Buying clubs

The community farm’s next project is to set up a buying club. This is a simple form of food co-op where friends, neighbours or, in this case, community farm members get together to buy food from a small group of local suppliers. Products can include dry, tinned and bottled produce from wholesalers and producers, and fresh meat, fruit and vegetables from local farmers. It can also include non-food products such as basic cleaning materials (white vinegar and bicarbonate of soda, for example).

Buying clubs have a number of benefits. We can use our combined buying power to buy in bulk, direct from suppliers and producers, at a more affordable price. But by splitting a case of, say, jars or tins, between members, we avoid having to purchase large quantities as individuals. Buying clubs reduce travelling because one member can collect for everyone or the supplier can deliver. And these benefits make it easier for us to support local and ethical suppliers who may have a limited number of outlets in the region.

In addition, members of buying clubs can share information about products, learn more about methods of production and their environmental impacts, share ideas and recipes for healthy eating, and work to reduce the ecological footprint of the club.

Buying wholefoods and other products with a long shelf life works well for many buying clubs that meet just once a month, but where members already meet regularly it becomes practical to also purchase fresh produce such as eggs and vegetables. And regular meetings also allow members to share surplus from their own gardens or allotments.

In Norfolk and Suffolk we are lucky to have a wide variety of local producers, from organic growers, organic dairies, traditional bakers and flour mills to producers of more unusual items such as rapeseed oil, chillies, pesto, hand-made chocolates and freshly roasted coffee (locally roasted and ground, though not locally grown of course).

A good way to start your own buying club is by finding interested neighbours using Streetlife. Streetlife is a website (www.streetlife.com) that helps you connect with people who live nearby. You can define your area of interest precisely – connect only to your own town or village or extend your interest over a larger area. So you could send a message around your immediate local area advertising your buying club. You don’t need a large membership – successful clubs have been set up with as few as six households, and the closer people live the easier it is to distribute the goods after purchase.

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