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Is Joining a Co-op For You?

If you have ever spent way too much on minimal and sub-par groceries, especially produce and beef, you might want to change the way you shop.

Joining a food cooperative is an increasingly popular option for purchasing food. Co-ops help format sustainable relationships that are good for you, the community and the service providers that make our foods.

Records state that cooperatives date back to as early as 1761 in Scotland with the organization of the Fenwick Weavers’ Society, and consumer co-op numbers worldwide are now perhaps in the millions.

Local food is better in terms of freshness and nutrition, and getting a bulk of foods each month or so from a local farm or food co-op may be a better choice for some of your shopping staples.

Community supported agriculture is sponsored by local farms that partner with local people and businesses. The members buy shares, often seasonally, and in exchange for their paid share receive fresh foods from the farm. Food cooperatives charge their members fees, and in exchange members receive products and sometimes even shares.

Is Joining a Co-op For You?

Image source: usda.gov

There are a few types of consumer cooperative memberships to consider that revolve around food.

Food co-ops are businesses that usually allow anyone to buy from them, however they also offer fee-based memberships. They ordinarily have a variety of whole food items and memberships will grant certain bargains as well as advantages like being able to choose some of the products that the store carries.

Additionally, buying clubs exist in some areas. These are individuals that have assembled together in order to purchase wholesale foods and materials. Some of the members are usually appointed to purchase and pick up the goods, and then the provisions are distributed.

Cooperatives offer a wide variety of items, from produce to nuts, coffee and even beef. If you or your family consumes a lot of meat throughout the year, then joining a co-op with a resident rancher or grower may be in your favor. The meat you get from a family farm tends to be developed and produced in more natural ways, like in pastures as opposed to slaughter factories. They are also less likely to contain unnecessary additives and probably will have a fresher taste than what you will find on shelf at a mass food retailer.

Financially, it can be a good deal also. Usually, you are getting more quantity wise than you would at a market, often for a fraction of the cost. Think about what you and others in your home like to eat that is available from a co-op. Make a list of your items and do a comparison to see if you will save money.

Additionally, becoming a member can be a neat way to try new things you might not find elsewhere. It is also a good way to get year-round seasonal items. Some farms allow members to pick up their rations, self-pick or may even provide a delivery service.

Sometimes you will find that what is delivered is much more than expected, especially if you are used to those small packaged but high priced organics at the supermarket. Local abundance usually lasts longer but it is also a shame to throw away unused portions just because you didn’t get around to eating them. Order what you know you will use or make arrangements to split your bundle with others. You can also freeze and can any extras.

In selecting a co-op it is ideal to find one that fits your needs, from what you want to purchase to one that has a similar philosophy to yours. The reciprocal nature a cooperative offers warrants a connected relationship so choose one you like. Some places may offer a trial membership or farm tour if you ask, just in case you are hesitant to make a commitment. Although with the first hand-selected basket or delivery you will probably be swayed.

If you are interested in becoming a member check your listings and ask local farmers, markets and whole food stores for recommendations on finding a co-op in your area. Directories, like the ones below, also provide information on where to find cooperatives and organic food choices.

Directories:

Sources:

Cooperative Grocer Network
Home Grown
Food Routes Network

 

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