NYC’s only black-led food co-op sets its sights on a storefront

October 16, 2019 Kelly Mena
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Central Brooklyn residents have launched an online fundraiser to open a community-owned grocery store catering to communities of color.

Central Brooklyn Food Coop — which claims to be “one of the only urban Black-led food cooperatives in the nation and the only one in New York City” — will launch an online fundraising effort through Kickstarter on Wednesday to raise the initial capital — $25,000 — to expand into a brick-and-mortar location in the summer of 2020.

The food co-op launched six years ago to ensure access to affordable and fresh food to the low- and moderate-income communities of Central Brooklyn, most of which are communities-of-color.

“As black people in a predominantly black neighborhood that has been hit for such a long time, that was struggling economically, food became a symbol — a symbol of what we did not have and what we lacked, and this very fundamental ability to feed ourselves and to do for ourselves. So building the Central Brooklyn Food Coop is a way to right that ship,” said Mark Winston Griffith, co-founding board member of the co-op.

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Shatia Strother with her daughter food shopping at a local farmer’s market. Photo courtesy of Central Brooklyn Food Coop.

Unlike supermarkets, which have corporate ownership, food cooperatives are owned and managed by their members. The members are also the customers, and often the staff. Without being profit-driven, food co-ops can keep product prices down. Brooklyn’s own Park Slope Food Coop is one of the oldest and largest examples of such a model.

Central Brooklyn Food Coop primarily serves Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant and currently uses the Brooklyn Movement Center as a headquarters and meeting space.

Central and eastern Brooklyn communities have been singled out in several studies as food deserts for their lack of access to fresh, healthy food. It’s considered a racial and economic justice imperative, as food deserts usually overlap with low-income communities and communities of color. The health consequences of the lack of access include higher rates of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

The co-op will have a little less than 40 days to raise the funds. The money will be the “downpayment” the group will use on their future storefront, according to Erica Rosen, a fundraiser and volunteer.

“It’s about controlling what goes into your body, what your health is about, how your family’s eating, how your children are eating. Really, it’s a simple thing,” said Ashleigh Eubanks, co-op member and food justice program director at RiseBoro (an organizational partner to CBFC). “But it’s also so political because we don’t have access to that.”

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