PEOPLE from every economic stratum participate in buying clubs, says Organic Farm's Richard Kozlow. The clubs can range from groups of two ("everybody knows one other person") to 200 families, organized either very informally (you pick the food up at someone's house) or very structured (a formal organization that meets for the sole purpose of buying food, with its own treasurer, bank account and storage facilities).
Kozlow, who distributes a flyer on tips for buying clubs, offered these suggestions for starting your own:
* Establish the purpose and size. Are you a group of eight or 10 neighbors who want to split fresh produce? Are you trying to buy ingredients for a Boy Scout fundraiser, a church function or a school fair? Do you want to split a case of oranges with a friend to squeeze your own juice? Whatever the purpose, it doesn't take a lot of people to have buying power in a wholesale operation.
* Choose a name. This will identify and familiarize you to the wholesaler.
Decide what the group wants to buy. It's helpful, of course, if the group has a common thread of likes and dislikes. Remember that the wholesaler may not split cases, and if they are split, you may end up spending more money.
* Send someone to visit the operation. He can report back to the group about the wholesaler's sales procedures and distribute its product list to members.
* Establish the frequency of your visits. How much do members want to depend on the co-op for their food? Some groups come once a month, some come every six weeks, some once a week. This will depend on your size and purpose.
* Decide who will organize the orders and the buying. Assign someone to do this; i.e., you need to let so-and-so know by such-and-such a day what to order. That person collects the orders and calculates the buying: If Mary wants five pounds of walnuts, for instance, and her sister wants 14 pounds, is that enough for a case? That person should also be responsible for calling the wholesale house and placing the order. It may not be fair to designate one person to fill this job all the time, but it's not efficient to switch off too frequently; establishing a pattern is important for smooth-buying club management.
* Set up a banking system. You can either require that members pre-pay, set up a separate bank account or pay into an individual member's personal checking account. Advantages lie in keeping it easy and off paper, though. If three people want to split a case of apples that costs $15 and they each pull $5 out of their pockets, the deal is done.
* Organize the dispersal of the food. A few essential items that will be useful are a scale (household or produce), small pastic bags, some extra boxes for loading orders. Paper and tape are helpful to designate individual orders. Choose a location and time of dispersal; it is wise to have only one or two people oversee this operation to avoid confusion.
* Study other buying clubs or find out how to join an existing one. If the wholesaler is willing, contact him for information about existing clubs. Talk to people in neighborhood hangouts. Check for ads posted on area bulletin boards, storefront co-ops, or put up your own.