some thoughts on organizing a co-op

Dear GreenSmoothieGirl: I would like to get better prices on the whole foods you recommend than my small-town health food store provides, and I wouldn’t mind making some money for my effort. But I don’t know how to start. Help!

Answer: Organizing a co-op is a great idea for anyone wanting to save money and eat right. It’s especially great for stay-home moms who like to interact with people, get good deals, organize, focus on preparedness and nutrition, and (if you want) earn some money and have a long-term, repeatable source of income. There’s a lot of job satisfaction in it, because you see people building a high-nutrition food storage and getting prepared against emergencies, and you make good friends along the way. Because some of them know a lot about nutrition, you can learn much from them.

You may know someone who might want to form a co-op in their area to forward a link to this blog entry that contains tips about forming a co-op.

Yesterday I got a call from Sally in Portland, who has a 3,000 lb. almond order in advance of our kicking it off. When I called her back, having this question on my mind, I asked her what advice she would have for you. What she said, as I’ll summarize here, is my experience, too, although she was smarter and more hardworking than I was, starting my co-op. Actually I didn’t even set out to start a co-op, and I’m sure other co-op organizers  who read this blog will relate. I just got some friends to go in with me on something I wanted to obtain at a low cost with group buying power. The group just kept getting bigger and bigger!

Sally said she doesn’t even make any profit in her co-op, just likes helping people and getting better deals for herself. (I did the same thing.) She started hers as a preparedness group, tapping into that group of people, which, incidentally, is the entire base of LDS (Mormon) people in your area. Some LDS folks will make an announcement about a group buy at church and put it in the printed bulletin. Then, she said, with high-nutrition items like the truly-raw (unpasteurized) almonds, she has tapped into a second group, the raw foodist / earthy-crunchies, a group that my web research proves is growing massively.

A lot of people on her list in the beginning weren’t even interested in nutrition any more than the average person. Sally educated them! She is going to have an almond party and teach people how to soak/dehydrate them and make fun snacks. (She has also done this with quinoa and other items in her group buys.) She makes handouts and sends emails with great information. Some people in her co-op live too far away to regularly buy with the group, but just want her information! I told Sally she’s welcome to use a 12 Steps or Crunchy Snacks recipe collection recipe to hand out to her buyers (anyone reading this is welcome to do this–all I ask is that you credit the source).

Sally says, “People who care about eating right or preparedness FIND ME.” My experience parallels Sally’s. I have, however, never tapped into the “preparedness” people. I have never tracked down people to join my list, but you could certainly start that way by just asking around and finding people.

Sally said, “Every time I do a buy, my list doubles.” I agree with that as well.   She started her organization a year ago and has a few hundred on her list now.

Sally is rather ambitious, educating people as well as providing them healthy food at low prices. I know other GSG.com readers who promote the products we do in our group buys with local craigslist ads, and who talk to their neighbors and people at the health food store to build a list. As Sally said (I second this, as well, with my observation that people want to be led toward a healthy lifestyle), “Eventually people have come to just trust me, and they buy whatever we offer in group buys.”

If you want to automate, make a simple web site with an order form. Take checks received in advance of your placing the order, or (these will charge fees) make it really simple by taking credit cards using authorize.net. (You get a discount by being referred by another authorize.net account, and you’re welcome to use GreenSmoothieGirl.com.) And you can take PayPal. Just a tip: more people have credit cards than PayPal accounts.

For the raw almonds, I suggest reselling them for $4/lb. That way if your order is 1,000 lbs., you will earn $1,000 for your efforts. Last week in this blog, I listed all the other items and prices that we are adding to the buy this year, including raw honey and raw agave.

Sales tax (but no shipping) will be assessed for Utahns in the local buy. Shipping (but no sales tax) will be assessed for everyone else. If you send a check, only ONE check per order, please. (Last year I had a nightmare to keep track of a dozen checks for one order, sometimes!) So if you are doing a group buy, have people make checks out to you, and you make a check out to GNGB. (That’s GreenSmoothieGirl Nutrition Group Buys.)

help your community: organize a co-op!

Many GSG.com readers are leaders.   You may not think of yourself that way, but are you always organizing things?   Are people starting to come to you for advice, answers to questions?   If so, then you should start a co-op.

 

First off, you’ll want to start keeping a list of people who are interested in nutrition, with their email addresses.   Spend a little time tracking down lists of people who are interested in nutrition, and/or food storage (the LDS/Mormon people in your area are interested in bulk buys, and some of them within that group are also trying to get high-nutrition food storage and are always grateful for help).

 

Second, you’ll want to contact AzureStandard.com to see about monthly deliveries (of virtually every product carried in health food stores).   Require that people send you a check in advance for anything you order, so you aren’t left holding the bag when 20% of the people take weeks or even months to pick up their order.   (This will happen, I promise.)   The people I know who handle Azure Standard locally charge 10% of the order totals, to be paid for their time and effort.   They used to deliver but don’t any more, with gas prices so high.   Make clear that any refrigerated/frozen items must be picked up within a few days.   Have quarterly catalogs and sale catalogs for your people with their orders to be picked up.

 

Third, contact me, and I will hook you up with my contacts to get RAW ALMONDS directly from the ranches in California, since no retailer can sell you unpasteurized almonds any more now. Anyone interested in health/nutrition should have sproutable almonds.   (Ch. 7 of 12 Steps gives you ideas and recipes for what to do with them.)   This is an important group buy, because it’s something that your friends cannot obtain on their own.   In my recent local buy of raw almonds (over 13,000 lbs.!), I made a sample of teriyaki and/or candied sprouted almonds for each person picking up, so they could see what can be done with raw almonds to make them live food that families love to eat.

 

Fourth, be on the lookout for community-supported agriculture.   When you’ve built up your list, you could ask the CSA farmer in your area for a free share in exchange for publicizing his program that you like and finding a certain number of people to participate.   (I confess I am paying for my share, and didn’t do this myself, but you could.   And having a group of people take turns picking up from the farm is still worth the organizing hassle for me, with gas at $4+ and going up!)

 

People want a leader to help them with nutrition.   They really need a little help.   If you lead out and organize a co-op, you will bless many lives, including the lives of children who will have dramatically better nutrition as a result.   You can also reach outside your own carbon footprint to help really decrease the effect OTHERS are having on the environment, a great way for a stay-home mom to make a difference.

 

I’m happy to help if you blog your questions.   Any of you currently running a co-op, I hope you’ll share here what you’ve learned.   Email me privately if you want to do an almond buy in your area and I’ll see if I can work it out.

 

Your network will grow with every group buy you do.   It’s hard for me to quantify here the ways that bringing this group together will enrich your life.   People tell me new things, hook me up with resources I didn’t about, bring me recipes and samples of their own good ideas—because they are on the same quest I am, and because I often invite them into my home to try whatever I’m working on that day.   If you want, use those same names to put together a monthly meeting on a topic related to health you’re all interested in.   It’s fun!

 

So tell us what you’re learning as a co-op organizer, as several of you have already done, by blogging here!