[permaculture] Re: Alternative Food System Description

Robert Waldrop rmwj at soonernet.com
Wed Dec 24 11:01:07 EST 2003

We are presently an Oklahoma not for profit
corporation, "the Oklahoma Food Cooperative
Organizing Committee", but early in 2004 we will
probably incorporate under the state's cooperative
organization law.  Your state certainly has a
similar statute, but a simple state not for profit
will work
to get you going.  We are not a 501-c-3 federal
non profit, however, and don't intend to apply for

Here is a short summary of how we got this going.

Almost one year ago to the day, I sent an email
message to all the oklahoma sustainable living
listservs I knew about (Ok-sustainability, OK
green party, New Okie Pioneers, etc). Several
months previously I had put up a website,
www.oklahomafood.org and started offering free
publicity to farmers selling direct to the public.
I sent press releases to state newspapers, and a
guy in the state dept of ag talked the Daily
Oklahoman into doing a large article about my
idea.  Then I scheduled a series of meetings
statewide, 11 total, publicizing them by sending
press releases to local media, churches.  Most of
the meetings were at church social halls.  Most of
the meetings were attended by 2 to 5 people,
except for the first one, in Tahlequah, in
conjunction with Kathy Carter White who is also
posting in this thread and the Cherokee Small
Farms group, and there were 15 people there.  Each
meeting elected a representative
to be on the organizing committee.  I think we
started having meetings in April, and in the early
summer we decided to go ahead and incorporate the
organizing committee.  We applied for and received
a small SARE grant (which we haven't spent much
of), so we needed some structue.

Our original idea was to do a store, but the more
we studied that, the more expensive it got,
running right on up to $350,000.  We looked
around at our assets and decided that wasn't
happening soon.  Our research suggested that most
food cooperatives begin as buying
clubs, and I had already been doing some stuff
like that, i.e. during wheat harvest, several of
us bought wheat directly from a farmer, same with
peanut harvest.  So we decided to see what we
could do with starting a buying club.  We charge
$50 for a membership, this is a one time fee, not
a annual fee like a Sam's Club membership.  At
every stage we have made things up as we went
along, and have continually changed and adapted as
discovered new things we needed to do and
challenges we needed to surmount.

We use all volunteer labor, although volunteers
are eligible for compensation in the form of
$7/hour credit towards purchases, and borrowed
space.  All of the producers bring their orders to
Epiphany Church on the morning of Delivery Day,
and then we set up the customer bags
and go to work picking orders.  The producer
orders are arranged along the walls, the customer
bags are on tables in the middle.  Each order
picker takes one order, puts it in a cart (among
the carts we use are two Wal Mart carts donated to
the church to receive food donations for the poor,
which I think is one of the little ironies of our
operation), and then makes one circuit around the
room filling the order.  Frozen and refrigerated
stuff goes into ice chest (we borrow some from our
members, but we have also bought a bunch of super
insulated ice chests that work very well).
Drivers take the bags to pickup places,
or do home deliveries if the customers have paid
extra for a home delivery.

Our goal is still eventually to have stores, at
least I think it is still our goal, but lately I
have been wondering if in fact we haven't found
better than stores.  As we discovered, operating a
store takes a HUGE amount of overhead.  Labor
alone, for a seven day a week, 12 hours a day
store is a big cost, especially since we believe
in paying just wages. While the store would still
have volunteers, we don't think it could work
without paid
staff on site all of the time.

Eventually we will get big enough where we will
have to have our own space.  We want to go to a
weekly order, and at that point, we
will need our own space we think.  But instead of
renting expensive retail, we will look for cheap
warehouse space.  We will need more orders more
frequently of course to afford that overhead, but
that is the direction we are going.

Such is the story thus far of "The Amazing
Portable Oklahoma Food Cooperative".  I will send
a post to this list describing our most recent
delivery day so you get more of a feel for how the
practical aspects of this work.  It was a report I
sent to the membership.

Robert Waldrop, OKC

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Guy Koehler, Rivendell Ranch"
<rivendell_ranch at reachone.com>
To: "Robert Waldrop" <rmwj at soonernet.com>;
"permaculture" <permaculture at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Wednesday, December 24, 2003 7:23 AM
Subject: Re: [permaculture] Re: Alternative Food
System Description

> How did you create the legal, business structure
of the co-op? So far, what
> you're doing matches what I want to accomplish
here, but I have no idea
> where to start. I'd like to have, as much as
possible, the business
> infrastructure questions answered before asking
my neighbors to join. I
> suspect they're going to ask the same questions
I am now.
> Guy Koehler
> Rivendell Ranch
> www.geocities.com/rivendell_ranch

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