When Windsor Terrace resident Mark Horberg suggested during a tense community meeting back in June that the neighborhood start a food coop, it was just one of several ideas pitched to an agitated community still struggling to come to grips with its new status as a food desert.
But times have changed. The Key Food has long since shuttered, and the community has rallied to the point of convincing Walgreens, the new tenant at 589 Prospect Ave., to consider sharing the space with a supermarket. And the crowd Horberg stood before Tuesday night was marked not by anger and worry, but determination.
“I’m ecstatic about the turnout tonight,” he said of the more than 80 people who packed Knights of Columbus Hall for the food coop’s first community planning meeting. “It feels really good.”
Attendees were first asked to introduce themselves and explain why they were there (the need for accessible food, the inconvenience of shopping at other food coops), before organizers explained what exactly a food coop is (a community-owned business) and the various models that could potentially work for Windsor Terrace (volunteer-run, employee-run, or a combination of both).
Despite the palpable sense of optimism that defined the evening, organizers were careful to temper expectations, reminding everyone that the process would be slow, and an all-hands effort would be required to get the project off the ground.
“We need to be incremental,” Jack O’Connell, one of the meeting's organizers, reminded the crowd. “If we think incrementally, it will be a lot less scary.”
O'Connell also reiterated that a coop would not replace the need for a grocery store, adding that "this is all about getting us good food at reasonable prices as a community experience."
Members of the prospective coop have their work cut out for them. With a current operating budget of zero dollars, organizers are lacking the funds even to print fliers. Along with a space for names, a sign-in sheet requested that attendees indicate any special skills they can offer, from legal knowledge to community outreach to the tech savvy required to fix a malfunctioning projector.
But the warnings did little to faze the audience, which generally seemed to agree that a food coop isn’t just about food, as Windsor Terrace's well-stocked neighbor, Park Slope, can attest.
"In Park Slope, there’s access to food everywhere,” Horberg said, rattling off the neighborhood’s countless groceries, greenmarkets and bodegas that serve the community, in addition to the most robust food coop in the country. “But they wanted to empower themselves with a community-oriented store.”
O'Connell agreed, saying he was heartened by the enthusiasm he saw on display Tuesday night.
“It’s more than need—it’s really about community. That was exciting to me,” he told Patch after the meeting.
“It fills an objective of providing good food, but there was a lot of talk about participation and participatory community. That’s exciting stuff.”