September 23, 2013

Online buying club boosts local-food access

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 semitruck deftly maneuvers the back roads and delivers the items to our club site, where a handful of cooperative 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. 

It was developed in Silicon Valley, but launched with local-food distributors in New York state, coordinating its operations out of its Potsdam office. 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 out from there. Your group can decided 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.”

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