Aarhus Organic Food Community
Author(s): Susanne Bødker, Henrik Korsgaard, Peter Lyle, and Joanna Saad-Sulonen, Aarhus University and IT-University of Copenhagen
Case study type: Local Initiative
Keywords: Caring economy, alternative foods
This case involves a local organic food community (AOFF) in Aarhus, Denmark, as studied between 2014 and 2016.
It was founded by two women who wanted to have alternative and cheaper access to local organic food. They initiated the community in late 2010 and were inspired by the practices of an organic food community established in Copenhagen. The community organizes buying locally grown organic produce (vegetables, egg, meats) from farmers and distribute this to the members of the community. The farmers deliver the produce to the local community center each Thursday and the members pack bags which are then picked by the members based on preorders. Some members volunteer for the packing shift to make goods available for all members to pick up and place new orders. Since early 2016 the community has introduced a web shop on their new website where it is also possible for members to order their bags online beforehand. The 900 members are mostly people in their 20’s to 40’s. The two founders started a local initiative based on the model from Copenhagen with a community wiki as the primary organizational platform. They created a Facebook page, which to trigger interest in the ideas. Facebook played a vital role in the initial formation of the community. Various attempts were made to handle email distribution lists, within or outside of the community webpage, which has been under constant development throughout the lifespan of the community, in the hands of several different volunteer web developers with numerous platform problems in tow.
AOFF is a legal entity in the form of a registered association which requires a board, by-laws and a yearly general assembly. The organic food community is highly organized with a board and seven working groups managing the community, arranging events, coordinating with authorities (permits and hygiene inspection), buying and coordinating with the local farmers, and selling and distributing the organic food goods to the ordinary members of the community.
Members pay a fee upon joining the community and were required to volunteer for three hours each month, coordinated through a scheduling tool on the community website (this system has then been changed and started to resemble more a webshop with a local and community run distribution spot). The community organization is flat and open to all members, with weekly meetings in the working groups, monthly community meetings and an annual general assembly. AOFF makes a particular point of being a flat organization and that every decision should be taken democratically.
AOFF activities were studied between 2014 and 2016, using participant observations, interviews, and content analysis of online material produced by the community. Data was studied from the minutes of community meetings (56 between 2011 and March 2016), as reported in the members’ section of the community website. A series of interviews was conducted between 2014 and 2016 of six core members of the community, who had some involvement in technology-related decisions or activities. The interviews were semi-structured. Another set of interviews including an artifact ecology mapping exercise and was conducted with five members.
What can we learn about sharing and caring practices from the AOFF case?
Communities like AOFF do not want or even understand scale in the same way as commercial “sharing economy” initiatives (i.e. driven by the logic of markets and growth). They learn and draw inspiration from similar initiatives and coordinate around joint activates (e.g. attempting apply for funding or promoting their approach), while also striving for maintaining a local identity and organization.
Dealing with IT and organizational infrastructure is an integrated part of the community work and concerns, both initially in trying to gain traction and configure the community, and in the day-to-day operation and management of the community. Communities often favor services and applications that are free (as in monetary cost) and commonly used by members and collaborators. At the same time, we witnessed a desire to create their own website/web shop, as the community members claimed that the features and functionalities they would need was not available otherwise.
AOFF are frequently dealing with tensions between being an organic food community and alternative to food distribution and then requests for and ambitions toward providing services mirroring shops and commercial services (e.g. full web-shop, produce selection, payment services). For instance, while introducing a web-shop might ease some of the tasks in taking order and payment in the Thursday pop-up shop, it might also minimize the touchpoints and social interactions among the members of the community.
For more details, see: http://pure.au.dk/portal…(87d4fbb6-b38c- 449e-b87d-59f693b7d6f0)/cv.html?id=40299654
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Bødker, S., Korsgaard, H. Saad-Sulonen, J. (2016). 'A Farmer, a Place and at least 20 Members': The Development of Artifact Ecologies in Volunteer-based Communities. In Proceedings of the 19th ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing (CSCW '16). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 1142-1156.
EU Framework Programme Horizon 2020