activist notes

Multi-stakeholder Food Coops, The Future Is Tasty by activistnotes

By Ian Hussey

What the heck is a multi-stakeholder coop? Glad you asked.

According to the Canadian Worker Co-op Federation, the British Columbia Institute for Co-operative Studies, and the Co-operatives Secretariat (yeah!) of the Government of Canada (BOO! Just joking, kind of. Hey, wouldn’t it be great if the Government of Canada was run cooperatively? Ya know, beyond the Liberal Party cow-toeing to the Conservatives), a multi-stakeholder coop serves the needs of various stakeholder groups. It has different types or classes (not the ideal terminology, in my mind) of members, and every multi-stakeholder coop by definition has two or more types of members, with the rights of each class of membership set out in the coop’s rules. For example, membership classes may include: workers, producers (like farmers or artists), consumers, clients, investors, and potentially other individual or organizational stakeholders. So, a multi-stakeholder coop has some features of a worker coop.

A multi-stakeholder produce market coop may bring together farmers, customers (eaters, they likes it tasty!), and workers ALL within one coop. Sound a bit different than your usual food shopping experience? Hmm, wouldn’t it be rad if the whole world was one big ole multi-stakeholder coop? I mean: can’t we all just get along?

Let me answer my own rhetorical question: no. What with the Olympic torch, a supposed (or should I say a former) universal symbol of peace, recently being secretly diverted from crowds in San Francisco of peaceful people working for a free Tibet (free Tibet!) and against human rights abuses in China.

But, wait! Parkdale, a neighbourhood in the westend of Toronto, is home to the third largest Tibetan population in the world. And guess what else is going on in the westend of Toronto? A developing multi-stakeholder food coop! The Westend Food Coop!

There used to be a bunch of food coops in Toronto back in the day (like a couple decades ago), but now Karma Food Coop is the only one left, I’m pretty sure. 

(Karma is the coolest. Why else would I shop there? I mean, if you didn’t know, which I don’t know how you couldn’t, I’m ultra-cool, so I know cool. And if you’re lucky you’ll see me at Karma while you’re shopping there, but I won’t talk to you because I’m ultra-cool. Cool like the Organic Meadow Fair Trade ice cream I buy at Karma. Now that’s cool!).

But seriously, the lack of food coops in Toronto is not only whack but it’s also out of whack with the entire City. I mean, come on, 49% of people living in the Big Smoke weren’t born in Canada, according to the City’s official website. Forget “multiculturalism”. That takes cooperation and understanding. (Say, do you think the people in the immigration office tell people that Toronto is called the Big Smoke? Like: “Oh, I see on your application that you plan to live in the Big Smoke. Great choice!”)

The Westend Food Coop has been in development for about half a year now (since October, 2007), and has taken some major steps in that time. You wouldn’t believe the amount of work, dedication, time, and capital it takes to start a food coop. But when your goal is to create a food system that will positively affect the environment, the community and the local economy, and contribute to local food security, all that work is more than worth it.

The coop’s voluntary steering committee is chaired by John Richmond. I really like John; he’s hardcore – fully committed to living his values. The coordinators of the emerging coop are Ayal Dinner and Graeme Hussey. Ayal is the nicest guy you’ll ever meet, much nicer than me (you’re shocked, I know). And Graeme is my older brother; he’s ok, too.

The coop’s goal is to operate a one-stop food shop of about 10,000 square feet that offers local, organic and Fair Trade products. The coop will be owned by members, employees, producers and suppliers, and will pay workers a livable wage (and lets face it, living in Toronto ain’t cheap).

It’s gonna take over a million bucks to get a retail location going, and it isn’t easy to go from zero to 10,000 square feet. So, the group is taking an interim step by hiring Janna Luettmann as their local food awareness campaign coordinator and setting up a brand spanking new farmers’ market in Sorauren Park on the City’s westend, of course.

Now, I’ve been to a few farmers’ markets in my day, from Wolfville, Nova Scotia to Moss St in Victoria, British Columbia. But, the Sorauren Park market being a multi-stakeholder market certainly will rank amongst the most innovative in the country. It will offer vegetables, meat, cheese, honey and seasonal products like blueberries and maple syrup. Mmmm local, organic blueberries.

The coop will have a table at the Earth Day activities in Sorauren Park on April 19th, and will be looking for volunteers for setting up and taking down the weekly farmers’ market, folks interested in providing educational programming or contributing to a food blog and a newsletter the group hopes to publish (tell them you’ll blog for food!).  

So mark your calendars if you live on the west-side or will be visiting Toronto this summer. The Sorauren Park farmers’ market will take place every Monday night beginning in mid-May or early June and will run to the end of October. 

PS – if you’ve never been to the November 1st jack-o-lantern festival in Sorauren Park, it is quite a sight to behold. Hundreds of people from the local hoods bring their jack-o-lanterns to the park and line them up along the path. Quite a sight to see all those lit lanterns! And, if you were wondering, the City comes the next day and composts all of the jack-o-lanterns. So, it’s all good.


1 Comment so far
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Aren’t Co-ops cool, I’m with you on that one. I would love for hear another blog post about the this co-op and any other multi-stakeholder co-ops you know about.

Thanks for the post.

Comment by Kelly Hays

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