14 April 2023

Australia's oldest food co-op is struggling to keep its doors open

| Lizzie Waymouth
A man handing a customer a bowl of food

The Canberra Food Co-op relies on the support of its members and volunteers. Photos: The Food Co-op Shop & Cafe Facebook.

The Canberra Food Co-op has been a mainstay of the ANU campus since it first officially opened in 1976, but the community-run, non-profit organisation has been facing difficulties in recent years and is struggling to remain open.

It offers low-waste, locally sourced, fairtrade and organic produce, bulk wholefoods and sustainable household items, and also hosts events for the community. It relies on the support of volunteers and its members, which own and run the co-op.

However, with post-COVID recovery and rising living costs impacting cafes, restaurants and venues across the city, it has been increasingly difficult for the co-op to continue operating.

“You’ve probably heard by now … that the Co-op is having, ahem, difficult discussions about our future,” the co-op said in a Facebook post on 5 April.

“That being said, we have come back from these situations before, and we will do so again!”

READ ALSO Come for the tacos, stay for the community at the Canberra Food Co-op Night Market

Speaking to Region, communications and events manager Yani x said the difficulties have been going on for a while, but “COVID’s impact was very uneven … it’s been a couple of years that things have been on the downturn”.

“It’s part of a larger trend around Australia,” she said.

“Every co-op in New Zealand and a lot in Australia have closed. A lot of us are struggling right now.”

Asked about the causes of these difficulties, Yani said “it’s a combination of things … After COVID, a lot of classes were moved online”, meaning fewer ANU students were on campus.

Cakes and biscuits

The Food Co-op offers groceries, meals and sweet treats, with vegan and gluten-free options.

At the same time, “the rising cost of living is definitely a part of it” as many people believe food co-ops will be more expensive than buying groceries from a supermarket – though this may be a misconception.

“We don’t think it’s actually true,” she said.

Parking is an additional issue, Yani said, though the car park opposite the co-op is free on weekends.

There has also been a shift in social attitudes.

“People are very atomised. They keep to themselves,” she said.

“People don’t necessarily want community with their groceries.”

READ ALSO What’s eating Canberra’s hospitality industry?

Despite this, the co-op continues to fight to stay open and is reaching out to more people to get involved.

“We’re trying to reach more people, and more diverse groups of people”, such as young families, Yani said.

“We’ve started a lot of working groups for a lot of ideas,” she added, “and we’re full of events”.

Next week’s events include yoga on Monday, meditation on Tuesday, night markets on Thursday and a clothes swap on Saturday. There are also regular lunches every day.

Yani hopes this will “keep people coming through the door” enough for the co-op to stay standing. She added that they are taking a look at their wider organisation, from the range of products available and how the store is organised all the way up to a larger strategy.

A crowdfunding campaign has also been launched to help raise money for the co-op, with the aim of reaching $50,000 to secure its future.

Original Article published by Lizzie Waymouth on Riotact.

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