Food cooperatives

The big debate when it comes to food shopping is the one regarding the supermarkets driving down sales in the local high streets. For people who work full-time, or have busy family lives, the idea of shopping in one place, once a week, is certainly preferential to going from shop to shop to shop. Despite this, people seem to be aware that shopping in local shops, markets or farmer shops, is cheaper and better for the economy, your own health and the environment than shopping in a supermarket. But yet we still do it.

How to save money on food

One simple way of saving money on food is to join a local food co-operative or even start your own food co-op. This can be in your local community, with other families at school or even at work.

The simple principle behind a food cooperative is that you harness the buying power of buying in bulk. By ordering at wholesale rates you cut the cost per kilo of the products you buy quite considerably. And since most food co-ops aren't set up to make any profit, the savings are passed on to all its members.

What do Food Co-ops sell?

Most food cooperatives sell fruit and veg, which can be expensive enough. However, many food co-ops are set up in order to sell products such as organic foods, Fairtrade foods or locally sourced foods. These can be notoriously more expensive, despite the fact that we are aware of the benefits. A food co-op means that these products can be bought en-mass with bulk buying power and make them more realisticallys priced whilst benefitting your health or the health and well-being of others.

The Benefits of a Food Co-operative

Health Increases acces to healthy foods for those who otherwise may not have access to it (either because of cost or transport issues); raises awareness of health benefits; the confidence and sense of purpose of those who volunteer to run the scheme are often improved.

Environment increases the supply of local produce; reduces the amount of people travelling long distances to shop; less packaging and therefore less waste.

Economic supports local farmers, retailers or (through fairtrade) ethically supported projects; offers volunteers new skills (and may even get them into employment).

Setting up a Food Cooperative

Starting up a local food co-op needs not be complicated. Once you have identified interested parties, there are a number of decisions to be made:
What are you going to provide (fruit, veg, wholefoods, grains)?
Where are you going to provide it from (premises, a van)?
Where are you going to get your produce from (wholesale markets, farmers, community growers, retailers)?

You will also need some practical resources, such as scales, bags, leaflets, order forms, cash box, calculator, cleaning materials etc. These are just a few of the things you will need. You will also need to source a vehicle, or organise a rota for people to go for the stock.

You will need to comply with any local food legislation which is readily available from your local authority. You will also need to comply with trading standards legislation and health and hygiene legislation.

None of these things need be as complicated as they sound, and you will often find someone at the local authority who can help you with the process. Local government often has money allocated to deal with improving the health of the local community and / or promoting community groups, so approaching them will often be a huge help.

Finding a Food Co-operative in your area.

Again, your local area council office should have details of any food co-operatives in your local area. Find your local council contact details at the Directgov website.

Try Sustain web Co-op Finder which will give you a list of the nearest food co-operatives to your postcode.

If you have any hints or tips for setting p a food co-op or would like to give details of your experiences, please fill in the comment form below.

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