Co-operatives are democratic organisations formed by people with mutual needs and aspirations which can be fulfilled by pooling resources and working together. In Australia they are supported by a specific legal model.
To compare the pros and cons of coops vs other legal models, use this handy matrix. More information from the Business Council of Cooperatives and Mutuals and specifically the Australian Coop Manual. A great broader resource for coops is the Sustainable Economies Law Centre (US).
There are 4 major types of cooperative, based on the stakeholders that form the membership.
Owned by the members who are also the consumers of the food sold. Co-operative stores are established to provide goods to their community, often when the community is not well serviced, or when an existing retail shop faces closure and the community joins forces to retain the store. Retail co-operatives vary in size from small buying groups to large supermarkets.
A cooperative group owned and operated by producers and which serves members through joint marketing, purchasing, processing or distribution of member’s products.
A cooperative group that is owned and controlled by people who work in it. More information here.
Multi Stakeholder Co-op
A cooperative group which allows for governance through representatives of two or more ‘stakeholder’ groups within the same organization, including consumers, producers, workers.
Manchester Veg People is structured as a multi-stakeholder coop, based on the “model” Somerset Rules. MVP have processes to negotiate process between buyer members and seller members at the start of every season.
New Opportunity for Funding for Producer Cooperatives in Australia
The Federal government in Australia is in the process of launching funding and advice service for producers seeking to establish cooperatives and other innovative ways to collaborate to improve farm gate prices. More information here.