Lakes Region (Maine) Food Security Sub Committee Meetings

Last week I was invited to sit in on a discussion around cooperative purchasing among the food pantries in the Lakes Region of Cumberland County, Maine.  The invitation came from a gentlemen I work with here in Portland on the Mayor’s Initiative for Healthy Sustainable Food Systems (a.k.a. Portland Food Council).  He is a United Way employee at this time, and he shared his interest about’s potential to help the Good Shepherd Food Bank purchase as a group.

So what does it mean for the Buying Club concept to become important for a food rescue and pantry operation?

To start, the food bank itself is a support mechanism for getting food to these pantries and in to people’s homes.  Picking it up where it is donated and ultimately delivering it to the food pantry where people come for whatever they have to offer.

To cut costs and make life easier for people who are often volunteers running food pantries, the idea was that would make it easy enough for average people to make purchases on behalf of their pantries and that someone at the central location of Good Shepard could easily organize and place the order, receive the deliveries, split everything up according to location, and then put it on trucks and deliver the orders to the pantries.

Funny… this sounds a lot like what happens in a huge warehouse on the corporate level.  I like to think we are part of the folks who “level the playing field”, and this is a great example of what we mean. 🙂

Each pantry can go in to the system and separately make purchases for the pantry on their own schedule.  When it’s time to place the order, the coordinator goes in, exports the order and sends it in to whoever they are buying from.  It saves time and energy, and ultimately saves them money on food by purchasing in bulk and using the facilities they have for distribution. Brilliant!

A big part of this is the ability to program with whatever products you want.  So they can plug in larger items like rice or other things from outside of Maine, as well as items from local farmers.  Ultimately, they are working towards supporting a more local and healthy food system. Awesome!

Earlier in the day they spoke about education which ended in the pantry volunteers considering starting buying clubs within their own pantries.  We got really excited by the idea that each pantry could place a group order, and then that order can piggy-back on top of the larger order being made by the food bank.  If you draw it on a piece of paper, it is a pyramid that has 3 levels, and at the top is the main purchase of the food bank.

Collecting this kind of buying power in this way is nothing short of amazing.  When we started working with Buying Clubs, this is a piece of the food system we never even thought of, and it could be helping the most by providing a better economic model to people who need it most.

This is one of many awesome food system stories we can tell.  If you have a good story about collective purchasing or think could apply in other areas, please let us know.

Thanks for reading!

v0.3 Release & Software Version Philosophy


A little about what’s behind how we are approaching software versions of…

Big picture, we are working towards a version 1.0 of the software, and this release is one of a few as we travel the path to that final destination.  For us, that means getting every idea we’ve experienced in to the software for the simplest experience in running a buying club.  With this release we offer a few final and unseen new features and a major bug fix, move forward towards v0.6 that we hope to launch later this winter, and it is our hope that by Winter of 2013 we launch a final 1.0 version.  Because life is never predictable, these timelines may become longer or shorter.  We hope the later, but as of today this is realistic for us, and gives us plenty of time to figure out what comes next in v2.0.

With that, we are proud to release Version 0.3 (aka v0.3) of buying club software…

In this release:

  • Bug Fix – clubs reporting meat and cheese(random weight) items sold as cases were not showing in the checkout.  This is now fixed
  • The ‘save & continue’ and ‘save & done’ buttons in checkout
  • The ‘custom checkout line item’ tool
  • The ‘create new order’ tool in checkout
  • Split admin screen that visually separates the two major sections of the software
  • Single Order Processing – Removal of Drop-down Menu in Admin tools
  • “Currently Open Order” is shown on upper right of page when an order is open
  • “Help” button on the shopping side(for shopping members) can now be customized to a specific member of your team.
  • “Manage Settings” is a new area for the more permanent settings of the software
  • Inventory is now working!

Here’s a bit more about these new features…

‘Save & Continue’ and ‘Save & Done’ buttons in checkout.  These buttons made it easier for those running checkout(often called cashiers) to quickly make the right changes and moves through checkout.  Clicking the ‘save & continue’ button reloads the page and recalculates any financial adjustments you make.  ‘Save & done’ saves whatever you have done and returns you to the list of members to checkout.

The ‘custom checkout line item’ tool was created for letting clubs add any extra line items they need during checkout in order to easily manipulate the final totals your club needs.  These line items are also added up and displayed in the exported spreadsheet of the order.

Image: Custom Checkout Line Item Tool

The ‘create new order’ tool in checkout was so cashiers could easily add someone that did not place an order previously.  We find the case for this is mostly for clubs selling surplus, or extra, items.  Choose a member and one product from the drop-down menus, click the ‘Create’ button, and they are added to the order.

Image: Create New Order at Checkout

Split admin screen that visually separates the two major sections of the software.  This was done to help clarify the two major elements of the software.  The left is setup and managing open/closed orders, and the right is for processing orders AFTER commit when the order is closed and being processed from Editing Splits and Compiling to Checkout.

“Currently Open Order” is shown on upper right of page when an order is open.  When an order is closed, nothing is shown in this area.  You can tell members that if they don’t see that, the order isn’t open.  We hope this helps in your communication with your group.

Single Order Processing – Removal of Drop-down Menu in Admin tools.  Clients will recognize the image below as the drop-down menu we are referring to.  This function was for an original vision of the software that we chose not to follow that added a step to accessing all of the tools in the software.  From client feedback and not needing it functionally, we say goodbye to the annoying drop-down that lost it’s purpose.  Clicking on any of the tools now goes direct to the order results you are editing that is stated at the top of the page.  Removing this step makes processing an order much smoother.

“Help” button on the shopping side(for shopping members) can now be customized to be directed to a specific member of your team.  If you do not designate someone to receive support, a warning is displayed in the admin

“Manage Settings” is a new area for the more permanent settings of the software.  In one place, you change the tax rate, the customized text, and the email address that will receive help emails.  This is where any future settings will live.


Inventory.  A feature not needed not needed in many buying club cases, but a very useful one to a handful of folks that work with small farms that have limited production.  Here’s how it works and a photo of where Inventory is when you edit a product…

  • Enter the number you want to make available and when it goes down to “0” the product will be removed from the product catalog.
  • “-1” means you do not know the inventory or are not keeping track
  • “0” means the product will not show because you have no inventory


So what’s next you ask?  That would be v0.6, and here’s what’s on the agenda to be released as we develop things and to be completed in Winter 2012…

* Email & Print Receipts.  Add a button at checkout to print and email an individual receipt
* Add button for admin to email unfilled splits to all members
* Allow members to view a read-only version of their basket after the order has been closed through to checkout
* Add search box to ‘add to products’ tool in checkout for a faster lookup and addition to an order
* Remove the Short Name from the name of the order cycles
* Improved Splits tool printout for better readability
* Add product/sku# to product listing
* Add “more” box on the product page for people to say “I would order 5 more if it was needed to fill a case”
* Add checkbox to product page to purchase of multiple cases of an item
* Add discussion board for members to communicate during an order
* Improved text editing tools for the custom text areas of the website
* Allow for multiple levels of member discounts
* Allow product uploads to state Categories by names instead of numbers
* Timed closing of orders to further automate the opening and closing of orders
* Combine cases on the Compiled export
* New Skin (a bit of an upgrade to the look of the site and how we manage it on our end)

Got any thoughts about our development?  Ideas about features we haven’t mentioned? Please leave a comment below or email us at help [at]

Jeremy Speaks about at Slow Money Maine

On November 19, 2010 Slow Money Maine hosted a day-long event where several investors and agricultural participants gathered to share what they are doing and talk openly about investing in local agriculture. The morning program was several presentations to a room of about 100 people, and I was lucky enough to be one of those presenters.

Thank you to Slow Money Maine and Bonnie Rukin for doing all the work that they do to create process for investing locally, and for having me.

Click play to listen to my presentation on and how through ordering food together we find community.

Portland Food Co-op Continues to Grow

One of our customers, the Portland Food Co-op, recently had an open house at their new location. It was a space that was donated, rent free for five years and the group did an amazing job renovating it. With the software and more physical space to run a large food pickup with stations for picking up and checking out, food pickups in the new space are going excellent and helping the co-op grow.

The PFC was our first customer, the inspiration to build the software and they continue to push the software forward in both feature development and overall flexibility. Both Jeremy and I are member owners, so seeing the recognition the co-op is getting is absolutely awesome in many ways.

We would like to wish the P.F.C. continued success and we’re very happy to be a cog in the machine, helping move the group along.

For more information, check out the article in the Portland Press Herald.

Foodshed Alliance Gains Recognition Organizing Buying Clubs

Our client the Foodshed Alliance got some recognition from the New Jersey Herald for organizing buying clubs.  They continue their great work getting more fresh food to New Jersey residents.

Notice the article has no mention of the software.  Of course we would love a plug, but it feels good to be the engine behind the scenes that enables the farm-to-table ideas mentioned in the article where the reality is a few people running large orders at multiple locations.

Our First Client Outside of Maine – Foodshed Alliance

On April 15th, 2011 we will be setting up 2 systems for the Foodshed Alliance located in Blairstown, New Jersey, with hopes to setup more in the future if they are successful in this pilot program.

It was great to connect with a non-profit interested in using this software to ease the process of starting multiple clubs from the start. As they create relationships with local farmers, setup delivery/pickup spots, and learn the process of buying clubs, we think will be an awesome way to make managing things easy so they can focus on the people and the food.

If you live in Northern NJ, definitely check them out and join their buying club today!

Thanks to the Foodshed Alliance for what you are doing, and for choosing

We Are Open for Business-Sign Up Today

After re-starting our orders at the Portland Food Co-op in February, we have now had 6 successful order cycles with approximately 200 people and $10,000 in purchasing of local food. Through this success, we are very proud to announce that we are open for business.

That said, we welcome any and all buying clubs. How do you get started?

  1. Check out our tour, FAQ and features to get a general sense of what you need vs. what we are offering.
  2. Check our our pricing and fill out our form to receive a detailed one-on-one demonstration, which will help inform us  of what you are up to in your buying club as well as figure a time to get back to you.
  3. If the demo convinces you 100%, then we figure out how to get you setup and running.

It’s that simple!  Join us, and we can’t wait to hear from you.

A Second and Final Test – beta

It’s been many months since our first test.  The software hasn’t changed too much, but we have cleared up tons of bugs found in the shopping piece, and added a bunch of tools on the back-end for management and finances.

We know there is still a ways to go, but we are putting our foot down after two years and beginning our journey.  It is no longer an alpha version, meaning the very first version, and it is now in ‘beta’.  And let’s keep things straight here… Google is STILL in beta.

Unless things blow up considerably, we will move ahead and continue using the software for our local food ordering with the Portland Food Co-op indefinitely.

As of this blog post, we are turning on our first client officially, and professionally.  If all goes well, we will open the doors after a few successful order cycles.

Thanks to the Portland Food Co-op for all of their contribution to this software and the process of buying clubs.  If not for these people, at this time, may have never existed.

And away we go!

Portland Food Co-op Receives Building Donation

While we have not put to work yet, the idea of ordering food being the seed of community is what this story says to me.  A group that has worked hard and created a community of their own, getting a donation like this from an interested party is a big game changer.

The donation was a building with about 4,700 square feet(we currently use 600 square feet we share with others), rent-free for 5 years, and $40,000 for renovations.  We have to pay the expenses and taxes, and actually do the necessary renovations, but this person has provided the opportunity that we are happy to be a part of.

This, and using software like to run larger orders is where we are headed.  Thank you Donald Sussman, and thank you to everyone who has been a part of growing the Portland Food Co-op.  Here we go!

Read the story:

California Raw Food Buyers Club Illegally Raided by Government

I am sick from learning about this.  No, outraged.
I don’t care what the law says or how technical it gets in how they charge these people, they come in with guns pointed?
To spend time and money going after people because they chose to buy raw milk is not what I call freedom of choice. This isn’t a restaurant or grocery store where we don’t know what we are buying exactly, and we are educated about our food.   Buying clubs are private.  We decide.  We do the work.  We make the relationships. Stay out of it government!
We can make a difference in our community and in our own lives by having this kind of control over something so basic.  I hope this buying club continues on, and reaches out for help from larger entities that have the funds to sue for their loses.

Some Video: