Saturday, February 24, 2007

Food clubs

Food buying clubs are about more than just saving money. They are also about creating community.
A food buying club or co-op is an association of people who get together in order to purchase food. As a group, their purchasing power increases and allows them to access the wholesale marketplace, which is usually prohibited to individuals. By buying through wholesale distributors or directly from farmers, the food buying clubs can save money. The food buying clubs place pre-orders with the distributors and buy for their own consumption. Food buying clubs or co-ops are not retail food co-operatives, which tend to have a storefront and buy goods for resale.
Food buying clubs first became popular in the 1970’s for pretty much the same reasons people participate in them today. Many people want better quality and often organically grown food, and they want better prices. Circumventing the supermarket and going directly to the wholesale distributor and the farmer are the best ways to do this. There is some work and time involved in participating in a buying club, but there are lots of perks along the way.
Food buying clubs are an international phenomenon and are strongly linked to the co-operative movement. For example, in Japan, han groups are known as consumer co-operatives, and they operate like a food buying club. Some han groups get involved in product testing and development, which can influence the marketplace. In the United States, there are thousands of food buying clubs, often known as food co-ops. Many of the US and Canadian food buying clubs are connected to the co-operative distributors.
Most wholesale distributors deal in large volumes. Each one has its own unique policy and terms. Some require vendor permits or other official documentation. Others only require that you fill in an application in order to start an account. When dealing with a local farmer, the club will work out the details of delivery or pick-up and may even establish an exchange of labour for food.
Although there are many ways to run a food buying club, there are basically two models. One is a co-ordinator model, the other is a co-operative model. In the co-ordinator model, there is one person who takes the lead organizing the club, makes key decisions, and is responsible for most of the work, although they may delegate some the tasks to the members. In the co-operative model, members work together, each taking on a role and ensuring that their tasks are completed. Decisions are made as a group. In the co-operative model, skills and knowledge needed to run the club are shared amongst the club members.
In both models, a community is created. Often the discussions will centre on the food: recipes are exchanged, unique products are discovered, and health-related information is shared. Members learn from each other and share their own stories. In many buying clubs, there is a sense that the group is achieving something very special.

It takes work to start, run and maintain a food buying club. 12 to 16 committed members works well. It is advantageous to have a variety of talents in your group such as the following:
• An organized person to co-ordinate and oversee the efficient running of the club.
• Two to three people to do the compiling of the orders. They should be detail minded and good with numbers. You could use a computerized catalogue diskette, which saves time and simplifies the ordering and invoicing procedure.
• Two to three people who offer their home for the day of the delivery.
• Approximately six people who are available at order delivery times to sort food.
• Two people who are willing to be treasurer. They must deposit everyone’s cheques into the bank on time so that the cheque written to the supplier does not bounce.
Building commitment within the group is essential. I believe it is very important that everyone takes on some responsibility in order to feel like they are part of the food buying club. If all the members do not pitch in, certain members will feel they are being taken for granted, which can lead to burnout and the demise of the club.
One of the procedures is to plan a schedule for the whole year, which includes the following information:
• Submission dates when all member orders must be sent to the compiler.
• When the compiler must fax the collated order to the supplier.
• When the order will be delivered and to which house.
• A list of sorters for each order.
• A treasurer for each order.
To maintain communication, you can use a telephone chain. Everyone has a copy of the members’ names and telephone numbers.
Decide on how often an order is placed.Due to the number of members, each member has only to work on the food order every four months. Each member is responsible for ensuring their task is performed, which includes finding a substitute if they cannot do it. A member does not have to place an order every time nor does our club require a minimum order.

To see what is available in your area you can check out its a site full of information about local produce and producers and if there is not a foodclub nearby, why not set one up after finding out what the demand is.

No comments: