For these shoppers, sourcing food is no longer ingrained with the experience of walking past clinically lit isles of brightly coloured plastic packets.
Instead they swap recipes and tell stories while they fill reusable containers and calico bags with teasingly fresh produce that has come straight from the farm.
Penthea Marshall-Radcliffe, Wendy Aston and Sylvia Mansfield are a part of a collective rebellion against the supermarket.
It’s called the Ballarat Wholefoods Collective – a volunteer based not-for-profit group offering a range of seasonal, organic, non-perishable and local staple foods.
Shoppers pay a membership fee and must volunteer at least two hours of their time for the privilege to buy more than 200 items from mainly Victorian farms with only a small mark up from cost price.
The concept of the collective is not new. In fact it is generations old. But more environmentally and socially conscious shoppers in Ballarat are deciding to join the movement.
They’re taking power as consumers back into their own hands as part of a collective that is run by people for the people.
And those involved say it just makes sense – its cheaper, the producer benefits, consumers can access quality produce and there’s far less packaging and food miles.
FROM HUMBLE BEGINNINGS
The Ballarat Wholefoods Collective started almost five years ago in founder Wendy Aston’s backyard.
After joining the Hepburn Wholefoods Collective, Wendy and a few other friends were inspired to set one up in Ballarat.
They got together, bought some produce from nearby farms and decided they’d open shop soon after.
Within an hour or so of putting up their Facebook page they had 100 likes. The first day of opening they had 20 new members.
Membership grew, the committee grew, and after two years of running out of Wendy’s backyard, the collective moved to the Brown Hill Cricket Club.
Now, after almost five years of operation, there are 150 members and more than 200 items available each week.
I do almost my whole weekly shop at the collective.Sylvia Mansfield, Ballarat Wholefoods Collective
“I do almost my whole weekly shop at the collective,” long time member and volunteer Sylvia Mansfield said.
“I only have to go to the supermarket for a few things now. There’s everything from toilet paper to mushrooms, avocados, you can get things like oranges, mandarins and apples as well when they are in season.”
Wendy said the collective began with staple food items, but people keep asking for fresh food like fruit, vegetables, milk and cheese.
“We got a fridge from a grant, so now we can have milk and that brings people in weekly. We’d have at least 50 shoppers a week who come in.”
“People bring their own containers or calico bags, whatever is the easiest way for them to shop. We have four sets of scales. People come in, write their name at the top, write all their shopping and we calculate from the piece of paper.”
Members join the collective for a variety of reasons – for some it is plastic, health or cost, while others may enjoy the access to ingredients for dietary requirements they may not find in a supermarket.
For Wendy, the most rewarding moment is putting money straight into the hand of the farmer.
“Scott comes to us, the money is in his hand, there is no in between people. It is so rewarding seeing that go straight to that farmer, because you know they are doing it hard,” she said.
“They are getting paid properly and for what it is worth. They are happy with the price as well as us being happy with the price,” Sylvia said.
“One of the beautiful things about the co-op is the sense of community, that we are all interested in food, we are all interested in healthy food, and we’re all working together for this common cause.”
PIONEERS IN THE REGION
The Hepburn Wholefoods Collective has been running for around seven years. Like the Ballarat Collective, it was started by a group of friends who began small.
The collective now has 120 members and operates out of the old police residence in Daylesford.
Membership coordinator Lindy Churches said an increasing number of people were joining the collective, but acknowledged for many it could mean a difficult move away from the extreme convenience of supermarkets.
“We get probably five to 10 members a month. Only a portion of those will end up shopping with us on a regular basis. They love the idea of it but when it comes to it is too hard, the convenience is not there,” she said.
“It is high maintenance shopping, but it is about changing your habits and prioritising. The people who have made it part of their habit to shop there just can’t imagine being without it.”
A GROWING DEMAND
A wholefoods collective has also begun in Creswick in recent years.
Now, a group of environmentally conscious Buninyong residents are working to develop their own model.
Buninyong community members are invited to a meeting at September 9 at 1pm at the Buninyong Community House to establish a management committee and set goals and guidelines for the creation of the Buninyong Community Co-op.
Hayley Quach, one of a core group of people driving the idea, said the plan was to begin the co-operative with food and expand to creating a recycling collection point and selling locally crafted items.
“The idea has had a huge amount of interest straight away. We put up a Facebook page and it had 75 people on it within 24 hours,” she said.
“People are definitely a lot more thoughtful about where their food comes from. Definitely in the last few years people care a lot more about their waste too.”
Both Ballarat Wholefoods Collective and Hepburn Wholefoods Collective members revealed plans to expand to keep up with the growth in membership and demand for fresh produce.
“The cricket club has worked really well for us. It has a nice feel. But what would be nice is a space we could walk in and out of without having to pack away,” Wendy said about the Ballarat Wholefoods Collective.
“That would offer more products and that would also offer to be able to look at opening longer hours or another day.
“I can see the membership continuing to increase. We do have big visions.”
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