Food cooperatives are an easy way for neighbors to connect around a common need without sacrificing a lot of convenience.
Historically food cooperatives have been a central point of interaction in communities. Even with the advent of large stores and wholesale prices cooperatives maintain their popularity by allowing people to hold ownership of the distribution of the food and to insure that no one profits from the endeavor more than necessary.
There are a great deal of resources available outlining the basic steps needed for a food cooperative to function, but these steps are always predicated on finding a number of people in your area who share enough similar tastes to warrant the collective action needed to bring a cooperative into being. During the startup phase, while the group is going and new folks are coming in, it's important to continue to survey for interests and to find the small conveniences that appeal to each person so that the cooperative can be a success.
Food cooperatives can be used as a means for a group of people to engage in collective bargaining with producers and other intermediaries. Some of the work of managing a cooperative s to discover opportunities where your cooperative can dis-intermediate producer and consumer, lower costs and sometimes resource consumption like fuel costs for transportation.
Sometimes the opportunity to band together to cover the price of a wholesale purchasing license is enough incentive to form a cooperative. In many jurisdictions a wholesale license is required in order to purchase directly from bulk distributors, farmers, or other suppliers.
Local Food Coops
The idea of local food is a growing concern. Many different movements exist for the purpose of drawing attention to or facilitating the purchase of or access to local food. While the definition of what, exactly, local food is is a subject for another article, local food is a distinguishing offer that a cooperative can facilitate.
It is possible for the group to arrange relatively low prices with a farmer by cutting out all the intermediaries. In many cases intermediaries are taking the lion's share of the price collected at the checkout counter of your grocery store. Your coop might be able to serve as the sole intermediary, eliminating some of the costs, for sure the profit, and also establishing a connection to your local farm. a partnership of people who like locally-sourced, high quality food:
Checkpoints and Ideas
- Builds on what is there now: existing producer’s co-ops, farms and farmers’ markets, processors (bakers, cheesemakers, etc), distributors, shops, box schemes, regional support groups
- Adds new local food clubs, A food club might be a group of neighbors in one part of town who work through the food cooperative, along with other neighborhood groups, to make bulk purchases for splitting.
- A food-related social events to bring your cooperative's community together, and then add in the public to widen the circle even further. The cooperatives members should benefit from membership growth.
- links them all with an innovative communication & information management system.
- Use software to allow disparate groups of people to make bulk purchases together.
- Use a communications system to help members aggregate interest in new products
- Coordinate approaches to seeking out new producers and suppliers.
- A sizeable percentage of local food suppliers are already organized as coops, or coops of coops. It's natural to organize consumers the same way.
- Offering a drop off spot near members homes greatly increases the viability of the effort.
- Extra products can be stored and offered for sale at a store-front
- Offer ancillary services like:
- Combine the offering of the producers into a virtual online market in which each producer has a virtual stall. Listings would include photos of the fields and processing workshops, map locations with food miles so consumers get a sense of connection with the producers.
- Listings also include quality ratings by previous consumers, and by monitoring organisations such as the Soil Association.
- Include an internal payment and accounts system with a built in ‘time bank’ to reward volunteering. Online cheques have space for the user ratings of the produce, which then goes to the listing.
- Link the different local food clubs to each other by listing their events, garden produce and other offerings.
- Provide an online discussion forum with voting for democratic governance of the Food Co-op.
With their emphasis on local food with efficient local distribution Food Cooperatives are healthy and environmentally sound. Their use of quality ratings and reviews to maintain quality and a local currency (the Time Bank) to reward volunteering blurs the distinction between producer and consumer, paid and voluntary work. Thus Open Food Co-ops will create a new social form that is a long step towards a community-oriented, trust-based, sustainable local economy."
- How to start a food cooperative: http://www.cgin.coop/how_to_start
- Start a food buying club http://www.coopdirectory.org/bp003.htm
- The Future of Food Film - Open Food Open Film - http://www.thefutureoffood.com/
http://FoodCo-Op.net We are a volunteer-powered, nonprofit food buying network, bringing people together for food, community and savings of up to 50% on high-quality fresh foods.