Across Ontario, food and farming co-operatives dedicated to a fair, healthy, and sustainable food system are coming together as the Local Food and Farm Co-ops. Through the sharing of information and exploration of innovations in food-based social enterprise, the co-ops are co-creating the network as a platform for internal strengthening and province-wide collaboration.
The Ontario Natural Food Co-op (ONFC) is a not for profit distributor of natural and organic foods, celebrating its 36th anniversary in 2012. As the incubator and host of the Local Organic Food Co-operatives Network, ONFC provides resources, infrastructure, and the experience of an established co-op to the network, with the hope of helping local and organic food co-ops access distribution and marketing channels.
Values of the Local Food and Farm Co-ops
- Fair prices and income for farmers
- Fresh healthy food for eaters
- Fulfilling work and fair wages for workers
Purpose of the Network
- Educate and advocate for food co-ops
- Facilitate and support the growth of food co-ops
- Connect and scale up for regional food processing and distribution hubs
To date, there are 70 start-up, emerging and established Ontario co-ops participating in the Local Food and Farm Co-ops that are growing, processing, distributing, retailing, cooking, and supporting local, organic, and fairly-traded food.
Local Food and Farm Co-ops Rationale
In this, the UN-declared International Year of the Co-operative, food co-ops are building a new kind of food system in Ontario, and around the world. From Fort Albany to Fort Erie, and from Windsor to Hawkesbury, new local food and farm co-ops are sprouting up, with an interest in providing good food for local community and transforming the food system for greater ecological and social well being. In the past year, twenty-two new local organic food co-operatives have been initiated or incorporated.
The Local Food and Farm Co-ops is composed of groups operating under a variety of organizational models, including farmer-owned, eater-owned, worker-owned, and multistakeholder co-ops. The co-ops take on many activities, and may function as food growers, processors, distributors, retailers, and even food service providers. They have a wide selection of food products from the freshest vegetables and fruit, to pastured and cured meats, maple syrup, honey, pickles, herbs, baked goods, hemp products, jellies and jams, and frozen foods. All of these emerging food co-ops have six characteristics in common:
- Bringing local farmers and eaters closer together
- Growing and supplying fresh, healthy food locally
- Keeping money in the community
- Trading fairly, whether domestically or internationally
- Saving energy, building the soil, and protecting water
- Celebrating good food, culture and community
People are organizing local food co-operatives as an alternative to the current highly centralized, energy dependent, industrial food system. Local food co-ops are quickly becoming a popular means of engaging in an otherwise alienating food system, offering individuals a chance to practice good health, community-sufficiency, food sovereignty, and participatory democracy through their active membership.
Ontario Co-op Association convenes interested local and organic food co-ops in Toronto.
Second network meeting in Toronto, creation of shared vision, mission, purpose and values.
Third annual Local Organic Food Co-ops conference and Sustainable Business Training for Organic Farmers with Richard Wiswall held at St. Ignatius Centre, Guelph.
Composition of the Network
The Local Food and Farm Co-ops is governed by a Steering Committee, composed of members of the affiliated co-ops, one co-op developer, the network Animator, and one representative each from the Ontario Co-operative Association and the Ontario Natural Food Co-op.
Four Working Groups comprised of affiliated co-ops’ members drive the inner workings of theLocal Food and Farm Co-ops. The Working Groups are focused specifically on Education and Advocacy for food co-ops, Succession Planning for new co-ops and businesses transitioning to co-op status, Governance of the Network, and Supply Chain Innovation. An Academic Constellation of graduate students and professors across Ontario focused on various aspects of the food system and co-operative governance aims to support the Network’s needs and activities through community-based research.
If you are interested in learning more or taking part in the Local Organic Food Co-ops, please contact us.