What is this historical blog?
This article features as part of the Society for Co-operative Studies Ireland Newsletter for 2019. This is intended as an introduction to what will be a fairly regular historical blog written for the Dublin Food Co-operative website.
Dublin Food Co-operative
The Dublin Food Co-operative (DFC) has provided an alternative to the mainstream models of retail and food consumption in the nation’s capital since 1983. For over 35 years the principles of economic democracy and environmental sustainability have long differentiated our co-operative from other high street competitors.
The origins of the DFC grew out of a vibrant period of political activism in Ireland that culminated in the late 1970s with demonstrations and protests against the plans to construct a nuclear power plant at Carnsore Point.
After successfully preventing a nuclear plant built on Irish shores some of those same activists met in Dublin to discuss further the wider political implications of the dominant model of political economy and asked how a business might be conducted differently. In particular, how might a change in people’s model of consumption lead to more rational use of the planet’s resources?
These founding members drew their inspiration from the surge in popularity of food co-operatives in the United States. There, the creation of ‘food deserts’ caused by food stores moving out of city centres led community organisers to the conclusion that people would have to take action themselves and establish the type of food stores they needed. The co-operative model provided the obvious model to achieve these notable examples being Park Slope in Brooklyn and the Martin Luther King Food Co-operative in Washington DC.
The Co-operative model
The co-operative model made perfect sense to meet the needs of food activists in Dublin city. For the original DFC members, the focus was upon securing a supply of organic, vegetarian wholefoods with sustainability at its core. This remains a primary objective today. In the intervening years, the DFC has grown to provide a wider range of goods including household staples such as non-chemical cleaning products. Wherever possible priority is given to locally produced food as well as trading with other co-operatives.
As the DFC grew in popularity it became necessary to employ people to more effectively manage the demands of a growing business. Member volunteers remain an essential part of the organizational dynamics at the DFC with a generous discount offered to those who give their time to aid the smooth running of the co-op.
Crisis and Renewal
Having relocated and purchased a new store premises in the past year the future of the DFC looks bright. Out of the crisis caused by eviction and the uncertainty this brought to DFC’s continuation a renewed energy among the membership caused us to once again examine why we all got together in the first place.
Our relocation from Newmarket to Kilmainham where we now own a premises for the first time in the DFC’s history is a cause for celebration. But it is also a testament to the commitment of the members who provided finance to make this possible through a co-op crowdfunding exercise. DFC’s new home is a very real monument to the co-operative spirit that has existed since we started out as a fledgling society in the back rooms of members’ homes. Now there is real reason for optimism as membership is growing since our relocation.
DFC forms one partner in a growing network of food co-operatives around the country. The Urban Co-op in Limerick, Quay Co-op in Cork and the Bridge Street Co-operative Society in Kenmare show the appetite that exists among people in this country to shop ethically. There are also plans well on the way to establish a new food co-operative in Belfast
DFC is more than simply a food co-operative. Activities move far beyond the selling of food and encompasses film screenings, street feasts, social events, and co-op educational sessions.
The reason behind the DFC’s continued success and popularity is simple. Our principles and priorities are increasingly becoming those of the mainstream. Most citizens share concerns for the welfare of the planet, community, and the individual.
An Irish Food Co-op Network
All of our members hold in common a belief in how the way we produce and consume that one staple we all require – food – has a fundamental role in shaping the nature of the economy and society in which we live. The DFC is an economic democracy that empowers all members to make decisions and this combines with the aim to promote a vibrant and sustainable community in the nation’s capital. This is not coincidental. These values are within the very DNA of the co-operative model which we practice here at the DFC.
Written by Patrick Doyle a long term member and historian. Connect with Patrick on twitter @MrPtrickyD
We are looking forward to having Patrick Doyle share the story of the Co-operative Movement in Ireland through his knowledge and his wonderful way to share stories from the past to celebrate the past, and also help us connect as a community, sharing the rich history and challenges of the Dublin Food Co-operative.
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