Can a radical, worker-owned organic produce market provide access to affordable healthy food, as well as business ownership to a Harlem neighborhood where it’s a quarter-mile to the nearest fresh fruit or vegetable? Guest blogger Greg Allen weighs-in and asks for your support on his Sweetwork project:

by Greg Allen

In my neighborhood it’s just like at the airport:  six little stores with exactly the same stuff.  Boar’s Head cold cuts and yellow cheddar cheese, huge, pale, styrofoamy globe tomatoes, and the lightest green iceberg lettuce.  A person could continue living on this indefinitely, but live well?  No.

So, I decided to do some research about opening an organic grocery store on the street around the corner from my apartment;  there has been a vacant storefront there for months, a victim of the poor economy and, I thought, lack of vision.  But I had a vision:  what if there was a small store there, just like a bodega, that sold primarily vegetables and fruits?  Fresh, healthy, organic, clean vegetables,  organic coffee for the morning people, and soup for the commuters.  Having lived in the neighborhood for 12 years, I knew that this idea would be well-received locally.  The last green grocer within a quarter mile had closed 11 years previously!

” The last green grocer within a quarter mile had closed 11 years previously!”

I inquired about the space (cheap!), researched the industry, the equipment, and the market, and decided that it would not only be possible, it would likely be very successful.  And so now I’m moving forward with a plan to open the full store in summer of 2012.  In order to push this dream forward, I decided to use social network and online fundraising platform Kickstarter.com to raise money to lease the space, hire one worker, hire an architect, and start selling strong organic coffee from the takeout window.  That’s where this project is now, and we’ve raised almost $12,000 so far.  Vegan chef and author Isa Chandra donated cookbooks for prize incentives, and filmmaker and food justice activist Catherine Gund donated copies of the book companion to her important film, What’s On Your Plate? for the same purpose.  Many supporters of the project have talked about the simplicity of the plan and how it connects two issues, food access and poverty, and addresses them with a solution that fits the community environment.  For one thing, the workers at the store, who will end up owning the store, will be young people who have recently aged out of NYC youth services.

“… the workers at the store, who will end up owning the store, will be young people who have recently aged out of NYC youth services.”

Along the way, several changes to the plan developed.  First of all, we decided to make the store a worker-owned cooperative, where workers will have an option to begin buying shares of the company after one year of employment.  Why?  Because we want a true community store that serves the community on a lot of levels.  There are few economic opportunities for young people in NYC, and as an entrepreneur I feel that businesses have a responsibility to provide such opportunities;  if not us, who?  We also made a commitment to keep the store vegetarian;  the fact is, no one will ever refuse to patronize a business because it does not sell animal products. Everyone in this neighborhood needs fresh produce.

To find out more information about this project, please visit our website, www.sweetworkproject.com.  From there you can link to our Kickstarter campaign, where we are raising money for this radical project.  Every dollar counts!