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?

Trading “American Girl” for American Farm

I’m one of those mothers who unfortunately has the fault of chronically comparing herself to other mothers. And in our quest to get out of debt and to live a simpler life, I find myself questioning my decisions involving my children even more.

We cut the cable cord over a year ago–we do have a few channels still, due to a digital tuner–but avoiding the bombardment of incessant commercials telling me what we supposedly need and apparently lack is totally worth it. I don’t have children who ask for the latest and greatest toys, gadgets, processed foods, or whatever else is being sold and packaged in bright, neon colors and advertised with flashy commercials and ever-present advertising.

However, I am on Facebook. I do utilize social media. So, it’s easy to see the green grass on the other side. At Christmas, I see children with smartphones, and American Girl dolls, and tablets, and piles of clothing, and expensive shoes, and shiny presents with gigantic bows that fill entire rooms. I know that my Kindergarten-aged son’s friends have video game consoles, the latest toys, their own electronic gadgets. I know this, and it worries me. For now, my son seems oblivious, but sooner or later, he will start asking why we don’t buy presents on the level of So-and-So’s family, or why he can’t have a smartphone when he’s eight years old. I feel it is inevitable. Someday, his little sister will want Barbies, and even more expensive dolls, and more toys, and what her friends have.

And, sometimes, I question my decisions–is it wrong to deny them a grandiose Christmas? Should I make presents more of a priority? Don’t I care whether or not they will be made fun of in school? Is our goal of a self-reliant life going to set them up for bullying later on?

Today, our family attended a Maple Tree Tapping class at a local farm. And as I watched my children marvel at baby goats, as they chased chickens while trying to feed them organically grown soybeans harvested from the farm, as my son learned that maple syrup doesn’t come from a cute glass jar at the grocery store…during those moments, and on this rare occasion, I feel like I’m doing something right…..

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Why We Choose to Support Local Farms

Today, I was excited to find an article in the Huffington Post that outlines several reasons why, and ways, to avoid factory farmed food products and why it is so important to break our reliance on grocery stores. You can find that article here.

I don’t necessarily want to repeat what the author has already written. But because this blog is centered around our journey to become more self-sustainable and more aware of our purchases and consumer choices, I felt compelled to share why it is important to us to know where our food comes from and why we support our local farms.

I’m not going to lie to you or try to pretend that we are something we are not. We have Pop Tarts in our house. We sometimes have to buy meat at a traditional grocery store. Drinking Pepsi is one of my biggest vices (though I am trying very hard to moderate my consumption of it, for health reasons). Sometimes I give my children boxed cereal because it is quick and easy. And every member of my family enjoys a good fast-food burger when the mood hits us. Even though I want to have backyard chickens someday, we don’t have a coop and a flock on our property. I have the blackest thumb of anyone I know–I couldn’t even keep potted herbs alive for longer than two months. We don’t grow a bit of our own food.

However, when you have children, and as you age and develop health issues, you start to pay more attention to ingredient labels. I notice a behavioral change in my children when they consume food with artificial food coloring and dyes. I am noticing that I have adverse reactions to traditional dairy products, when consumed in higher quantities (i.e. yogurt is okay, but drinking straight milk can have troublesome side effects). I’m realizing that I can’t handle fatty, overly sweet, or highly greasy foods anymore without, um, paying for it a few hours later. I’m troubled when I realize that there are ingredients on our labels that I cannot pronounce, let alone define. I’m frustrated that high fructose corn syrup is in seemingly everything I feed my little ones–and it’s not the corn syrup in and of itself that is a problem for me, but that, due to it being inexpensive, companies make things twice as sweet as they used to be because they can–hey, this stuff doesn’t cost much anyway, and the kids love sweet stuff, so throw twice as much in there because it will sell! One of the reasons we cut traditional cable is because we got so tired of commercials telling us we had to buy, buy, buy or we would somehow be lacking “the good life,” and commercials trying to get my children to eat neon colored fake foods are part of that. While we do enjoy meat and animal products in this house, it breaks my heart to know that animals are crammed into feces-laden, disease ridden feedlots, and that they are abused, tortured, neglected, sickened–all to sell eggs or a chub of ground beef to the grocery store. And what comes of these feedlots and slaughterhouses, not to mention factory farms where the crops are assaulted with pesticides and chemical fertilizers? Well, all of the sickness, and the chemicals, and the toxins go straight into the ground or the water supply–and of course they can enter your food. Think of all of the outbreaks and recalls with veggies and meats in recent years….

We shared a CSA with my in-laws last year. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, CSA stands for community-supported agriculture. Some farms offer a program where customers can purchase a “share” of what the farm produces at the beginning of the season. The payment in early spring helps fund the farmer’s endeavors. In return, you get a box or a bag chock full of the farm’s harvest every week throughout the growing season. You essentially own a share of the farm’s bounty. This is really something that I believe in because you are giving not only financial support to a local farm, but you are also showing faith in them and what they are doing–and what these small farms are doing is so important, both to our families and our food system in general (the animals, the environment, etc).

(One of our weekly bags from last year’s CSA share.)

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I encourage you to visit one of your local, small farmers. There are few things more rewarding, and honestly, one of the most responsible things you can do for your family, is to talk to a farmer and ask him/her about the produce they grow–how it’s planted, tended, harvested. With a local farmer, you can go straight to the source to ask where your food is coming from, where it originates. You can actually see it growing in or roaming the fields. Go to a large company, like the corporations that govern feedlots, and chances are they will drive you away quicker than you can blink. They don’t allow cameras or questions, but a small farmer will (I can’t tell you the number of times that I have visited local farms JUST to take pictures). If you’re not interested in physically going to the farm, many communities have farmers’  markets where you can see what has been harvested (usually that morning, not weeks ago and then trucked across the country, like factory farms will do), and you can ask questions of the farmer or the workers.

(Besides…picking your own strawberries at a local farm reaps a huge savings, money-wise, and the berries are far more yummy.)

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When I think of this subject, I tend to think of chickens. I have an inherent fascination with chickens. They are just fun to watch. One of the things that brightens my day is seeing the chickens roaming around in the mornings on a farm–they wander the property, usually not too far from the barn, picking at the ground for bugs, scratching, clucking to one another as they make their rounds. The resulting eggs are so tasty–far better than anything from the store–because they eat natural foods, and they are healthier creatures to start with because they can live how nature intended a chicken to live. The eggs are beautiful, unique, various colors, different sizes. They are the total opposite of uniform, colorless eggs from chickens that have been packed by the thousands into a building, where the only thing they have to peck and scratch are each other, where there is no room to roam or, simply put, to be a chicken.

I’m blessed to live in a rural area that has multiple farmers’ markets, several CSA opportunities, many more local farms, etc. I understand that it isn’t as easy to simply avoid factory farms. I get it. I mean, I live in the middle of an ideal community for it, and I still go to the standard grocery store when needed. But it is so easy to make one or two changes. Maybe your choice is to grow your own herbs in pots, or to buy eggs from the farm instead of the store, or to attend the market once a week or once a month, or to choose one fruit or vegetable to buy organically–the thing is, even that one small step matters. It’s voting with your wallet. If everyone committed to one small thing, think of what we could do?

What is your small baby step going to be?

(Taking your little ones to the farm and teaching them to enjoy it and to make a habit of it…that is one small step.)

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A Tour & Review of Creation Laundry, the ONLY Solar Powered Laundromat in Maryland

I was recently presented with the opportunity to tour and review the services of Creation Laundry, located in Cumberland, Maryland. I was really excited to try out their business, as the eco-friendly/green side of me really digs the fact that Creation Laundry relies heavily on solar power.

Let me provide a little background information regarding my laundry habits….

In theory, I like doing my own laundry. I love the smell of freshly washed clothing. It’s so comforting to pull out a newly dried load of laundry from the dryer on a winter’s day. And oddly enough, contrary to what you would think, I really do love washing, drying, and folding our cloth diaper stash. It prolongs my toddler’s babyhood for me just a little bit.

However, the cloth diaper laundry is the only laundry I stay on top of, mainly out of necessity (cloth diaper stink is horrendous). Our little family generates one to two loads of laundry a day, so that can easily end up as 7-14 loads a week. And when do you have the time to keep up with that when you have little children? I have one child who is in school and has his own schedule that I must organize and manage, and when I am home, I have a toddler who is into everything, and it’s hard to leave her for more than a second to put the laundry into the wash, which is in our basement. This is NOT an exaggeration, but I usually have, on average, six or more loads of laundry waiting to be folded and put away on any given day in my living room. I just don’t have the time to truly have a handle on our wash.

So, in addition to their “green” traits, when I heard that Creation Laundry offered a Wash/Dry/Fold service, I decided I had to try it out. I know, I know, I have my own washer and dryer, but I simply DON’T have time these days to keep up with the laundry.

This is the exterior of the laundromat. Isn’t it adorable? (Yes, I appreciate cute…sue me. *wink*) It’s located on 313 Springdale Street in Cumberland, Maryland. There is ample parking in the rear of the building.

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They use Maytag machines, which actually stands out to me, as I love Maytag appliances and have had great luck with them myself.

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When you arrive, one of the first things that caught my attention is that someone always comes out to help you bring your laundry into the laundromat (and they help you reload it, too). Now, one of the things that I dreaded the most in this adventure was the loading and unloading of all of my laundry, but no worries…someone was there to help. And that scores MAJOR brownie points for me. Also, they have an attendant there at all times, so you can feel safe.

You have several options for actually washing and drying your clothing. You can choose to do the laundry yourself, and they have many options for machines. They offer 30, 40, and 60 pound washers that you can use yourself, provided you bring cash.

Their largest machine can wash six loads of laundry. And believe me, it does!

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I brought six loads of clothing with me. I opted to use their Wash/Dry/Fold service, where they do all of the work for you, but I did stay to see how it was all done and whether or not the washer really could handle six loads. You know what? Granted, I brought six smaller-sized loads of clothing, but when we were done, there was room for more in the machine. I am not kidding. You can feel free to use their detergent or bring your own. I brought my powdered Tide, as I wanted them to also wash our cloth diapers for us, since they will be starting a diaper service soon (more on that in a second).

In less time than it takes me to wash one load of clothing at home, that huge machine had all of my six loads washed and ready to be dried.

They have various sizes of dryers, too, and I tried one that can handle up to 75 pounds of wet clothing. It too had more room in it to spare. And it had my clothing dried in around an hour. Six loads of laundry washed in less than two hours. I was honestly VERY surprised. I really shouldn’t have been, however. On their website, the owner can actually fit into the dryer. Again, not even kidding (and yes, I am easily amused).

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So, you ask…what is there to do while you wait, should you choose to do your own washing?

There’s a television…

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A small play area…

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Snacks for purchase….

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And my personal, sleepy favorite, a seating area with a rocking chair….

DSC_0790Wifi is also available.

My clothes were folded for me (I LOVE saying that), and I can honestly say that they were cleaner than they were when I normally wash them. I’m assuming it’s due to a much higher quality set of machines, but they were cleaner and fresher than those Ioads I do at home.

I also had them wash a load of our cloth diapers. They paid attention to everything I asked–they took into consideration the washing and drying instructions for each type of diaper and cover, they asked about my detergent preferences, and they were wonderfully clean and neat when they were finished with them. In fact, I am embarrassed to admit that I brought one seriously poopy diaper that I had washed and rinsed TWO times on my own, and it was still crusty, but they got it clean in one try. And I was so grateful for that, as I was considering tossing it, and diapers are NOT cheap. They will be setting their diaper service rates soon, but there will be a dedicated washer and dryer for diaper use only, which will be sterilized after each use, and your diapers will never be mixed with another customer’s load.

At first, my husband was skeptical of all this, as was I, mainly due to cost, considering we already have our own washer and dryer. But, to wash and dry six loads of laundry there on my own, it would have cost a little less than $10, and two hours of my time, instead of a full day. And their Wash/Dry/Fold services start at only 95 cents a pound (special fees apply for larger items like blankets and rugs). This business has VERY low cost services. And for us, time is as valuable as money, and what is the use of my own washer and dryer if I don’t always have the time to use it as I want? Having the help with my laundry is a blessing, and I think this would be great for new parents, busy or working families, and those who might have trouble doing their own laundry due to physical issues, etc. College students could easily find a lot of benefit to a Wash/Dry/Fold service that delivers and picks up your washing. They also can iron your clothing, too, which is great as I hate to iron. I honestly can’t see anyone that this DOESN’T benefit, and when you add the fact that their carbon footprint is so small, personally, I’m sold, and I would definitely return.

You can find Creation Laundry:

at their website

on Facebook

DISCLAIMER: I was provided six loads worth of Wash/Dry/Fold service, plus a Wash/Dry load of cloth diapers, in exchange for my review. I approached the business on my own out of my own curiosity. The review is 100% honest, as always.