Martha Wagner

How food-buying clubs are reducing food costs and strengthening communities.

When Rebecca Andersson started a Meetup.com group in 2007 for green-minded moms in Portland, Oregon, she had playdates and potlucks on her mind. But the group of 20 or so women swiftly discovered a shared passion for safe, healthy food and a desire to get it at affordable prices. If small natural-foods stores ordered from wholesale distributors, why couldn't they? So Andersson contacted an organic distributor, got the moms to ante up, placed an order-and Know Thy Food food-buying club was born.

Food-buying clubs gained popularity in the '70s and are seeing a resurgence in this down economy. Thousands of clubs have sprung up around the country-there are over 100 in Portland alone, although Know Thy Food is by far the largest, with 550-plus members. Unlike food co-ops-member-owned businesses that meet certain legal requirements and may have retail stores-food-buying clubs are informal groups of people who pool time and buying power to save on high-quality, healthy food that is delivered to a drop-off location. In fact, Andersson estimates that members save upwards of 25 percent off grocery-store prices.

Know Thy Food's success, says Andersson, is due to an easy-to-use online ordering system (which Andersson set up from open-source software with the help of her software-developer husband and localfoodcoop.org) and breadth of local offerings-many local farmers, bakers and other food producers sell such goods as eggs from pastured ducks and Oregon berries directly to the buying club. Want to join a club? Search for one in your area or start your own.

How to Start Your Own Food-Buying Club

  • Gather a group willing to spend $500 (the typical order minimum).
  • Search for local farms and food distributors that work with buying clubs.
  • Share order spreadsheets on Google docs or use free software on foodclub.org.
  • Arrange a pick-up time and location.

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Photo Credit: Sarah Gilbert

November/December 2011
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