Guest Post: Joining a Food Co-op

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Guest Post by Marie Moser, a former blogger, couponer & member of a Utah food co-op for the past several months.

For the past six months my husband and I have been ordering food via the Crossroads Urban Center Community Food Co-Op of Utah. This non-profit organization plays many parts in our community, but namely it is a resource for families to obtain healthy, high quality food at 30-50% savings through collective purchasing. In addition, they build a strong sense of community by bringing people together to work towards a common purpose and goal. When you see the Co-op at work within your community, you know that it’s about more than just good food and good prices; it is about doing good deeds. In neighborhoods along the Wasatch Front and beyond, it is about people sharing a part of themselves for the betterment of their community.

Here are some of the basics about the food Co-op:

Freshness and Selection
They offer a wide variety of the freshest food for the best value, whenever possible working directly with local Utah farmers and producers – such as Colosimo's Sausages, Stone Ground Bakery, Mountainview Mushrooms, Palace Meats and Tree Hugger Granola

Your Monthly Order Makes a Big Difference
The more people who participate, the greater the savings become, because it allows the Co-op to buy larger and larger quantities at discounted rates. These savings can make a world of difference – refrigerators full of meat and produce mean families that don't have to depend on the emergency food system.

If You Eat, You Qualify!

The Co-op is for everyone. Whether you are struggling to meet your basic food needs or are just looking for a way to share in a community, you can be part of this simple exchange: giving and receiving.

Why Should You Join?
Every member makes a difference. Through the Co-op’s collective purchasing power, volunteer labor and low overhead, they can consistently offer quality, healthy food at up to 50% below retail. It's your order and volunteer time, combined with hundreds of others, that makes this all possible. Together, we are building a grassroots food distribution system dedicated to promoting people's access to affordable, nutritious food – and having a lot of fun in the process!

How Does It Work?
Each month, members pre-order their groceries. You can order as many “shares” as you like, and how often you place an order is up to you. On distribution day (generally the third or fourth Saturday of every month), a network of volunteers help distribute the food to “team sites” all along the Wasatch Front where you can pick up your order. Team sites are sponsored by local churches, schools, non-profit organizations and community centers, but are open to everyone.

What's the Catch?
Cooperation – the Co-op can't work without it. The food or “share” prices include two hours of your volunteer time – either with the Co-op or in your local community. While we encourage everyone to take part in the Co-op itself at least once a year, our volunteer requirement is very flexible and can be anything you do for someone outside of your family for free! You log your volunteer hours when you pick up your food on distribution day, and will even have the option to bank your hours for future months.

How Do I Join?
It's easy! Anyone can join – if you eat, you qualify! They do ask that with your first order that you pay a $5 lifetime membership fee, but it is only with your first order. Otherwise it is as easy as 1-2-3:

  1. Select a team site and place your food order online before the order deadline. You will receive an e-mail confirmation of your order and have up until the order deadline to change it if needed.
  2. On distribution day, head down to your selected team site and pick up your order. It’s that simple.
  3. And don’t forget to take your own bags or boxes to bring your food home!

There are many options for ordering through the Co-op and 2010 has brought a few changes to the ordering system, so here are the nuts and bolts:

Meat Share: ($15) includes 4 fresh meat items. Ground beef is always a staple for most families, so that is always included month to month. In addition there are often pork chops, ribs, steaks, pork loins, turkey and other various cuts and types of meats.

Produce Share: ($10) includes 3 fresh fruit and 5 fresh vegetable items. Each month the fruits and vegetables are different according to what is in season. In previous months I have received onions, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, bananas, apples, oranges, squash varieties and eggplant (to name just a few).

Standard Share: ($24) includes one meat share and one produce share.

Add-Ons: the purchase of one of the three share options listed above are required to purchase any add-ons. The add-ons vary by month but generally include: Nutty Guys Samplers (4-1 lb. bags of mixed nuts or dried fruits), Colosimo's Kielbasa Sausage, Stone Ground Bakery products, and Chaparro's Beef Tamales. Often the add-ons are season specific as well, such as turkey breast at Thanksgiving and ham at Christmas. There is a set price for each add-on and the price is listed on the order list each month.

Fair Trade Items: (same rules apply as add-ons) rich and delicious products benefiting small-scale farmers and the environment. All the fair trade items are organic and generally they include coffee and tea options.
When ordering, you can order as few or as many things as you like and in any combination. For instance, for a family of 4, you can order a standard share plus an additional meat share and pay $39. Or if you prefer more produce to meat, you can order one standard share and an additional produce share at a cost of $34. The options are endless and they are up to you! You can also choose NOT to order one month, and it won’t affect your ability to order the following month.

Now, I know that some of you have these statements going through your minds: “That won’t feed my family of four for a month!” or “I can buy all that in the store for cheaper with sales and coupons!” And you know what? Both statements are true. But keep these two things in mind: 1) this one order isn’t meant to feed your family for a month (unless you buy one standard share for each family member each month), it is meant to supplement your grocery store purchases; and 2) you might be able to purchase the same amount of food in the store with coupons and sales for less than you are paying with the Co-op, but keep in mind that there aren’t a lot of coupons available for meat and produce items AND think of the good you are putting back into your community by participating in this program.

February 2010 Ordering Information: Order due date is Friday, February 12, 2010 at midnight. Order online by signing up HERE. Select your team pick-up site. There are several locations to choose from in communities all along the Wasatch Front, from Ogden to Nephi and Tooele to Heber City.

Pay online with your credit or debit card (food stamp purchasing also available). Food distribution day will be Saturday, February 27, 2010.

So, now that all the technicalities are out of the way, what do you think? Is the food co-op for you? Would you be willing to try it for a month or two and see what you think? Please feel free to post your questions or comments here. I would be happy to address and answer any of them that I can.

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16 thoughts on “Guest Post: Joining a Food Co-op

  1. rroehale says:

    We have been ordering from the food co-op for about 18 months now. It is awesome! I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the food, which is why we kept on. One thing I really enjoy about it is that it gives me the opportunity to try new veggies that we would not have thought to buy ourselves. We've gotten some good and healthy habits out of it. During the summer and fall months, a farmer's market share is also available, which includes extremely fresh produce, local and in season, and comes with an herb that you can pot or plant in your garden. There are tons of convenient team sites (where you pick up your food) and the folks at the office are super nice. There is a very good sense of community. Check out the website, everyone! Sign up!

  2. Candice-MOTBITS says:

    Something crazy is going on! Maybe I'm really supposed to participate! I can't believe I was just finding out about food co-ops and researching them moments before this was posted. Thank you Marie and Jessica for this. It sounds like a great thing to participate in!

  3. Rachelle says:

    I've been participating in the food co-op for about a year now and I love it. I've always been very pleased with the selection and quality of the food. It's a great way to get fresh fruits and vegetables at a discounted rate.

  4. Carrie says:

    I have been participating in the co-op for about a year and I like that it makes me break out of my standard menu and try different fruits, vegggies and meats.

  5. American Fork says:

    We have been in the co-op for about 6 months and have really enjoyed it. The prices are good and I find that it really compliments my coupon shopping. It's possible to get healthy foods with coupons, but more likely I will buy packaged and processed. With the co-op we get meats and vegetables that are fresh and delicious. I agree with rrhoehale that it allows you to try new vegetables (example:eggplant) and I have found that I have tried new cuts of meat as well. I learned how to prepare chicken legs because I had them from the co-op and now I make them all of the time. It has been great.

  6. Marie says:

    I am so happy to see that there are quite a few who are already participating in the co-op…and love it! That is great! I hope that there are even more who would be willing to give it a try for their families.

  7. Sariah says:

    I'm curious about the quantity of each item that come in each share. You get your few different types of meats, but how many pounds of meat does that translate into? You get your fruits and veggies, but how many pounds does that $10 buy? I'm sure it varies based on what you're getting, but I'd be curious about an example or two.

  8. Carrie says:

    I have participated in the food co-op, off and on, for about 2 years. While I find the quality and price to be pretty good, I don't like that I don't get to choose the veggies and fruit that I want and that they have only a limited selection on meats. I sometimes end up wasting food because we will get items my family doesn't like. While I do agree that it is always a good idea to venture out and try something new, I also feel that I waste money by getting things that my family won't eat. So, depending on how adventurous your family is, will depend on whether or not the food co-oop is for you.

  9. Marie says:

    To answer a few of the last questions (Carrie and Sariah).

    Sariah: I would have to say that the produce you get will equal to about 4-5 pounds. For instance, you generally get a specific number of each item (5 oranges, 6 apples, 2 avocadoes, 7 bananas, 1 2-lb bag onions, etc). And for the meat, you will generally end up with 1 pound of each item. But the best way to find out is to check out the order sheet for the month. The meat share will list the specific cut of meat you will get as well as the weight.

    Carrie: I'm glad that you have generally had a good experience with the co-op. I do agree that one of the drawbacks of the co-op is not getting to "choose" what you want to order, however that is also one of the reasons why it is such a good price. For instance, I would love to know in advance what the vegetable and fruit items are going to be so that I know whether or not I want to get them (or more of them). But that isn't something that you find out until you go to pick up your order. However, you do have the option of NOT taking some items if you know that your family won't like or eat it. One thing to keep in mind is that all food that is left after the pick-up is completed gets donated to the food bank and utilized by the food kitchens. So don't hesitate to leave that eggplant or bok choy in the box for someone else to use.

    I hope that these explanations help. If you would like further information, feel free to let me know.

  10. Whopper says:

    I love the coop too. I'm so glad to see an article on here. @Sariah – this month's list just came out and is as follows.

    1 lb. lean ground beef (85/15)
    4 6oz. boneless pork chops (1.5 lbs. total)
    2 lbs. split chicken breast (boneless, skinless)
    1 lb. beef stew meat

    2 lbs. green grapes (bagged)
    1 head red leaf lettuce
    5 lbs. red potatos (bagged)
    Roma tomatoes
    red bell peppers

    They don't list all the produce quantities anymore but I expect 3-6 of each from previous experience. I got 4 shares so I'm excited to figure out my menus now!

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