Rachelle’s idea was to start a co-op. Every fortnight, a couple of co-op volunteers would go to the fruit markets and purchase enough fruit and vegetables to fill the co-op orders. Then they would sort the produce into boxes and baskets and everyone would come to pick up their allotment. Due to the freshness and quality of the produce, low prices and the incentive of supporting an important ministry, Rachelle was certain it would be a hit.
This is the story of the Vineyard Co-op in Rachelle’s own words:
I believe the idea for this co-op was inspired – I came up with the idea as I was driving home from work one night. I was wondering how I could impact the world from where I am in life – a busy wife and mother of four children (plus a part time student).
I used to be in a bit of a co-op with two other families, but it didn’t really fit into our lifestyle. Having been used to market shopping though, I wasn’t happy about paying supermarket prices again and knew that many other families would benefit from a co-op. I have always wanted to come up with a way of providing real aid to people in need, which would also be feasible for a family. I figured this would work by simply taking from the merchant (such as Coles and Woolworths) profit margin, rather than the family budget and redirecting some of that profit to providing clean drinking water in third world countries. The co-op idea seemed to have all the benefits – no additional cost for families, less packaging making it better for the environment, a great communal feel, cheaper and fresher seasonal fruit and veg and, most importantly for me, the opportunity to truly impact communities desperate for clean water.
Why did you start the co-op?
I see proper aid as the redistribution of wealth at the level of buying power i.e. how we spend the money we make, not the loose change we may throw into a money can on top of a counter at our favourite take away shop – although every bit helps. Money is power, as citizens of the Western World, I believe we should feel the responsibility of using our buying power to achieve as much good as we can.
How does the co-op work?
The basic premise of the co-op is that families contribute a set amount to buy fruit and vegetables from Flemington Markets in bulk for a much lower cost than the supermarkets/fruit and veg shops. As a general rule, $25 will provide enough for a couple for two weeks, a family of 4 would take two boxes etc. From each $25 box, $6 goes towards building wells in Cambodia through Metamorphic Water. It is also possible to buy fruit or vegetable boxes only.
Co-op members volunteer to go on the roster to shop, and are given separate fruit and vegetable budgets. There are ‘staple’ items, such as potatoes, apples, bananas, onions etc that, wherever possible, are purchased every (fortnightly) trip. After the shop, co-op members get together to split all the produce into the amount of boxes required that week. We also source source local supplies of honey, jams, relishes and eggs etc, all sold through the co-op with a margin going to support the work of Metamorphic International.
How many lives have been affected by the co-op?
We are just about to build our sixth well since starting in April 2010, which means approximately 1 200 people in six different villages now have access to clean drinking water due to the efforts of the Vineyard Co-op. (How amazing is that?! 1 200 people who are now free from the threat of dirty water related illnesses in just eight months!)
Any tips for someone wanting to start a co-op?
If you are considering starting a co-op, you will firstly need to be passionate about what you are doing. It also needs to be seen as a co-op (collective ownership), which means you need to do a lof ot listening and responding to feedback from members, without losing sight of the main purpose of the co-op (to provide finance to your chosen organisation). Organisation and good communication are essential for smooth running, as well as building up a team of people you can rely on who are passionate about the cause. You will need a good awareness of how the markets work and how to identify what produce is in season.
I’m a member of the Vineyard Co-op and apart from the obvious benefits of fresh, cheap produce for a good cause, I’ve been inspired to see what can happen when someone follows through with a God-inspired idea. Through her motivation and faithfulness, Rachelle has personally improved the lives of 1 200 Cambodian people (and counting). Metamorphic International provides the resources (tools, money etc) to local Cambodian churches who then build wells, providing both water and the gospel of Jesus to their community.
If running a co-op is something you’re interested in, here are some great tips to get you started. Also, visit the Vineyard Co-op blog for more ideas 🙂
1. Decide on co-op rules. For example, who shops, who splits, who cleans up, how much petrol money the shoppers receive (including money for tolls, trolley hire etc), where and when the split will happen, when people need to pick up their boxes etc, how and when people will order and pay (internet payments and email orders work well.)
2. Agree on a ‘staples list’ and prices. The produce boxes being purchased by the co-op members need to be worth around the same value each week. So decide how much value/produce each box should contain, and how much profit will go to your charity of choice. Rachelle says that generally, people appreciate quality over quantity. Also, markets vary from week to week in terms of how much value you can get so make sure people understand this.
3. Get to know the market. Before you launch the co-op, go a few times by yourself or with a few interested people to work out what’s in season, when, how much things should cost and how much you will need to buy.
4. Develop a way of tracking orders and payments. I do a lot of the communication and admin via email. Everyone emails me their order the Wednesday before the market run and pay via internet banking.
5. Continually ask for feedback and listen and respond to suggestions.
Rachelle hasn’t had to do much promotion for the co-op. Word of mouth spread quickly through the church and she has set up a blog and facebook page which help with communication and are just a bit of fun 🙂
Well done Rachelle, you’re an inspiration! While understanding that every 1 matters, you’ve proved that every 1 can help.