Open Co-op = a project to combine producers and consumers of locally-sourced high quality food.
An Open Food Co-op is…
a partnership of people who like locally-sourced, high quality food:
- It 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
- It adds new local food clubs
- It adds food-related social events
- And links them all with an innovative communication & information management system
There are already many co-operative groups on the producer side of local food and they are growing rapidly. This project would link them together to produce a one-shop shop like a distributed supermarket. (Some of them are already doing much of this.)
This project adds an enhanced form of buyer’s co-op that we are calling Food Clubs. It orders food online for its members from the range of participating producers, and has it delivered to a suitable depot, usually a participating local shop or farm shop, from where it collects and distributes to its members.
A small local shop thus becomes a depot for a virtual local supermarket. It would serve several Food Clubs for whom it can provide a much wide range of products than it would have room to stock, because the goods are all pre-ordered and only have to be stored briefly. It brings people into the shop who are committed to it and who can add extra goods from the shop.
The food clubs also take on wider roles: They hold small food events, such as shared meals, offer each other cooked food, and share produce from the gardeners among them. They contribute to the wider co-op by helping with organisation, distribution, and perhaps field work at times. This may be either on a voluntary or paid basis.
The communication and information management system makes it all possible and efficient:
- It combines the offerings 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.
- It includes 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.
- It links the different local food clubs to each other by listing their events, garden produce and other offerings.
- It provides an online discussion forum with voting for democratic governance of the Food Co-op.
With their emphasis on local food with efficient local distribution Open Food Co-ops 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."