Sunday, February 14, 2010

Spreading the Love: Creating a Buying Club for Local Produce

You’re a student, or perhaps you’re on a limited income. You might be a parent of small children. If you know that you want to buy organic, sustainable and local produce but you’re put off by the cost of such an endeavor, where can you begin? You can start by investigating the possibility of sharing the cost by buying in bulk.

Imagine that you are a farmer. You have a crop that produces several thousand pounds a day of fruit or vegetables. If farmers sell all of this produce at the farm gate, they sell it bit by bit, piece by piece. It can take a long time and a lot of negotiation to sell all of that produce, but some farmers like the interaction this gives them with the neighbors and the lack of coordination required to open a farm gate stand.

However, those who make a large investment in a crop stand to lose a lot of money and time if that crop doesn’t sell. Farmers start to move into the farmers’ markets and seek larger markets that will move more produce more quickly, but still in a local manner. For the producers of a time-sensitive product, nothing is more important than moving this produce into the hands of the consumer quickly.

A buying club can be a blessing for farmers. A buying club is what you get when you gather buyers together to order a large amount of produce at a time. This can occur every day, every week, every month, or just once a year. I coordinate an annual buying club for blueberries. I connect with our blueberry farmer, put in an order, and take orders from friends and neighbours. All together, we order just over a thousand pounds of blueberries every year. These blueberries go to freezers and smoothies and pies across our city.

As a buying club, you need to act a bit like a store. You need to be organized. It’s not the farmer’s responsibility to decide how much of what sort of produce you want to order. Create a system to track orders and be prepared for orders to change over time. Develop a cap or a maximum order of produce for the buying club, and work to meet this cap. You need to follow through and follow up with the farmer to ensure that everything is going smoothly and that the order will be ready on time. Logistics can be challenging, but arranging transportation, payment methods, and drop off and pick up locations and times are all parts of hosting a buying club. As the organizer of a buying club, you also need to be willing to be flexible. Last summer, the weather was so hot in our part of the country that the berry-pickers were unable to pick for several days, and it was touch and go as to whether we were going to get our order.

Hosting a buying club is a very worthwhile experience that will connect you with local farmers who sell healthy local produce. While the organizing aspect is not for everyone, the nutritional rewards and the community-building aspect of a buying club is worth it.

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