Members Speak Out about the Park Slope Food Coop

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Question:I have two young kids and a very busy husband. We are trying to save money on groceries and the park slope food coop sounds like a good option but I wonder if I will really save money. Is it a big savings? What kind of shift would you recommend if I have to bring 2 kids with me? Also, I'll be doing my husband's shift too, does that get annoying for those of you who do that? What about parking over there?


Answers:

I was a loyal member of PSFC for 10 years. I quit three months ago (couldn't keep up with the work and I didn't have to do two shifts.

Other mommies I know who have to do two shifts don't last too long).I used to live in Carroll Gardens- now in Red Hook and now I have a

3.5 yr.old. Savings are great but specialty items are also great and we would buy them racking up our food bills. Now we shop at Fairway

and spend less because we either can't get the types of items we like or because the types of items we like are way too expensive at

Fairway (the cheese and meat counters are excellent examples) and we are unwilling to buy them. Personally, I miss the COOP's dedication

to local and sustainable- NOT something you find at Fairway. I do not miss working at the COOP or the crowds and the environment there

gets increasingly unpleasant in my opinion. I'd say that if you have the luxury of being able to work and shop on weekdays it makes a HUGE difference. As a rule, weekend shopping at the COOP is not something I ever did and wouldn't recommend. As for two kids- depends how old they are. There aren't really any jobs I can think of that you can do easily with two kids under six- even one for that matter- but they do have childcare on the premisis. Older kids get put to work packaging candy and at a certain age are required to work.

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just to add a couple of things - if you can get a childcare shift, bringing your kids is no problem. but doing two shifts with two kids is a lot.


also, kids don't get put to work packaging candy at the coop. it's against the law for them to work there at all. there is a rule about older teenagers (16? 18?) having to work, but it's not enforced.

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Question : I'm considering joining the Co-op, mainly because my daughter's ability to hoover in organic fruit is about to send us to the poorhouse.


I'm very attracted to the Co-op as a source of reasonably priced organic/local produce. However, I have a few obstacles that I are keeping me from joining:


1. We don't have a car.

2. We live 20 blocks away in the South Slope.

3. We live in a 3rd-floor walk-up apartment.

4. We are going to have another child before too long, which will make grocery shopping even harder to fit into our schedules.


I don't think it's realistic to think I'll drag a week of groceries 20 blocks and then up 2 flights of stairs with a toddler and newborn in tow. Which means I'll have to bring my husband along as sherpa, which then turns the errand into an all-hands-on-deck family weekend activity.


I've considered getting a car service home, but I imagine the cost will wipe out the savings of shopping at the Co-op.


Have any South Slopers (or others in neighborhoods further afield) found a solution that I'm missing?


Answers :

 

Fairway delivers if you buy $100 worth of groceries. We usually take the bus from 5th Ave/10th st. You have to tell Fairway delivery

service to give you enough time to get back on the bus (they beat us home the first time).


Also, we're planning to join Zip car when #2 is born next month.

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Hi, I can't imagine that a car service ($7 plus tip) would wipe out the savings you get at the Food Coop. In my experience, shopping at the coop costs one-third to half the price of regular grocery stores, depending on what you buy. (The calculation of Coop prices is wholesale cost plus 22%, I think). The coop itself did a price comparison with grocery stores and "health food" stores a few years ago; you might be able to get it by calling.


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Wow, I can't even believe this is a question. My average food coop shopping bill is about $100-120.


The last time I did a comparison against other stores, I guessed it would have cost about $200 at a standard grocery store. At Fresh

Direct, perhaps $220. And I'm quite certain the quality was much  higher at the coop, at least the produce and dried goods.


I leave the coop and take a car service eight blocks for $7 with a tip. It isn't even close from a price/competitive standpoint, unless

I were buying $20 of stuff, in which case I wouldn't need a cab.

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You forgot the work shifts, which are definitely a time drain. With two adults in the household, you and your husband would be

responsible for nearly 6 hours of work per month. The co-op is definitely a commitment -- the savings and quality are unmatched, but

you do pay for it in other ways....


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Our calculation was similar - we figured on the time it took to get  from home to coop and back post-shift; since we both work during

business hours and couldn't get to a shift until later evening, for an 8:30 p.m. shift we had to leave before 8 from home and would get home around 11:15/11:30 p.m., so around 7 hours of work per family every 4 weeks; when I switched to a weekend childcare shift, since they didn't have childcare shifts starting mid-evening or early morning weekdays, or ANY non-weekend childcare shifts open at that time, I recall taking my then-infant son with me to the shift, then post-shift doing a little shopping, seeing the weekend line snaked around (about a 15-20 minute wait for checkout) and giving up and going home, without being able to shop. That's about the ti me we left the coop. Ironically, although I care more about organic food post-parenthood, it was much easier for us before we had a child, since we could work late then do the shift and not worry about childcare coverage in the evening. For 2 working parents, it can be "time = money". I miss it; if I could shop or do my shift more easily on weekdays, I'd still be a member, despite the commute to the coop, in a heartbeat.

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I refrained from responding to the original question because commuting wasn't an issue with our Co-op experience, but since the conversation has devolved into whether or not it is worth it, I figure what the heck, let me chime in. I will be the almost lone dissenter on this thread and say that in my humble opinion, if you are in any way pressed for time, the Co-op is not for you.


A few months ago, I posted asking about the Co-op and got an overwhelming positive response, so we finally joined. The things I was most afraid of -- the work shifts and the extreme personalities -- turned out to be not a huge issue (though I will admit that the idea of regularly having to work never felt so great to me.) The thing that really got to me in the end was that the place was always so crowded, it felt like trying to shop in Russia before the wall came down. Between the shoppers crowding the aisles and the many workers trying to restock the shelves, I can't remember a more stressful shopping experience, keeping in mind that I used to be a regular Fairway UWS weekend shopper and am still a regular Trader Joes after work

shopper. That translates into being tough as nails when it comes to  harrowing shopping experiences. But whenever I went to the Co-op, I'd

disappear for an hour even though I had maybe 5 things I wanted to buy. And I'd come home anxious. People told me of these mythical times when it wasn't busy, but I was never lucky enough to find them. My husband and I both have fulltime jobs, but even Friday afternoon (which I do have free), was a madhouse.


The prices were good and the produce was nice, but -- I'll toss it up to  what I call the "Brokeback Mountain" syndrome -- I think in the end it's a little overhyped. There were a handful of things I bought that were actually cheaper in other stores and some things were a ridiculous bargain, but a lot of stuff was just a few cents cheaper (keeping in mind that grocery stores traditionally have low markups on most things anyway.) As an aside, I'd heard so much about the cheese and maybe as a regular Fairway shopper I had set the bar too high, but I found the selection unimpressive to say the least.


Before I get flamed for this I will say that I can see why it would be meaningful for someone who is environmentally conscious, who really wants a sense of community, who really feels the savings on their bottom line, and, most importantly, who has a decent amount of time on their hands. If you and your significant other both work full-time, especially if you have young kids at home who you want to spend your free time with, chances are good that the Co-op is probably not worth the stress. It doesn't deserve the bad rap it gets on some blogs, etc. It's a nice place and a terrific idea. And their medjool dates even blow Sahadis' dates away. But at the end of the day, for us it wasn't worth the time and stress.

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t might be helpful for the original poster, or anyone else considering  joining, to attend one of the Coop's information sessions. These are designed to present the scope of the Coop experience, the reasoning behind the work shifts, how it works, what the Coop is about etc. Plus, you go on a tour of the basement and shopping floor. You receive a shop for a day pass entitling you to come and shop as a member one time to see what it's about and if it makes sense for you.


The sessions are designed to be informative and not a sales pitch, though the presenters are generally pretty positive, and candid, about the Coop.


For more info: _www.foodcoop.com_ (http://www.foodcoop.com)

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ahhh, how you all take the co-op and your other wonderful food  shopping options for granted, and here i am in the coastal georgia

healthy food desert, having to form my own co-op from scratch in order to get affordable organic produce. a pox on both your houses! ;)


fwiw - i found after i had a baby and my co-op maternity leave ended that i really looked forward to my work shift. because it meant a

guaranteed 3 - 4 hours (shift + travel + shopping) of no baby care responsibilities. your spouse can't argue with "sorry honey, i gotta

go work my shift, it's your turn." it was a sweet relief. i found a  shift that i loved with a squad whose company i really enjoyed, and it

was great to see them every month. (i did have to change shifts to achieve that though - the girls on my first shift were mean to me.) so

it is possible for the work shift to be something to look forward to  and not a burden.

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Question : I know this is a tired old subject, so my apologies in advance for  starting it up again. I've been in Park Slope for 4 years now and I

have spent those years wavering between joining the Food Co-op and  not joining. The reason I've resisted thus far is really the time

commitment -- my husband and I both work fulltime and have 2 small kids at home. As someone who apparently doesn't feel complete unless

she has something to worry about, I imagine that shift may become  another outlet for my anxiety that I truly don't need. But the thing

is, as my family has grown, I have found that I'm spending A LOT of money on groceries. $50 here, $100 there, it really adds up. And,

of course, produce in the neighborhood sucks (are they kidding with the mealy fruit they're selling at the Garfield Bodega? It make the

Met look like Whole Foods.) Also, I keep meeting people whose opinions I trust who seem happy with their choice.


So we're almost there, ready to take the plunge and go to orientation. Before I chicken out again, I'd love to hear opinions

on your experiences with the Co-op, the good, the bad and the ugly. Also, they probably address this at orientation, but I was surprised

on the website that if we were to join, we would have to pay $250 out of pocket for the privilege of working there. Does anyone know if

any of that is refundable if we decide that it's not for us? I figure it would take at least 3 or 4 months of shopping to break

even.


Answers:

We joined last year and were members for a few months before discontinuing our membership.


Yes, the food prices are significantly lower and you will save a lot ofmoney on food. BTW of the $250 to join (for 2 adults), you can get back

$200 if you leave. On the other hand, I found it hard to make a commitment to a particular shift, especially with a lot of other

obligations. In our case my husband was less committed to the idea, and works longer hours than me, so I agreed to work his shifts also. I

ended up working every 2 weeks, which came quickly.


When I couldn't make a shift, I found it annoying to schedule makeups. But most of all, we're in South Slope and it just wasn't convenient. If

I lived within a 5 minute walk of the co-op, I think I'd make it work, but it was too hard (with no car) to schlep groceries across the slope.


Hope that helps! I am so in support of the idea of a co-op, just wish this one could have worked for us.

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We ended up in the same boat - had a 30 minute walk to the coop from south Slope (5 minute drive but parking was too difficult). After we

had our son and finished the parental leave, we got hopelessly behind. We had worked the 8:30 pm shift on weeknights since we both

work 5 days/week, which was fine, but once our son came along, it was much harder to arrange; I switched to a childcare shift but the only

one I could get was a Sunday which was useless - I'd do the shift then my then-baby and I would shop and get in line and I'd see it

snaking around through the frozen isle and just leave the store without buying anything. My son is and was way too active to sit

still for 20 minutes while we waited; and I felt like it was a waste of a day off (Sunday).


Then we figured that to make an 8:30 pm shift meant leaving work by  7:30 or so, and we got home at 11:30 pm, so 4 hours (8 hours for 2

people) multiplied by the savings (by then we were behind so could only shop when we worked twice a month), put us at less than minimum

wage for our savings. We quit at that point. I miss it a lot, had  hoped it would be place to get community but it was so crowded and we

were so busy with other things in our lives, that it became just another obligation. The food is great, the prices are great, most of

the people are great, but we couldn't fit it into our lives once we became parents - ironic because that's when I started caring even

more about organic food. It's too bad the coop can't reduce the work hours as its membership

grows. A 2 hour shift would be much easier and its' already  overstaffed as is. Just my 2 cents.

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I've stayed out of the food coop posts thus far, because they tend to focus on the extremes. I think people who *don't* shop there think

the food coop is somehow full of crazed people in burlap who snort  powdered turnips and argue about celery.


I've been a member even since we moved to the Slope and I love it . It is easily the best market I've ever used in New York City. The work

slot is a bit of a hassle, but it pales for what we get -- 

(1) The best produce section in New York, by a mile, and that includes Fairway (where we go on the occasional weekend)

(2) A good grocery store where we can get most of what we need, save for a few items I get elsewhere once or twice a month.

(3) All the things for which I'd otherwise go to a health food store, like bulk oats, dried fruits, flour, etc.


The prices are amazing, but I'm more of a foodie and care as much that I can get fresh herbs, vanilla beans that still smell heavenly, raw

milk French cheeses, and Royal Crown bread. But I'm sure if I bought this stuff at a regular market I would tremble from the prices.


I don't think anybody *pays* to join the coop. They used to ask that you put money down, which you get back upon leaving. (As a coop,

there is no capital to draw from to buy cash registers and broccoli, other than the member's deposits.)


Last month, I went to the Whole Foods in Union Square for the first time, where items are not-quite-food-coop quality and where prices

were about double. If you'd rather take the train for 45 minutes each way once a week instead of working a 2.5 hour shift once every four

weeks, then that's okay with me. Why not try it? They don't tattoo you or anything, so you can quit if you hate it.

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I agree with everything said above, and I've been a happy co-op member for eight years, but I feel compelled to add that the work shift isn't the only inconvenience. (In fact, I don't even mind the shift -  it's a nice way to meet people and feel a part of something). For me, the biggest problem is how overcrowded the co-op has become in  recent years. If I shop on a weekend (as I must, since my husband and I both work outside the home full-time), I typically wait at least 45 minutes on line, after battling to maneuver my cart through narrow aisles blocked by members shelving merchandise. Now, I've never had an enjoyable time shopping at Key Food either, but the co-op requires a certain zen-like mindset that I sometimes have difficulty achieving....

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as far as the money goes - each member makes an investment of $100, which is refundable if you leave. the $25 is a joining fee. so if the two of you put
down $250 and then change your minds, you'll get $200 back.  another benefit of the coop is the childcare room. you can leave your kids while you shop or while you
work - or you can work your shift in the childcare room and bring your kids, which in the dead of winter can be seen as getting a couple of hours in an indoor
playspace for free. it's the only grocery store i know of where you can park your stroller while you shop, or go nurse your infant on the couch while your toddler plays.... and then do a diaper change and a trip to the little potty. of course the camaraderie and $$ savings are definitely worth talking about but i'm sure others will address that more eloquently than i would.   oh and don't forget that your money and time are supporting an organization that is way more conscientious about the environment than the average supermarket.

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To become a member/owner at the PSFC there is a one time non-refundable fee of $25 which if you are receiving public assistance is reduced to $5. There is a $100 member investment that can be payed in installments and is also reduced to $10 for those on public assistance. If &/or when you leave the PSFC you can get

all of your member investment ($100) back. You are not paying for the privilege of working for "them"...you are paying to be a member/owner.


I have been a member of the PSFC (the largest member-run food coop in the country) for many years. I used to be on the Chair committee which helps to run the General Meetings (where members get  information and make decisions) so I understand a lot about what happens at the Coop. There are "good" and "bad" things about shopping anywhere &/or being a member of anything and it's the same

for us. I hate the smell of other food stores often and usually freak out when I see the prices. I would much rather talk with interesting people while waiting on line. Sometimes it makes you nuts but sometimes it really builds community. Sometimes you get to try new foods you never would have, or get a new recipe. I have made many friends at the Coop over the years and learned a lot about myself, others and all sorts of things.

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As a relatively new co-op member (we joined in June) here are what I think are the positives and negatives of the co-op:

Negatives:

* long lines, although today I stopped by at 5:30pm expecting it to be a usual zoo and there were no lines at all! Perhaps the debit card
system is making things more efficient

* super-crowded isles - in my experience, this has been mainly  a function of workers unloading merchandise

* disorganized shelves - i find it very difficult to find things that are not obvious. The vitamin/medicine section is particularly a nightmare so I've just resolved to buy those things elsewhere.


Positives:

* really great prices for organic stuff

* most of the produce is of superior quality although occasionally I find the fruit to be wilted; but then again, organic stuff spoils quicker


The work shift doesn't really bother me, although it is becoming more difficult to make time for it with 2 kids around. Luckily, they allow for 1 year leave after you've had a baby but i can see that next year, when i will have to restart my shift, things will be more challenging.

Overall, we've decided to stay members, at least for now. The low price is really a powerful pull.

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To the person who lamented that the coop does not reduce the work obligation to 2 hours - there is in fact a squad with a 2-hour commitment: maintenance.

My husband does it - it's basically cleaning, not everyone's cup of tea, but it's fast.


Also, for my shift, I do childcare on Sat mornings and bring my kids with me so it does not really feel like work to me. My kids love it - to them,

it's just an outing at the "playroom" and they look forward to it.  Despite the gripes that some have (long lines at peak weekend hours, a few random crazies which I think is inevitable in a group of 10K+ people, etc.) I'm a huge fan. I really believe in the mission, the sense of community it fosters, its support of local small farmers & spreading awareness of important food issues such as GMO's, and above all, the great, cheap food! I really tip my hat to the people who run it and everyone who pitches in - I'm constantly amazed that, whatever its foibles, it runs as well as it does.

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I love the co-op in spite of all the inconveniences that have been cited, the worst being the long waits in line (that have caused an occasional temper tantrum for me). I joined the co-op the day after I moved to Brooklyn and in spite of its inconveniences, I would never unjoin. I am always shocked when I enter conventional food markets not mainly by the prices, but by the poor quality of the food and the sad reality that so many Americans eat all that packaged junk and aren't even aware the impact of it on their health or worse, their children's health. Sometimes my son has asked to try that processesd crap such as Lunchables or Fruit roll-ups which he's seen his friends eat. When I

went to investigate at Keyfood, of course I found them full of dye, transfats, nitrates, high fructose corn syrup but I let him try it once if he promised not to ask again (he complied). For me the co-op is "normal" (I was a member of another co-op for 12 years in Seattle) and all those other supermarkets are weird and depressing. Although even Key Food looks pretty good compared to the supermarkets that pass for grocery stores in many poor neighborhoods (A recent CNN special on the obesity epidemic showed how supermarkets in inner city

Chicago don't carry vegetables any more - just chips, cigarettes, soda pop and other non-perishables).

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We live over in Kensington. We've been Coop members for about 4 years.

I'll defer to the other posts about the benefits of the coop.


After our son was born and I was only working 3 days/week, I walked back and

forth - an hour's walk - once or twice a week. it was good exercise and it

was a destination to go with the baby. I could hang about $50 worth of

groceries on the stroller ($50 buys a LOT of food at the coop).


Now that my husband and I are both working full time, I shop at 8 or 9am on

weekdays and get to work by 10/10:30. Granted I'm my own boss and not

everyone has that kind of flexibility but you have to do food shopping some

time and that seems as good a time as any.


Similarly, I do an 8am weekday cashier shift which gets me to work by 11am

once a month. There are no lines at that hour and people are way more

cheerful when not being bumped by shopping carts. My husband does a

Saturday 7am shift sorting food to go to the soup kitchen which suits him

because he works on his own and can leave as soon as the work is finished.


I drive and I can always find a space at a meter within a block or two,

usually on President or Berkeley - worst case I pay $4 discounted parking at

the lot on union street ($7 for 4 hours if I have to do a work shift). If I

didn't have a car, I'd call a car service for about $7 which is still well

offset by the savings.


The Coop takes some getting used to but once you do, the benefits far

outweigh the difficulties.

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we live in ft. greene and have been members of the coop for about 4 years. and, i, personally, have a love/hate relationship with it all! i love the all the items in the coop and i love the childcare (which is where i work now b/c we have a 21mo old) and i love the IDEA of community.

the worst part, for me, are the people who make it hard for others. my most recent trip included a verrry long line due to the new debit card machine (which is AWESOME,btw) and the line stopped and started from one aisle to the next. an older woman got behind me at the start at the next aisle in a huff and puff about the line and she had things to do, etc. behind me in my aisle, came a very pregnant woman and her husband, not realizing the line continued at the other aisle. i explained it to them and then realized how pregnant she was, etc and offered them to go in front of me. was it fair? not really to all the others who have waited but the woman was 8 months pregnant for god's sake and i felt it was the same as giving someone a seat on the subway! needless to say, this caused extreme strife with the huffing and puffing woman, which also produced quite the conflict between she and i. so, that stuff, i can definitely DEFINITELY do without! all the other stuff, i love, and on most days it outweighs the bad.

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I don't know if anyone has mentioned this, but this is the reason I stopped using the co-op. My husband works full-time and is out a number of evenings. Plus he travels & his schedule jumps around enough that he kept missing shifts. I am more of the home-bound parent with time on my hands, so I ended up doing my shift and his on a regular basis. So then it isn't that one adult is doing almost 3 hours every four weeks but one adult doing almost SIX hours every four weeks. I don't mind (MUCH) doing the majority of home-related stuff, but that sucks big time.

So it doesn't work so well if you and your partner are both around to do their shifts, unless you want to do double-duty.

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My husband and I loved the Coop, but we are both freelance artists

with unpredictable schedules. We found keeping our shifts there

impossible, since it seemed more suited to people who lived within set

schedules. Shame, since we live very nearby.

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A couple more things about the Food Coop (I've been a member for

nearly 30 years!):

1) to the person who was on the fence about joining because everyone

is required to work:

I'm not sure if this still applies, but at one time any person in

your household could do your shift. One guy on my shift did his own

AND his wife's because he was retired and she was not. A quick phone

call to the Coop office would confirm this if it's still accurate.

2) in keeping with the Coop's mission statement, you can go to the

Coop to recycle plastics that the city does not handle (including

plastic bags), 3 times/month I believe

3) the Coop Gazette has good/short articles occasionally on issues

such as nutrition, GMOs, environmental issues etc, if that interests you

4) There are all kinds of great evening seminars for those who have

the time, ie, cooking classes (including sampling the food that was

prepared; my all-time favorite is cranberry sauce with fresh ginger,

simple & easy!), business topics, feng shui, etc. PLUS a movie every

month. You do not need to be a member to attend.

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My husband does work my shift; in

doing this, he found that 2 consecutive weeks work better for him

(he works late shifts in food processing).

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Teenagers in the household can also work for you if they have their working papers (and you can make them).

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I'm in South Slope and second (or third or fourth) the people who like the idea of the coop, but found it impracticle. It's too far to carry a baby, groceries for those of us without a car. This is the main reason we cancelled our membership.


Contributing factors were shifts and overcrowded shopping conditions (during the times when most people find it practicle to shop), and stressful interactions with coop members. I really found the suspicion aimed toward me and fellow members on the subject of "stolen time" to be stressful and unnecessary and the behavior of some of the managers ("leaders") I encountered to be overbearing and officicious, in a petty Wal-Mart management style. (Then again, maybe I'm too thin skinned. But seriously, I have worked chain store jobs and didn't enjoy the deja vu I experienced at the coop at times).


Individually, these are all relatively minor concerns, but together influenced our decision. I do think the big one is ease of transport. If we lived closer, we would have made it work; benefits (cost, support of local agriculture and organic farming, chances to meet locals) would outweigh (at times considerable) annoyances. If you live within delivery boundaries, I think it would be really worth it. I would love for there to be an option in South Slope, with delivery ;) Delivery is really an almost must for the carless New Yorker (or at least a

headache reducing luxury).