Monday, February 15, 2010

A Short History of Weavers Way Co-op

By Nina Berryman

Two weeks ago I wrote a short history of Saul High School. This week’s feature is Weavers Way Co-op. Stay tuned for an article that features Fairmount Park, our third partner in this CSA project.

Weavers Way Co-op is a cooperative grocery store, meaning it is owned and governed by its members. Anyone can and is welcome to shop there, regardless of being a member. Being a member means that you are literally an owner of the store, both in the sense that you get to vote on how things are run in the store, and in the sense that you have to work either in the store at one of the farm locations (Henry Got Crops! included) for a few hours a year (although this requirement is currently being revisited). Weavers Way buys food from local farmers and vendors whenever possible and has a mission of building community and promoting environmentally sound products and practices.

The first cooperative started in 1844 in England by a group of 28 weavers and artisans. They joined together to buy food that they otherwise could not afford. This is the origin of the coop's name, “Weavers Way Coop.” The principles behind this original group are still the guiding principles behind modern day co-ops, and are known as the Rochdale Principles, after Rochdale, England.

Fast forward to 1972 in Mt. Airy, Philadelphia. Jules Timerman started selling apples out of the back of his station wagon and talking up the idea of starting a co-op. He and a bunch of supporters pooled their money to rent a storefront at 555 Carpenter Lane. He sold deli products and fresh produce. The popularity of the store grew quickly and by mid-1973, membership was up to 500 people!

This original location was large enough for 6 shoppers at one time! Jules then rented 557 Carpenter Lane as office space, and shoppers had to pick up an order pad from 557, return to 555 to select groceries and write them down, then return to 557 to pay for them, then return to 555 to pick them up! Shortly after its founding, members purchased the building next door and the store moved to its current location at 559 Carpenter Lane. In the spring of 2008 a second store location opened in West Oak Lane, at 72nd Avenue and Ogontz Avenue. A third location has been purchased in Chestnut Hill and is projected to open in November 2009. Today, Weavers Way Co-op has over 4,000 members, and each member represents one household, not just an individual. Roughly 80 people currently work at Weavers Way.

In 2008, Weavers Way Community Programs (WWCP) formed to expand the community enrichment programs of Weavers Way Co-op. It is now a separate, non-profit organization that operates independently from Weavers Way Co-op, although it still maintains close ties to the store. WWCP has two main projects. The first is the Marketplace, which sets up school-based food co-ops in which students buy products from Weavers Way at cost, then package them and sell them to students and teachers. The students then donate their earnings at the end of the year to a beneficiary of their choice. WWCP also runs the Farm education programs at the Awbury Arboretum farm, and the Stenton Family Manor farm, the other two main sites of Weavers Way Farm besides Henry Got Crops! CSA.

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