Cooperatives by their definition and purpose seek the best benefit for their members, staff and owners. It’s all the better when these intentions are extended to the well-being of the wider community and the planet.
These shared ideals are woven into the fabric of the Shi Jian Yun Shu (Sustainable Food) Consumers’ Cooperative in Hualien on the Eastern coast of Taiwan http://coop.tcu.edu.tw/#
Chiu Yie-Ru, an Associate Professor at Center for General Education, Tzu Chi University in Hualien, has created tangible ways to share his vision for a better world. Since 2009 he’s taught Design Thinking, Permaculture, and System Thinking in several courses. Inspired by Prout’s vision and values, Chiu also catalyzed a team of colleagues and their students to form the Coop. Preceded by two years of preparation and student advocacy the Coop was registered in May 2019. A successful grant application provided the funding for that initial work as well as the required start-up capital.
At the time of this writing (early October 2020) the cooperative had 250 members, with more joining each week. Though mostly university students and staff, members also include doctors, nurses and other workers from the neighbouring hospital. The Coop’s ethics include buying local, natural and preferably organic products, to reduce the use of plastic and unnecessary packaging, and to model viable alternatives to the current social and economic mainstream. Business is conducted mainly at an on-campus store as well as through a new e-commerce platform.
Community outreach and development is another key and strategic focus. In addition to a newsletter and field trips to local producers, public education efforts include presentations by guest speakers, and students and school children as young as kindergarten age, coming to learn about buying and eating a healthier, natural, organic and local diet, with all its economic and social implications.
A practical example of social and economic partnership involves the local indigenous Hon Yia (Red Leaf) people who live in hilly areas outside the city. Life in their traditional villages has changed as youth leave to the cities. The elderly are affected by increased loneliness, less to do, and more economic difficulties.
In response, the Coop initiated a program to engage village women in rearing ‘retired’ chickens. The animals get relief from the intensity of commercial production, and the more than 10 women benefit from the companionship of their new pets as well as a new income from selling eggs to the Coop. Those Coop members who are not vegetarian or vegan have a steady supply of natural, fresh, free-range and locally produced eggs. Based on their new local economic model, the indigenous villagers have further formed a producers’ coop that directly connects to the consumers’ coop.
Prof. Chiu participates in various opportunities to actively promote cooperatives, local economy, sustainability and related issues as shown in these video links for a seminar on cooperative housing (also in English), and a presentation about vegetarian diet. He produced a series of videos in Chinese to introduce Prout, and is currently working on plans to establish more models projects.