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The Co-op’s roots lie with a group of friends involved in a campaign to stop the Government building a Nuclear Power Station at Carnsore Point, Co. Wexford. Together, in 1983, they formed a buying group to save money by bulk purchasing vegetarian wholefoods and other sustainable living products once a month on a pre-order, pre-pay system. For each delivery, a number of volunteer members would receive the goods, split and weigh out quantities as needed and get everyone’s order ready for pick up. Collection days took on an important social dimension.
The embryonic Dublin Food Co-op steadily grew. After using a series of community spaces in Temple Bar, we made a switch in 1987 to a large hall at St. Andrew’s Resource Centre on Pearse Street. Hiring it for alternate Saturdays meant doubling the frequency of orders and collections, thereby stepping up both the work needed and the social dimension of our operations.
At Pearse Street, the Co-op found a long-term home and we were able to reach a wider audience, becoming established as a pioneer of organic and local food long before the rise of farmers’ markets in Ireland.
In 1991, eight years into our life, DFC was formalised as a registered co-operative – Dublin Food Co-operative Society Ltd. [View registration]
In a major step change, 1995 saw a move away from the pre-order, pre-pay system toward DFC carrying stock and retailing foodstuffs (we were able to arrange with the St Andrews Centre to take on storage space and produce was put on moveable racks that could be wheeled out and away again for each session). Alongside this change came a switch to weekly opening.
While the Co-op operated largely beneath the radar of mainstream media, in the late 1990s our name became more familiar when prominent members hit the headlines as part of the ‘Monsanto 6′, activists who were faced with prison for the destruction of a trial of genetically modified crops. The story ended happily for all concerned - their defence of conscience prevailing – and their actions helped push back the threat of GMOs in Ireland at that time.
With the Co-op well into its second decade at Pearse Street, some of the limitations of the venue were increasingly being felt. It allowed for neither expansion nor permanence and so our long search for a new home was stepped up, as was the steady building up of reserves.
New premises in the Blackpitts area were proposed by the board in 2005 but rejected by the membership.
Yet, with the St Andrews Centre requesting quite substantial increases to hire fees, the impetus for a move remained and a site at Newmarket, Dublin 8 was identified in 2006.
A lease was signed in March 2007, with the first trading day taking place in July. In between, various building works and adaptations were completed – a process involving much volunteer effort. As former warehouse unit, the Newmarket premises offered more space, possibilities and security but also new responsibilities, challenges and costs.
The system of charging a nominal entry fee to visitors was dropped and the Co-op extended trading to Thursday afternoons and evenings. Later, several independent market events were brought in on Sundays to further utilise the space and bring in extra revenue.
In December 2011, the Co-op’s initial lease expired and while negotiations were pursued on renewal this was undertaken alongside a search for an alternative site for purchase. A new lease was ultimately renegotiated and signed in late 2012, but with a break clause which would allow flexibility for the Co-op to pursue the goal of owning its own premises in the near future.
The Co-op appointed a General Manager in November 2012, a role that had not been filled for over 5 years.