Organic farmers eye-off wholesale markets

Farming Together

Type: Case Study
Knowledge level: Introductory


  • Farming Together stream: Expert Support
  • Case: 361
  • Group Name: First Choice Organics Co-operative
  • Product/industry: mixed crops

The group and challenge
Organic fruit and vegetable farmers in the Coffs Harbour region of NSW were all incredibly busy with their own farms, until they started a conversation about how they could work smarter, and more sustainably, by collaborating.

Anecdotal research and conversations, suggested that there was a good supply of high quality organic produce available, but a limited connection to the demand for this produce from the wholesale market.

First choice organics member with home-grown produce. The co-operative now has a website and is looking for new members.

Farming Together Services and Support
Farming Together saw that this group had potential and provided external advisors. The first stage was to review all aspects of the proposed business plan and flesh out a strategy. This work confirmed that a cooperative would be the most beneficial business structure, so the group began to plan for coop formation, identifying what their key purpose would be, their major activities and the requirements for membership.  To support the successful formation, three of the new co-op’s directors were assisted by Farming Together to undertake business management study in how to build and manage successful cooperatives via the University of Newcastle.

The final element of the project was to develop a clear and compelling brand and associated marketing tools to communicate the cooperative’s aims and aspirations and open doors to new markets.

Expert Services delivered

  • Business strategy and structure analysis
  • Business Plan Development
  • Cooperative Development, Formation & Registration
  • Executive Education
  • Brand Development
  • Website and Marketing

Impact and Outcomes
The First Choice Organics Cooperative is now registered, is recruiting new members and establishing operations. Thirty local organic farmers have expressed interest in joining with the potential membership of local organic farmers topping out at sixty farmers.

The Coop aims to grow in a controlled way so that new members clearly understand the benefits of membership and required culture of the Coop. Directors are already reporting the benefit of the University course and how it is influencing their thought processes around the board table. The focus is firmly on how collaboration can yield greater benefits to members through the supply of the right quality and quantity of produce to meet market needs.

“Our members already understand the importance of growing and consuming organic produce. Our opportunity is to get the benefit message out and ensure that everyone thinks ‘organics’ first. Yes, we want to sell our produce, but we want to educate at the same time. When we grow and sell high quality organic produce, and the public enjoys it in their daily life, then everyone wins,” Graeme Watson – Director First Choice Organics Coop.

Future Directions
The Coop is excited about the future and sees its role as:

  • Educating the public about the benefits of consuming organic produce
  • Promoting the Coffs Harbour region as a centre of excellence for high quality organics
  • Building relationships with key wholesalers to ensure high quality organic seasonal produce from the region is consistently top-of-mind
  • Accessing markets for member farmers to provide a stable and sustainable financial return, and
  • Bringing farmers together to support and learn from each other.

In the first year of operations the Co-op will focus on building the brand and securing reliable wholesale markets for members’ produce. In our ‘food-focussed’ society they are sure to be successful.

“In the very beginning, we knew this was a great idea. The problem was that it was such a BIG idea that we needed some fresh eyes and external help to really explore it. Farming Together gave us that perspective and ensured we now have a coop that will bring organic farmers together to communicate to a wider audience,” Garry Frankel – Director First Choice Organics Coop.

Australia - Farming Together
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