How to Start Your Own Utah Produce Co-op

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Each time I post pictures of the produce I get from our co-op, I get several emails asking what co-op I use and how people can join. I've been delaying answering these questions knowing that I planned on posting this information soon. The reason why? I am part of a neighborhood co-op that we started ourselves!

Now there are several Utah produce co-ops that are fantastic that you can easily join- the Community Food co-op of Utah, and Bountiful Baskets are two popular ones here. The Harvest Grocery Co-op just started in southern Utah. We opted to create our own for many reasons. First, we have full control over what produce is in our basket, so we don't get any unusual produce unless we want it. We also don't have to compete for registering online for a basket- it's ours every 2 weeks. If a certain item is very low in cost, we also have the option to buy more- which came in handy when we got strawberries for .67/lb! Since it's a neighborhood co-op, it's close by and flexible.

I've calculated the produce to be about a 25% discount from what you can buy in the grocery store. Our family of 5 has no problem going through a basket in 2 weeks. I also find us eating more fruits and vegetables simply because we always have them on hand.

If you'd like to start your own produce co-op, here's what you'll need:

  • A leader. Someone will have to order the produce and manage the money. to compensate for this individuals time and effort, they get their produce FREE each time. Open a separate checking account just for the co-op.
  • 12-24 willing participants. Get the word out via Facebook or word-of-mouth. Baskets come every 2 weeks and cost $16.50 each. Produce often comes in increments of 12, so start with 12 families. After word gets out, increasing the amount to 24 is fine. Anymore than that becomes too cumbersome, so it's best to split into 2 different co-ops when the numbers increase beyond 24. It takes a couple months to get 12-24 dependable people for your co-op. If you have 24 participants, have the leader select an assistant who can help coordinate everything. The assistant also gets free produce each time.
  • A location. Ours is run out of our neighbor's garage. The produce is delivered right to your location, so no having to haul it anywhere.
  • Baskets. Dollar Tree has baskets for $1 each. Have the leader purchase them all at once, so they match and can be stacked. Baskets stay in the co-op location at all times. Participants bring their own bag, box or basket to take their produce home in.
  • A produce company. Two wholesale produce companies here in Utah that are very willing to work with neighborhood co-ops are Quality Produce, (801) 363-6779, 505 W 500 S, SLC, 84101 and Granato Produce, (801)359-8651, 46 Orange Street, SLC, 84116. Quality Produce has great prices and impeccable customer service but you do have to phone in produce orders. Granato is priced  higher, but you can place orders online and they support neighborhood co-ops all over the state, even St.George!

Once you have everything you need, you can start operating the co-op! Here's what you do:

  • Decide on a day. We have our co-op every other Wednesday, but really any day of the week is fine.
  • Order the produce. This is done by the leader. Depending on which company you choose, you will either phone in or go online to place the order. Both companies I listed are super helpful with neighborhood co-ops. They will help you every step of the way!You can ask for a price sheet when you start, which will help you get an idea for what everything costs, but produce prices change constantly. You'll call in the morning before to place your order- ask what items are a great price! Our co-op tends to get more items that are cheaper, rather than exactly the produce we want. Be flexible. If Gala apples are cheaper than Fugi, get the Galas! It will help your money stretch and everyone is happy with a full basket! Co-ops of 12 will order $181.50 of produce, groups of 24 will order $363 of produce.
  • Sort produce once it arrives. The leader will get a call from the produce company giving a small window of time in which the truck will drop the produce off. We operate on text messages with our co-op. Once the produce gets there, send a text letting everyone know it's there and to come help sort! It's a pretty easy process that takes about 30-45 minutes, depending on how many helpers there are. Not everything works out to be perfectly even, so whatever “leftover” produce we have goes in a box and normally everyone gets to choose 2-3 “extras” each time. {Ex: If we ordered apricots and have sorted 6 per basket already and there are 11 left over, instead of giving a few people more, all 11 go into the extra box. Count all the extras and divide by the number in your co-op to divvy them up.}
  • Pick Up! When participants come to pick up their produce, they pay for the basket and empty it out into their own bag or box. Everyone knows they need to pay for it right then- no exceptions!

It takes a few months to get the hang of everything, but once you do, it's a great way to get produce for less! To help spread information and to encourage feedback, have co-op leaders create a Facebook page or blogsite for your co-op. You can put up polls to vote for what produce you'd like or share recipes using produce items.

This article was written with the help of Shantell Kaspar, a great friend of mine and leader of our neighborhood co-op. Shantell started the co-op, which quickly grew and branched off into several different co-ops in our area. Shantell has also helped co-ops get started in the St.George area, namely the Harvest Grocery Co-op. If you opt to start a co-op and want to use Quality Produce- tell them Shantell sent you! That's who we use and we love them! Let us know if you have any questions!

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18 thoughts on “How to Start Your Own Utah Produce Co-op

  1. Claire says:

    Yay, thank you for posting this! I have been wondering and waiting to know more! I have a few people in our neighborhood already who want to do this.

  2. Anonymous says:

    If the price is a set price, how is it beneficial to select the cheaper produce? Do you get more of it? Does that make sense? For example, if bananas are cheaper than apples, so we choose bananas, does that mean we would get more pounds of bananas than pounds of apples if we had chosen it? I would think if the price is set, it would be better to pick expensive stuff, unless you don't get as much. Also, so you have to get 12 people who commit to get this every 2 weeks? What happens if someone goes on vacation and you only want 11 baskets?

  3. Utah Deal Diva says:

    No, it just means your $181 stretches farther, so you end up getting more produce. So by opting for the more in-season produce, which is often much cheaper, we have a larger basket. I think one week we had 19 different items- so many good fruits and veggies were cheap that week, so we got a GREAT basket. Make sense?

    If you opt for the pricey items, your basket could end up with only 5-6 items— much less than if you were to buy the less expensive options. You have a set amount to purchase produce with- it's up to you to stretch it and select items that are both cost efficient and provide good variety so that everyone's happy.

    Also, we tend to have some individuals who don't want to committ to a basket each week, so when we have someone who is going to be out of town or something, we call them up and see if they want it. However, most people don't travel for a whole 2 weeks, so they opt to get their basket anyways and preserve the food by freezing it, trading items that don't freeze or taking it with them.

  4. JennyLynn says:

    I love this idea. Thinking of checking around my neighborhood to see if I can start one. Thank-you so much for sharing such a wealth of great information. I have learned so much about saving money for my family.

  5. Mrs. Diner says:

    Any other great location ideas besides the garage? The driveway seems fine if it wasn't in winter, but then in winter, you'd have to move your cars out into the snow to accomodate the produce.

  6. Kurt says:

    Hello my name is Kurt Jeffs I am with Joe Granato produce here in Salt Lake City, This was a great article and we appreciate the mention from Shantell just to clarify a couple things I have never spoken with Shantell or know of her co-op so I have no idea how she decided we were a higher price? and wanted to also explain what goes into the price.

    Some of the value added services we offer were mentioned online ordering, and we do support many local co-ops, in addition we deliver to your co-op using ONLY refrigerated trucks! As you can see in her picture that is not the case with that delivery; keeping it cold is the most important thing you can do to prolong the shelf life of your produce.

    Also we have food safety programs and tractability of our produce if there is a recall we know where our produce comes from and where it has been delivered right down to each case!

    We have a clean! and safe state of the art distribution center with food safety programs and 3rd party audits to assure your produce is of the highest quality.

    If you have any questions or would like to learn more about us feel free to call us or stop by to see where you produce is coming from and meet the team.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Do the people in your co op pay by check/cash? Just wondering how they pay the leader….hmmm…maybe we could arrange an automatic payment between accounts every two weeks…..hmmmm…things to consider.

  8. Me says:

    I've been waiting excitedly for this post- thank you!
    2 Questions- Does the leader pay for the order out of pocket, and then get reimbursed when everyone brings their checks? Or do you run two weeks ahead, and the money is in the checking account every time (like people all paid when they started to fill the account, and just didn't get a basket the first time)?
    Also, when you say your pickup time is in a small window on Wednesdays, would that mean that the only people who could participate would be people that are home during the day on the chosen pickup day, so they could get the text at whatever time and then go help sort? And if so, are people just waiting around on Wednesdays, not knowing what time they will get the text?
    THANKS so much! I love your site, and pass it along to people whenver I can!

  9. Amanda says:

    Just a question, I have 18 people interested and willing to participate in my co op, so each one will pay the $16.50 but then if I only order the $181.50 what do I do with rest of the money? What does it go to? Wouldn't it be better to order as much money worth as you have money to buy? It would only make sense to do that.

  10. Utah Deal Diva says:

    Amanda- the reason you need people in increments of 12 is because that's how the produce comes- in 12's. If you order broccoli, you'll get 12 bunches in a box…so for 18, you'd order 2 boxes, then have a bunch left over. See how it just wouldn't work real well? So start the co-op with 11, plus yourself, then the remaining people would go on a wait list, until you're up to 24. Email me for more clarification!

  11. Sally says:

    Question – How did you find Granato and Quality Produce in the first place? We would like to start a co-op so we can order some organic produce and some traditional produce for our baskets. But Granato and Quality both said they don't offer Organic. We care about certain types of produce being organic (those with the worst pesticides), and thought we could save money having the rest be traditional produce. But it seems like it's an all-or-nothing basket when it comes to co-ops (including bountiful baskets). We wanted to check with other produce companies, and know you've done it before…Any ideas?

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