South LA residents push for organic food co-op

imageBahni Turpin was disturbed by the lack of organic food when she moved to Crenshaw in 2010. She was used to feeding her family with only chemical-free food. Even though she had moved, she found herself still driving back to Hollywood to do her grocery shopping.

“There is nowhere in our neighborhood where you can get the kind of food that (my family) eats,” Turpin says. “The farmer’s market even only has one farm that is certified organic.”

After unsuccessfully lobbying for health food chains to come into the area, Turpin decided to take matters into her own hands. She now wants to open a food co-op in Crenshaw — where people in the community pool their resources and open a store together.

Turpin and several other Crenshaw residents have started laying the groundwork for the South Los Angeles (SoLA) Food Co-op.

“I liked the idea of a co-op because we could have a store without having to own and work in it, and it could empower the community instead of begging for some big chain business to take our money,” Turpin says.

After attending a co-op conference in Berkeley, Calif., Turpin started to garner interest in her community. She put up a website, went to health food and community events and began holding regular information meetings.

So far, about 150 people have signed up on the co-op’s mailing list.

“We definitely need more,” Turpin says. “But it takes time. We’re aiming toward double.”

South LA as a whole is what experts call a “food desert” — where there is a lack of fresh produce, organic or otherwise. But fast food restaurants are found in a greater abundance than in other areas.

According to a report issued in 2011 by the United States Department of Agriculture, more than 81,000 people in Los Angeles County don’t have access to fresh produce.

That’s why Marie-Alise Recasner-de Marco opted in to the co-op.

“It’s ludicrous,” she says. “We are way behind other parts of the city. We have to drive to Santa Monica or West Chester to even go to a Trader Joe’s or Bristol Farms to get organic dairy.”

Recasner-de Marco is also a recent transplant into the Crenshaw area. She and her family moved into the Windsor Hills neighborhood in 2009. She was shocked at how poorly stocked the Ralph’s and Vons grocery stores were compared to those she had left in Hollywood.

Recasner-de Marco, who serves on SoLA’s steering committee, says she hopes to someday do 100 percent of her shopping at the co-op.

“It will be great to be able to keep our money here in Crenshaw, rather than sending it elsewhere and to be able to get the organic food that we care about eating,” she says. “That’s really important to my family.”

The SoLA co-op plans to offer competitively priced food — everything from produce to dairy to grains — in hopes of gaining traction in the community.

Although the co-op will be member-owned, you won’t have to be a member to shop there, Turpin says. Members will receive discounts, private sales and a say in what foods are offered.

Turpin is anticipating that the co-op will open in the summer of 2013 and that the buy-in will be between $200-300 — that can be paid in one lifetime installment or over several years.

The next community meeting will be held Tuesday, April 10 at 7 p.m. at Lotus On The Nile Wellness Center, 4307 Crenshaw Blvd.

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