Weavers Way Co-op tackles statewide, city issues

40 years ago, Weavers Way was little more than a group of Carpenter Lane neighbors coming together to buy bruised apples. But last month, former spokesman, Jon McGoran’s, words echoed through the Capitol Rotunda in Harrisburg on behalf of the cooperative — now the largest in Philadelphia.

Weavers Way has gained an increasingly visible political presence over the past five years — from city-proposed legislative issues like Mayor Michael Nutter’s push for soda taxes to statewide and, arguably, national issues like labeling genetically-modified (GMO) foods.

Most recently, Weavers Way spoke out in Harrisburg in support of Sen. Daylin Leach’s (D-Montgomery/Delaware) bill that would make labeling GMOs mandatory in Pennsylvania. The bill is currently being revised in the Senate.

On a few occasions, the 5,000-household member cooperative has been successful while trying to spark change.

In January, they pushed to add an exception for urban farms and gardens to a citywide re-zoning initiative.

Tenth District City Councilman Brian O’Neil’s November 2012 bill revised 15 uses tied to mix-use commercial corridors and at first, made city gardens and farms illegal. Various chain emails, petitions and calls from Weavers Way members pushed legislators to add an exception.

Meanwhile, Weavers Way has plans to continue political advocacy in 2013.

Legalizing chickens

After a winter 2011 skyrocket in sales of chicken feed, Weavers Way established a chicken committee for local hen owners.

From its early stages, the committee has been discussing advocating for the legalization of hens within city limits — the birds were banned in 2004.

While the committee has remained mostly a support group for owners — helping with everything from starting out a batch of chicks to finding chicken babysitters — Maureen Breen, the head of Philadelphia Backyard Chickens, said this is the year the committee will take action.

Breen said chickens should be legalized because many people have them already and the city ignores them unless there’s a neighbor complaint.

Frequenters of past chicken committee meetings even suggested that the city could make money off having owners register the birds.

Soda Tax

Weavers Way general manager, Glenn Bergman, said that if Nutter raises the issue of a citywide soda tax once more, the co-op will likely officially support it.

The twice-failed proposal to tax two cents per soda and return the money to the school district doesn’t look like it’s on the agenda this year, however.

The co-op itself doesn’t sell soda due to member opposition.

Marketing director, Rebecca Torpie, said that a few years ago, the cooperative offered Mexican soda made with cane sugar, but members raised such strong complaints, the co-op removed it from shelves.

Plastic bags in grocery stores

Bergman also said that taxation or charges on plastic bags in grocery stores is something the co-op will likely support.

Torpie said that she’s heard talk of legislation, but until it goes further, the co-op will not take action.

“We do have plastic bags for produce and bakery, but that’s it,” Torpie said. “We offer paper bags [for groceries], but there’s a charge of 15 cents per bag. People can also take boxes from our inventory and use those as well.”

Other issues on the co-op’s radar

Bergman said the co-op also has loose plans to advocate for better use of vacant land, perhaps by using the space for urban farms and gardens. He noted advocating for urban farming is always a top priority for the co-op.

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