Building Co-operative Farms


The design intentions of this farming co-op are:

  • To provide a stable, secure and attractive living for farmers
  • Healing the earth: Care for the land and Regenerative farming
  • Food sovereignty – A secure supply of good food for our members, and a voice in deciding how that food is grown
  • Food Justice – to provide affordable (possibly universal?) access to good food
  • Connecting people with the sources of their food 
  • Contributing to the broader community
  • Establishing and practicing a regenerative culture, including community contributions
  • Educating ourselves and others 

The main components of the COFE Co-op design are: 

  • The Co-operative model
  • Use of the Multi-Stakeholder variety of Co-op 
  • Community Supported Agriculture
  • The Cote Jardins community farming volunteer system from France
  • Enterprise stacking
  • Holacracy
  • Community investment for funding
  • regenerative culture and community contributions

The combination of these features gave us the strongest model we could come up with.

These components are expanded on below:

The Co-operative:

Co-ops are democratically run, mission based organisations. Our co-ops will be not-for-profit (non-distributing). The International Cooperatives Alliance (ICA) describes a cooperative as an “autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically-controlled enterprise”.

The ICA sets out the values, ethics and design principles for cooperatives around the world – they create a very different kind of organisation from the common garden variety!

A co-op’s purpose is set by those who design it – CoCanberra’s Climate Co-ops are designed to include climate disaster avoidance and mitigation, and the reorganisation of our social structures to avoid further insane results (see below for more info).

Soil City Cooperative Farms is a Climate Co-op designed for the food sector:


To create a food system which fits in with the natural world, and enhances the Human experience.


We see a world in which all humanity is able to access clean, nutritious and culturally appropriate food, clean water and clean air.

A world in which all local communities have the opportunity to own and control enough infrastructure to meet all of their needs in a way which has positive results for people and planet.

We envision the Soil City Co-operative Farms as our means to provide community owned and operated farmland, food growing and distribution systems to provide for the community’s food needs. 

Mission: To create a local food supply system which looks after:

  • The Earth and its living systems
  • Our farmers and other workers
  • Our Customers
  • Our whole community of members


The strategies we will use to achieve our mission include:

  • To provide a stable, secure and attractive living for farmers
  • To heal the earth and care for the land by using farming techniques which enhance soils, sequester stable carbon, promote biodiversity, and otherwise enhance natural systems
  • To apply local indigenous knowledge as appropriate and available
  • To connect people with the sources of their food
  • To promote practical food sovereignty through securing a supply of good food for our members, and a voice in deciding how that food is grown
  • To provide affordable access to good quality, nutritious food
  • To educate ourselves and others
  • To practice a regenerative culture
    • To allow for experimentation and imagination
    • To contribute to the broader community

Co-ops are connected to a community, and through them to the place where that community resides or works.

The Soil City Co-ops community can include any enterprise in the Canberra region relating to food, so long as they are using methods which capture carbon from the atmosphere, and mostly using food produced in such a way. These may include: 

  • production, 
  • processing, 
  • distribution
  • consumption
  • support of the above

The Soil City co-op aims to own its own land, but will begin by leasing land, under a contractual understanding (a right of first refusal clause) with the land owner that in the event of sale, it will be offered to the co-op first.

The co-op will operate many enterprises across multiple landholdings. These can include productive farmlands or urban buildings for processing or distribution of food.

Enterprises will receive business and network support from the other co-op enterprises, similar to the support model used in the very successful Mondragon Co-ops.

Funding for land acquisition and other productive infrastructure can be provided through an appropriately modified version of the funding co-op system currently being pioneered in Canberra by the Pre Power Co-operative System (another climate co-op).

The Multi-Stakeholder Co-op:

Customers and workers will both own the co-op, and will aim to achieve the most beneficial balance of both their interests.

  • With so many stakeholders involved, it makes sense to give everyone a voice. 
  • The concept is that customers, workers and other stakeholders with an ownership stake will benefit by cooperating to find a dynamic balance which provides the greatest benefit for all of the members
  • This will be achieved while keeping a focus on maintaining the wealth of the whole co-op community.
  • In the CoCanberra vision, regional sectoral co-ops will cooperate to provide for all of our needs, as locally as possible.
  • Due to its increased complexity, the multi-stakeholder model is more complicated to design and implement, but overseas experience points to a much more resilient structure, particularly in Northern Italy. 

This is still more straightforward than, and waaay more logical than a massive international corporate structure, set up to avoid tax laws in many different countries.

Our Co-ops:

  • Are place based – the members ARE the local community
  • Ensure customers have a say in decision making
  • Ensure workers have a say in decision making
  • Keep wealth and energy within the local community, under local, directly democratic control and direction

The Climate Co-op:

To enable the general public to make meaningful progress to combat the climate crisis, CoCanberra has developed the concept of the “Climate Co-op”. 

Working together, we can take the economy out of the hands of those with only greed in their eyes, and make the decisions that need to be made ourselves.

We can regain ownership and control of the things that provide for our basic needs, through localised community ownership. This may well become critical as the climate crisis escalates beyond human control.

Building on top of the International Cooperatives Alliances traditional co-op ethics, values and principles, Climate Co-ops add 3 elements:

  1. Needs based: They provide for one of our basic human needs, as a primary purpose
  2. Towards a healthy Habitat: Their operations produce positive results for climate and/or the other crises we face – social, biodiversity loss, etc.
  3. A regenerative culture: The organisational design avoids the key institutional roots of these environmental crises, and the interconnected roots of our social ills at the same time. Climate Coops will create new institutions which regenerate both the Earths living systems, and the nurturing, non-destructive sides of human culture.

Find out more through our resources menu.

Community Supported Agriculture:  Customers and farmers joining forces

One of the core food relationships is between customers and farmers. Farmers currently bear all the risk of production. A CSA takes that risk, and shares it to some extent amongst the customer base as well. In our case, the co-operative structure further shares the risk. Our CSA will provide ongoing support for the co-op, and its community.

The price of a CSA box will consist of a few elements:

  • the cost of the produce and all associated costs – This makes up the vast majority of the price
  • A small contribution to the Farm Fund
    • Customer Owners ownership is allocated to a particular farm site. The farm fund portion of the Customer Owners CSA box price goes towards this particular site.
    • The use of this income will be decided by farmers as a whole, on the site owned by the customer. Some potential uses include:
      • It could be used by farmers as a kind of (very) basic income
      • It could be used by farmers to fund the core co-op business support enterprises which exist to make their life easier
      • It could be allocated according to hours worked – lots of work in itself
      • It could phase out when an enterprise starts making a decent profit, and go towards further startup enterprises
      • If a site is absolutely cranking, the farm fund may no longer be necessary
  • A small amount to go towards a Community Development Fund
    • Our contributions, and a portion of our profits (alongside those of all other climate co-ops) are used as ongoing contributions to building a better community to live in. for example, this may include:
      • Aged care coops, so we can provide free or subsidised aged care for members of the broader co-op community.
      • development of further climate co-ops, to try and avoid our looming climate disaster
      • development of community strengthening organisations, to promote community resilience and adaptability into an uncertain future
    • These funds are distributed using a participatory budgeting scheme.
    • A small contribution to pay back investor members who have put up the money to buy the site. 
      • This will be organized through a Pre Power style funding model (explained later).
      • When the agreed amount has been paid back, the obligation is fulfilled, and this contribution will cease.
  • These amounts are all adjustable, by agreement of all the relevant parties

Cote Jardins volunteering system in France: 

Unfortunately, little information is available in English. See the French website here.

A very common question we have been asked is “How can I contribute to the co-op, if:

  • I want to eat the great produce and contribute to the coop
  • I have no money to contribute
  • I do have time to contribute

Cote Jardins in France has provided an excellent model for us to adapt to our local situation.

CSA customers must contribute 4 sundays per year of work. We could say one day per season, in Canberra. We could easily change the amount of days required.

  • For Cote Jardins, this gives access to crash teams for big jobs, eg changing greenhouse skins, or regular big weeding or planting jobs. Farmers organize their work to take advantage of these crash teams.
  • At 4 Sundays per year this means that a tiny co-op with only 13 customers would be able to have one person attend every sunday. 26 customers = 2 people each sunday, 100 customers = 8 people each sunday, 180 customers = 14 people each sunday. This is seriously beneficial.
  • while being a reasonably minor commitment for the customer, this scheme can get an awful lot of work done
  • The customer is contributing to and connecting to the farm in a real and practical way, while also becoming a part of the farm community
  • The Sunday afternoon / evening is a meal / party for everyone, and an “open” time for visitors to come and look around.
  • Those who are volunteering their time instead of paying for their food will form a team to work with and get to know many different enterprises, and will coordinate the regular CSA volunteer activities. 
  • It is pretty easy for the coop to get more value from someones volunteer work than would have been gained by the price paid for a box, particularly in a well planned system like this.

Enterprise stacking:

Joel Salatins talks “Stacking Fiefdoms” and  “Successional Success – Fields of Farmers” give a good background. 

  • Farming enterprises often consist of a couple, or a family.
  • It is inevitable that they will reach the bounds of their energy and enthusiasm to start more enterprises well before the full ecological and production potential of the land is developed
  • Enterprise stacking allows many teams, conducting different enterprises, to coexist on the same patch of Earth.
  • The different enterprises within a particular Co-op site will co-ordinate their ecological attributes through a site design, along permaculture lines or one of the many other regenerative farming design schools
  • Enterprises will comprise the most basic “circles” in the Holacracy organisational model


  • The first enterprises to be set up will deal with business systems and design.
  • When the co-op opens for production enterprises, there will be support and infrastructure ready to go, to allow the farmers role to be as focused on farming as possible.
  • These enterprises will allow micro (and larger) co-op enterprises to access economies of scale
  • Business mentoring and ongoing support have been essential elements in successful co-op operations overseas, most notably in the Mondragon co-ops in the Basque country of Spain.


Holacracy provides a clear, well structured, well organised way to operate a complicated organisation, without the pitfalls of an authoritarian approach.

  • Responsibility and decision making is distributed, decentralised, and organised fractally
  • Decisions are made at the simplest level possible
  • Groups maintain autonomy, unless their actions impact on another group
  • Problems or “tensions” are systematically recognised and dealt with on a regular basis. This is a primary strength of the model
  • All voices are heard
  • Software is available to organize and visualize the system, see the example link below.
  • Implementing this will take some time and effort, but will very much be worthwhile.

Holacracy: The Official Holacracy Site and their Actual software example provide a clear, well organised way to operate a complicated organisation. Click on the different circles and tabs in the software example to explore the actual Holacracy organisation. 

Listen to an interview here with the Australian Holacracy representative Stephan Jenner.

Those involved with the Extinction Rebellion movement will be familiar with Holocracy.

Funding co-ops for funding: The Pre Power method of funding for land purchases. 

A mechanism for members, and then aligned (those friendly to the concept) investors to invest in the project when funding is required.

The deal is good for the co-op, as it is significantly cheaper than bank loans or traditional investment

The deal is good for the investor, as they get a better return than superannuation can provide. 

The co-op members end up owning and controlling the assets, not the investor

The scheme has been designed for easy integration into new sectors (like the food sector).

A membership / subscription arrangement will be made between the funding co-op and our farming co-op.

Regenerative culture and community contributions

  • There are many institutionalised structures and behaviours that support our business culture of ripping the life out of natures wealth, be it human or otherwise.
  • Solutions which do not address these built in, institutionalised flaws will not succeed in changing the disastrous outcomes we now face. 
  • More and more problems will keep on arising, as we are fundamentally out of step with our own natural context, which maintains our very beings.
  • These problems exist only in our collective imaginations, in our organisational and behavioural institutions, and they can certainly be changed.
  • By designing different methods of organisation and behaviour into the new institutions we are creating, the emergent situations and results will also be different, with their own different, but far less catastrophic sets of problems to solve.
  • Regenerative culture is the attempt to put this concept into action, it is being trialled and developed in many ways and places around the world.
  • Regenerative culture is addressed in this model through the Cote Jardins ‘4 Sundays’ model, through the community development funds, and through the adoption of Holacracy as a non-authoritarian organizing model.

Much thought has been put into how all these elements could and should interact with each other, but the design is still just an initial proposal. A more nuanced proposal is being constructed.

Your thoughts and questions are needed to help develop the co-op into a well organized, practical organisation.

Your energy is needed to build the co-op and bring it into reality