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Food Co-ops: Buying Clubs  Setting up Co-op  Pictures of running Co-op Food Coops around the country The Cooperative Corporation vs the LLC

 Cooperative communities      Food Storage

Links to study the cooperative business model:   (This is the one we are studying.)

Buying Clubs

Before you set up a full-fledged food cooperative, we would suggest starting a simple buying club.  In a buying club a group of friends and families get together to purchase in bulk together.  No real paperwork or organizational structure needs to be in place.

You simply find out what you can buy cheaper in bulk, put your money together, buy it and redistribute it.  One may call it the "wino approach".  Of course winos sometimes get into scrapes over how the transaction goes down, so a little organization and written records might help (smile).

We just want to emphasize that it is not the paperwork, but it is the group's determination to work together that is the key for success.  This is why we suggest starting small and working with people that you already know, TRUST, and can depend on.  Of course that may be a tall order in itself.  

"People will do better if they know better".  This is why we set up this web site: to educate the people about the food system and farming.  Please have all potential members of your buying club or coop to frequent, so that we can educate them and help them understand the need to work together to secure healthy food. 

Setting up a food co-op

To start a food co-op you need members, a non-profit charter and a state sales tax number. You may become better acquainted with the co-op concept by requesting free information from Federation of Southern Cooperatives, 2769 Church Street, East Point, Ga. 30344 (404)765-0991.

After locating sources for purchasing produce wholesale, you should sell produce at the current retail market price. Records are kept of each member's purchase. At the end of the year, the cost of the operation including shipping and storage is deducted from the receipts. The money saved is either refunded to members proportionate to the amount of individual purchase or reinvested in the co-op. Since there is no middleman, the individual is able to obtain quality produce at a greatly reduced cost.

As people hear more about what is going on with their food they will be looking for means and methods for getting out of the death loop. You should be in a position to provide them with the opportunity for developing or joining a co-op.

At the first meeting you should discuss the purchase fund, source of produce, choice of foods, place of distribution and the number of orders per month. Enlist volunteer workers. You will need someone who has had bookkeeping experience to keep records of the financial transactions.

Since the group will have to send or bring money with the order, you will need an initial investment. It is a good practice to open a checking account in the name of the bookkeeper. Collect the initial sum decided upon by each member. Give a receipt for the investment. This will entitle the member to purchase up to that figure on each order. Hence, if A. Muhammad deposits sixty dollars into the account, he will have the right to a maximum purchase of sixty dollars on each order. The co-op investment will limit the size of the group purchase. Upon receiving the food purchase, each customer will have to pay the cost of the order to maintain in the checking account the initial investment of the group. An alternative is to have the customer mail or bring the cost of the purchase with the order. This would eliminate the need for an initial investment.

Begin with a small variety of produce. Become acquainted with the problems of operation. As the group's trust in the co-op increases, the members may be persuaded to consider an investment in a communal backlog of non-perishable seed (i.e., wheat, navy beans) - at least one hundred pounds for each man, woman and child.

Initially the perishable staples may be oranges, carrots, beets, turnips, apples, butternut squash, potatoes and onions. Find out when the desired produce is in season in different locales. By ordering a large quantity, transportation costs can be cut in half. In addition, many growers allow a discount on group orders. Of course, if you help with the harvesting and transport your own produce the increase is savings are phenomenal. You might consider asking independent food stores to join you in the purchase.

In placing the group order, select one member to compile the individual orders. Regular dates of the month should be set to call the members to request that their orders be mailed, called or faxed into the co-op. On the assigned day, members who did not mail an order should be contacted to make certain they did not intend to order. A tally of the orders should be taken to ascertain that none of the members exceeded the size of their initial investment or the amount of money sent with the order. Then place the order with the dealers. On arrival of the shipment, notify members so they can pick up the produce. For large orders where storage space is lacking, immediate pick-up is recommended. A policy should be implemented which charges members extra for late pick-up. Those who did not send money with their orders should pay at the time of pick-up.

When members of the co-op are planning a car trip, it would bring the co-op substantial savings if a van or truck were used to pick up produce en route. Planning is of prime importance. Before vacation time, write the dealers or farmers to find out what is available. Send the order to the farmer informing him of the approximate time of your arrival. If circumstances prevent you from making the trip or arriving on time, it would be most courteous to call the farmer to let him know so that he can make alternate plans. His time is as important as yours.

First choice should be non-perishable staples - one ton of wheat seed or flour, navy beans or rice can be readily loaded into a van. Be certain to reduce the speed of your vehicle. Inflate the tires appropriately for the extra weight and test your breaks.

Second choice items should be the semi-perishables - apples, carrots, turnips and other tubers, squash, citrus, mangoes, papaya. If you pick and transport the produce yourself, you can use canvas and wet newspaper to protect fruit and vegetables from the sun.

When the produce arrives you will need a temporary storage space where members can pick up the goods. Choose a centrally located home with a cellar, sun porch or garage, readily accessible to all co-op members. A room can be adapted for long term storage of seed, apples, tubers and citrus by installing a used air conditioner to provide a low temperature. An inexpensive insulator can be installed in the room to cut down heat entry. 

Cooperative Communities

The cooperative can also be used as a vehicle for investment through collective purchase of land or a farm, near, yet distant enough to have lower acreage cost and tax base. This land can become a rejuvenation center where members can work toward establishing a financially, self-sustaining farm community. From working in the sun, open air, in a community spirit, with a sense of fulfillment and achievement of unity with nature, you will improve in appearance, develop a trimmer figure, enjoy new health and tranquility. By involving the children you will be helping to create a generation based on a solid foundation of health.

With investment in a greenhouse, you will be supplying vegetation for your co-op all year round. Such a project will be self-supporting and health-promoting. All members of the co-op can participate in the work on the farm.

In preparation for a safe area or farm away from the cities one first should check to see if any members of the co-op have heir property or family members with such property. It is estimated that Black people living in Chicago own more land in Mississippi than do the Black people living in that state. Much of this land is just sitting there growing weeds.

When such a piece of land has been obtained then those who have free time should start clearing the land and building. It would be good to build special, hidden reinforced concrete underground storage areas for water, tools, books and enough food and seed to tide you over until the disruption passes or you are able to start farming.

In your retreat you should include for storage a substantial supply of seeds for your vegetable garden. In the future seeds will be of more value than money. To make life easier be sure to have garden tools such as shovels, spades, forks, rakes and hoes in storage. For indoor gardens store up trays, glass jars, gallon cans, liquid and/or powder kelp fertilizer and peat moss. A stainless steel distiller (which can be operated on electricity as well as wood stove) and/or a water purifier is a must for survival. A manual grain mill when adjusted for fine grind will enable you to use it as a blender for greens; a juicer for grass, weeds and sprouts; a grinder for sesame and sunflower seeds to make yogurt; and as a juicer for shredded carrots or beets.

You might consider storing the following amounts of food for each person: 50 lbs. unshelled buckwheat seed, 100 lbs. wheat, 25 lbs. mung beans, 25 lbs. unshelled sesame seed, 50 lbs. of natural rice, 50 lbs. navy beans, 30 lbs. honey and 1 quart of liquid kelp or other seaweed. Seed should be stored in a cool, dry place. Take special precautions against rodents. The senses of wild animals are very keen; they can present a hazard to your food supply.

Keep on hand gardening tools, bikes and repair kit, short wave radio, axe, building tools, numerous nails, saw, hand drill, books on gardening, building and education, and warm, durable clothing and bedding.

If you are unable to start growing food before famine becomes acute, at least get your land cleared and composted. Dig a well for water. Have an above ground fuel storage tank installed, filled and locked.

Food Storage

If you have planted a garden or bought produce from your co-op, you will want to save quantities of healthy tubers, sturdy greens and fruits for the cold, sterile part of the year. You may wish to can, dry or freeze these items for long term storage. Information for such processes are also found in this book. However, there are methods for storing fresh produce that will extend the season and increase the value of the home garden and co-op by making much of the produce available all year round. You may keep apples, tomatoes, carrots, beets, turnips and cabbage in their raw state all through the winter.

If you are not a gardener, vegetable crops should be purchased in the fall when there is a surplus and the prices are low. This is especially true of apples and carrots, which become unavailable as the season progresses. As you travel, purchase them from farmers or dealers by the carload and store them for winter.

The storage facility may be a closed garage, a cold room in the cellar, a specially built room in the apartment or an outdoor pit. In every case, screening is necessary to prevent entry of vermin and flies. Storage in darkness is most effective. Ventilation reduces the possibility of molds. The nutritional and taste value of stored produce depends upon its quality, its stage of maturity, correct temperature, and appropriate moisture.

A closed garage, especially when insulated, can provide storage space for fruits and vegetables well into spring. Be sure there are no noxious odors from garden tools or engines since food tends to absorb some of the toxic fumes or spills.

If no space is available within the membership of the co-op then you may have to build or rent storage elsewhere. Remember however, that if a national emergency is called then the government has the authority to take over any commercial or private storage facilities. So some home storage is essential for emergency purposes.

If space is available, one of the best ways to keep fruits and vegetables is to build a special room in the basement. A 6 x 8 foot enclosure provides adequate storage to supply a family of six.

Choose the north, or cold side of the house, away from the furnace. Use a corner of the house for two of the walls. There should be a window in at least one of the walls to provide needed ventilation. Build the frame for the other sides with two by three studs.

For paneling, use the cheapest available lumber or heavy duty plastic. For effective insulation, build double walls. Presently, the market carries many inexpensive, insulating sheets. They may be used for paneling. To find them, look in the yellow pages under plastics and insulators.

Keep the room dark with heavy black curtains over the window. Keep the room clean to prevent growth of bacteria. Be sure not to use any toxic products or sprays in cleaning the room.

When storing, temperature and humidity play a major role in determining the useful life of the produce. If you have a concrete floor (not wooden floor), sprinkle it with water or keep it covered with a layer of earth; moisten as needed. Dampness can be reduced by ventilation during days when the temperature is just above freezing. Never ventilate on warm days for this will result in moisture deposits on the produce.

Install two thermometers in the room: one near the floor, the other close to the ceiling, both in an area of major food concentration. This will give you the temperature range. The cold air is near the floor; the warmest air near the ceiling. Control the temperature by opening and closing the windows on days just above freezing. In areas where the winters are warm the middle of the night may be only time when temperatures are approaching freezing. Keep a log of date and time of recording temperature of the two thermometers, outdoor temperature, length of time and degree to which you kept the window or door open, the quality and shelf life of the produce. This will enable you to improve the storage operation by experimentation.

Arrange the green vegetables in racks near the floor. Enclose them in moist cloth bags or cheesecloth containers; they like a cold temperature, just above freezing, no higher than 40 degrees. Squash, pumpkin, and sweet potato have better keeping quality in dry 55 to 65 degree Fahrenheit temperature and should be kept on the upper racks. You may keep unripened bananas in this room.

If you are a city dweller and must rely on your apartment for a survival retreat, you can build, at small expense, an effective storage bin. Choose a small room, large closet or hallway on the north side of the house. It should have a window opening to the outside. Purchase a small, used air conditioner and install it into the window space. For a lower temperature, glue insulating sheets on the walls. You should be able to keep the temperature around 40 degrees. Build some shelves.

For the more adventurous, the outdoor pit or trench is the most economical storage compartment. It maintains a desirable uniform high humidity, thereby preventing tubers, celery and apples from shriveling. In Africa pit or mound storage was the preferred way of storing large quantities of grains for years before governments prompted by their European capitol lenders forced them to abandon that age old practice.

Select an elevated location and dig a ditch 12 inches deep, 2 to 3 feet wide, and as long as necessary. If boxes or barrels are available, insert them into the ditch. Otherwise, line it with hay or leaves to a depth of 6 inches. Place the vegetables carefully in a pyramid with tips toward the center of the ditch. Cover it with layers of insulating material. Place burlap on top and cover this with a few inches of sod. Mark area so that you will be able to find it easily. Draw up a map of the vegetable layout for easy, exact access to the pit.

You might consider building a large pit partly below the ground, insulated with dirt and straw. Make a small opening so that you may enter it. Some sort of cross ventilation should be built. Keep vermin out with screen. Seal it only when all the warm air has been replaced by air just above freezing temperature. Obtain books on this subject from the library and use common sense.

Special care should be taken in selection of fruits and vegetables for storage. Don't store bruised or frosted vegetables. The skin should be intact. Don't store wet produce. Produce should not be old, especially beets, carrots, turnips and parsnips, otherwise it will become tough and tasteless. Cabbage, onion, pumpkin, and winter squash (butternut squash) should be fully mature when stored.

The following are some guidelines for the most effective storage of common garden produce. Record your methods, and each year you will find ways to improve.


Apples should be selected from the winter variety. Store the fully colored, undamaged ones. They like a cold temperature and medium dampness. They may be packed between layers of leaves or straw. Place the box near the floor. Will keep until spring.

Cabbage can withstand light frost. Pull up plants in the middle of November and sink the roots in boxes of sand. Place the boxes on a shelf near the window. Plants like plenty of circulating air. If there is no early warm-up, they will keep into late February.

Carrots, beets, winter radishes, rutabagas and turnips are best stored in moist, not wet, sand. Pull the roots, keep an inch or more of the stem and store all undamaged tubers in labeled boxes. Carrots are sweetest if permitted to grow for at least six months. Turnips and rutabagas may be pulled at the beginning of November, but other tubers should be pulled before the first frost. They may be kept all winter in a garden if heavily mulched. In storage, keep them near the floor; periodically, to provide moisture, sprinkle a little water on the sand.

Cauliflower and broccoli can withstand a light frost but should be brought in before the heavy winter freeze. Otherwise, protect them with a heavy mulch and pick them as needed. In storage, sink the roots into damp sand. Should be able to store for eight weeks.

Grain and seed keep best in a cool, dry room. An air conditioner in your storage bin will keep the temperature low enough during the summer to prevent spoilage. Keep the room well ventilated. They should not be stored the same place as the vegetables unless the area is dry. You can keep them near the ceiling, which is drier than near the floor.

Onions must be gathered before a hard freeze; be sure they are firm and will not dent easily around the stem. They like a dry, cold space. Place them on higher shelves in boxes near the window. Will keep until spring.

Squash, pumpkins and sweet potato require a warm temperature. They should be picked before frost. Dry the sweet potato for two weeks after picking. Don't sort or handle them after storage. Leave at least 2 inch stems on the pumpkin and squash. Store all of them in a dry place and the temperature around 55 to 65 degrees. Should keep up to late February.

Potatoes keep best stored in a cool, moist place in covered barrels or wooden boxes lined with heavy paper. Light turns them green. They should be harvested before the first frost. Be sure to remove the sprouts, which are toxic, before you use potatoes. Will keep all winter and longer.

Tomatoes should be kept on the vine as long as possible. Cover them at night to protect from frost. Pick the well developed, green ones and lay them in boxes, carefully, no more than three layers thick. Keep them in an unheated room. To ripen the stored tomatoes, place them in a 60 to 70 degree temperature, preferably in a window space.

Seed Storage

The above information on storing wheat and dry beans was for the seeds that you planed to cook or grind into flour. However, you may want to store seeds for planting the next year or to be sprouted for consumption. Details on sprouting is given elsewhere in this book. This section deals with the storage of seed to be used for sprouting or planting.

Dry Ice Method: Will keep seed from molding and will kill insect larvae that may already be in the seed. Will preserve seed indefinitely, up to five years. From Deli, Pizza parlor or Specialty Food store, obtain free 1 gallon plastic or glass jars which they use for spices or pickles. Scrub jar and lid. To prevent rusting, varnish the lid. Cover a lump of dry ice (about 1/4 the size of your fist) with enough thickness of cotton cloth to prevent freezing the seeds. Place the package of ice in bottom of jar and fill it to the top with seeds. Replace lid but don't screw on, just lay it down on top. When the ice melts, seal the lid real tight. You will have seeds surrounded with an inert gas (nitrogen) thus preventing mold, decay or bugs.

Dehydration Salt Method: The best temperature for seed storage is 45-50 deg. F. If dry conditions are maintained at this temperature, the seeds or grains can be kept in viable state for many years.

Obtain cans from Sears & Roebuck Co. (permarex trash cans) or from some other source with tight fitting lids. Large heavy plastic bags may be purchased at most coin laundries or hardware stores.

There are two salts - calcium chloride (CaCl) and silica gel - which have the property of absorbing moisture from the air. Look in Yellow Pages under chemicals. Try not to purchase from wholesalers, retailers or scientific supply companies. Instead buy directly from plant or industrial supplier. Difference in price is substantial. Purchase in large quantities then share it with friends. CaCl is much easier to obtain and works as well as silica gel.

Choose a dry day. Place seeds into plastic bags. Close them loosely. Place the bags into can. Obtain a shallow round pan, fill to 1/4 in. depth with CaCl and place it on top of the bags. Be sure it is secure. Tightly seal can lid. Keep the can in the coolest place available.

Calcium Chloride becomes wet and shiny after some time due to its reaction with the moisture present in the air and should be replaced when the solid powder or lumps have been transformed into the liquid stage. Depending on the moisture content of the area the powder should be changed every 1 to 6 months.

Silica Gel is blue in the dry state and turns pink after it has absorbed water. It does not change to another form as does calcium chloride and can be renewed over a low flame or stove until the blue color returns.

For every day sprouting keep a small jar of seed with large enough quantity to take care of your needs for at least a month. Thus, the can will be opened only a few times which will minimize the likelihood of spoilage of seeds by molds, bugs or flies.

Plastic buckets are fine for short term storage, but eventually the contents will begin to smell like the plastic. Also water will condense on the inside, making it damp and the seeds will mold. Animals can also eat through plastic. Gallon jars, as well as gallon jugs, are great for smaller amounts as long as they are kept out of the sun or else water will condense inside.

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