To mark Co-op Fortnight 2023, Food Plymouth caught up with Plymouth’s Co-operative Food Organiser Kelly Fritzsche to learn how her work growing food co-ops in Plymouth makes for an altogether different way to support communities across the city. Kelly works as Co-operative Food Organiser for Plymouth City Council, hosted by Four Greens Community Trust with funding from NHS Devon and support and training from Cooperation Town. She started in role in November 2022.
Cooperation Town: the background
Cooperation Town co-ops are small neighbourhood buying groups, providing their members with free and affordable groceries, sourced in bulk and distributed at a very low price.
Cooperation Town food co-ops are owned by their members and run according to local needs. Members decide collectively on how to organise and are responsible for the day to day running of the co-op.
While each Cooperation Town co-op is independent, the network is designed to share resources and support across the movement.
Our vision is for a food co-op on every street in every town!
Great to catch up, Kelly! Tell me about your role and how you’ve settled in over the last six months.
My role is to help set up sustainable food co-ops in Plymouth. In my first six months, I focused mainly on research – building understanding of the Cooperation Town model and knowledge of current food provision in Plymouth and surplus suplly, as well as gathering feedback about what already works well, to help in identifying future opportunities.
So what exactly is a food co-op? How does it work?
A co-op is open to all. This means anyone can be in a food co-op. It has open membership and is run on a voluntary basis by its members. Food co-ops work in cooperation with others, sharing food, resources and being respectful of individual and collective voices.
Economic participation is part of being a member – each member pays in to a collective pot and the money raised goes towards paying for food (which could be via wholesale bulk order, surplus food or other ways of buying food) for the group to share. A food co-op is inherently not-for-profit.
Food co-ops are founded on the basis of care and concern within communities, with people working together to understand what’s needed in their community and make a difference. This has been supported by education and training for volunteers (so far from organisations including Food is Fun CIC, PEC, Citizens Advice and LiveWell South West).
Ultimately, every food co-op looks different and will be run differently, according to what the members of each co-op decide. Each food co-op reflects its own unique community and has autonomy and independence, with the seven Cooperative Principles at its heart.
What are your next steps now that the ground work is in place?
Through my training in London with Cooperation Town, it’s clear that the model used there needs to be adapted to the local context in Plymouth. We’re not in a position to acquire free food in the same way that happens, for example, in We’re asking “What could food co-ops be? How can we make the best of them?”
As a result of all of my research, we’ll be trialling four different sustainable food co-op models going forward: food co-ops, co-op fruit and veg boxes, co-op food clubs and co-op social supermarkets. We need to be able to a diversity of provision in Plymouth and already have two co-op food clubs established, with weekly sessions at the Manadon Sports and Community Hub and Southway Youth and Community Centre. We’re working with the University of Plymouth on a fruit and veg box co-op ahead of the new academic year and are also linking with Mayflower Community Academy and a local church there to form a neighbourhood food co-op, as well as with Mutley Baptist Church.
What has the response been so far to the idea of food co-ops?
There has been lots of interest in being part of a food co-op within the communities that we have worked with so far. There can sometimes be misconceptions about who can access or be part of them, such as if a person has to be seen as being ‘in need’, as with food aid provision. Food co-ops are entirely different. There is no judgement made or qualification to meet and membership is not based upon perceived level of need or deservedness of any kind. All are welcome and everyone joining will bring different skills and experience to share. Shifting mindsets can be difficult but the power of food co-ops is that they offer a way of doing something differently to help yourself and others.
It sounds as if your – and their – work is going from strength to strength! How can people find out more, or if they’re interested in starting a food co-op in their neighbourhood?
Anyone who’d like to get involved in setting up a food co-op in their neighbourhood is welcome to contact me via email.