The following article was published in the 50 Shades of Green column in the Nelson Mail on Saturday 14 November 2015.
Above: Seager Mason speaking at the launch of the Nelson Organic Co-op on Sat 17 October 2015
A group of dedicated locals have united with a vision to create and support a sustainable organic future for Nelson and are calling for others to join the Nelson Organic Co-op.
While food co-ops are growing in popularity around the world, there are surprisingly few in New Zealand. Most of them are buying clubs, with an exception being the Harbour Co-op in Lyttleton, a grocery store now owned collectively by the local community after it purchased the store from Piko Wholefoods.
Inspired by the Harbour Co-op’s successes, a small but dedicated group of Nelson locals have recently established the new Nelson Organic Co-op. The steering group currently includes Organic Green Grocer owners Seager and Sue Mason and staff members Anna Wilson and Ami Kennedy, along with Debs Martin, Denyse Kinraid and Cate Bacon. The group launched the Co-op at a public event at the Organic Green Grocer on Saturday 17 October and is now encouraging people to express their interest in joining.
The goal of the Nelson Organic Co-op is to provide high quality, ethically produced, ecologically sound and reasonably priced goods and services to its members and others. To achieve this, the Co-op aims to purchase the Organic Green Grocer, on the corner of Grove and Tasman Streets, from the Masons.
“Our aim is to transition the shop from private to community ownership,” says steering group member Debs Martin. “The Organic Green Grocer was established back in 1993, so there’s a really solid base from which we can develop a hub for a healthy organic lifestyle. Going forward, our community will have a place that offers affordable groceries, wholefoods, a scrumptious café menu and a place to gather, share and learn.”
A household share in the co-op, which entitles all those residing at the same address to the benefits of membership, is available at the one-off cost of $365, which works out to be one dollar a day for a year. The fee must be paid up-front in most circumstances, although once the Co-op is up and running there will be special consideration for those who are experiencing financial hardship. The share is also redeemable if members ever leave the Co-op, although conditions apply.
Ensuring access to reasonably priced organic food has motivated Ami Kennedy to get involved. “One of the criticisms of organic food is that it’s expensive and elitist and my personal vision is to think creatively around this issue and work out what we can do in Nelson to change this image and make organic food more accessible to more people. One way we can do that is to encourage those with the means to ‘pay it forward’ and donate a household share,” she says.
The Co-op needs to raise around $110,000 to purchase the stock, fittings, goodwill and provide for working capital of $15,000. In the first instance, they’re aiming for at least 100 members - that would total $36,500. The remaining funds will be raised through supporting shareholders, who are those with between $500 and $20,000 to invest. Seager and Sue Mason will continue to be involved in the Co-op as supporting shareholders.
During the fundraising period, all membership fees will be held in trust and only released when the target has been met – or in the unlikely event this doesn’t happen, they will be returned.
Once the fundraising target has been met, the Co-op members’ first responsibility will be to elect a board that is accountable to all shareholders.
“It’s a small group at the moment and we are only a steering group - we are the seed, the germinating idea, we are not the Co-op,” stresses Kennedy. “The Co-op will be formed over the next few months with a newly elected board.”
More than 150 years ago, settlers in Riwaka established the first consumer co-op in New Zealand in 1844 so it’s fitting that Nelson will soon have its own co-op again, given that the top of the South is renowned for pioneering many community-based initiatives.