Volume 7, Number 4 December 17, 2003
Buying "Groceries" Part II
by Dr. Ridgely Abdul Mu’min Muhammad
In March of 2003 we wrote an article called "Buying Groceries". We wrote this article in response to inquiries from people who wanted to buy "groceries" from our farm and other Black farmers. Since the "fall of segregation", Black people have economically "integrated" their wealth into the white power structure without receiving reciprocal benefits. Now our Black communities do not have Black owed grocery stores or restaurants that could purchase from Black farmers. In fact in many major cities there are no full fledged grocery stores, Black or white owned, in the Black communities.
So we made this suggestion:
"There are two solutions to how you can buy from Black farmers and save your life. Plan 1: if you live in a city, you need to develop a community of people who will buy collectively. You need to go out to your local farmers market or produce wholesale market and see what they have to offer at what quantities and prices. Then collectively you need to pool your money, select the set of items that you can buy in quantity; go to the market or farmers; buy those items in bulk; come back to a distribution point: church,
home or institution; break the bulk orders down to the individual family orders; distribute the food boxes; collect the money for the next go round and repeat this process, over and over and over again. You must do this for yourself, I can not come and do it for you.
Now after you have done this for a few months, then contact me with the list of items that you buy collectively on a regular basis, then I will find you some Black farmers to grow these items for you."
Bro. Roy Muhammad and a few other Believers in Atlanta took this suggestive model and started their own co-op or buying club. They used the Atlanta Farmers Market for both a source for their commodities and a place to repackage them for distribution to their members. Since they say a picture is worth a thousand words we have for you "7,000 words" (7 pictures) describing the process. (pictures seen at www.MuhammadFarms.com/running_a_food_coop.htm)
1. Get a list together of what items are wanted by the coop members. Go to the farmers market and compare prices from farmers and wholesalers.
2. Buy these commodities from the wholesalers and farmers in bulk quantities, i.e. bushels.
3. Find a shed or just an open space to assemble your boxes. Get extra boxes and bags for repackaging.
4. Count and divide the bushel quantities into individual bag quantities. For instance if you have 13 families and turnips are a part of this week’s selections, first count the total number of turnips in a box (say 91), then divide that by the number of families (13) and repack the turnips in separate bags (7 each). You do this for each of the items purchased.
5. Now you put the different items in each family’s box.
6. In this particular case the Atlanta coop had 15 items in their boxes.
7. Now put these boxes in your cars and go home.
This whole process took about one and a half hours. They distributed the boxes to their members for $15 each. In each box was 4 tomatoes, 10 bananas, 8 apples, 7 oranges, 1 gallon of snap beans, 1 eggplant, 3 heads of cabbage, 26 turnips, 8 rutabagas, 1 head of broccoli and 2 pounds of navy beans.
The coop had no overhead, no waste and no labor costs. You do the math. The monetary surplus can now be used to further expand the coop. After the coop expands to 200 or more families, they may start looking for a building and look to hiring some of their children to run the operation. Get the picture?
Of the items used this particular week in Atlanta only cabbage, turnips and rutabagas came from Muhammad Farms. The other items were obtained from others on the market. To get and keep families interested in the coop, the coop must provide a variety of crops and items so that these families will not have to go out and shop for other groceries. Eventually most of the items that the coop must purchase from wholesalers in the beginning can be produced by Black farmers and processed by Black firms.
However, the "chicken must come before the egg" or the market must be set up before contracts can be developed with Black farmers. In today’s world of high costs of production and long distances to the market, a farmer cannot afford to grow a crop, then travel for hundreds of miles and sit around waiting for potential buyers. You first find a market for your intended products, THEN you produce.
We thank the coop in Atlanta for buying some of their "groceries" from Muhammad Farms. (smile) To understand the joke please read "Buying Groceries" at http://muhammadfarms.com/The%20Farmer%20Newsletter.htm.