Australia’s oldest food co-op, the Canberra Food Co-op in Acton, operates with a focus on community and sustainability.
For the uninitiated, the Food Co-op is an alternative to the grocery store, with a model that relies on members and volunteers to make the store run; purchase a membership to access discounts and benefits, and volunteer for an hour a fortnight and, in return, receive 15% off your purchases.
Co-manager Karina Vennonen says this model has a range of benefits, including lower prices for groceries for everyone.
“It also makes a really strong community atmosphere to have so many people working together to provide good food for each other,” she says.
“These volunteers are also members, so they’re kind of co-owners of this business. It’s really around 300 people all are part owners in the business, and will volunteer one hour per fortnight of their time to keep the place going and make the prices as affordable as possible.
“We love having more people here and it’s such a rich place to get food as well as meet people and learn new things. It’s such a welcoming place,” she smiles.
A vegan lunch is served up every day, using the produce from the store, with discounts for members and students.
Karina says the store also focuses on sustainability and waste reduction, prioritising produce from local farmers.
“We make sure that any vegetable that might be getting too old to sell, we can cook it in the lunch so it doesn’t get wasted. We also have composting systems here, as well as recycling all of our soft plastics and Styrofoam boxes,” she says.
The Co-op is currently making a few changes to draw in new members, as numbers were down over the past financial year. Karina says while they can’t be exactly sure of what’s driven the drop, a lot of other bulk food shops have opened around Canberra.
“We also know that there a lot of people that don’t know about the Co-op and these benefits of it being member-owned, which make it such a special place here in Canberra,” she says.