Co-operatives as an alternative distribution system for local food and community development

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Berge, Simon
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University of Guelph

Consolidation within the food system places the needs of the system itself over the needs of communities (Brenner, Peck and Theodore, 2010; Patel, 2010; Gross, 2011; Holt-Gimenez and Shattuck, 2011; Marsden and Franklin, 2013). To ensure the system’s needs are met the current food system curtails information flows creating an asymmetry of information between consumers and retailers (Jaffe and Gertler, 2006; Nestle’, 2007). This lack of information leads to decreased community participation within the food system as seen by the distancing of consumers from food preparation (Jaffe and Gertler, 2006). This research examined how Ontario food co-operatives developed to address a community’s ability to participate within the food system. Three questions were asked within this research project to determine the role of food co-operatives in Ontario: 1) How do Ontario co-operatives define and interact with their communities to bring about community development? 2) What is the current state of Ontario food co-operatives through the examination of governance, finances, and their scale of distribution? 3) How do co-operatives address the consolidation and asymmetry of information within the current food system? To address these questions, nine case studies and key informant interviews with co-operative managers were completed across four regions and one sub-region in Ontario. To be considered a food co-operative, the mission and vision statement for the co-operative had to emphasize a food focus to the business strategy. Co-operatives were segmented within the sample based on average gross sales revenues over three years. Financial analysis of the co-operatives was completed using three years worth of data. Spatial analysis of membership was completed to define scale of distribution using membership postal codes. The results showed that small and medium co-operatives maintained a consolidated membership base with potential for greater interaction between co-operative and membership. This interaction assisted in the development of a community definition as well as programs to address the asymmetry of information in the food system. The programs also acted as a bridge between socio-economic groups within the community, helping to facilitate community development.

co-operatives, local food, community development