Strategies for Community Food Security: The Local Foods Coop

Sharon January 15th, 2009

So a while back on a list I read, there was a discussion about who should lead a national movement to sustainability that addressed our current set of crises.  This is a big question, and a big job.  My personal vote for our Gandhi was Bob Waldrop, and no, I wasn’t kidding.  If you don’t know him and his work, you should check him out at www.bobwaldrop.net. He’s one of the few people on the planet I think who could actually move mountains. Among his many other accomplishments he’s run for mayor of Oklahoma City (I’d vote for him for anything – the man is a national treasure) and he was the founder of the US’s first local foods coop http://www.oklahomafood.coop/.  Here’s a great sample of some of his wonderful and compelling writing: http://depletion-abundance.blogspot.com/2008/02/bob-waldrop.html or you can read the interview he kindly gave us at hen and harvest: http://henandharvest.com/?p=107 (You can also play  “duelling best beards in the Peak Oil Movement” option if you want to check out our interview with the great Albert Bates: http://henandharvest.com/?p=186 ;-).)

The food coop is, I think, one of the best tools available to us for community food security – and for just plain getting better stuff to eat.  The magic of it is that you don’t have to believe in any particular worldview to think that bringing great local farm food to consumers is worthwhile.  Food coops are a gift to all of us even if nothing bad ever happens and we manage to start running the planet on hot air or snow or something (I’ll happily volunteer some of my snow for the greater good ;-) ). 

There was a time when coops popped up all over, but perhaps because of the growth of whole foods and farmer’s markets, the coop model hasn’t been as popular – but it needs to be brought back.  It connects people with local resources, and as solid, stable markets are created, it encourages other people to join in the project of growing food, preserving food and otherwise fostering local economies and everything else that’s good.    There are more and more local food coops built on Bob’s model – here are links to find them:   http://www.oklahomafood.coop/otherstates.php.  So far they are almost all in the west – I think we folks in the East had better get our acts together and create one!

And not only did Bob pull together this amazing local food system (with help, this a good bit of work and not a solo project), but he’s given instructions on how to start one in your community. http://oklahomafood.coop/organizing.php.  There is even software available for tracking orders and putting things together here: http://www.localfoodcoop.org/.  So you really have no excuse for not starting one in your town or region, do you?

Remember, this is potentially not just a way to bring in food, but a way to get more people involved in the local economy – Bob doesn’t just make the show run, he sells his own bulghur and hot sauce through the coop.  You could do that too! 

Sharon

32 Responses to “Strategies for Community Food Security: The Local Foods Coop”

  1. Davidon 15 Jan 2009 at 3:45 pm

    The URL for Bob’s site is # not http://www.bobwaldrop.com/.

  2. risa bon 15 Jan 2009 at 3:48 pm

    File not found:

    http://www.bobwaldrop.com/

    Maybe

    #

    intended?

  3. BoysMomon 15 Jan 2009 at 3:57 pm

    We have a food co-op here. The buyers favor organic imports over local non-certified. So we end up with things like $7.75 a gal. milk, or the same for the cheapest pound of cheese. It makes it really hard to buy food there. (I’m not sure there is local milk available besides cow shares, which are equally expensive, but the costs run across the board.)
    The co-op board predicts they aren’t going to be affected by the recession. Well, that milk’s almost doubled since a year ago. It is more than double what conventional milk costs ($3). In fact, everything I buy is significantly more at the co-op, between half again as much and 2.5 times as much. I don’t see how they’re not going to be affected. My food budget hasn’t increased because our income hasn’t increased, and my children are getting bigger and needing to eat more, and I can get twice as much if I buy conventional. I can’t be the only family in that situation. Everyone’s not getting raises this year. Electric and gas rates have gone up as well.
    I would like to buy at the co-op. I try. But I’m ready to give up and not renew my membership. I haven’t got time to run for a board seat, and I don’t see any other way to cause change.

  4. Davidon 15 Jan 2009 at 4:08 pm

    Oh, and — thanks, Sharon. In my little corner of the world, we’re currently struggling with a buyers’ group which keeps hitting one snag after another. We’re a fairly remote community with not a great deal of local agriculture, so the shipping costs are a real hurdle. But I am very much inspired by the Oklahoma Food Co-op and other similar models which aim to increase local food production and more distribution of local goods. It’s the only way to go!

  5. Robyn M.on 15 Jan 2009 at 4:51 pm

    Well, given that I am now well and thoroughly immersed in food co-op-ness (starting a new co-op here; pres. of BOD; site-searching tomorrow, in fact!) I can speak a bit to the relative popularity of co-ops. Co-ops have had two major “waves”, and in fact are starting a third one now. The first wave was close to the turn of the Century, where poor artisans (read: wage-slaves) banded together to try and buy real foodstuffs instead of what was being sold to them (e.g., flour heavily cut with plaster of paris). Very few of those co-ops survive to this day, but there are a couple (Weaver Street Co-op out in, um, Boston? is one). The second wave, and the one most of us are familiar with, was in the 70’s, spawned largely by the counter-culture, back-to-nature movements. These co-ops tended to start in people’s basements, garages, hole-in-the-walls, etc., and grew from there (if they grew at all). They were heavily run and managed by volunteer staffing, and often had sporadic or non-existent regular hours. Many of these co-ops still exist. Nowadays we’re starting a new wave of food co-ops, this time typically with an emphasis on local foods, although organic can play heavily, too. Food Co-op 500 is a drive to start 500 new co-ops by 2020 (gee, I sure hope ours is open by then!).

    To BoysMom: I understand your dilemma, and there are lots of people facing it–or will be soon. One of the reasons your co-op probably doesn’t believe they’ll be affected by the recession is that, historically (that being the past 40 years or so) co-ops really *haven’t* been affected by recessions. This has to do with the specialty nature of the foods, as well as the bulk-buying options typically offered. I don’t know how this one is going to go, though–this ain’t gonna be your run-of-the-mill recession, and I certainly question how much past evidence bears on our current situation. On the other hand, if the BOD and GM are reasonably prescient, they may be able to start streamlining more local foods in (especially once the growing season hits in most places), which will probably eventually give them a price advantage over conventional foods, depending on what current energy prices look like. My own suggestion for you, which you’ve probably already thought about, is to try and use the co-op for bulk buying to the greatest extent possible. Most co-ops offer really great deals on volume purchases, oftentimes deals which can offset the cost of membership altogether (I don’t know what your membership structure is–ours is an upfront equity stake, rather than a yearly fee). Doing what you can to let your BOD know what your concerns are–as specifically as possible, including suggested solutions, is good. Even better, though, is discussing these matters with the GM, who typically has far more say over buying decisions than the BOD. And best of luck! Your co-op is a potential huge resource, as it’s an existing network of people who care about these same issues. Loosing this network will just mean that it will all have to be rebuilt later once the conventional food distribution system really isn’t viable anymore.

  6. Fernon 15 Jan 2009 at 5:18 pm

    We have two coops not TOO far from me (probably more if I looked). I work with the one on the college campus my son attends, so I can car pool in with his car pool when I work/buy. I adore it – plenty of vegetarian and vegan food, plenty of organics, a nice supply of local suppliers (not enough to replace my CSA membership). And a philosophy that anyone who has even an hour to volunteer should be able to eat – for each hour volunteered you can have $7 worth of food that they carry.

  7. Stephon 15 Jan 2009 at 5:40 pm

    Crown of Maine does Maine produced foods but their only non-Maine delivery stop is Portsmouth, NH. They also supply several restaurants including the fantastic and very reasonably priced Duckfat in Portland. We got stuck in the snowstorm last week and had to stop in Portland. In the morning we fed 8 of us brunch for $48- and they use as many local ingredients as possible. The Poutine was so good I dream about it.

  8. Jenon 15 Jan 2009 at 7:23 pm

    This is great stuff, Sharon. I looked into the software yesterday and now have just got to think long and hard about how this might be put together in our rural yet out-of-the-way area.

    Funny, when I looked at the list of co-ops, I thought, gee, they’re all out east! A matter of perspective, I guess. :)

  9. homebrewlibrarianon 15 Jan 2009 at 8:25 pm

    Anchorage doesn’t have a food co-op but it does have an organic buying club that makes monthly orders. The woman who operates that has really begun to work with local food producers and regularly encourages members to take advantage of the opportunities. Personally, I’d like to see something like the Oklahoma Food Co-op going on here since the farmers close to this area really aren’t that close. A new CSA that started up in the fall may be examining the Oklahoma model since it consists of several participating farmers to begin with (and I sent the main organizer the link to that information).

    Unfortunately, Alaska does not have the right climate and conditions to grow many bulk foods like beans and grains. The barley and oats that will grow here are only grown for animal feed and even the demand for that is pretty small. Some beans will grow to the “green bean” stage but I don’t know of any dry bean varieties. Favas and peas will get to maturity (pea family stuff does pretty well here) but regular beans need a much longer, and usually, warmer season than we have.

    Even if there was an uptick in demand for local foods, the variety of foods would still be pretty small. I’d expect to see more animal based products than plant products in any event (fish, game, goat, rabbit, etc.).

    Kerri in AK

  10. [...] Casaubon’s Book » Blog Archive » Strategies for Community Food Security: The Local Foods Coop So a while back on a list I read, there was a discussion about who should lead a national movement to sustainability that addressed our current set of crises. This is a big question, and a big job. My personal vote for our Gandhi was Bob Waldrop, and no, I wasn’t kidding. If you don’t know him and his work, you should check him out at http://www.bobwaldrop.com. He’s one of the few people on the planet I think who could actually move mountains. Among his many other accomplishments he’s run for mayor of Oklahoma City (I’d vote for him for anything – the man is a national treasure) and he was the founder of the US’s first local foods coop http://www.oklahomafood.coop/. Here’s a great sample of some of his wonderful and compelling writing: http://depletion-abundance.blogspot.com/2008/02/bob-waldrop.html or you can read the interview he kindly gave us at hen and harvest: http://henandharvest.com/?p=107 (You can also play “duelling best beards in the Peak Oil Movement” option if you want to check out our interview with the [...]

  11. Matriarchyon 16 Jan 2009 at 1:05 am

    I am starting a Pennsylvania food co-op, first in Berks County (south-central PA) and we will see where it goes from there. We will lean to local and organic, but not exclusively. Sometimes, people just need an affordable choice. I just visited the PA Farm Show to scout for vendors, and am heading to the PA Sustainable Agriculture convention in February to make more connections. I hope to make the co-op a central source of info about other kinds of food-related activity like canning, gardening, cooking, etc. I do plan to use the Oklahoma model.

  12. Judithon 16 Jan 2009 at 1:27 am

    In Transition Cotati, our relocalization group, we’ve got a subgroup investigating the possibility of a food co-op. One model we’re looking at is at http://locallygrown.net. it’s basically a way to create a to-order farmers market.

  13. Susanon 16 Jan 2009 at 8:50 am

    I think you might have meant #? The .com link didn’t work for me.

  14. Windyon 16 Jan 2009 at 9:08 am

    It is great to overhear a conversation about interest in co-ops. There are actually quite a few of us out here organized into a national co-op group. Some coordinated purchasing deals for those non-local basic natural food store items are among the benefits.

    Weaver Street Market, my home co-op, started in 1988 and is located in three North Carolina towns. One of the older successful co-ops in the east, in Hanover and Lebanon, NH, started during the depression. That co-op is the largest food provider in their community.

    Check out the National Cooperative Grocery Association, http://www.ncga.coop. There are some great links there about starting a co-op. There is a national effort to get more off the ground right now. One of their links takes you to the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Cooperatives, a great resource if you are thinking of getting a co-op started in your area.

  15. Lynneton 16 Jan 2009 at 1:06 pm

    I started a food buying coop last year in northern Colorado. We have about 75 members, and have distributions once or twice a month.

    It’s not the same as Bob’s model; we started with two key wholesalers, and have been adding individual local producers since then. We buy organic only; staples from western U.S. states, and produce only from Colorado.
    No imported foods, period.

    We sell foods by the pound at exactly the same price as buying a whole bag. Our prices are VERY good, often cheaper than conventional foods in smaller packages.

    It is a cooperative, all volunteer labor.
    I am a member just like everybody else and pay the same prices, although I spend extra time organizing, interacting with suppliers, writing invoices, etc. This is what I give to the community.

    We have a $15 annual membership fee, and I pass on shipping charges and a small charge to use a local church as our distribution area once a month. We have no markups.

    It’s all organized by email. I send out “offerings”, people respond with their orders, then I do a first pass to see what we have enough orders to get, what we don’t, and undecideds. I announce the undecideds as extras, for a second pass of ordering. For example, if we have orders for 11 pounds of Anasazi beans, but I must order 25, I’ll announce
    it in extras:
    Anasazi beans organic Colorado, 14 lbs available, $1.36/lb. (If nobody steps up, I’ll probably not order that item.)

    After the second pass, I place the orders. We still often have a few extras left, but people pick them at distribution, and they really look forward to it. We have no inventory storage, and no store front (and never intend to; the overhead would kill us).

    Our latest innovation is allowing members to specify a dollar amount donation for our local Food Bank. I use this money to buy appropriate staple foods like rolled oats, beans, potatoes, apples, rice, etc., and donate it. Members feel really good that we’re donating the highest quality organic local foods to people in need.

    I’ve met so many wonderful people by running the coop. People tell me they have a whole different attitude toward the grocery stores these days (eeeww, I used to buy THAT?). We are making plans for classes this spring in food storage, food preservation, and making bread, lactofermented pickles, and soft cheese.

    What we’ve done is not difficult; it does take one person who has several days a month to spend on it. And it was important to find our first two organic suppliers, which each have a wide range of foods and could tell me where they came from. I tell them: if the staples aren’t from the western U.S., we don’t want them. If the produce isn’t from Colorado, we don’t want it.

    Our members have learned to be flexible; sometimes what we ordered doesn’t show up; the green zucchini were golden instead, the variety of apples is different from what I promised. And they move quickly when opportunities arise. When our supplier finally found a U.S. source of black beans, we sold 125 pounds overnight!

    It’s been great fun. I’ve also used this opportunity to stock up my storage of staples, and fruits and vegetables fresh and put up. The power of the group gets us into wholesale pricing, without anyone needing to buy a whole box or bag.

  16. Robyn M.on 16 Jan 2009 at 1:08 pm

    Ack! It was Hanover, not Weaver Street, that dates back to the Depression–sorry about that.

  17. Susanon 16 Jan 2009 at 1:34 pm

    The problem I see arising with this (or rather two) is one: things such as the armed police raid on the owners of Manna Storehouse in Ohio, a home – based coop selling only organic and local foods. I predict these types of things will become more common. I heard just Tuesday that the Arizona Dept of Ag recently outlawed cowsharing, saying that if you own a cow it must be on your own property. If you sell raw milk it must be only for pets, and have a special dye in it. And there is no licensed chicken processing plant in the state other than the ones owned and operated by the big processors.

    And two: Monsanto is trying to run seed cleaners in the US out of business by sueing them and the farmers they work for. If they are successful, those small organic farmers we depend on for our staples will quite simply be put out of business; many already have been because they can’t afford the legal fees to fight such a giant.

    I belong to a coop and I presently have many staples in bulk stored, but I fear that I will need to get more if we are to ensure our food security for more than six months or so. And our coop doesn’t do produce at all, only processed organic frozen, and bulk.

    I hope that my cynical outlook isn’t prophetic, but I fear the worst as the giants are beginning to feel the threat to their profits.

  18. Karenon 16 Jan 2009 at 2:37 pm

    I, too, was thinking of the Ohio family that was raided. Is there anything to be done to protect co-ops from the forceful arm of big brother?

  19. Elizabethon 16 Jan 2009 at 3:46 pm

    Boysmom, I hear ya. Right now, cheap is winning out over organic for us. We get the vast majority of our food from Aldi. Our co-op is prohibitively expensive. It’s actually cheaper for me to get little bags of TVP from Kroger than in bulk from the co-op.

  20. Bob Waldropon 16 Jan 2009 at 4:19 pm

    Well this blog post was quite the surprise, coming on the heels of my trip to North Dakota to their Local Foods Conference and the January 2009 delivery day for the Oklahoma Food Coop. I am happy to answer questions and provide technical expertise by email if people want to contact me.

    Regarding the raid on the Manna coop. . . from the beginning, we have made compliance with the relevant laws part of our business model. One problem has been determining which laws do apply to us, and that has required some negotiation and maneuvering through one confrontation with the Dept. of Agriculture, but these days the regulators seems happy with what we are doing and we don’t have problems. There are many aspects of the food regulation laws that we would like to see changed, but in the meantime, full compliance is the order of the day. Thus, we can’t sell raw milk or on-farm processed poultry, but this month we had over 3,000 different products for sale, and that’s some pretty good bon appetitin’ eatin’ as we say here in Oklahoma.

  21. Anion 16 Jan 2009 at 5:25 pm

    HI Boys Mom,

    Great you’re sharing your frustration in the right place!

    Suggestion: Please read Bob’s post and do email him. Also, the NCGA (mentioned above) is a fantastic resource. They will help you. Also, there is a program, I think it’s called “Basic needs”, where co-ops lower the price of staples. Here is one co-op that does it.
    http://www.islavistafoodcoop.blogspot.com/.

    They offer organic milk, cereals, etc. at competitive prices. Really nice.

    My suggestion, if you’d like to hear it: I would say to focus your energy. Don’t worry about joining the Board, esp. if you don’t have time. Just get some research together and share it with them. It sounds like they are in need of some input and direction. They may not know what’s out there. Good luck. (And, of course, do join the Board if you want to. Just saying, I don’t believe this is required.) I’d also make one further suggestion: Check out http://www.cnvc.org, for ways to express what you’d like to see and helpful communication basics – we can always learn more. Also, just one more suggestion: can you recruit even one person to talk to about this? And work on it? Help you gather info and write. Then you won’t be in the position of “you v. Board.” Most Boards allow for members to make presentations. Just ask for time at the meeting. Send them info, etc. Your points are valid and I think there are ways to address them (I hope!).

  22. Anion 16 Jan 2009 at 5:31 pm

    Oh yes, one more for Boys’ Mom:

    Also, IV Coop has a plan whereby members can work for discounts. It’s easy and fun. 4 hours/month equals 10% off. They have family plans, etc.

    Also, they will (as you say) be affected by the recession. It may be there’s a way to help them reduce energy and overhead costs.

    The thing is, as the recession grows, it may also be that conventional food, in turn, will also go up in price, due to rising transportation costs. (Lobby for Alan Drake’s “Electrification of US Rail Plan”! to help with this.) Along with rising fertilizer costs. (This is a very scary subject.)

    You can also tell them about the “peak oil” factors by doing a little research, such as perhaps looking up some ag-related articles on http://www.energybulletin.net.

    It’s a sign of enthusiasm when people think they’re immune. They aren’t, of course; but you can acknowledge that enthusiasm and appeal to their open-mindedness. (I hope.)

  23. WNC Observeron 16 Jan 2009 at 8:21 pm

    Sharon: Thanks so much for this article. I’m a pretty non-idiological person, but if there is one thing I am idiological about, it is being in favor of cooperatives of any sort, wherever they can be planted and blossom.

    That being said, I am afraid that all is not right with the food co-op movement as it has been for the past few decades. As RobynM explained, the first food co-ops were focused on helping poor households to stretch their limited food budgets, and to help them obtain healthy, wholesome food. They were a tool of ordinary working people to resist exploitation by powerful corporate interests that were trying to make money by forcing their customers to buy unhealthy food at exhorbitant prices.

    That is something we still need today, and I suspect we will need it even more in the future.

    That has not really been the focus of the “2nd wave” food co-ops, unfortunately. The newer food co-ops have done a great job of making available to their patrons various specialized “natural foods”, “health foods”, and organic foods that are not usually available in most supermarkets. That’s fine, I have nothing against that. Unfortunately, most of those types of foods tend to be pretty expensive, as BoysMom noted. That’s fine for those few who are fortunate enough to live upscale lives and don’t need to worry about how much they spend on food. What about the rest of us, though?

    I do not say this intending to be critical of the very idea of food co-ops. I love co-ops and want the main street of every town to be filled with them. But what I do want to do is to call them back to their original mission and vision – a vision which they have unfortunately all to often lost sight of.

  24. Alanon 17 Jan 2009 at 2:19 am

    I can certainly understand the concerns of people who think the food sold in food co-ops and natural food stores is too expensive. In many cases, organic foods (particularly processed ones) are considerably more expensive than their conventional counterparts.

    The real question, though, is not, “Why are organic foods so expensive?”, it’s “Why are conventional foods so cheap?”

    Conventional foods are cheap because the enormous costs (environmental, health, energy, labor) of their production are externalized. Ever since World War II, the proportion of American family incomes spent on food has been declining while the costs of health care, environmental degradation, taxes to subsidize cheap energy, and welfare to support cheap labor have all been going up dramatically.

    Organic foods are produced mostly without any of these subsidies. Their costs are internalized as they should be and reflected in their (mostly) higher prices.

    Meanwhile, American families have let themselves be driven into a trap where they are dependent on that “cheap” conventional food.

    This is a case where people who want a change to sustainable agriculture and food production in this country have to “bite the bullet” and spend more for food.

    Buying club-style co-ops such as the Oklahoma model are great for people who have the time and energy to put into such efforts but they shouldn’t expect to get organically-grown local pinto beans for less than the price of conventional beans at Costco.

    Storefront-style co-ops with overhead and staff to pay may not always be able to sell their organic foods as cheaply as buying clubs with no employees and little overhead, but a great many people don’t have the time to devote to buying clubs and need to be able to shop at stores where they can get local, organic food even if it costs more.

  25. Berkshireon 17 Jan 2009 at 8:19 am

    I think the real force to change the way we acquire food will be economic – and not the local organic movement. Most folks will start gardening and this will put a damper on local vegetable farming. Grains and other such staples have always been non-local.

    Here in the Western Mass. Berkshires we are undergoing an “Appalachianization” with local mills and industries closing. Local farming consisted mainly of dairy and beef. The farms died out in the 50s due to economics of scale. My grandfather was almost self-sufficient farming in the 30s but that a story for another day.

    Folks today travel 30 miles or more for employment. The only local employment seems to be school bus driver. Small stores have all but disappeared as well as the local eateries. It is an ongoing and accelerating process.

    The closet food store is 18 miles. I believe the move back to local general stores and co-ops will become economic as the cost (and lack) of travel will eventually rule the day. I don’t think that this transition will happen in the near term. The present economic and energy depletion concerns will have to play itself out first.

  26. M.Squirrelon 17 Jan 2009 at 1:59 pm

    I was also thinking about the Manna storehouse raid as the biggest drawback to a food coop. However, I have heard from people who live in Ohio that Ohio’s agricultural department are completely bought and paid for by Big Business, which would be the ONLY explanation that the storehouse was a target. We the People has become We the Corporations.

    Soon, it looks like we won’t be able to grow a tomato in our back yard without a special permit.

  27. Lizon 17 Jan 2009 at 8:35 pm

    Here in Virginia we have many food co-ops, some operating as actual retail stores and some as buying clubs. Some of the buying clubs do concentrate on higher-end products like pastured beef, pork and eggs, but many others are operated by churches or other charitable groups and help the increasing numbers of people who can’t even buy supermarket food any more. Some are set up as 501c corporations and are able to take food stamps, and some are just loose associations of like-minded people who have gotten together to provide a community service.

    Ani mentioned about grocery store food becoming more expensive as transportation costs increase. The farmer I buy our meat and eggs from (and where I have a herdshare) is often sold out of ground beef and the other less expensive cuts because his price is now competitive with grocery store meat prices. I suspect we’ll see more and more of this as fuel prices begin to increase again.

  28. Sharonon 18 Jan 2009 at 9:15 am

    BoysMom makes a major point – the food coop I belong to makes an effort to make things affordable, including offering food for volunteer hours that returns much more than I could earn, but the money is in the high end cheeses, and that’s what’s been expanded.

    Now I love my local food coop, but I think Bob’s model is substantively different than the coops that don’t emphasize local food products or local economies. It isn’t that I’m dissing national groups or other bulk buying options, but IMHO, the local coop model has the most potential.

    As for the Manna storehouse raid – I agree this is a major potential problem – on the other hand, from what I gather on the subject, they explicitly declined to admit that any kind of food regulation applied to them. That’s probalby not a good opening strategy.

    Sharon

  29. Ponyon 19 Jan 2009 at 2:12 am

    Some of you might be interested in exploring the website of the co-op I belong to. It is Puget Consumers Co-op, now called “PCC Natural Markets” (http://www.pccnaturalmarkets.com ) . It’s in the Seattle area and is an example of a “mature” co-op. It began in 1953. I have been a member for about 30 years.

    They have grown to 9 attractive permanent stores, 5 in Seattle and 4 in the near suburbs but PCC still does all the things they did back in the 70s and then some, including promoting sustainability, supporting food banks and watching the product sources very carefully. They are one of the many treasures of this area.

    If you are building a co-op yourself, you might want to read PCC’s history which you won’t find linked on the main website. Just add “about/history.html” to the main URL and you’ll get it.

  30. Bob Waldropon 19 Jan 2009 at 11:50 am

    It was a great experience to get back from North Dakota (where I gave a presentation on the Oklahoma Food Coop), just in time for the January delivery day of our coop, and then when catching up on the internet news to see this story from Sharon and all the great comments. . .

    Regarding the Manna Storehouse problem, from the beginning we have worked with state regulatory people at the Oklahoma Dept of Ag. We had one big controversy with them, but now we have a good working relationship. Thus there are some things we just can’t sell, like raw milk, but this month we had 3000+ other items that people could buy.

    One of the sobering truths that my five going on six years of experience with the Oklahoma Food Coop has taught me is that local food systems, like everything else in agriculture, grow slowly. Six years into this, the only basic food products that are in enough supply that they never sell out are ground meat and wheat. Vegetables, dairy, eggs, all sell out quickly. So, as I have taken to saying lately, the time to start a local food system is BEFORE the food shortages hit.

    Our experience is that providing a ready market for local foods does increase local production. In our first couple of years, we regularly ran out of ground meats. Meat production, after all, doesn’t turn on a dime. From calf to hamburger is at least 18 months, and may be closer to 2 years. When we started, our first producers had product based on their production decisions 12 to 24 months previously, when the Oklahoma Food Coop wasn’t even a glimmer in my eye.

    A friend once told me that the great value of the post office was in its connections, the innumerable places where mail could enter the postal system, the places where it was sorted, and then the points of delivery (e.g. your post office box at the post office or on your house).

    The same is true of a local food system. it is not only a matter of the production, it is a question of distribution. How does the food get to the customer? One million people in Oklahoma City can’t drive to farms and buy food at the farmgate. So what a local food coop does is increase the density of connections. Food enters our system via producers traveling to OKC, often carrying products of more than one producer, where they are sorted and then go out to 37 pickup sites. As we grow, we will develop additional points of entry, sorting, and delivery. I haven’t a clue as to what that will look like, but that’s fine, because I don’t need to know that right now. When we get there, we will have adapted and grown — organically, from the grassroots. I do spend some time thinking about surge capacity, but surge is limited by product. We could surge wheat “relatively” easily, but surging distribution of ground meat is limited by the capacity of the local processing plants our producers use.

    So there is lots to consider and much to do, and procrastination is always the thief of time.

  31. Bob Waldropon 19 Jan 2009 at 11:58 am

    PS regarding price. With our present economic system, if we want a more sustainable, humane, and just agricultural system, then there must be a market for the products of a more sustainable, humane, and just agricultural system. If producers don’t make a profit, they won’t produce. Our prices are generally higher than big box supermarkets, but they are lower than prices at e.g. the Whole Foods stores that I have visited elsewhere.

    The question may fairly be asked, what about low income people? The Oklahoma Food Coop has a wide range of members in all economic categories. Lower income people tend to buy only basic products. For low income people, I think there are 6 elements of food security: 1) frugal supermarket shopping, (2) preparing meals from basic ingredients, (3) buying local foods, (4) gardening, (5) food storage, and (6) home preservation of food.

    While I am not personally making minimum wage, my income is below the median for Oklahoma. So I don’t buy many prepared foods through the coop (the casseroles, breads, etc.). I buy basic ingredients — ground meats, pork chops, sausage, eggs, cheese, butter, and wheat which I grind for flour. I buy some vegetables when available, but I also have a garden for veggies. I rarely buy steaks, I buy one roast a month, and some “minute steaks”. What I find, in my own cooking, is that I make more casseroles, which stretch the expensive meat ingredient. I use less of certain ingredients, such as eggs and butter, because they are more expensive. But they are so much better than supermarket fare that they add a lot of value to the cooking.

    Due to federal laws, at this point we are unable to accept food stamps, we need a brick and mortar storefront to do that. In the meantime, members of the coop can donate money to buy food from farmers to give to the poor, and to provide free home deliveries for disabled members of the coop who can’t get to one of our pick-up sites.

  32. Rosaon 20 Jan 2009 at 2:36 pm

    I’ve belonged to two well-established food co-ops that went belly up, the more recent one was North Country Food Coop here in Minneapolis. It was one of many in town, but it was the one that focused on affordability and was most democratic (and was a worker’s coop, not a buyer’s coop).

    The coops that focus on high-priced food do it because that’s how they pay their bills; the profit on fresh deli and organic junk food is *way* higher than for bulk whole grains, but they both have the same overhead costs, and analysis over time has shown the coops (that stay in the black) where they need to focus to pay the rent.

    If you want cheap basic food, let your local coop know (even if you’re a customer, not a member). Keep letting them know, and chances are they’ll do POS tracking and know if the trend is away from the high-priced items. If it is, they may change.

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