Ten Years Plus in the Making, Kensington’s Co-op Opens its Doors

Photos by Karen Plourde
The produce layout at KFCF, just inside the main door.
Laura Young, for the Shuttle

Top, the tap lineup in the co-op's café. Bottom, the patio off the café offers a relaxing spot for snacking and conversation.

Kensington, along with the surrounding riverward communities of Fishtown, Port Richmond and Northern Liberties, is an area in rapid transition, with new construction and rehab projects everywhere. Modest rowhouses stand next to sleek, modern restorations, yet the area is also home to many lower-income residents. The Kensington Community Food Co-op, which had its opening celebration on May 4 and 5, aims to be in the middle of it all.

“Our goal is to create a welcoming, sustainable space for everyone,” says Mike Richards, KCFC general manager.

 The co-op’s physical layout, products and programs reflect its intention to be a good neighbor. Their space includes a 30-seat cafe featuring prepared foods, hot beverages, craft beers, and wine by the glass. Elegantly outfitted with locally sourced wood and furniture, the cafe also functions as a community space for such groups as Fathers of Kensington and the East Kensington Neighborhood Association. The week that I visited, KCFC and Equal Exchange were hosting a presentation about reclaiming the food system. A patio off the café extends the available seating in good weather.

The main entrance off Coral Street leads to KCFC’s well-arranged 3,000-square-foot retail space. The co-op features organic and conventional produce options as well as poultry, meat and seafood from ethically-sourced providers. Bread, bagels and muffins are delivered fresh each day, and a large bulk section offers a wide variety of grains, nuts and spices. Vegan/vegetarian, gluten-free and GMO-free products are in abundance. 

KCFC came into being through the monumental efforts of neighborhood activists who toiled for over 10 years to pull the project together. In April 2018, having raised almost $2 million from city and federal grants, loans from family foundations, and equity contributions, the determined group was finally able to start construction in a former neighborhood tavern near the bustling intersection of Lehigh and Frankford avenues.

Weavers Way stores assisted in getting KCFC up and running by providing technical support on day-to-day operations and product selection. Currently, the co-op has 950 member-owners. (Total membership in Weavers Way is 7,500). 

Because KCFC, like many co-ops, can’t order products in quantities as large as the chain grocers, prices are sometimes higher. Like Weavers Way, the Co-op offers a Food for All program, in which qualified member-owners receive a 10% discount. In addition, there is a flexible membership program, where members can pay their $200 equity contributions in $10 per quarter installments.

KCFC connects with these low-income families via neighborhood churches, community groups and a partnership with the New Kensington Community Development Center, a local nonprofit that posts KCFC job openings. As a result, many of the staff come from the surrounding community.

That, in fact, is another aspect of KCFC’s mission. “From the beginning, we have been committed to hiring locally and being a neighborhood job creator,” Richards said.

While there is no work requirement for members, KCFC does offer a working member program that offers the flexibility of posting available shifts when they are needed. Working members receive a 5% discount off store purchases for two weeks following the shift and can work as many shifts as they want. 

There are member-only deals and discounts throughout the store, and every Tuesday is Senior Discount Day, when member-owners 65 and older enjoy a 5% discount. Another benefit is the Shop Local program, in which local businesses offer special discounts to members.

KCFC is located at 2670 Coral Street, and is open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day. For more information, their website is www.kcfc.coop.