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Cooperation – a lost art?

November 29, 2011

Last night I attended a workshop on the New City Market (NCM) – planning to open in 2013 the NCM  plans to have a year round indoor/outdoor market space, storage for farmers and food producers, aggregation services, and more.  This is a very ambitious project, and I will blog on it on a later date, but I wanted to speak about my experience at the meeting.

Truthfully I was a little discouraged.  We had a room full of amazing urban farmers (all of whom are at a much higher level of farming than myself), but who seemed not to cooperate at any level.  A comment from one of the farmers really made me think.  The participant alluded to the fact that there is little cooperation among the Urban Farming community, and a lot of it has to do with personality differences in the community.

I can understand this I suppose, not everyone can work together, and I can imagine that each farmer may have different reasons to do what they are doing.  However, I couldn’t understand the lack of cooperation.  For me, farmers need to cooperate – there is so much work to be done on the farm, and to try and accomplish the other tasks of a small business (marketing, financing, etc.) is hard, if not impossible.  We need to view other farms in our community not as competition, but as businesses with a united goal – who stand to gain when farming (and particularly Urban Farming) is better marketed.

I am sure that this expands into the larger business world as well.  It seems we as individuals have lost the ability to cooperate.  Have we become so competitive that we fail to see the benefit to our individual business when our industry thrives, and that we should be working together on some common tasks to better our business?  To be sure its not easy – but for me it is the way forward for small business, uniting together for the common good rather than struggling individually – together we can achieve so much more.

I know there are some solid cooperatives out there, and we need to celebrate them more.  And maybe this is happening in Burnaby without my knowledge (more than entirely possible), and if so I would love to hear about it.  What if independent cafes banded to bulk order sustainable products (compostable cups & plates, better reusable cutlery, etc)?  What if local hardware stores grouped together to bulk buy and compete with the ‘big guys’?  What if our local farms came together to bulk buy on compost?  Surely there is something to be gained from partnerships and cooperation – I wonder how I can help.

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