The fabulous organic food co-op

About five months ago, after receiving interest and encouragement from others, a friend of mine decided to pursue starting up a small organic food co-op (or food cooperative). Because she owns a business, she fulfilled whatever qualifications are necessary for ordering food at wholesale prices. We just have a minimum dollar amount for each order (which is not hard to fulfill at all).

There are about 10 of us in the co-op and while it would be cool to open it up to others, it’s confusing enough just trying to figure out who’s splitting what with who with only 10 people involved. ;) Of course because we are ordering in bulk and generally nobody wants 50 lbs of onions or oranges themselves, we have to decide who wants how much of each item. It’s not really that bad, but it can get a little hairy at times and is time consuming for the friend of mine who heads this up.

In December, we placed our first order and have been periodically placing orders about once every two to three weeks. It’s an awesome way for us to get great quality organic food at good prices and I’m so thankful to my friend for coordinating this and receiving shipment of all of the food at her house for us. Oh, another perk is that we are able to choose to buy our food from local growers too (when available) and buying in bulk reduces packaging.

We usually each chip in $5 and my friend uses it to buy extra produce for the local food bank. This week we forgot and instead all brought some nonperishable foods and/or donated some of the food we ordered. It makes me feel good to be able to do this, especially now that more and more people are losing their jobs and having to get help to make ends meet or feed themselves/their families.

This week for my family I ordered 2 dozen eggs (which will last a couple weeks), 10 lbs. of onions (that should last quite a while), 8 lbs. of rolled oats (which will come in handy with all of the PB granola squares I’ve been making lately), 18 navel oranges, 2 lbs. of baby bok choy (which I’ve never made before), 4 lbs. of cucumbers, and 2 bunches of broccoli – everything was organic – for $35.

Box of co-op produce My big helper with the onions

I was so happy to get home with all of my food tonight because after the great cleaning out of the fridge before the Food Waste Reduction Challenge and in anticipation of my co-op order this week, my fridge had been looking pretty bare. Plus we ate our last orange (Julian’s current favorite fruit) yesterday so it was good to replenish our stock.

Anyway, I mention all of this because an organic food co-op might be a viable option for some of you and your friends. All it takes is a few phone calls. Let me know if you have any specific questions and I’ll see if I can get answers for you.

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35 thoughts on “The fabulous organic food co-op

  1. I would love to participate in (or even head up) an organic produce co-op. I live in the greater Seattle area, so most of my questions should be easy to answer based on your experience. I’m wondering – does one need to own a specific kind of business to qualify for wholesale produce? And if so, what are the requirements? Also, any leads you may be able to provide in the realm of produce suppliers in the area, or a general starting point would be greatly appreciated.

  2. Wow, Amy, you got quite a load of organic goodies for just $35! And your baby looks so cute hauling that huge box of onions.

    We have been in an organic bulk food co-op (also called a Buying Club) for over 4 yrs now. Ours is through United Buying Clubs. We buy all of our nuts, seeds, grains, beans, frozen fruit, seasonings etc. this way.

    Our co-op does not offer fresh produce, so I do zip into Whole FOods once a week to get produce. In warmer months, we use the farmers markets and we grow our own.

    Our co-op has about 35 families in it and it is still growing each month. We browse the online catalog, compose and place our order online, and then once a month we meet the delivery truck at our site and every member helps unload, unpack, do splits, and load cars. It’s a great way to shop!

    We are a family of 7 high-raw whole-foods vegans, and we shaved our grocery bill down from $1200 to about $600-$700 a month, just by shopping through the organic co-op. SUCH a huge savings! Maybe that number still sounds high, but there are 7 of us, and we eat like piggies. Vegan piggies, but piggies nonetheless :)

  3. I am so jealous! I’ve been trying to find a similar program but it doesn’t seem like there are any available locally. You’d think Wichita would be a hotbed of farming but apparently most of the crops are for feed. Sad!

  4. That’s great! I found out last week the OK has a local co-op (OK produced items) that includes food, and they have a drop off point in my city a half mile from my house! I am in the process of reading all of the material and signing us up. Some of the locals farm organically too, so that’s an added yes from us. I also just signed up for our CSA again (it was renewal time already!) and will be preserving more this year!

    Also, one thing we do to save food (rather than waste) is when I make something, if it is going to be too much to consume over one or two meals, I portion the rest out and freeze it. This works especially well when my husband is out of the country. When he’s not, I affectionately refer to him as the garbage disposal. LOL!

  5. That’s a great way to purchase food! Bok choy is really good! Stir-fry is how we eat it, but regardless of what ways you find to cook it….it is a wonderful food.

  6. I second the stir fry suggestion for the baby boks… crunchy and wilty at the same time… yum! (or maybe i’m just weird like that!)

  7. sounds like an excellent plan. what a great pic of your little guy!

    btw, i finished animal, vegetable, miracle and it was excellent. very inspiring.

  8. Amy-
    Can you give me more details or pass along my info to your friend that is heading this up? I just got my first order today from a natural foods distributor in Denver and now have 38 pounds each of lemons, kiwi, oranges, apples, etc on my table. I want to do a small scale coop like this, but am a little ovewhelmed with the details! I have been wanting to do this for a long time, and decided just to do it- even though I don’t have all the details ironed out… learn by doing :-)
    Thanks!

  9. Ok, love this idea. I really want to do this in my area. I have to believe I can pull together some others to participate. I would love to learn more about how you guys set this up. I’m in Florida, so I have to believe there are some co-ops for fruit farming.

  10. I’ve done this, but not for produce. I just use a CSA and my own garden for that. Great idea!

    I used to own a food business. Pretty much anyone can order from restaurant supply companies. So, if you want to go that route, you don’t need to own a business. I don’t own mine anymore and still purchase regularly from restaurant supply (organics and nonorganics)

    Splitting is VERY hard with produce and that’s sometimes where feelings get hurt. I would suggest you have your group leader divide before you get there. She shouldn’t be paying a cent for all her work, I’m assuming that you all pay for her things because moving, storing, and ordering that stuff is a heck of a lot of work.

  11. We are baby buy choy nuts here in Australia – they must be one of the most common vegetables for people to buy for some reason – so I thought that I would share a few tips for cooking with them (so that you will love them as much as I do).

    1. They are best cooked and eaten within 2-3 of purchase.
    2. They are perfect for asian food – especially quick stir-fries or rice paper rolls.
    3. They are yucky when over-cooked. Chop off the bottom of the stems (where they are joined) and chop them up a little and then throw them in the stir fry about 30 seconds before you turn off the heat (they will wilt with the heat of the rest of the veggies).
    4. They can also be steamed (2 minutes or so) and then topped with a asian sauce (tamari, lemon & ginger for example).
    5. You can eat them raw – chopped up in rice paper rolls.

    Of course, you may have known all this already…

  12. I wouldn’t mind doing that save for the politics.
    I thought about it down here but there just isn’t the mentality for making it work in these parts.
    We can’t even get a FNB going.

  13. I am very lucky to have an amazing busines sin my area that is basically a organic co-op, I adore the produce I get through them. Unfortunately we are moving in 2 months and will be out of their delivery range, so I’m currently on the search for something similar. It’s such a wonderful thing!

  14. Here’s a thought if you don’t want to deal with distributors. Just buy your cases of produce from Vitamin Cottage (new name – Natural Foods Market). They have very similar prices to the distributors and you don’t have to commit to a minimum order. They can have it to you in at least 2 days.

  15. Thanks for all of the questions and comments. My friend Melissa (who heads up our co-op) said she is trying to get her own post written about what goes into having a co-op. Once she gets that posted, I will post the link here. In the meantime, I’ve asked her to pop over here and answer your questions if she can.

  16. this is a great idea. the local coop does not allow you to pick what you want. they just deliver a mystery tub o goodies. Some weeks it’s great and others leave A LOT to be desired.

  17. What a great idea! I love bok choy sauteed with a bit of olive oil and garlic and crushed red pepper – so good!

    They are also good chopped in soup.

    My friend and I are going to join a CSA this summer – you have to commit to summer and fall, but you never know what you are going to get.

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  19. I have been hearing so much about food co-ops lately. It sounds like a great plan and could work for my family. We try to buy only organic, locally grown (if possible) foods — especially fruits and veggies. I will have to check out the interest of others and see how to get started. Because my grocery bill just keeps going up! I, also, like your donation plan. Good for you!

  20. That is so awesome. I have been thinking about doing the same thing, but I have no idea where to start. I do have a fairly long list of interested people. A primer from your friend would be very much appreciated.

  21. Good luck with your food coop! We have a great storefront food coop here in CT. http://www.willimanticfood.coop. I’ve been a member there for 22 years and it’s still going strong. Going local and supporting community is always a great thing. I’ll be peeking in at what you’re up to…
    wellness,
    linda

  22. I’m so glad you posted this. I’ve been thinking about the possibility of starting a food co-op lately as I can’t seem to find one locally, but I have no idea where to start. Any tips your friend could give would be fantastic!

  23. Hi:
    My friend and i are trying to get a food co-op srarted.
    We were told we need 6,000 to get started.
    Do we need a 501c?
    How did you do it?
    What are the basics that we need to get it off the ground.

  24. Amy! I need some information! i recently started thinking of doing something like this and didn’t realize this kind of thing is already happening. I got online to do some research and a google brought you up. great read. if i want to set something like this up with a group of people, who are we buying from? it makes sense that we could buy local when/if we could find stuff but wheres everything else coming from?….and, actually…who are you buying local from? im in denver.

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  27. Hi there!
    I am looking to start a coop in my area and I have so many questions…. so here goes nothing…
    Do I need to get a permit? Was there a fee charged to everyone who joined? How did you locate the wholesalers to buy from? Do they deliver? If so do you have a special drop place or is it just to someone in the groups house? Ahh so much to think about. Thanks again!

  28. If you like this, please pass it along. Sorry for the anonymity.—
    Love—

    Think about love. Think about the kindness of love, the comfort of love, the acceptance and warmth of love, the simplicity and generosity and forgiveness of love. Think about the gentleness of love, the patience of love, the compassion of love. Think about the refuge and relief of love. Think about love.—

    That, I believe, is God. Love itself, perfect, eternal and infinite, flowing among all of us, shared as our birthright, our love uniting us and living on within God. There is nothing to fear. It’s love itself that is the God we seek, here within all of us and living on forever. Love has always been here.—

    The rest, I believe, is nature. Our bodies and our minds, the self we identify as soul, heredity and upbringing, all part of nature. There is no evil, only nature, a broad scape from marvels of beauty to tragic aberrations, all nature, all fleeting. All of nature shares the same preoccupations at its own level…we seek food, continuation of our species, pleasure, safety, status and territory. Those are the things of nature and the joys they give us are the gifts of nature.—

    But our greatest days are made of love, in hours of unbearable loss, it’s love that comforts us. We thrive on it, we long for it. With love, we do what we would have thought impossible, through love we make the miracles that others are praying for. It’s through our own love that God comes into the world.—

    Our prayers have already been answered. We have been given love, it is already here for us. Hunger and sickness, sadness and loneliness, fear and cruelty…what we can’t overcome with love, we can comfort with love so that none suffer alone and abandoned.—

    This, I believe, is our purpose. To free our love from the fearful cautions of nature, to let love dissolve the divisions that separate us, to look for love in every other being and find God. With love, we live as in heaven.—

    Think about love often, nurture love within yourself, give over some time of your days to meditate on love, to pray that we will have more love. Think about love and pray that one day we will all have the love we need for all the world.—

    This is not a religion and there is no need for money, preachers, books, or buildings. The truth is in love itself and the only outward sign of love is love. This is for you, offered in hope that it will help. The person who wrote this is an ordinary person of unexceptional virtue who will say nothing further.—

    loveisthegodweseek(dot)org

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