Are big chain warehouse stores the only ones to offer the power of buying in bulk?
Individuals and families can harness this power, too — by joining other like-minded people to form a private buying club. In other words, a co-op.
Why Would Someone Need A Co-Op?
Buying in bulk might be just the thing for you if:
- the choices at the local grocery stores are dismal at best
- the prices at health food stores are beyond the budget
- the drive to the farm is too long to make on a regular basis
- there simply isn’t enough freeze space for an entire side of beef!
Co-ops and buying clubs allow for the pooling of resources, and the saving of money on high-quality foods.
In the past, I organized a small co-op of 6 or 7 friends to buy raw milk from a farm that was an hour away. We all shared the driving responsibilities so that no one had to make the long drive more than once every 5 or 6 weeks.
I participate in another small buying club that orders essential oils, personal care products, tea, and bulk spices at wholesale prices 4 times a year.
There’s a 3rd group in my area that offers bulk grains and olive oil without the high shipping costs.
What Kind Of Club Will You Need?
Do you envision purchasing one item — such as raw milk — or do you need a wider range of foods?
One co-op in a neighboring county began as a way to get wholesale prices on organic produce. As the members got to know each other, they shared information and talked about other things they’d like to buy. Within a year or two they’d branched out to include raw milk and yogurt from one local farmer, grassfed beef from another farmer, local raw honey, and monthly cheese shipments from Pennsylvania.
Other clubs use their bulk buying power to get good deals on supplements, essential oils, and medicinal herbs, or to save shipping costs for heavy items like grains.
Who Will Your Members Be?
First, I recommend talking to your area Weston A Price chapter leader (WAPF) to see if there is an local group already buying foods of interest to you. Local chapters often also have buying clubs.
If there isn’t one, ask the chapter leader if anyone in their group is interested in becoming a part of your club. It’s best to start with at least 5 other people to keep the costs reasonable.
Since it’s often necessary to make purchases of $300 or more in order to receive discounted merchandise, having enough people in your group helps spread the financial burden. Talk to people at your church, post fliers around your neighborhood, PTA, or homeschool co-op. Advertise on social media.
Something to consider: Make sure your participants also have a real need for the food you are all buying. Don’t convert people just to meet minimums. If someone isn’t already on board with eating organic vegetables or drinking raw milk, they won’t have the same level of commitment as the rest of you.
That said, newcomers are certainly welcome! Just don’t make them the core of your group.
One food buying club hosted a tasting party when trying to expand its Miller’s Organic Farm club membership. I myself have held a side-by-side taste test with raw milk from different heritage breed cows. Once people taste how delicious the real stuff is, they may be convinced to join your club and buy some for themselves!
How Will Your Group Operate?
Now that you’ve identified members, let’s talk about the details!
Will you be a co-op, where each member shares equally in the work — or will one person take on the role of designated coordinator or distributor for the group? Either way, someone will still need to set deadlines for order times, place the order with the company or farmer, and make the initial payment.
Want to go the distributor route? It’s perfectly fair to require a small fee from the rest of the members, paid to the person doing all of the work. If other members pitch in and help, offer to reduce or waive their fee. Others may be happy to pay a little extra just to have less to do.
What Will Be Your Distribution Location?
Informal groups who share driving responsibilities to a distant farm can make do with a convenient empty parking lot or highway exit. If you’re a larger group, maybe you need a church basement, large garage, or empty warehouse.
Also, do you need refrigeration and freezers, or will coolers and ice work instead?
Here in Florida, we need protection from daily summer thunderstorms. Plan a distribution location that works for your area’s conditions!
How Will Members Place Orders And Communicate?
Also, decide on how often orders will be placed. Communicate clearly how, when, and where to place and pick up orders.
Delegate responsibilities whenever possible to ensure that the burden of organization doesn’t fall on one member (unless, of course, that member is compensated for their trouble). If you burn out your members, the club will fall apart.
Some groups make their own website while others use Facebook pages or Yahoo groups to place orders and communicate. One raw milk dairy uses Twitter to inform customers of drop times and locations. Decide what works best for your members. Good communication is key to a well-functioning group.
Finally, choose a name for your club. It can be as simple as City Buying Club, but having a name and a membership roster gives you more weight with some of the corporate distributors you may deal with. A name can also make it easier to identify yourself with potential new members.
How Often Will You Order?
If you want to buy milk, you may purchase weekly. Fresh produce can be weekly or every other week. For both of these options, you need to coordinate pick-up/delivery times with your farmer.
Some clubs like UNFI order dry goods or cheese on a monthly basis.
If you want to buy bulk grains, dry goods, or personal care products you may only order once a quarter.
Finally, if you want to buy maple syrup or olive oil, you will probably only purchase once a year.
More To Think About
If buying from a local farm, do you need to pay a subscription up front, like with a CSA? Or will you pay each time you order?
Also, know the laws in your state to avoid any future trouble! And if you aren’t sure, check with your local Weston A Price Foundation chapter leader for help.
Want to get started? Here are some resources! Not everything is available in every state. Ask around, visit your own local farmers markets, do internet searches for items you are interested in buying, and find out what is available where you live.
Global Organics is available in the southeastern US, providing high-quality organic produce to big name retailers and delivering to buying clubs and co-ops. They have their own buying club guide to get you started.
UNFI (United Natural Foods Inc.) has a large selection of food and non-food items including frozen, perishables, bulk, personal care, and supplements.
Frontier supplies goods to many national retail stores as well as over 4,000 buying clubs in the US. They offer an enormous catalog with over 280 brands including the Frontier brand, Simply Organic, Aura Cacia, Seventh Generation, Green Mountain coffee, and many more. Product categories include tea, spices, bulk food, personal care, household, culinary, vitamins and supplements, and a large number of Fair Trade certified items. Wholesale buying clubs must meet a minimum of $250 for free shipping per order.
Azure Standard has a huge selection of items from fresh and frozen to non-perishables, personal care, garden, pet, homeopathy, supplements, books, and essential oils. They ship to AL, AR, CO, GA, IA, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MI, MN, MO, MS, MT (east of Missoula), NC, ND, NE, NM (east), OH, OK, OR, SD, TN, TX, UT, WI, WY. They also provide a customer handbook to get you started.
Hummingbird Wholesale out of Eugene, OR supplies mostly raw, organic nuts, seeds, dried fruits, grains, beans, oils, sweeteners, condiments, and other pantry items. They deliver within WA, OR, and CA (but not everywhere). Contact them for details about how they work with food co-ops.
Miller’s Organic Farm is an Amish family organization that has exhibited and supplied food for WAPF Wise Traditions Conference meals for years. Many WAPF chapters already have buying clubs with this farm.
Bread Beckers is a family business in Georgia that has exhibited at homeschool conventions across the southeast for years. The smell of fresh baking bread always draws big crowds to their booth. They now own a large retail and distribution center including a bakery. Their specialty is bulk grains of all kinds but they also sell nearly any kind of non-perishable kitchen item you can imagine. See if there is a co-op near you, or sign up to have one started.
Radiant Life is another familiar face from the WAPF Wise Tradition conventions. Last year they provided water filters for the entire convention hall and kitchen so convention goers could drink pure, clean water. As a WAPF chapter or as a practitioner you can purchase supplements like cod liver oil and probiotics to resell to your group. They offer free shipping for orders over $125.
Healthy Traditions has a Healthy Buyers Club where members can purchase meat, eggs, seafood, personal care products, coconut oil and more.
Wildly Organic is also a Wise Traditions exhibitor. They have a buying club option for orders of $300 or more. They offer a wide variety of food and household items including a tasty coconut oil mayonnaise, many other coconut products, and chocolate, sweeteners, nuts, and nut butters.
Starwest Botanicals is another resource for bulk herbs and spices. People purchasing together can get bulk prices and split shipping costs.
Single Category Suppliers
Alderspring Ranch is a ranch-direct source for 100% grass fed organic Angus beef, raised in a wild and remote high mountain valley in Idaho. This beef may be some of the wildest and most nutrient-rich beef in the world due to the high soil mineralization of the pristine ranch land. If you are a US Westerner (west of MN, IA, MO, OK, and TX) and order over $200 of products from their web store, you can get FREE ground shipping with code westover200 or save $10 off your first order with code TCSchool10.
Meadow Valley Farm is another Amish farm, specializing in mostly raw cheese from mostly grassfed cows. It is run by Samuel Stoltzfus from his farm in Indiana. Orders of 30 pounds or more receive a discount price that includes shipping. There is no website, only an old-fashioned landline telephone shared by several families. You will need to leave a voicemail at 765-597-2306.
Krueger-Norton Sugarhouse is a small family farm in Vermont that produces maple syrup products. Visit their website for an order form or a phone number to call and place your order. Buying by the case saves you over 50% on quarts of maple syrup.
Vital Choice offers seafood. Big orders allow you to save on shipping costs for this wild-caught seafood. If you get on their mailing list, they quite often send coupons via a direct (snail) mail.
Chaffin Family Orchards produces olive oil from their own trees on their California farm. They sell out quickly each year, but take pre-orders for the next season.
Plant Therapy offers high quality essential oils at affordable prices. Ordering in bulk with your group can save considerable charges on shipping.
Setting up an independent co-op or buying club using local resources takes a lot more work initially, but you will support local farms and seasonal growing.
This can also allow people who may not have the freezer space for an entire side of beef to purchase and divide it into more manageable amounts.
Investigate local farms in your area. Look for farmers who use organic and pasture-based livestock methods, and organic or bio-dynamic farming practices. Make arrangements for your group to purchase beef, pork, poultry, eggs, honey, milk, cheese, seasonal produce, and more.
When you can assure a farmer of a steady income for his efforts, he will reward you with top-quality nourishing food for your group.
Furthermore, remember that you are building a community food base as you also build a relationship with these farm families. Treat everyone with respect and integrity.
For More Ideas…
Consult the WAPF shopping guide for more ideas and suppliers.
Buying with other families and pooling your resources to save money on high quality foods and household items is a wonderful tool! It creates bonds between people in the same community who share similar values. It also allows you to support organic family farms and be part of the local food community.
Additionally, your club can branch out into monthly potluck dinners, cooking classes, and community outreach opportunities such as a community garden! The possibilities are endless.
Do you run a buying club? Would you add any suppliers to this list? What tips would you add for those considering doing this? How do you use your buying club?
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