Nov 18, 2021 - News
Masa Cooperativa: The new corn co-op coming to town
Cristina Martinez and Ben Miller preparing to launch their coop, Masa Cooperativa, with fellow workers, volunteers, and Rodale Institute staff. Photo courtesy of Ben Miller.
Cristina Martinez and Ben Miller preparing to launch their co-op, Masa Cooperativa, with fellow workers, volunteers and Rodale Institute staff. Photo courtesy of Ben Miller

South Philly Barbacoa chef Cristina Martinez and her restaurateur husband Ben Miller are getting ready to launch a new Philadelphia co-op focused on masa — maize dough made from nixtamalized corn.

State of play: Masa Cooperativa is designed to allow unauthorized immigrants to work legally and have ownership of their business, Miller told Axios.

  • "We've been in the activism world advocating for chefs to [step up] for undocumented workers' rights. If we're all collectively owning it, then everybody's making money from the business, rather than just getting a paycheck," he said.

The big picture: There are more than 823,000 undocumented entrepreneurs nationwide, according to New American Economy, a research and immigration advocacy group.

Details: The co-op aims to improve the quality of tortillas in the city by encouraging local farmers to use organic practices.

  • The pair hopes that in the process, residents and businesses in the region will be discouraged from buying tortillas made in factories.

How it works: The co-op plans to sell small quantities of masa to households and also wholesale to other restaurants in the area.

  • The Rodale Institute, an organic farming research nonprofit, is helping the co-op grow the corn on its farm in Kutztown.

What they're saying: "People might think Mexican food is always cheap and greasy, like dollar tacos, but this food has as much science and sophistication as Italian or French food," Miller said.

What's next: Martinez and Miller are hosting a soft launch Thursday at The People's Kitchen, another one of their joint projects. Grab some free treats made from corn and a sample of the masa at 6pm at 1149 S 9th St.

  • Masa Cooperativa will open for retail in early 2022.
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