[permaculture] Re: Alternative Food System Description

Robert Waldrop rmwj at soonernet.com
Wed Dec 24 11:04:02 EST 2003

"The Amazing Portable Food Cooperative."

That was my thought about 11 AM this morning as I
looked around the gathering space in front of
Epiphany Church's gymnasium
at the 23 tables arranged along the walls and in
the center of the space, with 43 bags set up ready
and waiting for our December Delivery Day
order pickin'.

There were 2 grocery carts and 3 kitchen carts
ready for work.  The producer areas on the tables
surrounding the walls were labelled with
the producer's names, organized in alphabetical
order, so one circuit around the room would access
everybody's products.  One table had
extra brown paper and plastic grocery bags.  We
bought a bunch of superinsulated ice chests,and
they were arranged on top of the tables,
in the producers' areas that would be bringing in
refrigerated and frozen foods.  The tables in the
center, with the customers' bags to be filled
with groceries, were arranged by delivery/pickup
area.  There was one office table, with a
clipboard with lists of producers and customer
notes, paperwork from the producers to us, pens,
pencils, binder clips, tape, staplers

The order pickin' went smoother than November
Delivery Day, and took less time.  We did decide
that before we start picking the January order,
there will be a short orientation regarding the
procedure, and we will implement a better system
of checking to make sure each order is complete,
both when it is picked and when it leaves to be
delivered or picked up.  We had 43 orders, with
994 items, $4457.12 product value. We had 7 order
pickers, 13 labor hours to pick 42 orders, for an
average of 18 minutes/order, $342 product
value/labor hour.  In November we had 36 orders,
and our gross was $3221.  The number of orders
increased 16% in December over November, and the
gross value of the December order was 38% higher
than Novembers.  Our total gross sales for our two
month history total $7678.

We used 13 ice chests, plus several brought by
producers, and we needed every one of them.  Most
were the 36 quart size, one was 100 qt.
The superinsulated 36 quart ice chests worked very
well. They were more expensive, but well worth it.
When we opened the one we brought home with our
household order, after 6+ hours in the ice chest,
there was still frozen ice on the outside of the
rolls of hamburger. In many of the chests we
packed refrigerated items with frozen items, and
the frozen items kept the refrigerated items very
cold.  But note "we needed every one of them."  We
probably will need to buy more if the January
order is much bigger than the December order.

In addition to the order picking time, there were
3 labor hours of setup (putting up the tables,
preparing the customers bags, setting up the
area, etc. There were 9 coop admin on site hours
today (Jonalu doing the finances and bookwork, and
me answering questions and finding/getting things,
making adjustments, making phone calls, and other
general administrivia).  There were three round
trips (Tulsa, Waynoka/Enid, and Webbers Falls)
bringing producer products inbound and customer
orders outbound, about 800 miles and 12 hours
between three vehicles/persons.  There were four
home deliveries, and seven pickup
locations had orders:  OKC NW, OKC Central,
Norman, Edmond, Tahlequah, Enid, and Tulsa.  Three
of those locations (Tahlequah, Enid, and Tulsa)
were part of round trips that included producers.
OKC Central, Norman, and Edmond had drivers.  Take
down, pack up, and clean up at Epiphany Church was
2 labor hours.

Customer pickup and delivery hours total about
five (this was is a bit fuzzy for various reasons,
but it's needed for "accounting" purposes).

Another fuzzy area is coop admin for Order Week:
receiving the orders from the customers,
processing them into order for the producers,
communicating that information to the producers,
getting the information we needed back from the
producers.  This was primarily Sandra and me, with
Emma blazing away building
the online invoice creation software. I'm pretty
sure my time for that was in the neighborhood of
10 hours.  Sandra is estimating her time for this
at five hours.
I'm thinking that is a low estimate, but part of
both of our problems is differentiating between
"capital expenditure" time and "operating expense"
time, since often we were doing both at the same
time.  There were times when the three way emails
between myself, Sandra, and Emma were covering a
dozen different
subjects at once and it seems to me like that
about every other email we would discover
something new that had to be done. hehehe.

The total "operating effort" for this order
therefore would be, APPROXIMATELY:
Order week:    15 hours
Site setup:      3
Order picking:    13
Order admin:    9
clean up:   2
Retail Pickup and delivery:      5
Out of area routes:     12
Labor hours:  59
Route Mileage: 880 miles

If we use a pro forma value for the labor hours of
$7 (which would be our cost if all of the
volunteers turned in their time for compensation
in the form of credit towards future orders), that
would be $413 for labor, mileage at 36 cents/mile
would be $316, for a total coop pro forma cost of
$729.  Actual out of pocket costs were
considerably less, of course.  the purpose of this
exercise is to show the extent of effort involved
with Order Week and Delivery Day.  This helps us
where we need to work on procedures and systems to
bring down the "cost of doing business", whether
it be actual dollars expended or volunteer hours.

It also tells us how we need to increase our
revenues to cover irreducible expenses.  It's
going to cost X amount to do the Tahlequah run,
whether it
involves $200 in product or $2000, the latter
would obviously be more profitable and sustainable
for all concerned.

Coop revenues from this order total $182.50 from
coop charges, out of central area charges, and
home delivery fees.  Actual expenses will pretty
balance that revenue, as I am proposing that after
taking care of those expenses we divide anything
left from this order's coop fee among the drivers
of the three routes in order to reimburse for some
of those costs, since those routes benefitted
everybody in the coop, as nearly every order has
one or more products that originate along those

I think all our volunteers are happy to be doing
what we are doing, but I know 2 volunteers (Sandra
and I) who are very eager to see our systems and
procedures and practice develop to the point where
the coop admin "cost of doing business" decreases
considerably.  Sustainability is one of our three
prime values, and this is as important for our
human resources as it is of our financial
resources.  We are of course still making things
up as we go long, and while that
is working fine for us, it is time consuming.   I
see a definite light, though, at the end of that
tunnel, and I am reasonably certain that it is
NOT the headlight of an on-rushing train.  The
effort that has produced this December Delivery
Day (a 3 D Day for sure) produced a considerable
amount of permanent capital infrastructure, in the
form of both our developing online
ordering/invoicing software and our standard
operating procedures and experience.

The second critical area of sustainability is our
out of area routes;  Waynoka/Enid, Tulsa, and
Webbers Falls/Tahlequah/Muskogee, also Ponca City
(new for January), Ada (just getting going), and
Stillwater (presently producer only).  Of the
total "cost" (including volunteer subsidies) of
our operations, those routes are a significant
proportion:  most of the mileage, plus at least 12
delivery hours (this is probably a low estimate,
I'll try to get more precise figures after
Christmas).  The primary practical way to increase
their sustainability is to recruit more customer
members and producer members in those areas, a
second strategy is for the producers on those
routes to increase their gross orders.

After the January order, we will have enough
information (I think, anyway) to make an
assessment of our method of financing the
of the cooperative.  We established the basic coop
charge as a best guess, after next month we will
have 3 months data that we can use to analyze
whether we need to charge more, less, the same, or
charge differently.  There are so many things to
consider in that regard that I won't enumerate
them here and now
but this is something we need to be thinking about
so we can discuss what we are going to do.

Besides these operating costs, over the last few
weeks, and rather intensively for the last ten
days or so, Sandra Storey and Emma of
Red Earth Design have been involved with creating
our online ordering and invoicing architecture,
and this process is on-going, the goal being (I
think anyway) to have a shopping cart available
for customers for the January order.  I am
peripherally involved with this mostly in the
process of figuring out what we need
our systems to do (I barely understand the
technical talk).

The inbox is conspicuosly absent of any
complaints, although we did have a couple of
"oopses".  One long distance route left behind
some items for one person, and we have some
mystery products left over when all the customer's
bags had been prepared, mostly pecans.  5 bags
belong on the route we know had an
incomplete order, but 5 bags are complete
mysteries at this point (all customers who ordered
pecans, make sure you got what you ordered and
paid for and if not, let me know).  There was a
missed connection on one route, and one package or
product that was shipped to us wasn't delivered

Order week itself was a bit stressful on the coop
"staff" (such as we are).  We are still having
communication problems. 3 producers didn't receive
timely notice of their orders because our faxes
and emails went astray, one of those was caught
early by a phone call, the other two weren't
caught promptly. There were several other more
minor but still vexing communication problems.
This is probably my highest priority for resolving
for the January Order Week and Delivery Day as
these communications snafus can burn staff time
like it crazy and are problems for both producers
and customers.

There are an increasing number of "details" to
keep track of -- consider the number of items that
went through our hands this December Delivery Day,
nearly 1000 items, each with a price, a unit, an
amount, a producer, a customer, a delivery area,
maybe a pickup route, and often details, such as
"mostly red", or a flavor.

For January, we need more redundancy in our
communications with producers, and we have some
ideas on that and streamlining the rest of the
order week process.  We hope, for example, by then
for producers to be able to enter their own
weights for the random weight items such as
packages of meat or produce.
Not all producers have internet access, but enough
do  that this will take a tremendous load off of
coop staff during Order Week.

I also think we need to divide up the
responsibility for communicating back and forth
between producers and the coop.  If all 33
producer members need to communicate with the
coop, that bottlenecks with me and also Sandra.
And this is also potentially true for customer
members, 67+ (I've lost track of our total
membership, but we are either at or above 100,
with 33 producers and the balance customer
members).  If everybody needs to ask a question,
on the same day, at some hypothetical time in the
future, well, that's a lot of phone calls or

So we need some additional volunteer coop staff.
After we send the producers their orders, instead
of me calling 33 producers to make sure they
received the fax or email, we could have five
people contact 6 or 7 each.  We can help this
process also by further defining our procedures
and doing
producer and customer education to ensure a high
level of understanding of those procedures and
compliance with them.  Maybe group our customer
members by "neighborhoods" (i.e. geographic
locations) and inviting someone to be the coop
staff for that neighborhood.  This could also help
recruitment, i.e. someone calls us for info, I
send them a packet and then their name and contact
info to their neighborhood coop staff, who could
then maybe give them a call.

We also need to more carefully define our product
units.  Some products are better defined than
others, and we need to get everybody to a higher
standard by the January order.  e.g., if you order
say 3 packages of pork chops, what is a package?
Is it one pork chop, or is it perhaps two or three
pork chops weighing maybe 1.5 to 2 pounds?  This
is necessary on multiple levels:  customers need
to know how much they are ordering so they order
enough, but not too much or too little/
Coop staff need accurate information so invoices
can be calculated and orders assembled.  Better
definitions will help reduce errors, and every
error or mistake costs the coop staff time and
attention.  One or two is not a problem, but 20 or
30 or more issues starts to burn time and energy.

We also want to do a better job of communicating
with our customer members.  We have been focusing
a lot on producer issues, and that has been
necessary, but we have to do the same job for the
customer members that we are doing for the
producer members.  Customers can help us by
offering feedback, what is working, what isn't,
and ideas for improvement are always welcome.  In
January we will mail the January price list to
everyone besides posting it on the internet, and
we plan at this point to do this in a more timely
manner.  The January Order Day will be Thursday,
January 15th, and Delivery Day will be Thursday,
January 22nd.  We want to have the price info and
product availability in the customer's hands by
Thursday, January 8th, which means we have to
finish whatever updating/additions/deletions that
we have by January 5.  So the producers need to
get us that info in advance of January 5.

So now I am sitting here, looking at one of the
fruits of this day.  A gift box I made for my
father: a cedar box made by Don McGehee of PDH
packed with Honeysuckle Hollow's Calendula Comfrey
salve, Honey Hill Farm's honey, Whipporwill Farms
pecans, Swinging Gate Farm and Honeysuckle
soaps, Vans Pig Stand Barbecue sauce, and Country
Sunshine's Wild Sand Plum Jelly.

It has been a lot of work to get to the place
where I can so easily make a gift like this to
send to my father (not to mention the many meals I
will cook from the foods we bought for this
month), but this work is beginning to return
dividends already.  I am also happy to report that
we did not forget the poor this month.  Coop
mnembers provided $391 to buy food from Oklahoma
farmers for the poor, and additional food was
donated by producers and customers alike, so about
10% of our gross was ear-marked for those who are
in need in the midst of our abundance.  Curious
thing, how this spontaneous order of
people united for a common cause works out. This
could catch on.

The conversation that goes on during these
delivery days is also interesting.  Much of course
pertains to the job at hand, but these days are
also gatherings of people from all over the area,
producers and customers.  Today Sean Kay and me
(of OKC ) and John Herndon (Buffalo Roam Farm,
Norman) did the set up.  Order pickers included
Leava Major (who is becoming the Official Order
Pickin' Honcho, no doubt about that), Walter
Kelley of Norman, Pamela Harmon of Tulsa (whyo
also brought the Natural Farms order down and
carried 2 retail orders back up to Tulsa), Kim
Barker of Waynoka (who brought producer products
in and took retail orders out), , Mark Parman of
Redbird Ranch, who also did the Tahlequah route,
Jerry Logan of Honey Hill Farms.  Jonalu Johnstone
of OKC, our treasurer, was on-site keeping track
of what was going on, writing checks, collecting
invoices, and making adjustments.  John Herndon
did the Norman pickups/deliveries.  David Inselman
of Kygar Road Greenhouses brought his stuff in,
and his tomatoes btw were really beautiful, he and
some of the others were talking aquaponics for a
while.  We saw Mrs. Steppe (Wichita Buffalo) and
one of Ron Bechard's boys who brought the Sleeping
Bear Creek Bottling.  Styxx Company showed up and
I was glad to see the two bottles of Hells Kitchen
bbq sauce, hehehe.  I hope I didn't forget
anybody, if I think of anyone else I will have
more to say tomorrow.  Many many thanks to all who
worked so hard to make this December Delivery Day
such a great success.

The high holiday season is upon us. On Christmas
our household will feast on a PDH Farm ham, Worley
Farms butternut squash pies (I've been saving some
squash from the November order for Christmas),
pecan pies made with Whipporwill pecans and Honey
Hill Farms honey, Christian cheese, home garden
sweet potatoes, Redbird Ranch deviled eggs, rolls
made from PDH wheat, dressing made from Horn's
corn, and of course green bean casserolle.  We'll
use supermarket canned green beans, but we'll make
our own mushroom gravy uising Lost Creek Mushroom
Farm's shitaake soup mix and our own homemade
onion rings.  We'll wash it down with a hot wine
wassail drink I make every Christmas.  Mix one
part red wine (I use a value priced sangria), one
part apple juice, 1/4th part orange juice, sugar
to taste.  Place in a kettle and put on the stove,
add cinnamon sticks, whole allspice berries, and
whole cloves.  Simmer over a low fire for about 2
but don't let it boil.  Serve hot.  Refrigerate
leftovers. Regarding amount of spices, if I am
making a gallon, I will typically add 2 or 3
cinnamon sticks,
a dozen whole cloves and 16 whole allspice
berries. Strain out the spices before serving.
Drink a toast to absent friends and world peace
and good food.

May prayers of peace, joy, abundance, wisdom, and
serenity for all y'all.

Season's Eatings,

Robert Waldrop, Oklahoma Food Cooperative

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