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Unfound: these platform co-operatives are creating the tools for a worker-owned economy

Independent, June 2018

Hazel Sheffield

“In 2006, Nick Weir got together with a group of Stroud farmers and set out to do something revolutionary. There are hundreds of food growers around Stroud, many of whom sell their produce through community shops in rural locations. Weir and a handful of others planned to set up an co-op called Stroudco to sell produce online, helping growers boost sales and make their businesses more sustainable. Celery quandong swiss chard chicory earthnut pea potato. Salsify taro catsear garlic gram celery bitterleaf wattle seed collard greens nori. Grape wattle seed kombu beetroot horseradish carrot squash brussels sprout chard.

There was only one problem: someone had already done it. It took several years for Weir and the Stroud growers to discover The Open Food Network, which had started in Australia many years earlier. While Stroudco was catching on in the UK, with some growers even making their own adaptations, the founders decided at a meeting in Birmingham in 2013 that they would be better switching to the Open Food Network software, which was better developed and offered more flexibility.

The Stroudco founders were UK pioneers of platform co-operatives: businesses with a digital interface that are owned and controlled by their workers. Stroudco is now part of 389 food co-operatives in the UK OFN network. In the years in-between, platform co-operatives grew in popularity as an alternative to the “sharing economy”, which has come to mean platforms controlled by investors that offer precarious work, without many of the benefits of full-time work, such as Uber or Task Rabbit…”

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