Manayunk-Roxborough food co-op committees take shape

Residents of Manayunk and Roxborough are one step closer to seeing their vision of a food co-op in the neighborhood become a reality. But that is just one step of many, many more to come over the next few years.

“The first thing I would advise is patience. Patience. You need time,” said an energetic David Woo, board president of Weavers Way Cooperative, who’s been offering his advice and expertise on the project. “It’s very difficult to get people who have day jobs, and who are doing this as volunteer work, to make sure things gets done on time.”

Excitement for the idea of a Manayunk-Roxborough co-op has been growing since last month when the initial public interest meeting at Mishkan Shalom synagogue on Shurs Lane brought out an overwhelming showing of support with a crowd of over 220 people. 

On Wednesday night, the considerably smaller group of nearly 30 locals who gathered to form committees in the upstairs River Room of Manayunk Brewery on Main Street was not deterred by the amount of time it will take to start a “Weavers Way-type co-op” in their community.

Jane Lipton, executive director of the Manayunk Development Corp., who’s been co-organizing the efforts restated her own commitment, “For all the pessimism and the real obstacles that there are, I completely believe that this is doable. I don’t know if it’s doable in two years or four years, but it’s really exciting to me.”

After becoming acquainted through introductions facilitated by Woo, the larger group broke into committees.

Steering and marketing committees form 

The steering committee had no problem attracting nearly 20 members, while the marketing and outreach committee was rounded out at 10. The finance and legal committee failed to materialize, but Woo wasn’t fazed, noting that it is not yet necessary to build that committee until the others even decide what type of organization they plan to create.

As the real planning begins, Woo’s voluntary insight isn’t the only benefit this potential co-op has working in its favor. In recent years, a number of local food co-ops have been in the works throughout Philadelphia, including one in Kensington and another in South Philly. Their successes, working plans and setbacks can all be looked to as helpful guiding tools.

And that’s part of the next step: self-educating. Before the committees plan to meet again on May 23, they have a lot of homework to do. The groups will have limited face time for discussion, so much of the work will have to be done individually, as well as online through Facebook and a newsletter.

“At this point, we’re going to send out links to cooperative initiative websites that have all these documents, spreadsheets and slideshows about the process that a lot of other co-ops have used,” said David Schiman, a local acupuncturist and co-organizer of the project, who headed the steering committee’s initial discussion. “It’s not quite paint-by-numbers, but it’s a lot of structure that we can use to start to move forward.”

‘A lot of passion, interest and talent’

Although the two-hour meeting took place in the middle of the week in the evening, Schiman was encouraged by the energy. “Nobody seems to be too daunted by the process. Everybody seemed really positive.”

Manayunk resident Stephanie Salinas, who works at Cabrini College, is excited to build a community. “I’m very passionate about issues related to food, like food justice issues. It was great to see so many people here wanting to be involved in the committees.”

Others shared that sentiment.

“I’m feeling hopeful. I think it’s a little overwhelming, but I think the start of anything big is,” said Lory Soda, a health teacher from Roxborough. “But I think there’s a lot of passion and interest and talent. And it’s definitely got the right characteristics to move forward.”

Woo encouraged the newly-formed committee members, in his continuing emphasis on self-education, to attend a free upcoming conference hosted by the Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance at Drexel University. 

To become involved in the committees or to receive the newsletter, email manayunkroxboroughfoodco.op@gmail.com or visit the group’s Facebook page.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.