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The Concept of Cooperation

There is a saying- Many hands make light work. Humans have adopted this philosophy through the generations, allowing them to thrive and flourish. Cooperation with food and resources is not new.

From the very earliest human civilisations, we learned to cooperate and work together. As you can imagine, this cooperation took the form of sharing hunting, fishing and gathered foods, and building shelters.

As agriculture began to take shape, farmers relied (and continue to rely) on each other to defend land, harvest crops, build barns and storage buildings, and share equipment.

The First Food Cooperatives

The earliest food cooperatives appeared in Europe in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, during the Industrial Revolution.I love how a little history can help explain why we do certain things in our modern lives.

As people moved from farms to cities, they suddenly could not grow their own food. They had to rely on stores. These were not any store, they were generally owned by the companies the people worked for. To make matters even worse,   many workers were paid in chits that could only be exchanged for food and supplies at these company owned stores.   The average consumer had very few choices and essentially no control over the exorbitant prices they were being charged for daily essentials.

Being a creative bunch, us humans, groups of people began experimenting with another method of purchasing. This involved pooling their money and purchasing groceries together somewhere other than the company store.  These quick thinking people realised that purchasing goods from a wholesale dealer- in bulk- and then dividing it equally amongst themselves was a much cheaper option.

The Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society

Rochdale is considered the birthplace of the modern food cooperative movement.

In 1843 workers in the textile mills of Rochdale, England, went on strike. While the strike was ultimately a failure, the workers decided to look for ways to improve their lives themselves.  One fateful day twenty-eight people banded together to found the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society. This cooperative purchasing group then created their own store as an alternative to the company food store.

As the first successful Co-op Society, the Rochdale Pioneers learned from mistakes made by earlier co-op societies. To implement their learnings and to help others, they developed a list of operating principles that governed their organisation. This original list forms the basis for what we even now know as the Cooperative Principles.

Cooperation Grows Around the World

Like their predecessors in England, early producer and consumer based cooperatives experimented with ways to band together to gain economic clout.  For example, some co-ops helped farmers keep their costs low through joint purchases of supplies, such as feed, equipment, tools, or seed.

In rural and urban areas, consumer co-ops were organised to provide consumers with control over what they ate and to fight the unfair practices of private and company stores. Over the years, consumer co-ops have experienced waves of popularity, growth and development, followed by periods of decline.

Many co-ops today fail due to insufficient capital, poor management, inadequate membership support, lack of adequate support from wholesalers and a lack of understanding of the cooperative principles by their members.

On the flipside, many co-ops that survive are strong and well established. The consumer co-op movement in Australia appears to have had mixed success—especially in contrast to consumer co-ops in Europe.  But each wave of cooperative growth, produces renewed enthusiasm for a time-tested idea and it’s innovations that prove successful and beneficial for consumers in the marketplace.

Minifarms is excited to bring you all something very soon so keep watching this space!


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