Introducing Origin Club — “The perfect gift to show you care.”

Small farmers across Europe are struggling to stay in business. Let’s use social media to help them out.

Origin Club is a simple and scalable way to help change how we grow, buy and sell food across Europe. Much like the selection of tasty and healthy products inside our launch range of Christmas hampers, Origin Club was itself made in Greece in June 2016 during the inaugural gathering of a purposeful non-organisation called the IO Collective. A few short months of remote co-working later and we’re ready to launch a 28 day crowdfunding campaign intended to grow our community and raise a few thousand euros of seed capital, as well as put a few more sales on the balance sheets of small farmers. Our plan is to reinvest all our profits back into R&D — working collaboratively with regional food champions like Delfini in our pilot region of Central Greece— before making a more ambitious community share issue in late summer 2017.

So what is Origin Club and how exactly will we capture and store the energy that we hope this campaign can generate? This article will unpack some of our key messaging and clarify the invitations we now extend to a small producers and ethical consumers in the UK and Greece, as well as other actors already in the business of disrupting food trade all over Europe.

At the heart of our idea is a simple and yet powerful belief: that by embodying principles of transparency and democracy, ordinary people can help to co-create a more innovative and sustainable food system. An open secret is that today, Europe’s highest quality food is grown by single-origin, organic farmers on a small scale. This is nothing new or controversial, in fact this is how it’s always been. But there’s a problem: small scale production isn’t a good fit for big retail chains, which means you can’t find this produce in your supermarkets. Meanwhile, farming communities across Europe face a daily struggle for survival. This is a scenario which we perpetuate every single day when we shop in the supermarkets, and it’s a scenario in which we are losing out.

Origin Club offers a simple and scalable solution. To make a difference, we can support farmers in places like rural Greece simply by using our social networks to help them sell and distribute their products online. Our purpose is to establish a core audience of ethical consumers on whom we can test a diversity of authentic products before scaling supply of the most popular items through a variety of complementary channels, from e-commerce to wholesale, monthly delivery services to local buying groups. Even so, the process of selling a few hundred Christmas hampers is a striking way to demonstrate how simple food trade can be when stripped back to it’s basics.

Here’s how it works:

  • We source the best products made by small-scale farmers.
  • We promote theses products online using social media and email marketing.
  • You receive a selection of healthy and tasty products in time for Christmas, shipped directly from Central Greece.
  • We reinvest 100% of our profits back into the regional communities and farming networks which make the Origin Club possible.
  • We adopt an innovative multi-stakeholder ownership structure from day one, so that purpose always comes before profit.
  • We ensure competitive pricing by relying on data-driven specialists and encourage our early adopters to sign-up to monthly subscriptions.

And that’s it!

If you like our idea and wish to participate, you can go ahead and pledge on our crowdfunding page, buy direct from www.originclub.org or place a bulk order for your company or team by emailing orders@originclub.org. It’s a simple transaction in which you make a measurable impact on a network of small farmers in Central Greece, and in exchange will be rewarded with some of the finest olive oil you’ve ever tasted.

This campaign is just the beginning. In the coming months and years we hope Origin Club will become a diverse and active community of stakeholders who share expertise and help to co-create new regenerative solutions for fairly priced and ethically sourced food trade. More specifically, Origin Club will focus on three key issues in our efforts to transform food trade in Europe, always starting from the critical perspectives of small-scale farmers and ethical consumers.

Going back to the drawing board, we need radical transparency in our products supply chain to help establish and maintain relationships of trust between small producers and ethical consumers. In relation to this key issue of authentication we’re exploring the potential of blockchain technologies to disrupt and enhance the way certification works over the coming decade. Quite possibly one of the most impactful innovations in tech since the internet itself, blockchain has the potential to change the way human beings do governance in almost every way, shape and form. That means we can vastly reduce the complexity and expense of third party certification to guarantee a product’s identity, quality, quantity and place of origin. Put simply, it’s entire supply chain origin story will soon be authenticated for and by the people who grow, buy and sell it. Changing the way we establish and maintain trust — moving away from often inaccessible certifications and towards greater transparency — is literally a matter of survival for small producers who exist on the margins of our European common market.

In the same breath, we believe that peer to peer marketing is the key issue which can have the most immediate social impact, because the everyday choices we make as consumers really do make a difference. Our pilot scheme in Central Greece will seek to establish a regional innovation hub that supports farmers in telling their authentic stories to the world. We believe that by sharing these unique and deeply personal origin stories, a new breed of ethical consumers can be inspired to drive change in the way we grow, buy and sell food across Europe by voting for authenticity and relationship over homogenisation and brand recognition, each and every time they shop.

Finally, thinking critically about the distribution of our food is essential when it comes to assessing our environmental impact. This includes assessing not only how products made in Greece reach our customers in the UK, but also the ways in which any packaging we use can be reintegrated as valuable technological ingredients which flow within emerging circular economies. As well as expanding from Christmas hampers to a monthly delivery service, we hope Origin Club can develop as a platform cooperative in the footsteps of FairMondo. In this way, we can help to open up the marketplace by making it more convenient for ethical consumers to engage with small farmers from all over Europe. Peer Production Licensing is another model which could enable Origin Club to grow in popularity as a brand and platform without requiring our small farmers to compromise the quality of their production. But this isn’t the only way Origin Club might scale. In all honesty, we have more questions than answers. Like how can we lean into innovative trends such as Farmdrop’s monthly delivery service while also spotlighting the environmental impact of an ever-increasing frequency of carriers, often operating in direct competition with one another? Or how can Origin Club adequately represent the interests of small scale producers while retaining our brand’s integrity and the agility to access multiple distribution channels, such as wholesaler cooperatives like Suma or local buying groups like Food Assembly?

In relation to these complex fields of endeavour, Origin Club will seek to work in partnership with those organisations and actors who are already leading the way. Our value proposition relates most specifically to our ability to shrink distances between small farmers and ethical consumers, so let’s play to our strengths. If we stay agile as we apply new innovations in our pilot regions, then perhaps our influence as agitators for change will be more significant than any future market share.

Whatever happens next, we know we will achieve nothing of any significance by working alone. That’s why we’re campaigning beyond the scope of specific resolutions, instead working towards the mass adoption of four design principles, briefly outlined below.

Democracy — What makes Origin Club capable of coming from nowhere to help start a new conversation in food trade is our ability to integrate the feedback of different stakeholder groups. Our innovative legal structure means that everyone’s interests are validated as fully-fledged economic stakeholders, from the producers and consumers who create our demand and supply to the essential contributions of our investors, suppliers and distributors, as well as the invaluable insights of our on-demand talent pool who work behind the scenes to make sure our brand identity, organisational pattern and legal container stays streamlined and watertight. The bottom line is that literally anyone who has an interest of any kind can become a member of Origin Club, which means a meaningful vote share and access to our information.

Transparency — Ever since Adam Smith published Wealth of Nations to usher in the modern era of market economics as we know it today, we’ve known that market economies only function when decision-making is rational (which in practice means when all feedback is integrated, without privileging the role of capital by making investors the sole owners of a business) and information is perfect. While the pursuit of perfection may be an ever-receding horizon, we’re convinced that by opening as much information as possible related to food trade in Europe, our diverse community of stakeholders will be equipped with all the technologies, strategies and trainings they need to help transform the industry.

Agility — We value access over ownership, which makes us extremely agile in an ever-changing market. We might have to intentionally cap our profitability from time to time by declining the opportunity to invest in infrastructure, but making money isn’t what Origin Club is all about. Working in this way helps to create a strategic advantage that is also a dependency. Origin Club can hold a space for disruptive innovation — working as a think and do tank to test new ideas and share the benefits — because we choose to be both as responsive to our environment and as interdependent on our co-producers as possible.

Autonomy — Life is rarely one size fits all. To make abundant space for creative expression Origin Club will license its technologies, strategies and trainings — as well as our brand itself — to an expanding stakeholder community across Europe. In this way, every application beyond our initial pilot scheme in Central Greece will be as unique as the people and place in which it unfolds. In just the same way that our platform isn’t about profit-making, it isn’t about empire-building either.

To sum up, we believe that a healthy and flourishing food system depends on small scale farmers and ethical consumers — as well as every other stakeholder group imaginable — working together to drive innovation and positive change.

If you believe this too, then here’s how you can take action and make a difference today.

  • Join the conversation by signing-up to the mailing list or following us on social media.
  • Pledge your support for our crowdfunding campaign, or purchase an Origin Box direct from www.originclub.org.
  • Or, simply amplify our social reach by sharing this story with your friends. #OriginPledge

You can also feedback on everything included in this article in the comments below, or by getting in touch directly via social@originclub.org.

Origin Club is the launch venture of Transform Evia, a cross-disciplinary campaign designed to help kick-start an exemplar regenerative development in a fertile and biodiverse region of the second largest island in Greece. You can find out more about our mission and vision by watching the clip below — filmed on location at a convergence of over 40 purpose-driven entrepreneurs and activists from Greece and around the world — which inspired Origin Club’s startup back in June 2016.

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