high prices and junk food with affordability, but the prices at weavers way were way lower than normal. It almost seemed like the place hadn't had a price update since the 60's. But the thing about the co-op is that to shop there you had to be a member. By the register there were catalogs of membership cards and you would look yours up before checking out. Member's paid a small annual fee but they also had to provide 30 hours of labor each year. It sounds like a drag but it's actually kind of cool. You'd report for labor and the lovely staff at the co-op would give you a small task. Lots of the things they sold were bought in bulk and packaged in the basement. I once had the arduous job of bagging of chocolate chips and labeling them. It was my first "real job" and I felt really important doing it, and I made friends and I felt like connected with the place.

The Weavers Way model is being used by many other Co-operative hopefuls to get food Co-op going in their Neighborhoods. I recently bought a home in Kensington, a neighborhood once known only for being a Heroin hub but has been making great strides of late. Some of my peers are leading the charge to bring a Co-op here. They are looking for early member and asking for donations. Though I don't have money to blow, I think this is such an important part of a community and is a great way to invest in the Neighborhood. If I ever have children here I want them to one day fondly remember the Co-op. Mt. Airy has one, so does West Philly, South Philly is working hard on it and hopefully Kensington will have one soon.

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