In a leafy garden on Chocolate Road, Siem Reap’s first food co-op made its debut this week.
People trickled in despite the rain on the weekend to pick up fresh herbs and vegetables, sample smoothies made with local nut butters and figure out where the little venture might be headed. It seems an easy fit for Siem Reap’s small community of health nuts, those who care about good produce and eating well.
After all, food cooperatives, in which members make all decisions about how food is made and distributed, tend to favour both social responsibility and local flavour much more than their corporate counterparts.
The new Siem Reap Food Co-op has been organised by a trio hailing from all corners of the world and united by their passion for locally sourced food: Josimar Bholai, Jonatan Beglert and Courtney Jeanpierre. They began work on the project five months ago.
The co-op will enable local farmers to bring their products to market and compete with bigger sellers; daily sales are overseen by the co-op, to allow farmers to remain on the farm. Requirements to participate are both health-conscious and tailored to the local context: farms must be chemical-free, have fair working conditions for staff, and farmers’ children must be enrolled in school.
For now, the produce includes fruits, vegetables, eggs, nut butters, herbs, seeds and teas – as well as a variety of health and beauty products.
At least one organiser is quite directly involved, from farm to seller’s table: Bholai, who has has owned two farms in his native Trinidad and Tobago, currently oversees a permaculture farm focused on moringa and other vegetables, goat’s milk, ducks, chickens and rabbits.
The farm is managed by a local farmer, and he and Bholai have exchanged techniques for getting high-quality, chemical-free produce. “It’s such a great relationship,” Bholai says. (The Siem Reap co-op currently works with six local farmers, and supports a network of 40 growers.)
Bholai also makes some of the co-op’s nut butters, using local produce wherever possible – their cashews are from Kampot and the sea salt from Kep.
Equal involvement from all members of the Siem Reap Co-op will be integral to its growth, Bholai says, as will community support. The group also hope to host talks and events to foster a community atmosphere that goes beyond good food – and they’re calling for more members. There will be a grand opening in the coming weeks.
“Today is really promising,” Jeanpierre said at the opening. “It is validating that the community is really receptive.”
The Siem Reap Food Co-op is located on Chocolate Road, next to Haven training restaurant, and will be open from Tuesday to Sunday from 9am to 5pm.