Since taking over the reins of the Maple Street Co-op in 2017 Peter Pamment has been deeply involved in turning a cute, but claustrophobic 40-year-old store into a state-of-the-art business with an organic and eco-friendly ethos that is more than skin deep. 

by Jacqui Hensel

The Maple Street Co-op was founded in 1979 by Lorna Huston and the late, great Jill Jordan together with their faithful mates. They sought a new way of accessing healthy, fresh food while reducing waste and recycling.

“The reason the co-op model worked was because of the group of people who came here in the late 70s and 80s. I suppose we were the hippy generation,” Peter Pamment laughs.

“We had strong social values, strong community connections and believed a simpler life was important. And I think we really enjoyed working together. 

“Over the years I think I averaged one day a week dedicated to volunteer actions. I wasn’t alone, there was a large group of us who all had the same mind-set. 

“We came from a wide variety of backgrounds and professions. Many of us would draw on our professional skills to build the life we wanted,” he explains.

“A lot of the co-ops in town were totally volunteer driven. Maybe after a couple of years of really hard work and dedication they might end up in a position where they could pay people for a couple of hours. 

“Eventually those grass-roots organisations grew, and you end up with the Credit Union and the Maple Street Co-op that now employ quite a lot of people and are responsible for a significant sector of the local economy. The Credit Union has now been taken on by a larger bank, but it is still there providing a service to the community.”

Originally, the Maple Street Co-op was a way to ensure local supply of hard-to-source items such as brown rice and wholemeal flour. The business has flourished and expanded in recent years, with an impressive renovation –  all under the careful stewardship of Peter. 

These days the store is an eco-destination for tourists, as well as a place for locals to place orders for specialty goods and find local produce.

“We were also the first business in town to have an electric car re-charging port out the back,” Peter says proudly. 

The Maple Street Co-op employs 18 staff and has become an important cog in the local economy. With over 200 suppliers at times, it is a logistical juggling act, but one that Peter has gradually streamlined by introducing up-to-date store systems and processes.

Peter himself has always been a member of the Maple Street Co-op and has very deep altruistic community connections. So, when the Co-op went looking for a manager they were in luck, as Peter was looking for a new challenge.

“I was a member from the beginning, but I had a lot to do with the Maleny Credit Union. I was on that board for 17 years. I did a lot of community work and had a lot to do with Jill Jordan and other passionate community developers.

“I have always been involved in various community initiatives. I became involved in micro-finance in the Asia Pacific region and I had a lot of relevant experience from the Credit Union. It wasn’t until much later that I took on the role with the Maple Street Co-op,” Peter shares.

“With a background in computer science I was part of the team that wrote the banking system for the Credit Union until 2010, as we phased it out to a commercial system.

“I was also involved in the Rural Fire Brigade in Conondale which led to me being on the Caloundra City Group where I became the group officer for over ten years. Volunteering leads to so many opportunities.

“I was lucky that I had a flexible working schedule as a consultant, and I had the time. When we moved to the area, I had given up full-time work as I wanted to be able to focus on lifestyle over the hard slog of a corporate work life. 

“I wanted to be available to my family. We often went up to Fraser Island camping and things like that. I guess I was after a simpler life,” Peter reminisces.

“We had chooks and goats. We grew veggies and ran a market stall on weekends. My kids went to Conondale State School, and we refurbished computers and networked the whole school. This is before Queensland Education was doing it. It’s a great little school and Conondale is a great place,” says Peter proudly.

Networking the school with second-hand locally sourced computers saw Peter awarded the Education Queensland – Director General’s Award for Outstanding Contributions to Education in Queensland by a Community Member in 1999. It is only one of many awards Peter has earned over the years from all levels of government for his work both overseas and in his own back yard.

“I have been working part-time for the Maple Street Co-op for about five years now and I do the finance and back-end kind of work. It suits me to come in and do a couple of days a week. I’m in my 70s now and really just wanted something to keep me busy in retirement,” he gives a self-deprecating laugh.

The future of the Co-op looks set to continue with the board looking for ways to involve and support the whole community, and the Maple Street Co-op always welcomes new members to visit the store. 

Information can be found on the website maplestreet.coop or Email: sales@maplestreet.coop. New suppliers and consignors are welcome to apply instore for details.

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