The Wellington Region Fruit & Vege Co-Op

The Wellington Region Fruit & Vege Co-Op (the Co-Op) is a great example of a collaboration between communities across greater Wellington, government and non-government organisations and local businesses.

The Co-Op is run as a partnership between Wesley Community Action (WCA), Regional Public Health (RPH) and the 10 host communities. The produce is bought wholesale from MG Marketing in Grenada North and trucked to the 10 packing hubs by a company called ME Transport.

Currently volunteers at each community packing hub distribute a total of 9 tonnes of produce to 1400 households every week.  People get about 7kg of produce each for $12.  The same produce would cost $22 or more in a supermarket.

The Co-Op began as a community-led pilot at Wesley Community Action’s Cannons Creek site in 2014 to increase access to cheap fresh produce in an area with no local supermarket. The pilot, evaluated by RPH, showed it was possible to reach low-income families and provide cheaper fruit and vegetables resulting in an increase from 33% to 62% of people meeting the Ministry of Health’s target for 2 servings of fruit and 3 servings of vegetables daily.

The Co-Op is part of a national collaboration of Co-ops started by Anglican Minister Craig Dixon in Christchurch (https://www.foodtogether.co.nz/).

Emmeline Haymes, Public Health Advisor with the Healthy Communities Team at RPH reflects on successes and learning during the Co-Ops journey.

 

Collaboration starts and ends with relationships between people who share a common passion

The origins of the Co-Op stem from a common desire between WCA and RPH to address food insecurity in East Porirua.

 I don’t think you can build good collaborations if you are not personally passionate about what you are doing.

Staff at RPH visited colleagues at Community and Public Health (CPH) in Christchurch to learn about the Co-Op running in Christchurch.  The model, FoodTogether, originated over 25 years ago when Craig Dixon, an Anglican Minister responded to a need he saw in the community for healthy, affordable fresh fruit and vegetables.

A pilot was run in Cannons Creek in 2014 which kicked of the collective growth that exists currently. RPH and WCA maintain a strong working relationship with FoodTogether which has assisted the Wellington Co-Op to set up a health and safety program for the Co-Op volunteers to help comply with the requirements of the Food Act and an online ordering system.  This further strengthens the Co-Op.

Regional Co-Ops continue to collaborate on development of key areas such as health and safety guidelines, MPI compliance and processes for shifting to reusable cloth bags. The national collaboration is a win-win giving the Co-Ops great strength.

 

Community-led

The Co-Op model is successful because it is community-led, ‘doing with’ not ‘doing to’. People across the communities that host the hubs are equal and important partners.  Valuing all partners is essential for community collaborations.

In community-led collaboration organisations that might be seen as the experts have to let go of some control of the process. It can be hard to predict the time needed to really invest to get to the desired outcome. You also can’t guess what the outcome will look like, or exactly the budget required to ‘do it properly’.

There needs to be a lot of letting go and a lot of trust and that takes time.

You have to fully turn up as a whole person for community collaborations to work. You can’t be the expert or the DHB boffin …. get your hands dirty (literally in the case of the Co-Op) as often as possible, be part of the team.

 In the Wellington region decision-making involves all partners.  Through this a strong, respectful network effectively delivering a collective community enterprise has been built collaboratively.  As the capability of all partners grows so too does the likelihood of the programme becoming sustainable. A success indicator for RPH would be that we are no longer needed, with communities empowered to run the Co-Ops themselves.

 

Co-designed

The Wellington Co-Op model continues to evolve as new communities join and make their own decisions about how the model will best work in their community. The self-identifying community groups take full ownership of the weekly working and running of their co-ops.

Community led work is by nature highly organic and evolutionary. The Co-Ops have travelled through several phases.  Some innovations have been principally led by the WCA-RPH partnership and some which have been predominantly led by the community Co-Ops.

 Challenge yourself and your own assumptions.  Work as hard on yourself as you do on the project and always be prepared to change and adapt and see it from a different perspective. 

The sharing of resource, including money, speaks volumes.

Trust and empowerment work in ripples.  If you trust your community leaders it will be passed down to the volunteers, down to the members and some real change will be made.  Then when you go and hang out with your community partners (or pack vege bags as the case may be) you will be privileged with some amazing stories of transformation in everyday lives. 

 

 Flexible relationships

The relationship between RPH and WCA is outlined in a memorandum of understanding.  WCA has great community connections and therefore it made sense for them to have the memorandum of understanding between all community groups involved in the programme. WCA is a registered charity and holds the financial and legal risk for the programme.

RPH supports the infrastructure, evaluation, marketing, promotion and the nutrition and food safety aspects of the Co-ops. generation of new interest and branding.  Helping to minimise risks by piloting new ideas.

Working alongside communities is unlike inter-sector work.  Sometimes plans need to slow down, or be changed.  Making sure everyone is on board is important and it takes time.

Be realistic about forms and compliance costs – only collect the information you need.

This is an ongoing discipline and our communities quickly remind us if we are becoming ‘top-down’!

Case Study supplied for ANA Collaboration toolkit, July 2019