Many authors have proposed cooperatives as one of the preferred governance structures for realising alternative food systems, being recommended both in farming and also downstream at consumer level. However, recommendations for the cooperative model still draw dividing line between producer and consumer cooperatives. As opposed to conventional agricultural cooperatives (ACs) made up of farmer members only, the multi-stakeholder model brings together producers, consumers and/or restaurateurs under one single enterprise. This paper analyses multi-stakeholder cooperatives' (MSCs) potential to recreate more sustainable food flows between rural and urban areas and to overcome the limitations of conventional farmer cooperatives focused more on economic than social and environmental benefits. As part of this research, historical data from cooperative archives is used to look at the history and early attempts of multi-stakeholder cooperation in food and farming. Additionally, current supporting evidence from Spain and UK, in the context of European food policy frameworks, is also presented. A four-fold proposal for open cooperatives is discussed and applied to the analysis of the case studies in the framework of global transformative networks and alliances. The introduction of different types of members seems to both complicate and enrich the cooperative mission, both theoretically and in practice. Their networks with other social movements reveal how the MSCs presented are trying to change, rather than adapt to the market economies they struggle to survive in. The findings suggest MSCs in food and farming are striving to achieve more-than-economic benefits and are moving into the arena of the open and pro-commons economy and other global social movements.
- Sustainable food systems
- Multi-stakeholder cooperatives
- Food policy
- Solidarity economy
- Open cooperatives