Bethlehem Food Co-Op

Bethlehem Food Co-Op

Imagine this: You’re about to whip up an awesome dinner. Everything from the recipe is laid out on the counter and ready to go—but then you realize that one essential ingredient is missing. The meal just won’t be the same without it. That’s an easy fix, right? Just hop in the car and drive to the grocery store to pick up the missing item. Problem is, if the nearest store is miles away, the situation becomes a lot more inconvenient.

This is exactly what happened to Jaime Karpovich back in October 2011.

She was working on a recipe when she realized she needed a red pepper. Because downtown Bethlehem has no grocery stores, she had to take a trip to Wegmans, and after all was said and done, about forty minutes had passed (all for a red pepper!).

Jaime shared her experience on Facebook, expressing the much-overdue need for a grocery store in her area, preferably something independently-owned rather than a big-name franchise. She received feedback from other locals who had the same sentiment, and the enthusiasm from everyone sparked a fire that would eventually lead to the creation of the Bethlehem Food Co-Op, which is (and has been) in the works right now.

First of all, what’s a co-op?

In basic terms, a co-op is an organization independently and democratically owned, operated, and financed by its members. They are not publicly owned; there are no shareholders. There are different types of co-ops, too—like worker co-ops, social co-ops, consumers’ co-ops, etc. Some you might recognize are credit unions, REI, and Cabot Creamery.

Whatever the category they fall into, all co-ops have seven similar goals, principles, and values they follow.

They have:

  1. Voluntary and open membership
  2. Democratic member control
  3. Economic participation by members
  4. Autonomy and independence
  5. Education, training, and information
  6. Cooperation among cooperatives
  7. Concern for community

Food co-ops (which fall under the consumers’ co-op category) are special in their own way. Generally speaking, they work with more local producers than conventional grocery stores, have a bigger selection of healthy and sustainable foods, offer employees more benefits and higher pay, and have a lower impact on the planet (like better recycling methods). At the end of the day, food cooperatives take on and exhibit a higher social responsibility than their corporate competitors.

You may be familiar with other food co-ops in the area, like Doylestown Food Co-Op, South Philly Food Co-Op, and Weavers Way Co-Op, which has two locations in Philadelphia and a recently opened one in Ambler.

“Weavers Way has been a great mentor to us,” says Colleen Marsh, Board Chairwoman of the Bethlehem Food Co-Op. Marsh hopes that the Bethlehem Food Co-Op setup will be similar to Weavers Way’s Ambler spot.

Bethlehem Food Co-Op is on the right track to opening their doors and sticking with all of the essential cooperative principles. The co-op is currently over 470 household members strong, with an expected 1,000 households by the opening date of the brick-and-mortar. Typically, it takes about five to seven years from the time of establishment for a co-op to have a permanent location, and Bethlehem Food Co-op is right in that sweet spot.

Looking for potential sites in downtown Bethlehem has been a challenge as a lot of things must be considered: parking; convenience for customers who walk, bike, or take public transportation; and, of course, space. They are looking at about 4,000-4,500 sq. ft. of retail space (and then some for warehouse space). Right now, the co-op has narrowed down their search to three promising locations that most closely meet what they are looking for.

Marsh says that the co-op will be a one-stop shop, meaning you should expect to find the same variety of products you’d find at a big-name store like produce, meats, a bakery, and perhaps even a café. The co-op will source locally based on what’s available and in season, as well as make an effort to offer sustainable, humane animal products.

Thinking of becoming a member/part owner of the Bethlehem Food Co-Op? They’d be glad to have you, and there are all kinds of awesome benefits. For example, several local businesses including (but not limited to) Lit Roastery and Bakeshop and Monocacy Coffee, Musselman Jewelers, Apple Ridge Farm, Lehigh Valley Printing, and Homebase Skate Shop offer a discount to members. There will also be member discount days and special member pricing on select products at the co-op (plus, you earn a percentage of the store profit).

But arguably the best aspect of being a member of Bethlehem Food Co-Op—or most any consumers’ co-op for that matter—is the strong sense of community that is built around them. Co-op members want to see the organization grow into something great for everyone involved, so they enjoy participating in efforts to make that happen.

Bethlehem Food Co-Op puts together quite a handful of events in the area to bring members and the community together, like educational classes (think topics like urban composting and shopping seasonably on a budget) and an annual craft fair that highlights sustainable vendors and local artisans.

If you want to get involved in the co-op and help them move towards their goal of opening up shop, the group is always looking for volunteers. You could write blog posts for their website, help coordinate community events, do bookkeeping, provide legal counsel, or even teach a class. You could also join one of their four committees—Communications, Outreach/Membership, Finance, or Education. Whatever your talent, the co-op could probably use your help, and you don’t have to be a member to participate. Lastly, you could simply offer a financial contribution.

Check out to learn more about the organization, membership and its benefits, upcoming events, and how you can get involved.

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