Food Co-op Consciousness

The whole co-op concept centres on community involvement, and on a much larger scale than simply paying at the checkout and putting back your trolley.

No food co-ops in your area? Try looking for local food buyers’ groups, which are similar in principle but smaller, more informal and generally lack shopfronts, with produce picked up from a central point by members.

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Worth the effort?

There are many benefits of co-ops, apart from access to great, fresh produce. With member discounts, quality food becomes more affordable, while at volunteers’ rates, prices aren’t far off your standard supermarket. Moreover, shopping at a co-op eases your passage through the minefield of sustainable shopping, as groceries have already been screened against specified criteria.

Products are sold in bulk, with customers bringing their own containers and buying what they need: you don’t pay for unnecessary packaging, and nor does our environment. As Helen Rydstrand, a member of Thoughtful Foods co-op at the University of New South Wales elaborates: “I joined as it’s a cheap and easy way of getting organic vegies. I like it because it comes from just outside Sydney so it hasn’t come from very far to get to me and it’s very fresh. Buying from bulk bins is also much better because you don’t have all that excess packaging and you can fill up your jar as much as you want.”

And it’s not just about the shopping: by joining a co-op, you’re joining a network of like-minded people and choosing to spend money with those with similar interests and values. This gives you the opportunity to influence the place where you shop and support an alternative model to the corporate chain store.
In addition, through the ordering power of the co-op, you can help promote those values which can influence and support suppliers’ policies and produce. Many co-ops are more than just stores; they have cafés and noticeboards, and can provide information on everything from yoga to housing and work.

Drawbacks? Chances are that your local supermarket is more conveniently located (see box at left for where to find your nearest co-op) and its opening hours will definitely be longer. Co-op prices are generally higher than your standard supermarket (although so is the quality) and the range is necessarily smaller. But it’s not as hard as you might think.

As Jane Castle, a member at the Alfalfa House co-op, says, “I love going to Alfalfa House. It makes shopping a friendly and relaxing experience rather than a stressful and angst-ridden one.”

Megan Holbeck is a freelancer based in Sydney who’s passionate about the environment and loves being out in it.

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