For nearly two decades my family has grown much of its own food. If we can’t produce it ourselves, sometimes we purchase through a cooperative buying club and place an order online each month. A semi-truck deftly maneuvers the backroads and delivers the items to our club site where a handful of co-op members unload, sort, and weigh groceries and organic produce. We buy in bulk and save money. It’s like a slick combination of Sam’s Club and a natural foods co-op.
But one aspect has been conspicuously absent: most items, especially the produce, are not locally sourced. Enter the next generation of online cooperative buying clubs: Wholeshare.
Wholeshare offers an exciting new dimension on the local food front. The concept for this online buying club was developed in the Silicon Valley of California, but launched with local food distributors in New York State, coordinating operations out of an office in Potsdam, NY. The company was introduced to the North Country region by Mark Dzwonczyk, CEO of Nicholville Telephone Company/SLIC Network Solutions, and a Wholeshare advisor.
The beauty of the system is that Wholeshare does the work of sourcing locally for you, checking your group’s location, giving you access to the farm products nearest to you, and then expanding from there. Your group can decide how wide to cast the “local” net. You can even purchase “fair trade” bananas and oranges.
The advantages offered are similar to other cooperatives and buying clubs. Here’s a quote from the Wholeshare website: “By shopping as a group, everyone increases their purchasing power. The group places larger orders than you could on your own and, as a result, it becomes worthwhile for farmers and other local food producers to come deliver directly to you and your group. Also, because you’re able to go direct to the source you cut out costly portions of your supply chain, which means you save money without shortchanging the producers.”
Interested in joining a group? Go to the Wholeshare.com website and click on the “Find a Group” tab at the top of the page. Enter your zip code and all the existing groups in your region will appear. There are currently approximately 19 groups scattered across the six-county Northern New York region. The Canton area has four such groups; Potsdam has two; and there are single groups in Adams Center, Clayton, Essex, Gouverneur, Keeseville, Lake Clear, Lake Placid, Long Lake, Peru, Saranac Lake, Schroon Lake, and Tupper Lake.
There are no fees to join, start, or maintain a Wholeshare buying group. The only costs are associated with delivery fees, a varying amount that will be split amongst all the members of the group.
To “Start a Group,” Wholeshare.com provides a handy “new coordinator guide.” As a group coordinator, you can earn a small commission and oversee the general operation. This will take time and energy, so if you have neither of those, but want the food, just join an existing group.
The Wholeshare system has some sweet attributes. Each member is responsible for placing his or her own order online and pays for the order by credit card, eliminating the communication and financial headaches of other buying club cooperatives. There is a nifty “split” system whereby you can order a partial case of a product, say 5 pounds of potatoes from a 15-pound bag. The other members of your groups are alerted about this, giving them an opportunity to join in on the split. As soon as the 15 pounds of potatoes have been spoken for the order can be placed. All of the members’ orders that are ready will be filled at each delivery date. Unfilled splits remain in the system until filled at some future delivery.
The next task is to encourage more of our local, Northern New York regional farmers to use Wholeshare as an outlet for marketing their products. Another option is for CSAs to start a Wholeshare group, so that more local food can be accessed as part of the regular CSA distribution.
Photo: The Sustainable Local Living Fair held at the CCE St. Lawrence County Extension Learning Farm in Canton (courtesy of Brian P. Whattam).