The following pieces have been retrieved from the Wayback Machine internet archive, following the loss of the Co-op wiki
This is an article written by Fiona Game for the November 2004 edition of the ANU student newspaper Woroni. Fiona was at the time on the Marketing Working Group of the Food Co-op, and she interviewed me over the phone for the article. She later excused the occasional factual errors as artistic license! When Kus Pandey took over as editor of the Chickpea Chronicle (I was its inaugural editor in 1977) she asked me about the history of the Co-op, and I could think of no better summary than Fi’s, but I went through it to correct all those errors, sending Kus an MS Word version marked up with my changes. I have had to de-Microsoft the marked-up version for this webpage (by accepting the changes and then copying the changed version into a text editorbefore recopying to this page – if anyone knows a way of preserving all the red lettering, crossing out etc please let me know!) but apart from indisputably historical facts like names and dates I’ve left Fi’s wordsmithery untouched, occasionally resorting to putting my alternative view of the history in italic type within square brackets. Greg Carman (May 2007)
THE BEST DIET AROUND TOWN by Fiona Game
Long before the Dr Atkins diet or the Zone diet allowed countless Canberrans to lose unwanted kilos, there was another diet. A diet which not only supported local organic producers and promoted healthy, balanced meals, but was also affordable for students. Its shopfront was located right inside the ANU Union building. Imagine the novelty of being able to have healthy, unprocessed, affordable food at your fingertips. This institution was known as NUTS, or the ANU Nutrition Society, and was established around 1976.
[Actually, NUTS was, and still is, the National University Theatre Society.]
Today, this institution still exists, however it has morphed over time. It is the ANU Food Co-op. A small, but much-loved institution, located in a far-flung corner of the ANU behind Toad Hall, on the way to Civic.
The story of its modern location begins back in 1976…
It was a spring day and an irritating wind was blowing, as is wont to happen on spring days in Canberra. An economics/law student called Greg Carman was walking through the ANU Union and was attempting to shield his face from the fluffy, yellow pollen which was being flung around the courtyard, when he noticed a poster which read: “SAVE THE UNION HEALTH FOOD SHOP”. Greg had been at the ANU for about two and half years, but he had not had much interaction with the Uni’s health food nuts.
He knew the ‘Shop’ to be comprised of a small number of people, who were predisposed to handing out fruit and oats in nice, environmentally-friendly paper bags. Their shop, which was known as the Union Health Food Shop (or some such name) had paid students to help to dispense food, but it was a not-for-profit enterprise. It was located in the small space where the ANU Cycle shop now exists. Unfortunately, it looked like it was now on the skids.
Fortunately, another student had put up these distressed SOS posters, and his name was John Talent. John was to be the hero of the moment because he had a new vision for this Shop. (Sadly, women are conspicuously absent from this story. It was 1976, after all).
[Actually, more than half the people on the original Management Collective were women.]
John’s vision was to form the ANU Nutrition Society to take over the shop and staff it with volunteers. No money was to be wasted on wages: they would become a co-operative! They wouldn’t use packaging, but instead, food would be kept in bulk, in big plastic garbage bins, which students could come and help themselves to if they brought their own containers and bags to put it in. Affiliation with the Students Association would bring access to free phones and photocopiers and cash grants for bins. Donations of equipment were made: a set of weighing scales, a cash register and timber for shelving. Thus, the philosophy of the modern Food Co-operative was born!
With this new momentum taking hold, a year or so later the shop, now known as the Food Co-op (see Box 1), was moved next-door, to a larger location, where the Union Newsagent currently sits. Our old pal, Greg Carman, had become heavily involved in the administration by this time. He had two good reasons for being involved. One, nutrition was a subject close to his own heart, having dismally watched his diet over the past few years dwindle from hearty-home cooked meals to stodgy, quick, pasta meals so typical of most students. Two, the Food Cooperative had become a hub of grassroots, 70s-type activity and Greg was a happenin’ cat who wanted in on the action.
[Actually, my involvement with campus-based anti-apartheid and Vietnam Moratorium groups dated from my school days – ditto my status as a greenie — and my then current involvement with anti-nuclear activism predated the co-op and continued almost entirely outside it, but we won’t let the facts get in the way of a good line!]
With its large, new, newsagent-sized location, the Co-op was able to expand their product line, especially since they now had access to the loading dock behind them. Importantly, deliveries could be made directly to a storeroom from the loading dock. Business started to boom and they tripled in size. The golden days of the 70s were upon them. Until the wicked hand of fate stepped in at the end of the decade…
It had always been mooted that the ANU Union would wish to renovate the area that the Co-operative occupied. Despite the fact that the Co-op were bitterly opposed to this, there was not much they could do despite getting Greg elected as the Chairman of the Union Planning Committee. But the gods smiled, and in 1979 the members of the Food Co-operative were able to move their operations to the west wing of what is now the Drill Hall Gallery.
One could be tempted to believe that it was the beginning of the end. Away from the heart of campus, the Drill Hall Gallery wing was in a derelict state. Not to be beaten by a small issue such as shitty accommodation, the co-op members got together to do some renovations, such as sanding and sealing the floor. One of the upsides of this new location was that they now got their own phone! Previously, the administrator of the Students Association had been supporting them by providing a switchboard-like service for the co-op. Her support and ‘protective-like shield’ had been pivotal in their previous location because they couldn’t afford their own phone in the Union building. However, they had always tried to make as many phone calls as they could from the SA phone without stretching the friendship.
Another, important, upside of the Co-op being moved to the left wing of the Drill Hall Gallery was that Radio 2XX was located in the other wing. Yes, the former Radio ANU had taken up residence there as part of morphing into beloved community radio station 2XX (FM 98.3). Nobody could have predicted how successful the resulting synergy would be. As a result of these two active community/student groups being placed in the same building, the Drill Hall Gallery became a great community hang-out space.
One must remember that this was a special era for students. Students could be ‘full-time activists and part-time students’ by virtue of the quaint philosophy of free education which still lingered from the Whitlam years. Students were able to receive living expenses from the Tertiary Education Allowance Scheme. (The amount of money wasn’t too exorbitant however; students used to joke about dropping out of uni and going on the dole, ‘Whoopee! I’m getting a payrise!’). As a result of this kind of freedom from financial pressures, there was a kind of community spirit on campus which today’s students can only dream about. Students were more optimistic about what they could do to save the world – that there could be a system that was not based on greed. They were fired by a kind of energy and activism that grew out of a rosy-eyed vision about what they could achieve as a community. La revolution was still alive.
One other interesting fact about this bygone era is that, apparently, the scent of home-grown dope was about as common around campus as mobile phones are now. Indeed, the ‘Bridge’ above Sullivans Creek – which now smells as though the socks of fifty engineering students have been left on the heater to dry – apparently used to be a thick fog of dope smoke. (Rumour has it that there was also a roaring trade in LSD which was manufactured in the ANU Chemistry Labs). There was even a Club on campus called ‘Marijuana Liberation Society’ who met regularly to discuss legalisation of dope (see Box 2).
The Food Co-operative thrived in these times. One day a man came to visit who had traveled the world conducting research on food co-operatives [for his PhD thesis at The University of Texas at Austin, which now boasts a Food Co-op which covers four floors of a multi-storey building]. He was amazed at what he found here in Canberra. What had grown from a small, student body had now grown, he believed, to become the largest retail purveyor of health foods in the southern hemisphere.
However, all golden times must come to an end. The Food Co-operative had grown in fact, too large, and it had become much more difficult to track finances. The kind of casual approach which had allowed people to hang around the premises, socializing and ‘snacking’ on the food was just one example of the incompetent management practices, which eventually resulted in a large and unmanageable debt. Once again, the Food Co-operative was in crisis.
Many people were shocked by this and became disillusioned. People have since commented that the danger of having such a wealth of energy and optimism – such as they had had in the ‘golden years’ – is that it can easily be punctured, and if people are not prepared for it they can fall hard.
One of the biggest losses of this era is the loss of the proximity between the Food Co-op and 2XX. Both organizations have been moved to even more marginalized locations, and both have suffered for it. Today, 2XX is located on the bottom level of Bunda St, opposite Academy nightclub (formerly the Centre Cinema). [Electric Shadows Cinema, part of the Ronin group, survived until December 2006 in its original twin-cinema location on the other side of Civic. The Centre Cinema, Canberra’s first arthouse cinema and the genesis of the Ronin group, was closed by the Ronin founders in 2003.] The ANU Food Co-Op is located in the far corner of campus behind Toad Hall. Sadly, both these institutions have been gravely threatened this year by financial crises. Factors such as rent rises and a slowly-dwindling support base have taken their toll on community organizations in the 21st century.
While the philosophy of providing cheap, healthy food to the Canberra population is instantly appealing in our tight-arsed and somewhat health-conscious community, it is exceedingly difficult for the Food Co-op to attract the student body when it is located in the antipodes of the campus. Fortunately for the Food Co-op, there are plans underfoot for a complete redevelopment of the ‘Rocks’ precinct, so that it may again become a kind of community hub.
However, in the intervening years before this redevelopment happens, the Co-op is desperately in need of student support. If you have ever accused Canberra of being a soulless, boring city, then please consider throwing your own hat into the ring and becoming a part of the historical community institutions that still remain in Canberra.
If the historical angle doesn’t appeal to you, then perhaps the romanticism of the ‘slow food’ lifestyle does. The ANU Food Co-op is part of an international movement called The Slow Food Movement. Founded in France and Italy, its stated aim is the ‘protection of the pleasures of the table from homogenization of modern fast food and life.’ (). While initially founded as a gastronomical movement (dedicated to the social pleasures of long, delicious meals and philosophical discussions) the movement has since come to embrace the virtues of sustainable development, and now defines itself as an ‘eco-gastronomic’ organization.
In summary, by becoming a member of the Food Co-op you are supporting your personal health and the cultural heritage of your community, not to mention local, sustainable agriculture. If you are prepared to take the time to walk or cycle down to the Food Co-operative you may discover, if not a new lifestyle, certainly a world of delicious low-carb, low-fat, unpackaged snacks.
- Based on a conversation with former ANU student, [former] journalist and long-term Food Co-operative member, Greg Carman. However, artistic license has been exercised.
This article was originally written for the 2006 Orientation Week Woroni, but was not used due to lack of space, an excuse that wore very thin through the year as successive editions of Woroni failed to feature it. New editors, elected for 2007 at the end of 2006, proved more supportive, and with minor changes it appeared on page 20 of the 2007 O-Week edition. By the way, “Food for Thought” was the name of a 15-minute spot I had with Robbie Swan on Monday Mornings on Radio 2XX in the late 1970s and early 1980s, talking about health foods and the Co-op. Greg Carman (May 2007)
FOOD FOR THOUGHT by Greg Carman
I began an article for the 1977 O-Week Woroni with the words: “In between falling asleep in the library and bonking in the shrubbery, the fresher may well discover the Food Co-op”.
God, how last millennium is that?!
Mind you, the Co-op was a little easier to find back then, occupying the space on the ground floor of the Students Union now occupied by the bike shop.
And in a more activist age, the combination of alternatives it represented, alternatives to conventional diet, to conventional commercial practices and to conventional disregard for environmental consequences hit all the right buttons for many new students.
Those were the years we grew to be the largest retail purveyor of health foods in the southern hemisphere, and we did that without the organic fresh fruit and veg section which accounts for most of our sales today.
And entirely on volunteer labour. Nobody got paid a cent (or a point or a voucher or a discount). Nobody.
Today we may pay a few people a pittance, but we’ve survived to turn 31 this year, and still the ANU’s best-kept secret. Still offering minimally-processed food, often grown without anything artificial, and supplied in bulk to shoppers who bring their own containers (if not their own produce). Still food for people, not for profit. And still pretty cheap.
And still more than just a working example of a sustainable way for a community to feed itself. For the last two years we have been at the centre of concern over the redevelopment of the City West precinct (which we now call home and which is now called ANU Exchange), several blocks of commercial buildings-to-be on land owned by the ACT but developed by the ANU. Concern that the redevelopment will not only leave us out in the cold, but also leave out true sustainability principles.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for all of us to see a working example of a commercial precinct planned and built for minimal environmental impact, six-green-star from one side to the other, with permaculture gardens in between the buildings and populated by people committed to making the changes we have to make before environmental collapse forces us to make them, if we then still can. And at the heart of the precinct should be the ANU Food Co-op.
But that’s another story. You can read it on the Co-op’s web page at 
But don’t just visit us on the web. Come and see us in person (map below). Snack on something good for the inner environment as well as the outer one. See how much better organically-grown fruit tastes.
You don’t have to be a member to shop, it’s just cheaper if you are. And even cheaper if you’re a working member.
Come and co-operate in feeding yourself and your (new?) community. Orient yourself for a sustainable future. It may be the only alternative.
Founding member, ANU Nutrition Society (“Food Co-op”), 1976
Member, Management Collective, 1977-1980, 2004 to present
Treasurer, ANU Food Cooperative Limited, 2005 to present
President, ROCKS (Residents Of Childers and Kingsley Streets), 2006 to present
From Food Co-op Shop Wiki
The ANU Food Cooperative has been operating within the University grounds since 1976. It has a great history and has developed strong ties to many past and present ANU students and alumni. Our Goals and Values have been adhered to throughout the 30 years of operation, thanks to our constant membership support and committed volunteer contribution.
At the core of our philosophy are social justice principles of access, equity and participation – placing our values in close alignment with the ACT Government’s vision for the Canberra region.
As a result we have created a strong, open and diverse community presence which is acknowledged by both the long term and newer membership base.
As a non-profit organisation the Cooperative uses every possible means to keep its running costs to a minimum. This allows us to apply a very small mark-up on the goods we sell in order to be able to supply affordable food to students, families and low-income earners. This is consistent with our values and is especially important given that a significant proportion of our members (over 50%) have an annual income of less than $15,000 per annum.
Having access to premises where we pay for utilities such as power, water and phone but not rent contributes significantly to our ability to preserve our low margins.
The Future of the Cooperative is extremely positive providing it can continue to be in an accessible location, with the same terms and conditions as present. There is great scope for further student involvement in the Cooperative which could become a vital social focal point in the ANU Exchange Precinct, building even stronger and broader links with the student community.
A key factor in achieving our goals for the future will be the realisation of a strong partnership with the ANU. The Cooperative will provide an example of an effectively functioning community-run organisation, which has direct and open access to the ANU and wider community. It will also provide an open and welcoming space for international student participation.
The Cooperative’s future accommodation requirements include a similar amount of space as it accommodates at present. Improved kitchen/food production facilities along with more effective cool room space would be desirable and fully utilised.
Car access/parking and bicycle parking is imperative to the successful operation of the Cooperative, along with access to facilities such as a meeting room and toilet.
The growing ANU Exchange precinct will benefit from the presence of an active community organisation. The Cooperative will attract customers and volunteers into the precinct and provide opportunity for precinct residents, students and others, to participate and become part of their local community.
With continued support from the ANU and ACT Government, the Cooperative will strengthen its position as a valuable community service providing access to affordable, healthy food with minimal packaging in an environment that fosters participation and cooperation.
Our Mission Statement
Our mission is to provide access to affordable, healthy food with minimal packaging in an environment that fosters participation and cooperation.
- Provide healthy food to our members & the public at affordable prices
- Promote local and home grown produce
- Make organic food affordable for students, families and low income earners
- Encourage member participation
- Provide information and education about nutrition
- Encourage members to adopt sustainable practices
- Waste minimisation
- Environmental Responsibility
- Community Participation
- Inclusion & Openness
Our Members: Currently our membership is approximately 400 and growing. The growth is a result of promotional activities we have undertaken in the last eight months, coupled with improvements to the retail environment. We aim to build membership up to 1,000. We have developed strategies to achieve this (see Our Preferred Future). The following information is based on a membership survey undertaken during July/August 2006. Over 50% of those surveyed responded, including 25% of our annual membership base.
- 65% of the current members are ANU students, staff or alumni
- Over 65% of members live in a household with children
- Over 90% of those who shop with their children find it easier than shopping in a supermarket
- Over 50% of members have an annual income of less than $15,000.
The ANU Food Cooperative services a broad and diverse range of the community. It has a large student representation; including many who are not members but use the Cooperative to purchase healthy snacks on regular basis. Many ANU staff drop in to the Cooperative to purchase healthy snacks and lunches. A number of workers employed in offices in City West also purchase lunches or ingredients for their lunches from the Cooperative.
Over half of the Cooperative’s members purchase more than half of their household weekly groceries from the Cooperative. Many of these members shop with young children and appreciate the family friendly environment.
The Cooperative has 24 members who participate as shop coordinators. Currently half of the coordinators are ANU students and a further 8 are ANU alumni. ANU has been a longstanding source of coordinators and volunteers for the Cooperative. The close proximity with the ANU has fostered support for the organisation and provides an integral part of the Cooperative’s community.
Volunteer work and general support is similarly strong, with over 60% of members contributing voluntary work in 2006.
The Food Cooperative is a long-term member of the Residents of Childers and Kingsley Streets (ROCKS) group. These groups work collaboratively and share resources and provide support, for example, faxes, photocopiers, meeting space, barbecues, laminators, and tools.
The Current Situation; Our Accommodation
When it was originally founded in 1976 the ANU Food Cooperative was called the ANU Nutrition Society and was located in the ANU Union building, first where the bike shop now is and then where currently there is a Newsagent. In 1979 the ANU Food Cooperative relocated to premises in the Drill Hall gallery on Kingsley St where it stayed until 1984, when it relocated again to its current premises.
All of these properties have been provided to the Cooperative rent-free, which has been a significant factor in enabling us to realise our mission statement, achieve our goals and provide healthy food to the community at affordable prices. At present, the Cooperative pays directly its own utilities and services except for water and sewerage where the costs are shared via an annual payment to the ROCKS group.
The Cooperative occupies a building that is approximately 200m2, which it has improved and renovated over the years since 1984 to make it as functional as possible. A cold store room has been created with the fitting of air conditioning units and insulation. Retail floor space has been created with purpose built shop fittings from a local cabinetmaker. Facilities include a small lounge area and a foyer with community notice boards, a kitchen for food preparation and cleaning, and a small office space for the manager and volunteers.
Outdoor areas include a toilet, carport, loading dock, two dedicated staff car parking spaces and several one-hour car parks. The Cooperative has access to the ROCKS meeting room for Board meetings.
Our Financial Position
The Cooperative is currently in a sustainable financial position. Over the past six months total sales have increased by 30% compared with the same period last year. Membership has also grown by about 30%, which has also provided an increase in revenue. The employment of a full-time manager has enabled the Cooperative to reduce overheads in a number of areas, introduce better processes and achieve higher turnover.
The Cooperative’s operating costs are minimised through the contribution of volunteer labour, utilisation of second hand and donated shop equipment (fridges, freezers, cash registers) and shop fittings.
Our Preferred Future
The Cooperative has set a goal of growing the membership to 1000 by 2008. This is a realistic goal; the Cooperative’s membership has been as high as 2000 in the past and in recent years as high as 600, without a substantial advertising effort. Some of the activities that will be undertaken to build membership and promote the Cooperative include:
- Advertising at O-week, around campus and at the halls of residents
- Promotion through the community radio stations 2XX and Artsound FM
- Production of posters and flyers to promote the Cooperative, focusing on the inner north and the central Canberra area
- Liaising with print media to gain coverage of the Cooperative’s unique services
- Stalls at major community events
- Reciprocal promotion through businesses with shared values eg. Vegetarian restaurants
- Expansion of the links and information offered on the website
- Advertising in relevant local magazines and websites
The ability to keep prices as low as possible will enable the Cooperative to maintain its existing customer base and attract new student members. As such the Cooperative will continue to keep costs down through innovation, resourcefulness and use of volunteers.
The Cooperative aims to expand its product range which will enable current customers to purchase more of their household goods at the one venue and also attract new customers, e.g. students in residential accommodation in the expanding ANU Exchange.
An improved food production area will enable the Cooperative to more efficiently prepare goods such as nut butters, juices and sauces; value adding to the products already sold and minimising packaging.
The Sustainable Learning Communities Group (SLC) is currently in the process of starting an Organic garden on the campus. Many of the Cooperative’s student members are involved in this project. The Cooperative will seek to identify synergies with this initiative as well as provide an outlet for the sale of excess produce.
The Food Cooperative facilitates education about sustainable practices within its member community, directly contributing to ANU commitments on environmental practise as specified in the ANU Environmental Policy and other formal environmental commitments.
The Cooperative has plans to work with the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health (NCEPH) on a campaign to promote nutrition awareness and healthy eating habits.
The Cooperative within the ANU Community
With the increasing residential student population in the ANU Exchange the Cooperative will seek to expand the range of opportunities for involvement of the student body. The Cooperative will seek to offer opportunities that are of mutual benefit to the students and the Cooperative.
The Cooperative provides a supportive work experience opportunity that enables students to develop skills and confidence to seek paid employment to support them through their studies. They can gain customer service skills, a variety of retail skills including stock ordering, knowledge of food safety and hygiene, and so on.
Students can develop other skills including web design and maintenance, newsletter production, organisation of a major annual social event (food feast), database management, and financial management.
Students can gain exposure to the methods and practices of community organisations and in particular can gain experience of participating in a governing board. They can learn and practice group facilitation skills (via board involvement or collective meetings).
The Food Cooperative provides a valuable venue for social networking. Here past, present and future ANU alumni, academics and staff are able to interact within a diverse, intergenerational, cross-cultural atmosphere. This creates the opportunity for valuable exchanges between groups that may otherwise not have contact with each other. Students whose first language is not English can practice and improve their English, and international students can get to know local students and become involved in a safe, friendly community. English speaking students often get to practice a second language with some customers.
The Cooperative expects to be able to increase its membership and total sales as part of a revitalised precinct with a large residential student body.
The growing ANU Exchange precinct will benefit from the presence of an active community organisation. The Cooperative will attract customers and volunteers into the precinct and provide opportunity for precinct residents, students and others, to participate and become part of their local community.
The Cooperative requires an amount of space comparable to that which it currently occupies. The space would include street frontage, parking, shop floor area, a small office, cool and cold storage areas, food preparation/kitchen area, foyer/lounge area and a toilet. Truck access is important as well as a waste holding and storage area. The premises need to meet health and safety standards for the preparation and sale of food.
The Cooperative currently shares an additional meeting space and will need its own, or access to a similar facility.
The Cooperative would like to be involved in the design of the space to ensure that it is functional to its purpose and goals.
University Cooperatives in Australia
The following Universities have a food Cooperative on campus. All of these cooperatives have free rent agreements and many also receive free services/utilities. Some have cafe/restaurants.
- University of Technology Sydney
- Sydney University
- Wollongong University
- Griffith University
- Melbourne University
- Monash University
- Latrobe University
- RMIT, Melbourne City Campus
- Flinders University
The following Universities are currently setting up Cooperative Food Shops and Cafes:
- Murdoch University, Western Australia
- Hobart University, Tasmania
- James Cook University, Townsville
There seems to be a resurgence of food Cooperatives at the moment that is a great indication for growth in community values Australia wide.
Following is a relevant sample of additional comments made by current members on our recent survey. Contacts and further survey information are available on request.
“Co-operatives are a rare form of business that combine both social elements and cost minimisation for its members. The co-op provides healthy organic food, opportunities for people to gain valuable work experience, and meet other people in the student and staff community.”
“Genuinely placing people before profits is a rare and unusual retail approach in the norm of current commercial practice. To young students, the cooperative structure demonstrates an example of an innovative model that they would otherwise not be exposed to outside the campus.”
“Fits in with ANU’s environment focus on campus e.g. bicycle system etc. Perhaps the Coop could be listed as another environment initiative, if it is not already so. Builds community at a point very close to the campus e.g. a person coming to ANU had just come in from USA and visited coop in her first couple of days here, provides friendly point of contact with local community.”
“The ACT was founded on models and alternative options to live a better way. I think government and ANU support is essential for this to operate from a community values philosophy. Retaining diversity in our food and access to food is critical to our survival and understanding of our basic human needs – fresh food and community connection.”
“I have a preference for shopping at the co-op because the products can be purchased without excess packaging. The primary aim of the ACT Government ACT NOWaste 2010 is “To provide the ACT Government with high quality policy advice in the area of waste minimisation and diversion from landfill.” The co-op, packaging practice certainly links in with this aim. The ACT Government support of the Co-op would be a demonstrable step in achieving this aim.”
“The coop should be given a central place at ANUExchange, because it has been and continues to be at the front-line of what Canberra will have to do in terms of its environmental, its health and its political future. The coop should be made into a show-case of reasonable thinking, reasonable organization and reasonable social attitude.”
“I would like to see the co-op continue as it fills an important role in the Canberra community by providing good quality, fresh, reasonably priced organic food.”
“The Co-op is a great resource for the ANU and general Canberra community. It is a friendly place to buy good food that is not over-packaged.”
“We have been in Australia for almost one year. The co-op is where my children learn what ‘broader community’ means and can get involved. We feel appreciation from others for our involvement and we know we are doing right for ourselves.”
“Shopping at the Food Coop is much more enjoyable and less stressful than shopping at a large supermarket and makes it easier to reduce my ecological footprint by buying less packaging.”
“Access to the Food coop is one item on a (shrinking) list of things that makes living in Canberra preferable to my home city, Melbourne.”
“My favourite shopping venue in an ideal position with a beautiful community spirit.”
“I was a member of the Melbourne Uni Food Co-op for years and practically the first thing I did when I arrived in Canberra (to take up a new job) was join the ANU Food Co-op. In my experience Food Co-ops are a great community space fulfilling a range of important functions (e.g. more affordable food, environmentally friendly practices, and space to build community links, opportunity for community ownership and management and the skill development that goes with that). I think it is no exaggeration to say that the social fabric of Canberra would be diminished without the ANU Food Co-op – member-owned and -run co-ops provide an important opportunity for people to develop and practice civic values and skills.”
“Building our Community. The Canberra Social Plan”, Australian Capital Territory, 2004
Food Co-op at Centre of Sustainability Hub
The “Community Case” above, which went to ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope and ANU Vice-Chancellor Ian Chubb (as the top dogs in the ANU Exchangepartnership) in July of 2006, was a collective exercise, but its principal author was the extraordinary Trish Harrup: Co-op member, ROCKS member, media star and Director of the ACT Conservation Council.
This is a bullet-point summary I produced at an early stage of the process in 2005. Greg Carman (May 2007)
FOOD CO-OP AT CENTRE OF SUSTAINABILITY HUB
The ANU Food Co-op is the perfect centre for the City West redevelopment, a.k.a. ANU Exchange.
FULFILLING THE BRIEF
Nothing else so completely exemplifies all the features we need to make this mini-MFP [Multi-Function Polis] for a sustainable future a success. What better to stand at the interface between the ANU and Canberra City, where town meets gown, than an institution which for 29 years has drawn on the resources of the university, human and material, to service both the campus and the wider community:
• Town meets gown in the community’s use of the Co-operative Food Shop
• Gown meets town in the practical implementation of academic theory, the word made flesh (and vegetables)
• Country meets gown in organic farmers’ sales to the Co-operative Food Shop
• Gown meets town in the educative value of this practical example of sustainability principles at work – the fastest way to a community’s heart is through its stomach
• Town meets country in a repair of the disconnect between growers and consumers of food
• Gown meets town in the student volunteers who staff the Co-operative Food Shop meeting community Co-op members, engaging not just in the co-operative supply of man’s most basic material need but also in the dialogue about wider needs, starting with a healthy environment, internal and external
• The ivory tower brought down to earth
• Nothing educates better than a working example
• Nothing teaches so powerfully as hands-on involvement in a working model, especially one with a 30-year history of success
• The Co-op is not just a living alternative to unsustainable agricultural practices, to outdated ways of growing food, but to unsustainable systems of processing, packaging and distributing that food
FEEDING THE MINI-MFP
• If there is a class of tenants willing to pay a premium for space in a “green” building, how much more will they pay to be part of a City West with the Food Co-op at its heart, especially a Food Co-op with a purpose-built organic bistro at its heart
• And if that is true for tenants, a fortiori it’s true for cutting-edge enterprises, quangoes, outposts of foreign campuses etc looking to build or occupy whole buildings in City West
• And if that would be true for the existing Co-operative Food Shop, how much more true would it be for one housed in purpose-built accommodation, in it’s own version of a 6-greenstar building, with an organic bistro attached
THE SCIENCE OF SUSTAINABILITY
• At the centre of the scientific method is experiment, the testing of hypotheses, and the Co-op is a continuing experiment in better ways by which a community might feed itself
• The Co-op is by nature of its co-operative structure open to the ideas of all, a fertile testing ground for academic theory
PERSUADING THE PRIVATE PARTNER
• It’s a myth that ‘green’ buildings cost more than conventional ones. Savings in energy costs alone make a ‘green’ building cheaper to own after as little as three months [International Netherlands Group Bank building, Amsterdam]
• And then there are the other savings: sick leave for employees, water use, etc
• And then there are the other material benefits: improved productivity, more cheerful staff, better staff retention, lower absenteeism, etc
• And then there are the non-material benefits, at least in a world where damaging the environment comes without immediate financial cost
• Tenants will pay a premium for space in a ‘green’ building, not just those with a conscience about the future of the planet, but anyone who appreciates the pleasure of natural lighting and ventilation with the comfort of natural warmth in the winter and coolth in the summer
• Providing the Co-op with purpose-built space at a peppercorn rent means acquiring an anchor tenant, someone whose presence will attract other tenants at premium prices (e.g. the project builder selling homes built to former ANU architect Derek Wrigley’s solar house designs) [Anchor tenants in shopping centres, like Coles and Woolies, are given space at a reduced rent because of their power to attract shoppers.]
• This development will attract the attention of people across the globe. There could be no better advertisement for its builders.
• On triple-bottom-line accounting it’s a lay-down misere
• Nothing else we will ever do will be as important to our future — individual, collective and corporate
THIS IS A ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME OPPORTUNITY. LET’S NOT WAIT FOR ENVIRONMENTAL DISASTER TO FORCE IT ON US.