Carrotmob Comes To Philly

story by elena riveraImagine a world where consumers really did control corporate agendas. Whereby simply choosing to buy from one store over another, consumers could make a business more eco-friendly. This is the Carrotmob model.

Founded by Brent Schulkin, Carrotmob is a new form of consumer activism. Instead of boycotts, Schulkin decided to entice businesses to change by using purchasing power. He went to multiple stores around his San Francisco neighborhood, promising to bring customers en masse to the business that would dedicate the largest percentage of their earnings to making their store more environmentally friendly.

“Traditional activism revolves around conflict,” said Schulkin in an article from Time in 2009. “Boycotting, protesting, lawsuits — it's about going into attack mode. What’s unique about a Carrotmob is that there are no enemies.”

Carrotmob’s simplicity is one reason why the movement has spread across the world. Similar mobs have popped up in places like New Jersey, Missouri, Argentina and Germany. And now, for the first time, in Philadelphia.

Various Philadelphia organizations, including The Enterprise Center, The Merchants Fund and The Food Trust are joining forces to promote the struggling local business West Phillie Produce with a Carrotmob on October 21, just a few short blocks east of the 63rd St. Station on the Market-Frankford line.

“It builds community and small businesses. It is a brilliant idea that can be modified to fit any environment, in Prague and in West Philly,” says Patricia Blakely, executive director at The Merchants Fund and the event’s organizer. “And it’s not just a fringe-y hipster movement, but a bold move that puts small businesses at the center of discussion.”

Recognizing the Carrotmob’s power to forward this “buy local” approach, The Enterprise Center saw West Phillie Produce as a great fit. The business sells fresh food and produce, and employs various members of the community in the process.

“In Philly, especially, there’s a huge interest in fresh food,” says Andy Toy, director of the Retail Resource Network with The Enterprise Center. “What we’re trying to do is change neighborhood habits to buy fresh produce, to give it a good name in the community.”

Blakely agrees, especially since promoting the “buy local” message can be difficult.

“We went to get ‘buy local’ into the DNA of everyday culture,” she says. “We want to show that it’s not just an idea for intellectuals but rather for everybody.”

What Blakely, Toy and others hope is that the Carrotmob will increase awareness for West Phillie Produce and in turn, make it a distribution center for fresh produce to other stores in the area. Furthermore, buying from West Phillie Produce isn’t just supporting healthier eating, but also a local entrepreneur, the store’s owner Arnett Woodall.   

“[Woodall] is a role model for young people who want to be entrepreneurs, especially in the African-American community,” says Toy.

Woodall took a risk in opening West Phillie Produce and with help from Carrotmob his business can hopefully become the face of healthier and more environmentally friendly community.

Carrotmob for West Phillie Produce (16 S. 62nd St.) is happening Friday, October 21, 4-7 p.m. More information can be found on the Carrotmob’s Facebook page.