Clarity needed over food co-op motivations
However the report found that the operating structures of food co-ops range from formal cooperative membership to those set up as part of a health initiative. While both were seen to have benefits, the underlying ethos appears to have implications for their longer-term sustainability and viability.
This means that policy makers and funders should also be clear about what they are supporting/funding, according to authors Dr Julie Smith, Georgia Machell and Professor Martin Caraher. They need to ask: is a community food project /health initiative a 'true' food co-op?
The report examines how the operation and delivery of the Food Co-ops and Buying Group (FCBG) project met the project goals set by the five-year Making Local Food Work (MLFW) programme (2007-2012). It also looks at the level of support that food co-ops have received, and aims to build the broader context on the role of food co-ops in England. Key findings from the evaluation reveal that:
- Food co-ops have diverse operating structures, ranging from formal co-operative membership (22% of case studies evaluated) to those set up as part of health-related initiatives (39% of case studies evaluated);
- 83% of food co-ops that were evaluated were reliant on volunteers and many were reliant on external funding which poses issues for their long-term sustainability/viability; and
- Long-standing food co-ops (that operated formal co-operative structures) had taken steps to become financially secure, they developed business plans and used a mixture of paid workers and volunteers.