Food cooperative hopes to grow
Membership dwindles in gruop that purchases organic goods in bulk
The Tonganoxie Country Co-op is more streamlined than in the past.
But ironically, the more streamlined it is, the fewer members there are.
The food co-op was created about 20 years ago by area residents who wanted to purchase groceries, in particular, organic foods.
"I think the club was originally started as a way to get healthy organic food," said club member Chris Bingham. "At the time it wasn't readily available in the stores. They had to buy it in bulk and divide it up as a group."
For instance, she said, peanut butter -- the type of peanut butter that has no lard or sugar added to it -- only could be bought in 35-pound buckets. To divvy it up, members brought jars and scooped up the amount of peanut butter they had ordered. Now though, it's possible to order groceries in smaller containers, Bingham said.
"It's just a way to save money on healthy organic foods, to get things that you can't find anywhere else -- except in a health food store where they're expensive," Bingham said.
During the food co-op's early years, it was a social organization. Members gathered to place their orders, sometimes combining business with group picnics and potluck suppers. Children livened up the get-togethers.
But as the use of the Internet grew, members began e-mailing their orders to a club member, or placing them through the food supplier's Web site, rather than meeting.
Gradually, the lively social aspect of the group fell away.
As children grew up and moved away from home, families no longer needed to order the large quantities of food they needed in the past. And because of the Internet, families no longer had to get together to place their orders.
The membership dropped.
"We have 15 subscriptions now," Bingham said. "We added three new members, but we've lost probably 10 in the last two to three years. I think at one time we had 25."
Wanted: more members
Gloria Adcock has been in the Tonganoxie Country Co-op for about eight years.
"For about four years they were able to come together and do that," Adcock said of the meetings that turned into fun social gatherings.
Adcock and Bingham said they would like to enlarge their membership.
More members and larger orders would enable those who participate to buy products from the wholesaler, United Natural Foods, at more of a discount.
"The more your order is, the better discount you get," Adcock said.
"We used to get a 10 percent discount," Bingham said. "Now we've lost that. But we're still able to cover the minimum amount they require."
Adcock said it's not just health food and organic food that members order.
"There are organic type cleansers, dog food, cat food ... quite a few different cosmetics, vitamins, body building stuff -- just about anything you'd want they have a category."
Shopping for tomorrow
The group's orders, which are placed every eight weeks, generally total about $1,200 to $1,500.
Like the others in the cooperative, Bingham plans ahead.
"I order between $100 and $200 worth of stuff and try to plan ahead so it will last me for two months," Bingham said.
Items on her orders typically include oatmeal, cereal, granola bars, blackstrap molasses, peanut butter, rice and beans.
And Bingham said, she buys toothpaste, soaps, shampoo and vitamins through the cooperative.
The only cost to members, other than the cost of the items purchased, is $12 a year. That covers a year's subscription to the catalog. And, the cooperative adds a 1 percent charge per order to cover miscellaneous club expenses.
"As far as belonging to our group there isn't any charge," Bingham said. "We just ask you to help sort the items once a year."
The sorting takes place at Adcock's house, Bingham said. And club members pick up, and pay for, their orders the same day.
Bingham, who said she thought a get-acquainted and orientation meeting could be held if new members sign on, said anyone who is interested is welcome to call her at (913) 845-3269.