A Case for Inclusion in the 'ANU Exchange'

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Date: 11/09/2006


Executive Summary

The ANU Food Cooperative has been operating within the University grounds since 1976. It has a great history and has developed strong ties to many past and present ANU students and alumni. Our Goals and Values have been adhered to throughout the 30 years of operation, thanks to our constant membership support and committed volunteer contribution.

At the core of our philosophy are social justice principles of access, equity and participation – placing our values in close alignment with the ACT Government’s vision for the Canberra region.

As a result we have created a strong, open and diverse community presence which is acknowledged by both the long term and newer membership base.

As a non-profit organisation the Cooperative uses every possible means to keep its running costs to a minimum. This allows us to apply a very small mark-up on the goods we sell in order to be able to supply affordable food to students, families and low-income earners. This is consistent with our values and is especially important given that a significant proportion of our members (over 50%) have an annual income of less than $15,000 per annum.

Having access to premises where we pay for utilities such as power, water and phone but not rent contributes significantly to our ability to preserve our low margins.

The Future of the Cooperative is extremely positive providing it can continue to be in an accessible location, with the same terms and conditions as present. There is great scope for further student involvement in the Cooperative which could become a vital social focal point in the ANU Exchange Precinct, building even stronger and broader links with the student community.

A key factor in achieving our goals for the future will be the realisation of a strong partnership with the ANU. The Cooperative will provide an example of an effectively functioning community-run organisation, which has direct and open access to the ANU and wider community. It will also provide an open and welcoming space for international student participation.

The Cooperative’s future accommodation requirements include a similar amount of space as it accommodates at present. Improved kitchen/food production facilities along with more effective cool room space would be desirable and fully utilised.

Car access/parking and bicycle parking is imperative to the successful operation of the Cooperative, along with access to facilities such as a meeting room and toilet.

The growing ANU Exchange precinct will benefit from the presence of an active community organisation. The Cooperative will attract customers and volunteers into the precinct and provide opportunity for precinct residents, students and others, to participate and become part of their local community.

With continued support from the ANU and ACT Government, the Cooperative will strengthen its position as a valuable community service providing access to affordable, healthy food with minimal packaging in an environment that fosters participation and cooperation.

Our Mission Statement

Our mission is to provide access to affordable, healthy food with minimal packaging in an environment that fosters participation and cooperation.

Our Goals:

  • Provide healthy food to our members & the public at affordable prices
  • Promote local and home grown produce
  • Make organic food affordable for students, families and low income earners
  • Encourage member participation
  • Provide information and education about nutrition
  • Encourage members to adopt sustainable practices

Our Values:

  • Affordability
  • Waste minimisation
  • Environmental Responsibility
  • Community Participation
  • Inclusion & Openness

Our Members: Currently our membership is approximately 400 and growing. The growth is a result of promotional activities we have undertaken in the last eight months, coupled with improvements to the retail environment. We aim to build membership up to 1,000. We have developed strategies to achieve this (see Our Preferred Future). The following information is based on a membership survey undertaken during July/August 2006. Over 50% of those surveyed responded, including 25% of our annual membership base.

  • 65% of the current members are ANU students, staff or alumni
  • Over 65% of members live in a household with children
  • Over 90% of those who shop with their children find it easier than shopping in a supermarket
  • Over 50% of members have an annual income of less than $15,000.

Our Community

The ANU Food Cooperative services a broad and diverse range of the community. It has a large student representation; including many who are not members but use the Cooperative to purchase healthy snacks on regular basis. Many ANU staff drop in to the Cooperative to purchase healthy snacks and lunches. A number of workers employed in offices in City West also purchase lunches or ingredients for their lunches from the Cooperative.

Over half of the Cooperative’s members purchase more than half of their household weekly groceries from the Cooperative. Many of these members shop with young children and appreciate the family friendly environment.

The Cooperative has 24 members who participate as shop coordinators. Currently half of the coordinators are ANU students and a further 8 are ANU alumni. ANU has been a longstanding source of coordinators and volunteers for the Cooperative. The close proximity with the ANU has fostered support for the organisation and provides an integral part of the Cooperative’s community.

Volunteer work and general support is similarly strong, with over 60% of members contributing voluntary work in 2006.

The Food Cooperative is a long-term member of the Residents of Childers and Kingsley Streets (ROCKS) group. These groups work collaboratively and share resources and provide support, for example, faxes, photocopiers, meeting space, barbecues, laminators, and tools.

The Current Situation; Our Accommodation

When it was originally founded in 1976 the ANU Food Cooperative was called the ANU Nutrition Society and was located in the ANU Union building, first where the bike shop now is and then where currently there is a Newsagent. In 1979 the ANU Food Cooperative relocated to premises in the Drill Hall gallery on Kingsley St where it stayed until 1984, when it relocated again to its current premises.

All of these properties have been provided to the Cooperative rent-free, which has been a significant factor in enabling us to realise our mission statement, achieve our goals and provide healthy food to the community at affordable prices. At present, the Cooperative pays directly its own utilities and services except for water and sewerage where the costs are shared via an annual payment to the ROCKS group.

The Cooperative occupies a building that is approximately 200m2, which it has improved and renovated over the years since 1984 to make it as functional as possible. A cold store room has been created with the fitting of air conditioning units and insulation. Retail floor space has been created with purpose built shop fittings from a local cabinetmaker. Facilities include a small lounge area and a foyer with community notice boards, a kitchen for food preparation and cleaning, and a small office space for the manager and volunteers.

Outdoor areas include a toilet, carport, loading dock, two dedicated staff car parking spaces and several one-hour car parks. The Cooperative has access to the ROCKS meeting room for Board meetings.

Our Financial Position

The Cooperative is currently in a sustainable financial position. Over the past six months total sales have increased by 30% compared with the same period last year. Membership has also grown by about 30%, which has also provided an increase in revenue. The employment of a full-time manager has enabled the Cooperative to reduce overheads in a number of areas, introduce better processes and achieve higher turnover.

The Cooperative’s operating costs are minimised through the contribution of volunteer labour, utilisation of second hand and donated shop equipment (fridges, freezers, cash registers) and shop fittings.

The Future

Our Preferred Future

The Cooperative has set a goal of growing the membership to 1000 by 2008. This is a realistic goal; the Cooperative’s membership has been as high as 2000 in the past and in recent years as high as 600, without a substantial advertising effort. Some of the activities that will be undertaken to build membership and promote the Cooperative include:

  • Advertising at O-week, around campus and at the halls of residents
  • Promotion through the community radio stations 2XX and Artsound FM
  • Production of posters and flyers to promote the Cooperative, focusing on the inner north and the central Canberra area
  • Liaising with print media to gain coverage of the Cooperative’s unique services
  • Stalls at major community events
  • Reciprocal promotion through businesses with shared values eg. Vegetarian restaurants
  • Expansion of the links and information offered on the website
  • Advertising in relevant local magazines and websites

The ability to keep prices as low as possible will enable the Cooperative to maintain its existing customer base and attract new student members. As such the Cooperative will continue to keep costs down through innovation, resourcefulness and use of volunteers.

The Cooperative aims to expand its product range which will enable current customers to purchase more of their household goods at the one venue and also attract new customers, e.g. students in residential accommodation in the expanding ANU Exchange.

An improved food production area will enable the Cooperative to more efficiently prepare goods such as nut butters, juices and sauces; value adding to the products already sold and minimising packaging.

The Sustainable Learning Communities Group (SLC) is currently in the process of starting an Organic garden on the campus. Many of the Cooperative’s student members are involved in this project. The Cooperative will seek to identify synergies with this initiative as well as provide an outlet for the sale of excess produce.

The Food Cooperative facilitates education about sustainable practices within its member community, directly contributing to ANU commitments on environmental practise as specified in the ANU Environmental Policy and other formal environmental commitments.

The Cooperative has plans to work with the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health (NCEPH) on a campaign to promote nutrition awareness and healthy eating habits.

The Cooperative within the ANU Community

With the increasing residential student population in the ANU Exchange the Cooperative will seek to expand the range of opportunities for involvement of the student body. The Cooperative will seek to offer opportunities that are of mutual benefit to the students and the Cooperative.

The Cooperative provides a supportive work experience opportunity that enables students to develop skills and confidence to seek paid employment to support them through their studies. They can gain customer service skills, a variety of retail skills including stock ordering, knowledge of food safety and hygiene, and so on.

Students can develop other skills including web design and maintenance, newsletter production, organisation of a major annual social event (food feast), database management, and financial management.

Students can gain exposure to the methods and practices of community organisations and in particular can gain experience of participating in a governing board. They can learn and practice group facilitation skills (via board involvement or collective meetings).

The Food Cooperative provides a valuable venue for social networking. Here past, present and future ANU alumni, academics and staff are able to interact within a diverse, intergenerational, cross-cultural atmosphere. This creates the opportunity for valuable exchanges between groups that may otherwise not have contact with each other. Students whose first language is not English can practice and improve their English, and international students can get to know local students and become involved in a safe, friendly community. English speaking students often get to practice a second language with some customers.

Expected Benefits

The Cooperative expects to be able to increase its membership and total sales as part of a revitalised precinct with a large residential student body.

The growing ANU Exchange precinct will benefit from the presence of an active community organisation. The Cooperative will attract customers and volunteers into the precinct and provide opportunity for precinct residents, students and others, to participate and become part of their local community.

Our Requirements

The Cooperative requires an amount of space comparable to that which it currently occupies. The space would include street frontage, parking, shop floor area, a small office, cool and cold storage areas, food preparation/kitchen area, foyer/lounge area and a toilet. Truck access is important as well as a waste holding and storage area. The premises need to meet health and safety standards for the preparation and sale of food.

The Cooperative currently shares an additional meeting space and will need its own, or access to a similar facility.

The Cooperative would like to be involved in the design of the space to ensure that it is functional to its purpose and goals.


University Cooperatives in Australia

The following Universities have a food Cooperative on campus. All of these cooperatives have free rent agreements and many also receive free services/utilities. Some have cafe/restaurants.

  • University of Technology Sydney
  • Sydney University
  • Wollongong University
  • Griffith University
  • Melbourne University
  • Monash University
  • Latrobe University
  • RMIT, Melbourne City Campus
  • Flinders University

The following Universities are currently setting up Cooperative Food Shops and Cafes:

  • Murdoch University, Western Australia
  • Hobart University, Tasmania
  • James Cook University, Townsville

There seems to be a resurgence of food Cooperatives at the moment that is a great indication for growth in community values Australia wide.


Following is a relevant sample of additional comments made by current members on our recent survey. Contacts and further survey information are available on request.

“Co-operatives are a rare form of business that combine both social elements and cost minimisation for its members. The co-op provides healthy organic food, opportunities for people to gain valuable work experience, and meet other people in the student and staff community.”

“Genuinely placing people before profits is a rare and unusual retail approach in the norm of current commercial practice. To young students, the cooperative structure demonstrates an example of an innovative model that they would otherwise not be exposed to outside the campus.”

“Fits in with ANU's environment focus on campus e.g. bicycle system etc. Perhaps the Coop could be listed as another environment initiative, if it is not already so. Builds community at a point very close to the campus e.g. a person coming to ANU had just come in from USA and visited coop in her first couple of days here, provides friendly point of contact with local community.”

“The ACT was founded on models and alternative options to live a better way. I think government and ANU support is essential for this to operate from a community values philosophy. Retaining diversity in our food and access to food is critical to our survival and understanding of our basic human needs - fresh food and community connection.”

“I have a preference for shopping at the co-op because the products can be purchased without excess packaging. The primary aim of the ACT Government ACT NOWaste 2010 is "To provide the ACT Government with high quality policy advice in the area of waste minimisation and diversion from landfill.” The co-op, packaging practice certainly links in with this aim. The ACT Government support of the Co-op would be a demonstrable step in achieving this aim.”

“The coop should be given a central place at ANUExchange, because it has been and continues to be at the front-line of what Canberra will have to do in terms of its environmental, its health and its political future. The coop should be made into a show-case of reasonable thinking, reasonable organization and reasonable social attitude.”

“I would like to see the co-op continue as it fills an important role in the Canberra community by providing good quality, fresh, reasonably priced organic food.”

“The Co-op is a great resource for the ANU and general Canberra community. It is a friendly place to buy good food that is not over-packaged.”

“We have been in Australia for almost one year. The co-op is where my children learn what 'broader community' means and can get involved. We feel appreciation from others for our involvement and we know we are doing right for ourselves.”

“Shopping at the Food Coop is much more enjoyable and less stressful than shopping at a large supermarket and makes it easier to reduce my ecological footprint by buying less packaging.”

“Access to the Food coop is one item on a (shrinking) list of things that makes living in Canberra preferable to my home city, Melbourne.”

“My favourite shopping venue in an ideal position with a beautiful community spirit.”

“I was a member of the Melbourne Uni Food Co-op for years and practically the first thing I did when I arrived in Canberra (to take up a new job) was join the ANU Food Co-op. In my experience Food Co-ops are a great community space fulfilling a range of important functions (e.g. more affordable food, environmentally friendly practices, and space to build community links, opportunity for community ownership and management and the skill development that goes with that). I think it is no exaggeration to say that the social fabric of Canberra would be diminished without the ANU Food Co-op - member-owned and -run co-ops provide an important opportunity for people to develop and practice civic values and skills."

“Building our Community. The Canberra Social Plan”, Australian Capital Territory, 2004

Food Co-op at Centre of Sustainability Hub

The "Community Case" above, which went to ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope and ANU Vice-Chancellor Ian Chubb (as the top dogs in the ANU Exchangepartnership) in July of 2006, was a collective exercise, but its principal author was the extraordinary Trish Harrup: Co-op member, ROCKS member, media star and Director of the ACT Conservation Council.

This is a bullet-point summary I produced at an early stage of the process in 2005. Greg Carman (May 2007)


The ANU Food Co-op is the perfect centre for the City West redevelopment, a.k.a. ANU Exchange.


Nothing else so completely exemplifies all the features we need to make this mini-MFP [Multi-Function Polis] for a sustainable future a success. What better to stand at the interface between the ANU and Canberra City, where town meets gown, than an institution which for 29 years has drawn on the resources of the university, human and material, to service both the campus and the wider community:

• Town meets gown in the community’s use of the Co-operative Food Shop

• Gown meets town in the practical implementation of academic theory, the word made flesh (and vegetables)

• Country meets gown in organic farmers’ sales to the Co-operative Food Shop

• Gown meets town in the educative value of this practical example of sustainability principles at work – the fastest way to a community’s heart is through its stomach

• Town meets country in a repair of the disconnect between growers and consumers of food

• Gown meets town in the student volunteers who staff the Co-operative Food Shop meeting community Co-op members, engaging not just in the co-operative supply of man’s most basic material need but also in the dialogue about wider needs, starting with a healthy environment, internal and external

• The ivory tower brought down to earth


• Nothing educates better than a working example

• Nothing teaches so powerfully as hands-on involvement in a working model, especially one with a 30-year history of success

• The Co-op is not just a living alternative to unsustainable agricultural practices, to outdated ways of growing food, but to unsustainable systems of processing, packaging and distributing that food


• If there is a class of tenants willing to pay a premium for space in a “green” building, how much more will they pay to be part of a City West with the Food Co-op at its heart, especially a Food Co-op with a purpose-built organic bistro at its heart

• And if that is true for tenants, a fortiori it’s true for cutting-edge enterprises, quangoes, outposts of foreign campuses etc looking to build or occupy whole buildings in City West

• And if that would be true for the existing Co-operative Food Shop, how much more true would it be for one housed in purpose-built accommodation, in it’s own version of a 6-greenstar building, with an organic bistro attached


• At the centre of the scientific method is experiment, the testing of hypotheses, and the Co-op is a continuing experiment in better ways by which a community might feed itself

• The Co-op is by nature of its co-operative structure open to the ideas of all, a fertile testing ground for academic theory


• It’s a myth that ‘green’ buildings cost more than conventional ones. Savings in energy costs alone make a ‘green’ building cheaper to own after as little as three months [International Netherlands Group Bank building, Amsterdam]

• And then there are the other savings: sick leave for employees, water use, etc

• And then there are the other material benefits: improved productivity, more cheerful staff, better staff retention, lower absenteeism, etc

• And then there are the non-material benefits, at least in a world where damaging the environment comes without immediate financial cost

• Tenants will pay a premium for space in a ‘green’ building, not just those with a conscience about the future of the planet, but anyone who appreciates the pleasure of natural lighting and ventilation with the comfort of natural warmth in the winter and coolth in the summer

• Providing the Co-op with purpose-built space at a peppercorn rent means acquiring an anchor tenant, someone whose presence will attract other tenants at premium prices (e.g. the project builder selling homes built to former ANU architect Derek Wrigley’s solar house designs) [Anchor tenants in shopping centres, like Coles and Woolies, are given space at a reduced rent because of their power to attract shoppers.]

• This development will attract the attention of people across the globe. There could be no better advertisement for its builders.

• On triple-bottom-line accounting it’s a lay-down misere

• Nothing else we will ever do will be as important to our future -- individual, collective and corporate


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