Happy Birthday Alfalfa House

Park Slope Food Co-op in New York, but still, it is a worthy milestone for any community owned enterprise.

Alfalfa House provides low-cost, ethically-produced and minimally-packaged wholefoods which are predominately organic, biodynamic, as well as cruelty-free, vegetarian and or vegan lines. Most lines are provided in bulk with customers supplying their own jars and bags. As would be expected, locally sourced food is also high on the agenda. Whenever possible, given contraint of seasons, fruit and vegetables are sourced direct from the co-op’s own network of organic farmers. Recently a source of sea vegetables, such as wakame, was found in Australia, negating the need for Japanese imports.

Being a community-based co-operative, the 2,400 members ‘own’ the business and contribute by filling the suggestions box to the brim, nominating for positions on the voluntary Management Committee (MC), and for every two hours they volunteer they are rewarded with 25% off their groceries and produce. Membership in the past year or so has been booming as the general public become more attuned to the origins of what they put in their mouth. Anyone can walk in off the street and shop there, though members do receive a 10% discount, without needing to volunteer.Spoilt food is composted or fed to worm farms. Packaging is either returned to suppliers for reuse, or recycled. All electronics are turned off at night, even the electronic funds swipe machines are unplugged. Printers and faxes munch through reused paper.

Whilst it might not be possible to run all businesses this way, successful community enterprises show that it indeed more than possible. (There are two other community food co-ops in Sydney, one in the nearby Blue Mountains and three University-based food co-ops.) Transparency and accountability are paramount to such operations. For example, minutes of MC and staff meetings are published for all to read on Alfalfa House’s website. Members can ask to look over the books at any time, to see if their one-off, lifetime membership fee of $20 AUD is being well accounted for. ::Alfalfa House Community Food Co-op.

Disclosure: This TreeHugger is the current co-op co-ordinator at Alfalfa House.

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