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Blue Mountains Food Co-op in Katoomba.

Community owned food co-ops

Looking for an ethical alternative to grocery giants? Jacqueline Forster takes a look at one food co-op and what it offers.

There are many benefits to having a food co-op in your community. So it’s worth joining your local group — and if you don’t have one, you might consider starting one up. Here’s how a co-op got started in Dungog.

Sowing the seed 

One fledgling co-op that reached out to the Blue Mountains group for advice was Dungog Wholefood Co-operative in the Hunter Region of NSW. Co-founder Anna Crane tells Jacqueline Forster how they are realising their dream.

“We are a small town with a big idea, inspired by what is already happening in our region around food and sustainability,” Crane says. 

“We are blessed with a beautiful environment, dedicated and innovative growers and producers, the lively and well attended weekly Dungog Local Growers’ Stall, and Single Use Plastic-Free Dungog, who’ve made great strides towards reducing waste. But we felt there was still a gap to fill that would connect all these dots.

“Most of us rely on the local small supermarket for weekly staples or travel elsewhere for wider choice. This means we must compromise in terms of buying into the stranglehold of the grocery giants, high food miles, unacceptable food packaging and a lack of regard for people and planet that’s the current norm. We realised there was an opportunity to grow and build on what was already working and flourishing here, so we got together and cooked up the idea of creating a hub for fair food to connect eaters, growers and makers. A co-operative grocery store looked to be the perfect way to make this happen. 

Filling a need

“The response from the community has been overwhelming. Numbers for our first meeting in 2020 were restricted to 50 due to COVID, so sadly we had to turn people away! We quickly found a diverse and capable team of nine people who did the hard yards to get to formation. We’ve since added other fantastic souls to the team and have launched our fundraising campaign, which is going gangbusters.We’ve had generous offers of money, hundreds of volunteer hours applying skills from fixing windows to making websites, equipment donations and other in-kind contributions and, of course, so many words of wisdom and encouragement. 

“Dungog is ready for a wholefood co-op. People are hungry for a place that reflects what they care about in terms of where their food comes from, how it is produced, who grows it and how workers are treated, and the impact all this has on the planet, our climate, and the future.” 

Blue Mountains Co-op in Katoomba by Maja Baska

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Want to learn more about starting a food co-op in your community? You can read Jacqueline Foster’s full article in Issue 130