Rebecca Gouldhurst, naturopath and co-founder of organic food co-operative Rhubarb Food, believes the initiative should provide community interaction as well as a marketplace. “A big part of what you don’t get shopping online or in a retail environment… is that a physical place you go to is automatically a community,” she says. “Maybe 50% of the purpose of our co-op is to provide a sociable community centre that focuses on education.”
While many organic retail ventures already exist in her local Bronte area, Gouldhurst recognised the gap for a not-for-profit initiative focused on providing ongoing support to local residents.
Conceived in 2009, Rhubarb aims to provide the complete range of sustainability-focused services, from selling organic produce and household cleaning goods to promoting eco-friendly living through special classes. “We’re calling it the one stop shop, so you can go there and shop for all your needs – produce, dry goods, cleaning products – and workshops on whatever the community may need, like making your own yoghurt or gardening,” she says. “It’s a much broader idea than just a shop that’s going to provide fruit and veg.”
Down-and-out by the beach: the search for the right shopfront
Despite significant interest and support from the public, Rhubarb has struggled to find a premise compatible with their specific building requirements. The limited number of warehouse spaces in Sydney’s largely residential eastern beaches region is the first hurdle, compounded by the search for a property located specifically in Bronte, Randwick or Clovelly. “We’re looking for a very particular area, because we want to cater for the entire eastern board from Bondi to Maroubra to Vaucluse,” says Gouldhurst. Size also matters – she notes the appropriate space must be 100 square metres to accommodate for the co-op’s range of functions.
While the project remains a non-trading venture, Gouldhurst is focused on planning as much of the shopfront as possible. “We [want to] have everything up to speed to run the shop, so that we can have everything in place and ready to go.”
Sharing is caring: co-operatives, version 2.0
“Everything [in the shop] will be electronic, with an ergonomic, versatile, open-plan layout,” Gouldhurst says, adding that she aims to produce a well-packaged co-op concept that can be transferred to other locations. “Part of the vision of co-ops is to help other co-ops seed,” she explains. “We’d like to make our model modern and accessible so it can be easily handed over to someone else.”
Gouldhurst notes that Alfalfa House food co-op in Enmore has provided their own list of suppliers, while staff at the Blue Mountains Food Co-op in Katoomba have been on hand to provide support for administrative plans.
Despite the property challenges faced by Rhubarb Foods thus far, Gouldhurst remains optimistic. She notes that 2012 is the United Nations’ International Year of Co-operatives; a realistic goal for launching her co-op headquarters. “They’ve contacted us saying they’d like us to join up, so I’m really keen that we’re up and happening for that.”