My first experience with the Park Slope Food Coop was back in December when I was here in New York for a month. Jay had joined after realizing how awful New York grocery stores are. The produce is awful, the selection is meager and the prices seem enormous to our Northwestern eyes. A friend told Jay about the coop and convinced him to join.

They formed in 1973 and are the largest member-labor coop in the nation, meaning every member has to work a 2 hour and 45 minute shift every four weeks. They have over 15,000 members that represent 75% of their work force. It seems like a bit of organized chaos, but it works. Roughly 80% of their produce is organic, and there are lots of local options.

In order to join the coop, you have to attend an orientation meeting. Trying to reserve a seat in these meetings can be a multi-month, on-going process. I completely lucked out and happened to check their site for orientation dates right after they posted the new schedule, so I waited less than a week before becoming a member. I walked blissfully home from the orientation as their newest coop member.

I can’t have much of a garden this year because I am only living in New York for a couple brief months, but I can ensure I have access to local, fresh food. The coop is my ticket to easing the burden of not having a garden. I always get a dose of garden envy though as I walk to the store twice a week and pass front yard gardens. One in particular has filled the entire pavement between their brownstone and the sidewalk with squash and tomatoes. I will admit I snuck my hand between the gates to get the smell of fresh tomato on my fingers.

I prefer shopping at the coop during the workday, when fewer people are there. It is insanely crowded in the evenings and on the weekend. But I prefer to leisurely shop, admire the plump vegetables and drool over the cheese section. During my first shopping trip I spent $50 and walked out with a backpack and large canvas bag packed with food. I put it all on the table and snapped a picture to show you.

The only problem with the coop is that I visit there so often and leave every time with a bag packed with food. We haven’t thrown anything out – we eat it all. But I am not holding back when it comes to culinary treats. When figs are only two bucks, I feel compelled to buy them on every visit. If I can try a new type of French cheese for two bucks, I obviously need to get that too. A summer spent with mouths stuffed with figs and cheese is certainly not a bad way to live.

And where am I off to now? You guessed it – there is grocery shopping to do.

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Written by Renee Wilkinson