A Food Club Beginning

by Michelle Lasley

Michelle Lasley is a mother, wife in Pacific Northwest learning to balance green dreams with budget realities.

April 2, 2011

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So, I had an idea. Let’s buy stuff together. If we buy it together, we can be a more unified voice and make stronger demands with our dollars. Our votes would go further if we’re voting by dollars.

So, I asked my friends. Many politely said sure, I’ll hear more. I think the idea is intriguing to many.

But nothing happened.

We waited. I waited. I sent out some emailers, reminding people we have this great tool. I asked questions. I tried to engage. But something was missing. Grains, spices, and beauty products just couldn’t get ordered. We couldn’t meet the minimums, and people just didn’t seem… well interested.

In January of 2009, I contacted the Development Directorat People’s Food Coop. In their description, it explained how this position helped other coops begin. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be part of starting another coop, but I knew I wanted a buying club. So, I made contact. Lori Burge offered to give a presentation to about 10 interested parties. The idea being they’d be the steering committee, and eventually be instrumental in getting a coop off the ground. I couldn’t find ten people, so after several weeks of trying to schedule a time, she agreed to present to four. That was April 2009. We listened to what she had to say, pondered the theories presented, and ultimately waited. Of the people I knew, I really only knew about 3 who were willing and interested in buying with the group. I’m still not really sure why the others weren’t interested.

I put an ad on craigslist. I sent out emails to the list. I was able to pick up two more interested persons, but still – nothing. In December of 2009 the Lori contacted me again. She wanted to do an informal interview tracking the progress of my buying club. I told her I had the structure a few vendors (two), but then – nothing. Not much buying was going on. She put me in touch with another local foodie, and the rest is history.

That food clubber, put me in touch with someone in my neighborhood – who was doing the same thing in my neighborhood – that whole year I waited! It was serendipitous. Suddenly, not only did I have the right system, but I also had the right people.

How was this going to work though? 60 brand new faces, and I didn’t know any of them. What is the best way to get what we all want. I wanted access to wholesale prices, with quality control. I think they wanted the same thing. But, we weren’t sure. So, Kristina and I put out a few surveys and scheduled a meeting. Ensuring we had a group process has been important to me, the whole time, for many reasons. One, we didn’t know each other, so we needed to work together simply to build trust. Two, I firmly believe we are better together and I like embracing group wisdom. Kristina embraced these tenants, and together, we got the club off the ground. It has been an amazing process. The most amazing thing to me is that I’ve been involved with this for more than two years now – and it never gets old. Each month we have new challenges we face – but we face them together.

What I am really hoping for is a good systems model we can bring to other places. Together, though, I do think we can create it.

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