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Destination Organisation: Organic shopping in the Liberties

Visit the Dublin Food Co-operative in Newmarket, Dublin 8 on any given Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday and what you will find is something special. A bustling oasis in an area dominated by multinational supermarket chains, the co-op movement attracts members from, but not limited to, the Dublin 8 area.

 

The co-op has called Newmarket home since 2007 and in 2013 extended its stay by signing a new five-year lease. Its commitment to the area has consolidated a loyal following comprised not only of locals but also of non-nationals.

 

Co-op secretary Joe Zefran points out that because the co-operative movement is a global one, its Irish headquarters in Newmarket has a very international vibe: “A large percentage of our membership include non-Irish people who specifically seek us out. Based on our Facebook stats, Italians, French and Polish members are our top non-Irish users.”

 

It is not only Liberties locals who enjoy a Saturday morning shop and chat. Dubliners from all over the city make the trip to the co-op’s convivial headquarters every week: “Some 25% of our members are from Dublin 8, 25% are from north of the river and the other 50% are from south of the river. In other words, folks are definitely seeking us out as a ‘destination’ organisation.”

 

If supermarkets like Tesco and Lidl are the Goliaths of Dublin’s grocery scene, the co-op is very much the David, standing, chest out with a stone in its ‘quality over quantity’ slingshot while the giant slashes prices with its for-profit spear.

 

Zefran assures us that the difference is like apples and oranges: “Since we are a member organisation, those who shop with us also have the ability to participate in the decision-making process and share the risks and rewards”, he says. “Our members share a similar set of values, so they’re not just searching for the lowest price. We also don’t exploit our suppliers like some of the big chains do. For instance, we don’t sell carrots for five cent because our farmers won’t get a fair wage that way.”

 

Like a farmer’s market, the co-op specialises in the sale of organic foods sourced from local suppliers. Where it differs from a farmer’s market is the lack of meat and meat products and the unique nature of its operating model. As of 2009 it was the only Irish whole food retailer which operated as a consumers’ co-operative.

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Community is at the very heart of what the co-op does. The website carries the co-op’s message on its homepage: “What makes us different is that we’re 100% owned and controlled by our members, who not only save money at the tills, but also democratically decide how the co-op operates.” Because of its membership system, the co-op does not limit itself to grocery shopping. The co-op holds foreign language classes, cookery lessons and organises nature walks and has even hosted dance lessons for children of members.

 

Office administrator Gabrielle adds that these events are not designed to recruit new members and that to refer to the co-op’s members as customers is to do them a disservice, “We don’t actually have customers. We don’t organise walks or foreign language talks to attract people, it is the members who decide to organise these activities because they think they will be beneficial for the rest of the community. Both of these kinds of activities are organised for free by members who volunteered to organise it all on their own initiative.”

 

In a food retail environment saturated with controversy surrounding fair trade, health standards and price cuts, the Dublin Food Co-operative is an organic safe haven for the people of the Liberties and beyond.

 

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