Local Co-op Invited the Community to Dance for Social Justice

Rachel Baron

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The Brooklyn Packers, a Brooklyn-based food cooperative working to make fresh food accessible to Brooklyn residents year-round, hosted its first Solidarity Party this past Saturday.

Hosted at Bushwick’s Starr Bar, the party formed around a desire to foster community through music and dance, in a laid back environment. DJ’d by founder Steph Wiley and by local musician Asen James, the party was advertised on Instagram and Facebook, but promotion was mainly through word-of-mouth.

Wiley envisioned the party as a way to boost morale and drum up positive energy in the face of a turbulent political climate. In particular, Wiley hopes to bring together those invested in social justice causes, like the food justice movement, the fair housing movement and people working for LGBTQ rights. As Wiley said, “It’s hard work. We don’t get paid a lot of money for what we do. You know, mainly we’re all on like the social enterprise, and we think deeply about making change. And that spends a lot of energy.”

Wiley and veggies.

The Brooklyn Packers is a Person of Color (POC) and worker-owned cooperative. Started by Wiley and a group of nine other members roughly four years ago, the cooperative originated as a department of a larger grocery subscription company called Nextdoorganics. Wiley said that the group broke off and became independent when Nextdoorganics could no longer afford to employ them full-time.  

Because food cooperatives or “co-ops” are worker-owned, members are, ideally, invested in the welfare of their communities. One of the central principles put forth by the International Cooperative Alliance states that, “Cooperatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members.” The Brooklyn Packers consists entirely of Brooklyn residents and, as Wiley stated, “We build our business on relationships like, we know a lot of the people personally who use our services. You know, it’s important to make money, but not at a human cost.”

The Brooklyn Packers mainly work to source fresh produce, meat, and other food products from farms in upstate New York and New Jersey and deliver it locally to Brooklyn residents at an affordable cost. Deliveries are done by the members themselves and by independent drivers. In the future, co-op hopes to become “hyper-local” and to rely entirely on community gardens and urban farms in Brooklyn like Bushwick’s Oko Farms.

In addition to providing grocery delivery services, the co-op offers their own product called BSA, or Brooklyn Supported Agriculture, available for pickup at local wellness centers and restaurants, like Grandchamps restaurant in Bed-Stuy. Similar to a CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, BSA is available to purchase on a week-to-week basis and does not require a large upfront sum like many CSA subscriptions. This makes it more accessible for people without significant disposable income.

Though the company relies on the work of sourcing and delivering food products and on BSA in order to generate income, their plans are much broader than that. Wiley referred to the group’s ethos as “intersectional solidarity economy work.” He said that food justice is “not just about food…it’s about everything, it’s about how we live. It’s about the crisis in housing, it’s the crisis in education, it’s the crisis in immigrant rights.” If an individual works a minimum wage job and pays an exorbitant amount in rent, they often have to choose between sending their child to a good school and buying fresh, locally-sourced food.

Speaking on the stark class stratification he experienced growing up in New York, Wiley remarked that “the dichotomy is just embedded in everyday life.” Though he started out living in the projects in Queens, Wiley’s parents worked hard to put him through prep school where, he said, he’s “seen classmates who have tennis courts in their backyard. Trampolines.” On a related note, Wiley attended the same prep school as Donald Trump’s sons.

Courtesy of The Brooklyn Packers.

Shawn Santana and Raina Kennedy, two of the co-op’s other three members, saw the Solidarity Party as an opportunity for the employees to see each other outside of work and to relax and have fun with other members of the community in a non-work environment. Wiley noted that he intends to hold more Solidarity Parties in the future.

Speaking on the people from different social movements he hoped to see at the party, Wiley said, “I really like these people. You know we have a lot in common. Intersectionality is really special. Why don’t we do something that just gets everybody together for fun?”

To check for updates on future Solidarity Parties, and to learn more about the work The Brooklyn Packers are doing, check out their Instagram and Facebook.

Cover image courtesy of The Brooklyn Packers.

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