by Slow Food USA intern Melissa Rosenberg
While I recently savored some spicy, delicate watercress from the Park Slope Food Coop (PSFC), I was reminded how fortunate I am to have access to a wide array of local and affordable produce, an arm’s stretch away from my home. Centrally located in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY, the PSFC is the largest, entirely member-owned and operated food store in the country.
In exchange for 2 hours and 45 minutes of work every four weeks, its more than 15,000 members obtain discounted prices for a wide variety of products, including local, organic and conventionally grown produce, pasture-raised and grass-fed meat and free-range, poultry. The coop exemplifies a self-sustaining alternative model to the commercial profit-oriented grocery store.
Since opening shop in 1973, the PSFC has supported local farmers in order to offer fresh, sustainable food to members of the Brooklyn community and beyond. The coop primarily sources its produce, poultry and meat from over 50 farms within 500 miles of Brooklyn. At the height of the region’s growing season– fast approaching — the majority of the coop’s produce comes from small farms within 100 to 200 miles.
The tasty watercress I had been munching in my salads and sandwiches, was grown and supplied to the coop by Blue Heron Farm, nestled in the heart of the Finger Lakes. Owners, Robin Ostfeld and Lou Johns met in the spring of 1978 while working on a blueberry farm in Olympia, Washington. Thirteen years ago, they started Blue Heron Farm, which has been certified organic by NOFA. With two permanent hoop houses, four greenhouses, plus cooling and heating storage, housed in a two-story 1880s barn, the farm is well equipped to provide fresh produce throughout the entire year.
Allen Zimmerman, of the Park Slope Food Coop, tells us that this spring’s Blue Heron baby spinach leaves are so tender that “they feel like cotton candy.” The farm’s purple asparagus and red Boston lettuce are on sale now, and orange chard, dill and escarole are on the way. According to Robin, “strawberries will take center stage” for the rest of this month.