Category 18 April 2019

Locally run food cooperatives and outlets to encourage consumption of locally grown food by the communities.

Community food co-operatives are up and running in countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Germany with the goal of sourcing good quality, fresh, seasonal fruit and vegetables, as well as meat and fish products, locally for the members of the community food co-op. Products sold through food co-ops come from local sourcing.

The challenge

The local food co-ops address the challenge of supply chain efficiencies and reducing the environmental impacts linked to a very long food supply-chain with a lot of intermediary and value-addition functions involved. In 2012, an analysis of the carbon footprint of a packaged fruit product over the supply-chain in the United States (published in JI. Boyes and Y. Arcand (eds.)) found that about 30% of carbon emissions are attributable to the transport phase.

The innovation

The local food co-ops offer a solution for healthy sustainable consumption and living a healthy lifestyles by providing consumers with fresh local seasonal products.

The main innovative strategy of food co-ops is to organize the functions of farming, wholesale and distribution under the supervision of the community-owned enterprises. Local communities benefit through increased availability of local products from the local suppliers.

Why did it work?

Decentralized food-coops emerged from the need to provide an alternative to large supermarket chains sourcing food from distant locations with the consequential environmental and social impacts on their supply chains.

Food co-ops promote responsible purchasing by consumers while at the same time informing them on issues such as food, healthy lifestyles, the environment, and human rights (e.g. the payment of fair-wages to farmers in developing countries who provide their produce to discount and retailer brands in richer countries). As they are community-owned enterprises, food co-ops also promote ethical business and employment practices, honesty, transparency, and participatory decision-making. Their board of governance is chosen through the collective vote of the members of the community food co-op to run the operational affairs of the food co-op for a specific period of time. Major corporate and strategic decisions are discussed in an annual general assembly meeting of the co-op.

The benefits of the community food co-ops extend far beyond increasing access to fresh fruit and vegetables to raising the cooperation in the local community through networking, cohesion, and increasing knowledge of healthy food as well as promoting voluntary support. Members of the community can provide volunteer services by working in farms and helping with growing food, or offering buildings as a pick-up point. The benefits of co-ops are large compared to the input in terms of program running costs.

Further deployment

Community food co-ops have successfully worked in different countries supported mainly by private grant funding for demonstration and commercial exploitation. Members pay an annual membership fee to cover running costs of the community co-ops.  There is a great potential for replication of the co-ops model in other regions. The maturity of this community-owned entrepreneurship for local and sustainable consumption is estimated to be 9 on GML scale.