Our Latest CSA Pickup; Plus, Some Pros and Cons of a Co-Op/Buying Club

Last Wednesday, a friend and I went to the farm to choose more offerings from the CSA table (I’m really growing fond of a points-based system over a weekly share–I get exactly what I want, AND there’s little waste). I went in with the knowledge that I wanted to focus on meat choices rather than veggies, since our family is also supporting other local farms and markets through our $15/week direct purchase budget (which might be better options to serve our vegetable and fruit needs). (More on the $15/week challenge in a future post.) I left the farm with two whole chickens, two beef steaks, and two pounds of ground pork. Yum!

I’ve also been making purchases with our local organic co-op/buying club. I haven’t been doing the best job at documenting them due to the stress of the recent job loss in our family (my husband), and my starting a new job within the last couple months. Here’s one of the purchases…20 pounds of organic sweet potatoes for $15. That was a great buy! ($2.60 for organic cream cheese didn’t seem so great to me, though, as an example of a “meh” purchase.)

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I’m not sure, though, honestly, if I will continue in the co-op/buying club through the local volunteer group. See, we had placed an order for organic, grass-fed beef for $4.25 a pound, which I felt was a great price point. I waited, and waited, and went into town for two different pick-ups that never happened. My order was in for weeks, and finally, after a growing level of frustration with the procrastinating farmer, I opted out of the order. As of now, the order STILL hasn’t come to fruition for those who are opting to continue in wait for their meat order. That is one of the biggest drawbacks for me with the co-op/buying club. Deliveries and pick-ups are very difficult to arrange and coordinate between work schedules, truck drivers, etc. And in this case, this particular order might not happen–which was frustrating to me because we needed the ground beef. We ended up going with another local source for the beef instead because we simply needed it. What choice do you have, you know?

So, our CSA co-op is going wonderfully, but the one that works through wholesale dealers and volunteers…well…my mind isn’t made up yet. We shall see.

Organic Co-op/Buying Club Order #2

Admittedly, this post is a couple weeks overdue, and some of the items I purchased have already been, um, consumed, but…..

I wanted to document the latest order from our local organic co-op/buying club.

My initial order was:

-6 almond/coconut milk beverages

-1 package chlorine free feminine care products

-3 1.5 lb. bags of wild rice

-3 packages of organic Hollandaise mix

-6 cans of organic white kidney beans

However, I found out upon pickup that the almond/coconut milk drinks were no longer available (they would have been the best deal of any of the products), and only one of my bags of wild rice made it to the delivery.

In the ongoing “inventory” they have on hand, I did snag two small blocks of organic raw milk cheddar cheeses and a jar of organic salsa.

So, I ended up walking out with the two cheeses, six cans of organic white kidney beans, three packages of Hollandaise mix, the feminine care products, 1 bag of wild rice, and a jar of organic salsa for $36. I’m still not convinced that this is the best deal–honestly, I was gunning for the almond/coconut milk at $1.56 a pop, but backordered and discontinued stock is one of the negative aspects of a buying club.

I do have an order in this upcoming week for 8 lbs. of 100% grass fed, organic beef ($34) and 20 lbs. of organic sweet potatoes ($15), and I feel like both of these will end up proving to be worthwhile expenditures. I’ll document my progress for each of these this week, and whether or not the items arrive as indicated.

 

Participating in an Organic Foods Buying Club and Co-Op: Learning the Ropes

I was recently introduced to a local organic/natural foods co-op and buying club in a neighboring town. I was surprised to know that it existed, as I have been in the area for seven years, and no one that I knew personally participated in it. Due to a desire to save money while eating a healthier and more sustainable diet (a work very, very much in progress), my interest was piqued.

Our local buying club works through several wholesale suppliers of organic and natural foods. Volunteers work with participants and suppliers to coordinate orders on a regular basis. Many products are significantly cheaper to buy in bulk, so members will split cases of a product whenever possible. There is a $15 membership fee (a one-time only charge) after a two month trial period, and members can volunteer to help with administrative duties, deliveries, sorting orders, etc. in order to have purchasing power without the small service fee per order (something around 5-10%, depending upon the supplier).

Within a day or two of joining the club, I managed to catch the end of a “split order” that was being submitted to a supplier–meaning that certain items had been requested by members who wanted to pay the more inexpensive price extended to those who ordered items by the case, but who did not want to purchase said full case themselves, so you could purchase the remaining items in it to be able to order the case at the bulk discounted price.

For example, someone wanted to purchase two packets of organic taco seasoning at the discounted case price. However, they only wanted two packets, and a case had ten of them within it. So, since we use taco seasoning on a very regular basis (and since we prefer spicy, flavorful varieties), I decided to buy the other eight packets. Both of us then were able to receive the discounted case price.

Here was my first order, which came to $21.03, including a small service charge:

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In my order, I purchased two pounds of organic California white jasmine rice, two 10 ounce bags of butternut squash, and eight packets of organic taco seasoning.

I’m not entirely convinced I received a monumental price break. Per item, I did receive a discount as opposed to buying them at retail online (plus shipping). And compared to “conventional” foods, well, let’s be honest, the “conventional” items will almost always be significantly cheaper compared to organic foods and produce. It’s just the way it is. However, when compared to the organic items I sometimes find at discount stores or the local scratch-and-dent grocery store, the items purchased via the co-op/buying club were still higher in price.

However, several points in favor of the buying club…. For starters, I did not make much of an effort to track the items that were on sale or heavily discounted, or discontinued, etc. I am still learning how to navigate the suppliers’ catalogs and lists. Most of us, like myself, are used to making purchases with catalogs full of glossy pages and photographs. A wholesale catalog seems to be mere item numbers, names, and lots of price listings with abbreviations I am still learning, so I don’t feel as confident making wise choices as to what to buy and what to avoid just yet. Also, the food options and choices available are countless compared to any of the grocery stores in our area–if I want something, I am pretty much certain to find it in a supplier’s catalog somewhere, be it essential oils or spices or meats or cheeses, anything. Anything that I can think of is available somewhere. And, ultimately, in the end, the club will still be cheaper, and more than likely a provider of higher quality foods, than the mainstream grocery store. I am also thrilled to be participating in a community of people who are interested in the same dietary and environmental goals that I possess (even if I’m not very far at all in achieving them).

It will be a fun challenge to see what is on sale next time, and whether I have figured out any tricks to obtaining a better deal on my purchases the second time around. I’m also interested in possibly joining a co-op in my former hometown, and it has an actual storefront that has been in operation for decades.

Do you participate in a co-op or a buying club?