Roxborough-Manayunk Food Co-op struggles in efforts to expand

In April of 2012 more than 200 residents and organizers in Roxborough and Manayunk gathered to discuss the possibility of launching a neighborhood food co-op. 

Just over a year later, the Manayunk-Roxborough Food Co-op was incorporated and on its way, gaining momentum and organizing events like a farmers’ market in Pretzel Park. To date, the Co-op has reached nearly 950 fans on its Facebook page; yet, “officially” there are only 60 members on the books.

“There has been so much interest expressed within the community regarding the co-op,” said Dave Schiman, chairman of the co-op’s board. “People envisioning the brick and mortar; the mini Whole Foods; the Weavers Way…but the Co-op can only be as big as the members who make it. We would need at least 1,000 [members] to get a brick and mortar off the ground.”

An ideal location

For months, Schiman and the other board members have been working to gather community and member support. With families and full-time jobs, these volunteers have each devoted their time to the project because they believe in the power a food co-op would bring to the Manayunk and Roxborough community.

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Schiman noted that a recent marketing study completed by Sustainable Landscape Designer, Jennifer Johnson, revealed Roxborough and Manayunk to be an ideal location for a food co-op. Johnson, who also works for Weavers Way, studied everything from the average income to the schools to the shopping trends in the area.

“On paper everything adds up,” Schiman stated. “The co-op is here; it’s happening. How big it gets is now only a matter of the community’s commitment.”

Maintaining a presence

Alexandra DiFilippo is the co-op’s farmers’ market manager and has brought the co-op to Pretzel Park and more recently, to an indoor Thanksgiving Market at the new Transfer Station on Main Street.

“It was a really positive thing to have a weekly presence at the park and foster a sense of community that way,” DiFilippo said of the summertime markets.

Brothers Adam and Simon Rogers are founders of the Transfer Station, a co-working space located in the heart of Manayunk. “They are very supportive of having us there in the future,” DiFilippo said following the Thanksgiving Market. “We are looking at indoor market possibilities for the winter for things like meats, dairy, baked goods and prepared foods…Our greatest goal is to continually be a source of great nutritious food for the community. Until we are brick and mortar, we are trying to get creative on how this can look,” she said.

Community feedback

Despite continued interest in a Manayunk-Roxborough Co-op, the group has been met with its share of backlash. Some complained there were too few vendors at the summer markets. Members have complained about a lack of communication and opportunity for involvement.

“Our organization admits that we have not always utilized our volunteers as well as we could,” DiFilippo said. “It has been a lot of work and a major learning curve this year.”

Going forward

The Manayunk-Roxborough Food Co-op met last week with board members of Weavers Way and the National Co-op Association to discuss the possibility of future collaboration. “There has been a lot of interest in our co-op from the national level,” Schiman said.

“At first there was some concern that it would result in a loss of autonomy, but in reality we would still be our own store, because that’s what a co-op is — giving power to the members to get what they want.”

Following last week’s meeting, the Manayunk-Roxborough Food Co-op will be going on a one-month long break, but the organization is hopeful to return next year with an even stronger sense of urgency.

“Seeing the community come together, dig in and make it happen is pretty inspiring, and there are ways to make that happen. We encourage anyone interested to reach out,” DiFilippo said.

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