Students may be famous for their love of instant noodles, beans on toast, and takeaways. But at the University of Aberdeen an enterprising group of scholars have found demand for a healthier, and more equitable, alternative.
They have established their own Veg Bag Cooperative that will be showcased at an international conference to promote cooperative education on September 30.
The scheme, which has around 75 members, provides affordable, organic and unprocessed fruit and vegetables sourced from local distributor and farm Lembas Organics in Muchalls, near Stonehaven.
It is open to University students, staff and the general public.
The Aberdeen Veg Bag Cooperative will feature at the two-day Solutions in Enterprise conference, the flagship event of a £109,000 University of Aberdeen project funded by the Scottish Government and the Economic and Social Research Council to raise the profile of cooperatives to students, graduates, and the wider community.
The project has seen the University develop a Knowledge Transfer Partnership with the Cooperative Education Trust Scotland, which has established strong links in primary and secondary schools and is now venturing into higher education.
The student cooperative operates by charging members a £6 annual joining fee, which covers the cost of two jute bags to carry the produce, and orders are then taken for vegetables on a weekly or fortnightly basis, at a cost of £6 per order.
The students use all the money collected to purchase produce from the wholesaler and this is then divided into bags and collected from the University’s Butchart Centre.
Casper Lampkin, treasurer of the scheme, said it provides a cheap and convenient alternative to supermarkets.
He said: “All of the fruit and veg is organic and comes from the farm where possible or within Europe.
“It is organic and generally seasonal and, despite the view that the staple diet of students is one of takeaways and ready meals, the scheme is proving popular with students, staff and the wider public alike.
“The more members we have the more variety we are able to offer and for £6 members are getting good-value, organic produce without the hassle of having to trail around the supermarket.
“We’re extending the service to offer a pick up point at Foresterhill campus and looking at the possibility of extending this to Hillhead Halls of residence if the demand is there.”
The students will demonstrate the success of the scheme at a workshop on Thursday September 30 as part of a conference bringing together cooperatives, mutuals, and employee-owned businesses from as far afield as the Basque region and Geneva.
Dr Elizabeth Macknight, who is leading the knowledge transfer project at Aberdeen, said it was important to highlight the ways in which democratic ethical enterprise can be used at University and community level as well as on a large scale.
“The aim of the project is to strengthen young people’s engagement with this alternative way of working for entrepreneurial purposes. We know that this generation of students and recent graduates have great interest in the health of our planet, in sustainable forms of development that respond to global challenges.
“In the context of economic downturn it is important to focus on positive, imaginative actions and the Veg Bag Cooperative is a great example of what can be achieved on a small scale. The conference will feature discussion and debate on cooperatives of all sizes, from schemes like this here in Aberdeen to worker-owned businesses in the Basque region that employ more than 100,000 people.”
Hugh Donnelly, director of the Cooperative Education Trust Scotland, added: “We want the education system to raise awareness of cooperative enterprises and to highlight the fact that enterprising and entrepreneurialbehaviour can be a collective activity which takes concern for community and ethical approaches on board.
“The Aberdeen Veg Bag scheme is doing this and we are delighted that the students are sharing the benefits of their experience with an international audience at the conference.”
For further details on the Aberdeen Veg Bag Cooperative please visit http://www.ausa.org.uk/33-150.
Anyone wishing to attend the Solutions in Enterprise conference, which runs from September 30 to October 1, and is free of charge should contact Hugh Donnelly on firstname.lastname@example.org 0141 341 4931