If you support a co-op contact your member of Congress!

The National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA) is using the opportunity of a new session of Congress to educate the members of the U.S. House of Representatives about the benefits of cooperatively owned businesses. On March 29, 2011 Representative Fattah (who happens to represent all of South Philadelphia west of Broad Street) and Representative Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) will hold a congressional briefing on “The Role of Cooperatives in Rural and Urban Communities,” from 2–3 p.m. in room 2362-B of the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C. According to the NCBA, all members of the U.S. House of Representatives have been invited to attend. They are trying to get people to contact their own representatives in Congress and ask him or her to put this on her calendar. They even provide customizable text of what the message should be (scroll down). So if you live in South Philly west of Broad Street you can contact Congressman Fattah here. Obviously since he's hosting the event he will be attending (in theory) but it's always good to let him know that you're grateful for what he's doing AND that such a thing as the South Philly Co-op exists. (In my letter to Congressman Brady I made sure to mention that the Co-op is something "which our group is trying to start with the support of nearly a thousand of your constituents." They love big numbers. Especially big numbers of voters.) With Weaver's Way AND Mariposa already in his district, Fattah should be aware of the good work that Co-ops do in general. In the drop down menu for topic I suggest "Education/Labor." Congressman Fattah is big supporter of education and it's likely to catch his staff's attention. If you live east of Broad Street (like me) you'll want to use this link to contact Congressman Brady. Brady is not likely aware of this little start-up movement yet so feel free to include as much as you want about the co-op and how important it is to you and a couple thousand of your closest friends. For the message subject, I chose "Small Business" since, for a member of Congress, being against small business is like being against puppy dogs or beautiful spring days. If you're just a big fan of what we're doing and don't live in either of those two districts, you can find your representative's website here.

Why Why You Want to Know Where Your Food Is From

The FDA recently announced that it will halt imports of milk and produce from four prefectures that are closest to the damaged nuclear plant in Fukushima, Japan.  Foods from other parts of Japan, including seafood, will be checked for radiation to see if they are at acceptable levels that can be sold. However, the FDA has had difficulty in the past with tracking food production facilities that are in other countries. While seafood will be checked for radiation if it comes from Japan, it is not clear if  fish is caught in the sea near Japan by another country's ships will be screened. Obviously, this is a concern as seafood does not respect national borders. This is a story to follow in the future.

Oh what a night!

I'd like to say that it took a day to process what we all experienced last night before I could settle in to blog about it but the truth is, much like we explained to one questioner who wondered if the volunteers on the committees would be running the store, we have full-time jobs so the blogging has to come late at night. In case you missed our Spring Community Forum last night, earlier today Mary Beth posted the slide show we presented which answers a lot of questions on its own. By our count over 100 people attended last night's forum in Neumann-Goretti's auditorium (which seems like it could rival Wembley Stadium for seating capacity) and about 40 of them filled out volunteer surveys and expressed interest in helping out. Our Outreach Committee chair Patty emailed us earlier today that "we have a great response and a variety of talents to pool from." One word for that - awesome. Because as far as we've come in a little under a year since the first organizing meeting, we still have a long way to go. In that year we've had people join the effort, do their part, and then rotate out. That's to be expected of any all-volunteer effort so we're glad to know that fresh waves of troops are coming in to keep pushing the co-op forward. For all of us who have been putting in the hours, it comes as a relief to know our efforts will not be in vain and that community is so supportive. Best of all, there was a great contingent of our neighbors from west of Broad Street in attendance which will definitely help fill in the empty spaces on our survey map and get the word out to even more people. Marsha, who gathered the attendees from Newbold, Grad Hospital, and Point Breeze, reported that at least 10 folks signed up for a West of Broad Committee meeting. We also heard from people who loved how the presentation had a community feeling to it. The representation we have on our committees and the diverse group of neighbors in the audience really spoke to the true community involvement of this project. It's no longer just the dream of 3 or 4 people who want a place to buy organic nuts and seeds in bulk (not that it ever was just that). It's now a movement that means different things to different people, all of whom have the ultimate goal of opening a member-owned food co-op somewhere south of South Street between the rivers. For some, like Aditi Oakely (Legal/Finance Committee) who spoke during the presentation last night, the Co-op has been about creating a place for true, meaningful interaction with neighbors. For me, it has been about being on the front lines of creating a more sustainable society by taking control of how our food is produced and where it comes from. Others like the local ownership aspect or the chance to buy quality food at competitive prices. For as many people as were in attendance last night, there are probably that many different reasons. The feedback we received was invaluable. We were made aware of the buying power and talent pool represented by the parents (especially mothers) of young children who are less able to make it to evening committee meetings but can be counted on and mobilized if we organize more kid-friendly events. Stay tuned for those efforts to begin. We got a number of questions about the logistics of membership and the payments that will help moving forward as we begin the marketing push for our membership campaign. And, most importantly, according to Mary Beth Hertz (Steering Committee), a number of people were ready to write their checks for their membership fees right on the spot. Soon, folks. For your protection and ours, before we accept ownership shares we have to officially incorporate which we hope to do in the next 4-6 weeks. Weeks of preparation and hard work paid off in a really well-received event. But... as much of a relief as it was to be done with that... in the end we'll look back and consider that to have been the easy part. The real work continues...

Thank You!!

Thank you to everyone who came out to our Spring Community Forum. It was great to meet everyone and see all of the momentum and excitement for bringing a food co-op to South Philly. If you couldn't make it, here is the presentation from tonight's meeting.


Exactly 24 hours until Spring Community Forum!

Hope everyone enjoyed their first day of spring and free water ice. Tomorrow we get back to the business of starting a co-op. If you haven't already heard about it, we're updating the community on the progress we've made getting this co-op started up. We're still a long way from doors opening but considering it was just last April when the first general meeting took place... well... we've come a long way, baby. Below are the details for tomorrow's event. You can RSVP at our Facebook event page - where almost 100 of your friends and neighbors have already said they will be attending - or just show up (trust me, there's plenty of room). Details: South Philly Food Co-op Spring Community Forum Monday, March 21 · 7:00pm - 8:30pm Neumann-Goretti High School Auditorium Entrance at 11th and Moore Hope to see you there!

Happening RIGHT Now: Weaver's Way Vegan Fest

GRID Magazine posted an item last Monday about Weaver's Way Co-op's Vegan fest, which is taking place today from noon-4. If you happen to find yourself in Mt. Airy near their 559 Carpenter Lane store, stop in to enjoy:
...vegan products from Bhaggya’s Kitchen, Jyoti, Moshe’s, Fresh Tofu, Helen’s Pure Foods, as well as an assortment of great vegan products from Weavers Way Mt. Airy’s Prepared Foods Department.

Marathon Farm providing ultra local food

CEO of Marathon Restaurants Cary Borish is hoping his places can serve food that's so locally grown it could come in on the subway. Check out this Daily News cover story about Marathon Farm, taking shape in Brewerytown.

South Philly as fertile ground for a co-op

I came across this presentation by James H. Kunstler from a TED conference in 2004 while reading Postgreen's really cool blog about sustainable design and development. (Caution: Kunstler uses some colorful, not necessarily safe for work, language to make some of his points.) Most of the video, which is worth watching especially if you like it when someone totally trashes the abominable land use and design decisions that took hold of our country after World War II, is about the world we have created in the presence of cheap fossil fuels. Kunstler brings his point home by saying (remember... back in 2004) that the era of cheap fossil fuels is coming to an end. He's also more than a little pessimistic about the idea that we'll be able to replace this cheap power source entirely with renewable, clean energy. The key will be rethinking the way we live and how much space and energy we consume. Of particular interest in to anyone who wants to get a food co-op started and is thinking about what principles can guide the product selection is a point Kunstler makes at about the 16-minute mark of the video. It's a point which had been made before him and continues to be made to this day:
We're going to have to grow more food closer to where we live. The age of the 3000-mile Caesar salad is coming to an end.
For us as citizens (note: I didn't say "consumers") this means a commitment to buying food that is grown closer to where we live and, hopefully, supporting a business that is committed to selling as much locally grown food as possible. (Edited to add: and living as close to each other as we do in South Philly, we've already made the choice to live in such a way that is energy conscious. We are definitely a market that can sustain such a business.) Anyway, watch the video. It's actually very funny in places. Kunstler is like a Lewis Black-type shock comic who focuses on sustainability.

Great Apps, part 2: Applications

Following up on my post of all the great appetizer recipes that were shared at our "There's An App for That" event at the end of last month, here are some of our attendees favorite food-related books (and cookbooks), magazines, columnists, websites, blogs and, yes, smart phone apps. And to the extent that I can, each will link back to a page where you could find out more about the book and purchase it. (Though unfortunately, we're not set up to get that kick back from Google or Amazon so it will just be a deposit in the karma bucket.) Cookbooks and Magazines Memoirs and Novels Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo Toast by Nigel Slater ("Slater, celebrated in Britain for his food columns in London's Observer, recalls his childhood in great and moving detail, interweaving his hunt for oral gratification with prose portraits of his family.") Movies Big Night A failing Italian restaurant run by two brothers gambles on one special night to try to save the business. Starring Tony Shalhoub, Stanley Tucci and Marc Anthony. Directed by Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci. Tampopo In this humorous paean to the joys of food, the main story is about trucker Goro who rides into town like a modern Shane to help Tampopo set up the perfect fast-food noodle restaurant. Starring Ken Watanabe, Tsutomu Yamazaki and Nobuko Miyamoto. Cooking and Recipe Websites Saveur (described, if I remember correctly, as great "food porn.") - this offers calorie counts per servings and allows you to enter in a number of servings that automatically adjusts the amounts of each ingredient. Epicurious - pretty much synonymous with "internet recipe site" SparkRecipes - "The Healthy Recipes Site," it provides this cool Recipe Calculator that allows you to enter in your ingredients and total number of servings and it provides nutritional info per serving. Food Network - Our group commented on how good the dialogue is in the comments sections as users describe their experiences with that recipe. Whole Foods - Who knew? Has its own recipe section as well. Food Blogs Messy and Picky - we LOVE them! 101 Cookbooks - great pics and a really nice layout Smitten Kitchen ("Fearless cooking from a tiny kitchen in New York City.") - Deb the writer cooks in a really small kitchen and then shares what she comes up with in her little lab. Salt and Fat - It's like evolution has made it so I can't NOT go to this blog. Dana Treat - Thanks to Alison I've eaten a few dishes made from recipes that Dana has shared on her blog. And, according to Alison, her kids (often featured in pictures) are really cute. Food Politics (by Marion Nestle) - Leave it to me to bring everybody down with a blog that is so well written about what is wrong with our food system today... but... in a hopeful way offers suggestions on how we can fix it. Mark Bittman: He's got his weekly column in the Opinionator section of the New York Times website and a regular blog to fill in the rest of the time between those columns. As I continue to purge my Google Reader feed of the many blogs I subscribe to he's one of the few (and a relatively recent addition) who makes the cut. Peas and Thank You - another one recommended by Alison who has twice made the vegan cookies and cream cupcakes (which you may remember from this post). Maybe it's this one who had the cute kids? Food in Jars - a canning blog The French Laundry at Home - looks like it has a spawned a sequel - Alinea at Home. Apps Here's where I admit that I don't have a smart phone so you'll have to trust the wisdom of our good group who recommends these. If it doesn't send or receive SMS texts, I have no idea what it does. But here goes: Ratio Unwrapped Epicurious Recipes & Shopping List App Our Groceries - this one would come in REALLY handy for me. REALLY handy. Someone also mentioned a calorie counting app that helps you when making food purchasing decisions. This is the closest thing I could find but would welcome any suggestions for better ones. Yes... the recipes and this list of material... all shared in one night. Don't miss the next one coming up on March 27th - Whole Foods for The Whole Family.

Meet a Committe Member: Mary Beth Hertz

On which committee do you serve?

I am secretary of the Steering Committee.

What do you do for a living?

I am a technology teacher in a small elementary school in North Philadelphia.

How did you get involved with the food co-op?

I attended the informational PSCA meeting last Spring and the rest is history!

Why do you want a food co-op in South Philly?

I lived and ate in a co-operative house for 4 years while at Oberlin College. I loved the way we chose what was in our kitchen, the sense of community, the focus on local, sustainable products.  I also am kind of a food snob :) I am excited to bring this kind of experience and business into my neighborhood.

Why should people join a food co-op?

A food co-op is unlike any other place that you will shop. As a member, you have a say in what you see on the shelves, you are part of a community of people who are invested in their community and you have a say in the direction the business takes through your vote and involvement.

What is your favorite meal to cook and why?

I love making soups of all kinds because they are easy, tasty and comforting. My most recent favorite was a lentil soup with sausage. I also like to make Vichyssoise (potato leek soup).