I’ve been in my produce co-op since late July, and just yesterday I finally had my turn to go purchase for the group. I’d been both dreading it and looking forward to it since we got our group and date assignments at the beginning of this summer/fall rotation.
My day started at 4:45. The boys said they’d rather go with me than stay home and sleep, so I got them up at 5:15. Since my original partner dropped out and my new partner works, Jenni, the co-op leader, graciously agreed to go with me and show me where to go and what to do. She got to my house around 5:30, then we loaded into my SUV and headed for the Dallas Farmers Market.
I’d never been there before so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The boys and I had been to the little roadside stand farmers market in West Monroe with my mom, so they were expecting something along the lines of that. I knew this would be different, but just not how different. We pulled up to one of many warehouses in the DFM district (yes, a whole district!), parked in the lot, then walked in front of a line of semis to get to the cash customer entrance.
Everything was a little overwhelming at first. The warehouse was immense. A few men were driving forklifts carrying pallets of fruits and vegetables, which were then stacked in front of loading bays. Those were then loaded into the trailers of the semis we had passed earlier.
Jenni told me to go the counter to get the day’s price sheet – which turned out to be 4 pages long! I scanned the myriad of items available and started making my selections. I had to keep several things in mind: how much money we had to spend, how many shares we needed to buy for, what I wanted to get, and what the other members like.
I was wanting to get fresh cranberries like the last team had gotten the time before, but they were sold out. In a way that was a good thing because two flats of cranberries would have used nearly a quarter of my budget! That explained why the last share had seemed so meager compared to others…
After I made my selections, I went back to the counter to place my order and got my total. I came in under budget! Any money left from one purchase carries over to the next one, so there’s a little variance each time.
While my order was being filled, I had to back my car into one of the loading bays – right alongside those semis we had passes earlier… Then I went back in to pay and Jenni supervised the loading. The haul was quite large, but everything fit. The only thing that had to go on the middle seat with the boys was one of my flats of sweet potatoes. Then we were on our way!
Jenni called her daughter so she could meet us back at my house to help with the sorting. We unloaded the produce while the boys worked at double-bagging some plastic bags I had been saving. Once we had our combination of bags and boxes for the group’s 33 shares, we set to work distributing the produce as evenly as possible.
There are a few different ways to handle extra produce. Some teams put all the extras in a box. When you pick up your share, you can choose a few extra items. The problems with that, though, are some people only take one or two items, some people will fill up another bag with extras, and sometimes there’s a lot leftover that no one else wants. I opted to fill the bags as evenly as possible, then distribute the extras among all the bags. Some people might get four avocados, others might get five. A few bags may have just two zucchinis instead of three. What one bag has less of will likely be made up for in something else. There are no leftovers to pick over and everyone gets a fair amount.
Our group communicates mostly through Facebook, so Jenni had been posting a few updates. When we got to my house, I posted a quick note that we’d be ready for pick-ups to start at 8:30. When we finished sorting, I posted a quick picture with a note that said “Come and get it!”
We had two minor issues that came up during distribution. First, one of the newer members is a doctor who’s scheduled for surgeries on Tuesdays. She wasn’t filled in on all the rules when her friend added her, so she didn’t know her produce is supposed to be picked up before 10:00. Jenni called her and left a message for her to call me back. When she did, she said she’d have a colleague pick up her share within 30 minutes. It was more like two hours.
The other issue was a bonus. The previous team forgot to mark off the name of someone who dropped out of the co-op, so we counted and prepared for 33 shares. Toward the end of pick-up time, we realized the mistake. Jenni suggested we split the share among the three of us (my working partner, herself, and me).
While it’s hard work and makes for a long day, being the purchasing team for co-op has distinct advantages. We buy what we like. We pick our shares first and choose which leftover items we want. If we making a counting mistake in our favor, we reap the benefits of the extra share. Of course, things could also go south… Last time the team found they had a counterfeit $10 in the cash from the time before, and they miscounted a share short.
After all that work and fun, here’s what I ended up with. For just $10.
Not bad. Not bad at all.
Incidentally, the boys loved their co-op buying experience. Jacob said he wants to work there when he grows up. I think it was the forklifts that got him. He also asked for the price sheet so he could make his own co-op list on his computer.