Photo: Warsaw Food Cooperative
From my childhood I remember how my mother was excited when someone arrived from the countryside with food (in the communist years there was a problem with supply in general and having a family in the countryside was a guarantee of such goodies as fresh lettuce, tomatoes and potatoes). Theoretically, today access to food products shouldn’t be a problem while we have malls on every corner. The question though: is it the same food?
What are food cooperatives and how do they perceive their work?
Food cooperatives are initiatives of consumers who want to build a fair, democratic and ecological economy. They want to eat healthy food for a fair price. A cooperative is not a shop where you can go, choose products, pay and leave. It’s a kind of community committed to building a network of clients and producers for mutual benefit.
Cooperative members order products that are purchased (once a week or more when necessary) from local producers. One of the basic assumptions is that increasingly products come from organic farms, meet the standards of ethical production, a maintain a low price. Intermediaries are skipped in the delivery chain.
In Warsaw, there has been a cooperative running since January 2010. Its founders want to make consumer cooperatives the starting point for creation other forms of non capitalistic economic activities, such as labour cooperatives and housing associations. Cooperatives are not only about cheap and organic shopping, they are also socio-political initiatives.
In addition to meeting nutritional needs are also social and educational institutions. Their common savings – 10 percent of every person’s shopping bill – goes to a community fund devoted to social assistance and education.
The UNDP Project Office in Poland is helping to organize The First Meeting of Food Cooperatives this year. Among others, we have invited representatives from Copenhagen Cooperative, German cooperative Garten Coop from Freiburg, French cooperative L’epi Noir from Lyon and a cooperative from Prague, in the Czech Republic. We hope that it will be a fruitful and interesting conference, and we’ll keep you posted.
As a part of our activities we have also been engaged in the process of building an electronic ordering system for cooperative members based on the open source model. We also published a handbook on how to establish a cooperative and created an analysis on how to place cooperatives in the Polish legal system.
For me, first and foremost it’s the idea of a social economy and social engagement in which community and cooperation are most important.
What do you think about cooperatives as a solution for developing countries? Is it a model which could work in other countries in the region?