What’s in a reputation Group of meals co-op in downtown Brooklyn

BMC Co-op Meeting

Dear Food Justice for All readers:

I’ve been a member of the Brooklyn Movement Center (BMC) since last year and I’m excited to be working on creating a much-needed food cooperative here in Central Brooklyn.

It should be noted that this work builds on the enormous footsteps of organizations such as the East and the Food Coop that have organized it here before. As we know, Central Brooklyn has a long history of tremendous cultural work, resistance, and organizing that has inspired people from all over the country and the world.

For this month’s post, I want to share an update on the great work that has been done by a comrade and BMC colleague, Rae Gomes, on her experience of organizing with BMC around this exciting new food cooperative.


“What’s in a name?”

Guest food justice contribution from Rae Gomes, a member of the Brooklyn Movement Center

BMC co-op meeting

After a passionate debate a few days before the official vote on the food co-op model for our neighborhood, members of the Brooklyn Movement Center stood pensively around a sheet of paper titled “Suggested Names.” Few members took turns writing down their ideas, lingering in the warm room in a historic sandstone mansion, explaining what their name meant and why, in their opinion, it sufficiently defined the group’s efforts so far, and expressing their hope of working together at the center Brooklyn would look like.

Almost a year of organizing, meeting and discussing has led to this moment. The vote was cast by a total of 17 contributing members of the community-based organization affectionately known as the BMC and was split 10-7 in favor of a members-only model. We were mothers, grandmothers, fathers, community organizers, longtime residents, self-proclaimed gentrifiers, immigrants, Brooklynites, alumni, and many other identities who made our reasons for contributing to this effort urgent.

For my part, I am a single mother of a toddler who is fed up with getting fresh fruits and vegetables (organic and other) from my neighborhood. Mobility is an issue, and I think I’ve exhausted all other options to make my life a little easier while at the same time putting together affordable healthy foods for my family. Working for a neighborhood food coop is more than an activist activity, it’s a necessity.

Cooperatives in neighborhoods like ours have emerged out of necessity for decades. In her book, A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice, Jessica Gordon Nembhard describes how black communities that were left out of mainstream capitalist models consistently worked towards the creation of alternative cooperative models.

From pooling resources to burying their dead to creating consumer-owned groceries, black-owned cooperatives have become a practical way to fight a model of society that was created to leave us outside.

For many reasons, this story has not taken its rightful place in our collective memory of civil rights. One of them is the meaning that the word cooperative gives rise to. “In the US, cooperatives are often associated with hippies, communism or socialism, and in the 1950s, shortly after the McCarthy era, black leaders knew that they could not speak and be heard about either,” Nembhard said in an interview with colorlines.

Especially if you imagine food coops in Brooklyn, the ever-popular Park Slope Food Coop, an institution in its own right, is the immediate connection. What comes with this image is the sight of a typical Park Slope resident riding a bike with reusable bags to get their weekly supply of green-stemmed carrots and turnips.

The fact that the vote for our as yet nameless food cooperative was for a members-only model that Park Slope has adopted has practically strengthened this connection. While we enjoy working with the Park Slope Food Co-op and many other cooperatives, we have discussed relentlessly about making sure these efforts are not taken over by anyone outside the community.

The latest press about our efforts with pictures of this typical Park Slope shopper happily holding fresh produce could indicate that the cooperative played more than an advisory role in our planning and coordination process.

I first met the leadership of Park Slope Food Co-op, Bushwick Food Co-op and Greene Hill Food in a full-day Saturday teaching last March when they presented their models, reach and challenges. There were difficult discussions about gentrification, race and exclusion which were treated kindly by the moderators.

These discussions continue as we move forward with the planning of the cooperative. But what I understand, if not everyone involved, is the Central Brooklyn community at the forefront of defining what will become of this cooperative.

We don’t have a name for the cooperative yet, but we will vote on it soon. Some of the suggestions include African names, names that evoke ideas of community, unity, and names that simply let people know where we are from. For my suggestion (which didn’t make it into the final version) I was wondering what I would say to my son when he snatched one of the reusable bags off a chair, put on my shoes and loudly announced, “Boo bye! “Mommy!” Me. “Are you going to the market?” I would say in my Trinidadian accent. “Collect a few mangoes for more!” “To market” was the name I brought up, a name that for me was Spirit of this food collaboration project in Central Brooklyn evokes.

The “market” was a fresh outdoor marketplace that was different from the supermarket. Growing up, the market was easy to access and you were guaranteed fresh, affordable fruit and vegetables that were sometimes sold by the farmers themselves. I think of that when I talk about our Food Coop.

If you’re a Bed-Stuy or Crown Heights resident and want to join the Brooklyn Movement Center and join the food justice community, you can email [email protected] to get involved.


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