I receive lots of questions on how people can start up their own wholesale organic produce buying club in their area. Even though our area has well over 800 members, this system can work with as little as 10 members. As a raw foodist I can tell you this service is ABSOLUTELY a dream come true to have! I get produce from local farmers and BEFORE it goes to the stores. So it’s fresher, cheaper, and more convenient. I have participated in the IEOPBC since 2008 and wouldn’t be as successful with the raw food diet if it wasn’t for this service.
Here are 10 Steps on Starting An Organic Produce Buying Club
1. Select Organizers This is a service that does not make a profit. We do this as a community service. An organizers incentive is a complimentary member share and a volunteer share. It really isn’t much as far as materialistic benefits, but here is an organizers perspective on Is it Worth it? Here is an example of different organizer roles and duties:
Organizer 1 handles THE BOOKS, maintains receipts, deposits, financial records, licenses, insurance, etc. (we are incorporated as a business who just never profits rather than a non- profit), and tracks members who have paid and how many shares we need to purchase for.
Organizer 2 handles THE WEBSITE updates w/ photos, polls, answers members emails/questions, etc. This person keeps everything up to date online, sends out messages, emails, etc and keeps everyone informed. Posts produce share photos online.
Organizer 3 handles THE PRODUCE by placing the produce order, inspects, and makes sure we are getting what we paid for, and picks it up.
Organizer 4 handles THE SET UP, DISTRIBUTION & CLEAN UP Manages volunteers, distribution & volunteer duties. This person makes sure the place is left looking better than when we arrived and that all materials are put away.
All organizers are present when the meetup takes place to usher shares to members, to accept payment for future shares, write receipts, check names off the list and see that all things run smoothly.
2. Find local farmers who are willing to sell to your group at wholesale. In addition, find a local organic distributor who can sell you produce that local farmers do not carry if there is not enough supply per demand. We place our orders on Thursday mornings to be picked up for that following Saturday. We also accept donated produce from members who have excess from their gardens. Often we receive rosemary, basil, oregano, and mint.
3. Decide how much you are going to spend per basket & set up a payment system. We currently charge $22 for a basket. $20 goes to produce and $2 is for delivery costs or other items like baskets, gloves, brooms, etc. We also charge a $10 annual membership fee that covers our legal fees. We accept cash only or pay pal payments. No checks. We collect cash only payment for the following week(s) at the time of distribution of shares. We do accept pay pal payments until Wednesday evening at 7 PM.
4. Get your delivery system in check. Find out if you are paying to have someone deliver the produce to you or if you are going to pick it up yourself. We currently rent a U-haul trailer and pick up our produce from various local organic farms. Whatever we need to keep the basket balanced we pick up from Better Life Organics in Los Angeles. If you decide to have it delivered hopefully you can receive it just before distribution otherwise you need to plan for refrigeration.
5. Find a location to distribute produce (restaurants w/ outdoor covered patio, parks w/ covered area, etc.). Decide on a time and place that is always the same. We do every Saturday at 10 AM at Farm Artisan Foods. We are consistent in our time and location and that I feel has made this very successful. If you chose a park location be sure that you do not have more than 50 members on site at a time otherwise you are subject to a permit.
6. Get supplies to run the show like baskets (we got ours at a local 99 cent store), brooms, dustpan, gloves, trashcan, rags, cash box, etc. We like members to bring their own ice chest, basket to swap out, or canvas tote. We do reserve some of the produce boxes for people who forgot to bring something to take their produce home in.
7. Set up volunteer opportunities. We allow 10 volunteers to come and help with picking up produce from local farmers and bringing it to our meetup, to help with set up, distribution, and clean up. This process starts at 9 AM with setting up & distributing produce to baskets. From 10- 10:45 members pay for next week(s) share and/or pick up their produce. At 10:45 we begin clean up at 10:45 and finish at 11:00. Volunteer receive a volunteer basket. This is the produce that we are not able to distribute evenly amongst all the members. We also donate a basket to the owners of the restaurant in thanks for allowing us to use their site before the restaurant opens for business.
8. Contact Local Food Banks, storehouses, halfway homes, shelters, etc to donate any extra produce that was not claimed by a member. If produce is not picked up by 10:45 the member forfeits their basket and it is donated to a charity. Sometimes someone who forgot to buy a basket shows up and can buy the persons share and that first member will be refunded their money or it will be used for a future share.
9. Set up an online presence page on meetup to keep all your members informed, connected with other members, to receive reminders and updates.
10. Get license and insurance to be safe. We did not start this way, but after we experienced so much growth we decided it was the best way to go. Even though we never make a profit we are incorporated just in case someone falls ill, slips on the site or for whatever reason we may need this protection. We found that being incorporated was easier to do that establishing ourselves as a non-profit. We do charge a $10 annual membership fee that covers our license, insurance and other legal costs as well as miscellaneous costs.
Once you are up and running you can always contact local papers and get written up like this article. Here is a review by one of our members on Local Harvest. If you haven’t already, feel free to check out our website for more info.