How-to Start a Produce Co-op in Your Neighborhood

I recently had a Google Chat with a lovely young woman, Jessica Williams from The Mind Palace. As we talked, she told me about how she wanted to jump on the “couponing” bandwagon to help her extend her budget and save some money. But she felt like coupons just weren’t that valuable because she couldn’t get anything healthy with them. Funny…I wrote an e-book on that very topic!

The name of the book is, They Don’t Make Coupons for Healthy Food: How to get real food real cheap. Click here to leave your email address and receive the link to download.

As we continued our chat, I told her about the produce co-op that my family belongs to and I suddenly realized that I have yet to write an article on the biggest money-saving/health conscious habit we have! So here it is!

Feeding America

How-to Start a Money-saving, Health-conscious Fruit & Vegetable Co-op in Your Neighborhood

This is a very worthwhile endeavor if you are money & health conscious. However, for this to be successful, you have to do some leg work up front.

Here’s how to get started:
  1. Decide whether you want to shop ONLY organic or if you are willing to purchase foods that are not organic.
  2. Research local distributors. Often times there are large farmers markets within an hour drive that can be very cost effective even when considering the travel time. Don’t go to the farmers market that the general public goes to – choose a wholesale distributor. In Georgia, we go to the Georgia State Farmers Market. They have open air docks for small, local farmers as well as warehouse suppliers that purchase their produce from around the country.
  3. After you have a distributor, choose an organizer and a pick-up location. You can rotate organizers each month and use each family’s garage as the pick-up location. To make it a little more manageable, choose one organizer and one pick-up location (this is what my co-op does).
  4. Choose one day per month to shop. Families should have their money (discussed later) and a basket (we use laundry baskets) at the pick-up location no later than three days before the shop day (or the month before – your choice).
  5. Write up a welcome letter to introduce your neighbors to the co-op and discuss how it is going to work. Here is a link to our co-op letter.
How to manage the co-op:
  1. Recruit at least twelve families into the co-op. Make sure they are families of at least three who will be able to eat all of the food before it spoils.
  2. Create a schedule of who will shop each month. Each family should be required to shop, drop-off, and sort just once per year. No biggie, right?
  3. Collect $20 from each family. This will give you $240 to spend at the farmers market. In Georgia, we get a laundry basket FULL of food for our $20. That is far more that I would get at the grocery store and it is well worth it. However, produce might be more expensive where you live so you may want to consider a buy-in of $25. Do your research…or decide by trial and error. Start with $20 per family and see how much that gets you.
  4. The organizer should send reminder emails about a week before the shop day to remind everyone who is shopping. Remember to include when and where to pick-up. This email also gives families a chance to pay and drop off their basket if they haven’t already (we are always that family!)
  5. The organizer should send out an email on the shop day.
  6. The shopper can then “reply all” to this email to let everyone know when the produce is ready for pick up.

It is just that simple. Of course, if you have questions, please leave a comment below so everyone can benefit! If you need links to resources, download my e-book, everything you need is in there, including some other great tips to save money on healthy food!



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