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Mariposa Food Co-op, which moved to a new location at 4824 Baltimore Avenue earlier this month, offers local and sustainable food. The co-op has about 1,300 members, who can purchase produce at a discounted price.

Photo: Dan Nessenson / The Daily Pennsylvanian

One food store in West Philadelphia is expanding its selection of sustainable food and customer base.

Mariposa Food Co-op moved into a new retail store at 4824 Baltimore Avenue on March 17 from its old space just a block away.

What began as a buying club with only a few members in 1971 is now a large retail food cooperative serving both its 1,300 members and the wider community.

Mariposa is entirely member owned and operated and provides customers healthy, local and sustainable food, including organic produce, meats and dairy products.

The members, with its nominated Board of Delegates, work together to run the food co-op, purchasing products in bulk from mostly local sources.

Members are required to pay a minimum investment of $200 upon joining, which will be refunded in full if they decide to leave the co-op. Members can buy produce at a discounted rate and are also encouraged to work shifts at the store to keep operating costs down.

Mariposa’s expansion process began in 2008 in order to accommodate its growing amount of members.

With a $2.5-million investment, it acquired the storefront at Baltimore, and moved out of the 500 square feet retail store they operated in before.

The space underwent major renovations and is now an energy-efficient, spacious two-level retail store with the first floor for retail and storage and the upper level for offices and meeting rooms.

According to Marketing and Outreach Coordinator Chakka Reeves, Mariposa received huge support for its expansion from the community because there are few other places in the area that offer sustainable food.

Reeves said most of the co-op’s products are grown within a 150-mile radius of the store.

Many of the foods in the store are organic, but there is also a selection of chemical-free foods. Reeves said it is sometimes hard for farmers and producers to obtain the certified organic label.

Even for packaged foods and other products that it carries, Mariposa is dedicated to “making sure that their products are manufactured and prepared with as little strain on the environment and its resources as possible,” Reeves added.

While many Penn undergraduates may find Mariposa too far from campus, professors and graduate students who live closer to Mariposa may be more likely to shop at the store.

Peter Sachs Collopy, a graduate student in History and Sociology of Science, has served on the Mariposa board for the past three years and has dealt with many aspects of its membership policies.

“It’s a pretty diverse neighborhood,” Collopy said. “Penn grad students are one of the groups that make up the neighborhood.”

According to Collopy, “a wider range of people are interested in local and organic foods than were in the past and are interested in the environmental effects of the food that they are buying,” which explains the increase in Mariposa’s membership.

The food co-op also collaborates with Penn’s Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiative, a program sponsored by the Netter Center for Community Partnerships dedicated to promoting healthy and sustainable nutrition to high school and college students in West Philadelphia.

AUNI shops at Mariposa to buy ingredients for its programs, AUNI director Danny Gerber said.

Last May, half of the proceeds of AUNI’s annual fundraiser Eats and Beats, where teenage students cooked sustainable meals, were donated to Mariposa to support its expansion, according to Gerber.

“It’s a mutually beneficial relationship,” he added. AUNI is also working towards encouraging the University to subsidize Mariposa memberships for Penn students as well as families of students in its programs.

In addition, Mariposa has a Revolving Equity Fund to allow people who cannot afford the initial investment to become members.

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