Organic without the middle-man

Via the organic co-op of the University of Turku, food from local producers finds its way directly onto the plates of members. For many people, one important reason for joining the group is the cheap price of the produce.

Sanna Ahvenharju’s son Veikko Veivo often comes to help the co-op members on distribution day.

The monthly produce distribution day for the organic co-op of the University of Turku is buzzing with activity. The tables are loaded with bread, eggs, root vegetables and different kinds of flour. Members of the committee are on hand as well as ordinary members of the group. Each member is obliged to help share out the produce once a year.

– Organising the logistics of the products is a massive task. Last spring there were only 6–7 active board members but that has now increased to thirteen. With that many it runs smoothly as it isn’t too much work for any one of us, says organic co-op expert, Sanna Ahvenharju, in charge of the distribution event.

The operating principle of the co-op is that everything is based on voluntary work. When no one is taking out their own financial share in between, the members only pay for the produce the price that goes straight to the producer. Orders are placed online once a month and products are delivered as ordered. Most of the products come from Southwest Finland but some foreign produce is also included.

Easy when you know how

Maria Anttila buys most of her dry goods via the organic co-op. She buys especially vegetables from the shops.

Maria Anttila who has come to pick up her own order from the university has been an ordinary member of the organic co-op for over five years now. For her, the most important reason for joining was the easy availability of organic products via the group.

– This way you get organic products at a really low price, it’s easy and there’s a wide range, Maria Anttila praises the system.

She buys all her eggs and flour via the co-op. She also uses it to order about half of particular dry goods such as beans and pasta. The availability of vegetables depends on the season, so she tends to have to top up her vegetable shopping in the shops.

Initially it took a while for her to learn how to order via the co-op. There was such a wide range of produce available that she would have liked to try everything but it was hard to work out how much would get eaten in a month. Now though the orders are just part of her routine.

Maria Anttila is a student but intends to stay a member of the co-op even after she has graduated. About 40 percent of members are not students.

– You can now get organic produce from other places. Supermarkets already have a good range, for example. But compared to shop prices this is cheaper, Anttila points out.

Straight to the table

According to Sanna Ahvenharju, the better availability of organic produce has reduced the membership of the organic co-op over the 16 years it has been running. At the moment, there are 160 members, while there were about 280 when it was at its height.

On the other hand, it has become even more important for consumers to know where their food is coming from and get it to the table as directly as possible. According to Sanna Ahvenharju, some of the members also appreciate the fact that the organic co-op offers an alternative to the big supermarket chains.

– To me too it’s great to know the person who grew my food. It’s genuine somehow. For me and many other committee members, one reason to be involved is that this is something we feel strongly about. I want producers to be able to sell as many of their own products as possible.

Teksti ja kuvat: Jaana Tapio


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