Who are you?
A local to the Illawarra region, I grew up in Balgownie where my family ran an Italian restaurant many years ago. I worked there for some time until I found myself gravitating to the field of nursing. Nearly a decade later it dawned on me that I could actually combine these two passions, looking at food as medicine through nutritional healing. And so that’s what I’ve been doing for the last 20 years, predominantly working in the health food retail industry.
Tell us a bit about your journey with the Co-op and what your role looks like.
I’ve been at the Co-op since mid-November and I love what it stands for. I was hooked the moment I walked in, but the Co-op is not in a good place at the moment. The cost of living is clearly affecting sales, fuel levies and sizable increases in freight costs have either hurt our margins as we absorb this cost, or have forced us to increase our prices. Everything from electricity to rent has gone up in cost for us, meaning I wear many hats in my role within the Co-op. From managing pricing, staff, volunteers, orders, deliveries, data, and most of all building a team and a plan to resuscitate the Co-op. Our first step is to reconnect with the community and its shoppers. COVID brought with it big changes to people’s shopping habits, and the volunteers we so vitally rely on aren’t here in the numbers they once were so this is my main focus right now.
How does the Co-op contribute to supporting sustainable local food systems in the Illawarra?
I feel there is a little identity crisis when it comes to the Co-Op. What is it that we are selling? What is our main focus? Organic, Biodynamic, Ethical, Australian, low milage, eco-friendly footprint, sustainable, local, affordable? Since the collapse of the soft plastic issue, my attention has been to support local growers & local businesses wherever possible. The big players don’t seem to focus on food miles. We do!
Are there any challenges to running a community co-op?
There are so many challenges. I personally feel that I not only work for the Co-op members but I work for the community. Sustaining the strong Co-op feel whilst also trying to introduce some solid retail principles is tricky. However, there are just not enough hours in the day to get everything done, and this is the greatest challenge of them all. I am hopeful that rebuilding a wonderful team of volunteers will give us the help we need. If becoming a volunteer is of interest to you, please give the store a call and we can point you in the right direction.
What is your favourite thing about food?
My favourite thing about food is the preparation and consumption, both for myself and for my loved ones. I came from a family where feeding people came from the heart. As my father would say, “You only eat food made by someone who loves you”.
What is the one action that the folks here can help you with to support your work with the Co-op?
Flame Tree has hit a critical point in our operations and won’t survive the year without your help!
We’re aiming to raise $50,000 to cover Flame Tree’s immediate financial obligations and future-proof our new operating model. We know this is no small ask and would require supporters to dig deep when everyone’s cost of living is increasing. But if 500 supporters donated an amount equivalent to two years of membership (ie. $110) we would meet our target comfortably.
What we will be investing in
- Our short-term liabilities: Our costs have gone up significantly in the last 12 months because of a sizeable rent increase, inflationary pressures on all our products, and some unexpected maintenance as our plant and equipment reach the end of their lifespan. Our co-operative business model means we just don’t have the ability to absorb these cost increases for long. Half of the money raised will go towards paying down these immediate costs and providing for a responsible financial buffer.
- Our future: We think that with a few small but important investments we can make our operating model sustainable into the future. These include things like marketing to support sales, a more coordinated and supportive volunteer system, and standard operating procedures.
Your support will enable Flame Tree to stay open and keep delivering the minimal packaging, local and organic products we all love.