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!

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.

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!

Our First Test – alpha

After a ton of collaboration and planning with the Portland Food Co-op, our own food buying club that is organized as a co-op, we were able to get a working version out.  We knew there would be many questions to answer, but thanks to these kind folks we were able to doing things as few software builders get to do with their users.

Entering the test, the more senior organizers of the group worked with us to review the software and see where the holes are and clarify what this test was about.  We realized that a great deal of functions were needed that we hadn’t completed yet, and that the shopping with splits was really the focus of the test.

It Begins… the Portland Food Co-op

Today marks the beginning of a new venture. And what may be the most exciting venture in my work-life in my career. Writing a new kind of software, and partnering with a friend to do it. Sometimes work and friends don’t mix, but in this case, we rock the dorky-computer-thing. And the beer thing. And the philosophy thing.

After joining up with the Portland Food Co-op to begin organizing a co-op in Portland, Maine, I started buying food with a group of many of the same people who buy food directly from farms and local producers. With no other options in Portland besides ones that are usually too expensive, this was the best way to get my food the way I wanted it at a reasonable price. How does that happen? Buying in bulk and wholesale price, and working with the group to organize an order, delivery, pickup and checkout. This is what a buying club is.

After ordering with these guys for a few months, it became clear that this was begging for an e-commerce solution. A shopping cart. One you have seen a thousand times, but not really. It looked like your basic shopping site, and was as easy for the average person, but this one dealt with “splits”. Like I mentioned above, splits are part of buying a 50# bag of flour, but splitting it between multiple people. So during shopping, we needed to see that I bought 10#, and that 40# was still available.

And so after tons of thinking this out myself and with others in the buying club, and after recently meeting Matt who has the same passion for the idea as I do, we are off and running to build buying club software.

Wish us luck!