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Where does our food come from?

An Interview with team member Carina Fisk Charlton

I became a member at Alfalfa House when I was working at an organic wholesaler that supplies food to shops and co-ops across Australia. Being passionate about shopping waste-free and I found I could get everything I needed at Alfalfa. I spent a few years volunteering and became a paid staff member in February last year.

Alfalfa prides itself on its ethics. How does this determine what we choose to sell?

There is a process when it comes to stocking new products at Alfalfa House, and each product must fit certain criteria that embody the term ‘ethical food’. We focus on local, farmer direct, organic, Australian, bulk and plastic-free, or low impact packaging, and we don’t stock items that don’t meet one or more of these standards.

What does farmer-direct mean and how does this work in practice at the co-op?

Farmer-direct means we have a working relationship with the people who grow our food. This works exceptionally well in our co-op, as members love knowing who grew what and exactly where it came from, even down to when it was picked. We pride ourselves on having this knowledge, and it wouldn’t be possible without these farmer-direct relationships.

How is this helping our planet?

When there is a straight line from us to the people growing our food, the profits of the produce go directly to the farm. This can be really empowering for our farmers and encourages them and others to continue to grow food in a more sustainable way.

What kind of products are unique to Alfalfa?

We have a unique range of bulk items. I haven’t been to any other grocery store in the Inner West that sells bulk milk, tofu, cheese and butter. Even things like body lotion, face cream and cleansers are impossible to get packaging-free, so it’s really exciting to have access to all of these products.

We also have a huge range of plastic-free items like tempeh wrapped in banana leaves, vegan cheese and potato crisps in compostable packaging. There’s just nowhere else where you can get all of these products under one roof.

Any thoughts on supermarkets that sell plastic covered bananas or oranges?

This is my biggest, pet peeve! We don’t sell any produce in plastic at Alfalfa House, and it’s not a great challenge for us, so I don’t see why supermarkets can’t do this too.

What are your future hopes for Alfalfa House and other co-ops, globally?

I hope Alfalfa House can expand, attracting more and more members and shoppers, and thereby gain greater buying power, and build and strengthen our relationships with local growers. I hope one day we will live in a world where a food co-op is your regular grocery store.

** Carina recently returned to her role as Merchandise Co-ordinator, after a 6-month  stint as Co-Manager.

About Us


We’re a vibrant Community Food Co-op in the heart of the Inner West.

Our community operates to the highest ethical and business standards, and takes positive action towards building a society that’s equitable, sustainable and healthy.


In 1981, a single household in Charles Street, Erskineville went on a rent strike, and they began buying bulk grains, nuts and seeds with the money from the strike. They sold these (with a small markup) out of the front room of their house.

In 1982, the Charles Street Food Co-op relocated to the Erskineville Anglican Church Hall, and became known as ‘the Erko’.

In 1983, the Erko moved to the Alpha House building on King Street, Newtown, which was squatted by a group of artists. It was renamed the Community Food Store, and was only open on Saturdays. A small dedicated group of volunteers maintained it, and by early 1985 their aim was to form a workers’ co-operative under the Companies Act, and later to register as a consumer co-operative. Long-term, the group also hoped to have a  permanent place of residence, to open six days a week, to stock fruit and vegetables, and to put a sign up outside.

In 1987, Alpha House was reclaimed by the NSW Department of Housing, which owned the building, and the Community Food Store moved to 113 Enmore Road, its current location. The Enmore Road premises were known as the EPI Centre, and were shared with Permaculture Sydney. The whole operation took up part of what is now the storeroom. In those days, if you worked in the store you were paid the princely sum of one dollar an hour.

In early 1988, there was a public meeting to discuss the proposal that the Community Food Store form as a co-operative under the NSW co-operatives legislation. The meeting agreed with the proposal, and then over the following nine months a core of thirteen people developed the structure, aims and rules of the co-operative. During this time, each member pledged $1 in shares, eventually buying up the full 20 $1 shares when the co-operative was registered.

On 17 October 1988 the paperwork was complete, the required 100 people had each pledged $1, and an ‘Alfalfa House Formation Meeting’ was held. On 23 December 1988 Alfalfa House Community Food Co-operative Limited was officially registered as a co-operative, and a part-time co-ordinator was employed. In the early 1990s, the co-operative took over the whole of 113 Enmore Road when Permaculture Sydney relocated.

In April 2023, after 35 years of community service, Alfalfa House Community Food Co-op closed its shopfront and ceased trading.

zzz- co-ordinators ad

Casual Shop Coordinators – work with us!

We’re looking for friendly, retail all-rounders to fill casual vacancies.

  • You are a hard worker with the ability to multitask and work autonomously; taking initiative to solve problems when they arise.
  • You will have strong retail customer service and cash handling experience (essential)
  • A demonstrated passion for environment/sustainability or organic food and health.
  • Experience working within a grocery, health food or produce store.
  • Administration and volunteering experience are also an advantage but not essential

In return you will receive fair pay, employee discounts and be surrounded by a passionate and hard-working team.

Remuneration: Level 1 General Retail Award


The Shop Coordinator  is accountable to the Co-op Managers. The position involves maintaining the day-to-day running of the shop, including shop presentation, display, sales, restocking, customer service, coordinating volunteers, general cooperative and administrative duties associated with this position in accordance with co-op policy and procedures.

It is essential that Shop Coordinators work cooperatively with all staff, MC and volunteers to achieve a consistently high standard of service to members and shop customers.


  1. Set up the shop for the day’s trading ensuring that all available products are on display, including refilling containers and produce.
  2. Ensure the shop is clean, tidy and clutter-free and that till float is correct.
  3. Constantly monitor presentation, quality of stock, stock levels in the shop and restock shop as and when required.
  4. Promptly serve customers. Be courteous and helpful, advising them, when necessary, of co-op procedures.
  5. Operate cash register ensuring breaks are taken in accordance with OH+S Policy.
  6. Put away excess cash from till into safe
  7. Keep shop, till area, sink area, storeroom and stock containers (bins, jars etc.) clean and tidy, taking special care of spillages or other floor debris.
  8. Keep storeroom as clean and organised as possible.
  9. As appropriate, encourage members to become volunteers.
  10. Accept membership applications, welcoming new members and ensuring that the applications are legibly and correctly completed and are stored appropriately.
  11. Update members and customers of the latest coop activities and workshops.
  12. Ensure that the co-op backyard is kept clean and tidy and that all rubbish is disposed of  in accordance with co-op policy and procedures.
  13. Participate in the decision-making and organisation of the co-op, including attending monthly staff meetings and on occasion MC meetings as a staff delegate
  14. Ensure that OH+S regulations are always practised in the performance of the position’s duties and actively participate in the maintenance and improvement of OH+S procedures including risk assessment processes.
  15. Work cooperatively and harmoniously with other staff, volunteers and MC.
  16. Take responsibility for co-op infrastructure and general running and maintenance of co-op equipment in consultation with other staff on roster and in accordance with co-op procedures.
  17. Take responsibility for the passing of information relating to your shift to the next shop coordinator on the roster or to other pertinent staff.
  18. Perform end-of-day procedures (if last shift of the day) • Balance cash register• Secure the days takings in the safe • Secure float; Turn off equipment as required • Put away perishables • Sweep and mop shop • Clean work areas and storeroom including shelving and equipment • Lock the shop.


  1. Assisting the Stock Manager with receiving, checking, weighing (if required) and storing deliveries, matching the deliveries with produce ordered.
  2. Assisting with the monitoring and recording of stock loss.
  3. Ensuring that systems to reduce stock spoilage are maintained, paying special attention to storage of perishable items.
  4. Training and assisting volunteers, ensuring that WH+S policies and procedures are explained and maintained, assigning tasks appropriately
  5. Assisting with the maintenance of shop signage.
  6. Ensure that time sheets are completed and correct.
  7. Undertaking training, both as trainee and trainer, with Stock Coordinators, other staff and specialist trainers.

Send your CV and a one page cover letter expressing interest to [email protected]

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Woman cooking in the kitchen

War on Waste: Alfalfa House meets Caroline Brakewell

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

Our Monthly Challenge: Be The Change

There is always more to do as the War on Waste continues.. in our homes, our neighbourhood and our community. The sharing of ideas, identifying and problem solving what’s within our reach, is a great place to start. Find a local campaign and help out. Involve our children, our neighbours, our local business owners and workplaces and begin by asking the simple question, “What can I do to contribute to the War on Waste?”

We spoke to volunteer and Alfalfa House member, Caroline Brakewell to find out how she’s contributing.

Let’s Get To Know…

Woman holding two bunches of carrots at a market

Name: Caroline Brakewell
Everyone knows her as: C
Star sign: Libra. Unbalanced!
What makes you happy? My toddler. World peace.
What do you do for work? Health coach, chef, mamma and Marketing Director at Alfalfa House.
What do you do for fun? Travel. Dip in the ocean and nature. Hang with friends.

How long have you been a member? Around a year

What made you join Alfalfa House?
I was introduced by a friend who’s been a member for years. I love the philosophy of not for profit and waste reduction. Plus the great discount on food from some of Australia’s best suppliers and knowing I’m supporting them.

What’s the main products you buy at Alfalfa?
Everything. I’m addicted to the chocolate coated macadamia nuts and turmeric paste. Knowing I’m feeding my daughter pesticide-free produce is a big pull for me.

What was the catalyst to you becoming an eco warrior?
I’ve been pretty conscious since my 20s but I think stats like plastic particles taking over the number of fish in the ocean was too alarming to ignore, so I tightened up much more.

Name 3 things you recycle?
Hard plastic, cardboard & clothing

Name 2 things you reuse?
Glass and old containers for shopping at farmers’ markets and at Alfalfa House.

Name 1 item you have repurposed?
Clothes. I very rarely buy new ones and give away mine to my Goddaughter in Scotland.

Was it hard to start?
It’s been a gradual process that started many years ago when I was living in London and I’d refuse to use plastic bags. I educated myself and made more changes where I could.

Any tips on organisation skills to reuse or recycle?
Have my bags, jars and containers packed and ready every time I leave home. Use the carriage on my pram to store shopping in.

What is that one piece of waste that irks you?
Plastic wrapped fruit in supermarkets. Supermarkets full stop.

Who in your circle do you admire their war on waste? And why?
All of the speakers and presentations at our recent open day. All doing their bit whilst educating others to create a ripple effect in our communities.

What’s your favourite War on Waste campaign that you’ve heard of?
I think the Alfalfa House Zero Waste philosophy, which has been around since 1981 is in perfect alignment with the War on Waste campaign.

What is your one piece of advice for someone who is thinking about becoming an eco-warrior but doesn’t know where to start?
Start somewhere. Refuse plastic bags. Encourage your family to do the same. Look at what you can reuse. Ask if you really need that new dress when you can buy second hand.


Meetings, parties, events – we’ve got you covered!

From delicious dips to organic olives •  chocolate coated nuts to nut-based cheeses   •  farmer-direct fruit to tasty teas and so much more.
We've carefully sourced the best quality, packaging-free snacks all ready for your next get together.
Bring your empty jars and containers. The planet will love you, and so will your guests.

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