How to Start a Fruit & Veg Co-op 101

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by Jessica Matthews 

I am part of a fruit & veg co-op and I think it’s great! Our group has 12 members and we rotate fortnightly shops at the Sydney Markets at Homebush, buying produce in bulk to divvy up amongst ourselves. We get $100-150 worth of fruit and vegetables for $40 – bargain! I find the produce so fresh and tasty that I can’t go back to supermarket produce. Be warned – once you go you will be addicted!!

Below you’ll see my haul from the last batch – everyone in my group got this plus a bag of mushrooms. ALL THIS FOR $40!

I consider it a best-kept secret but I’m about to blow the lid on that secret and share all the details so that you too can start a co-op.

Step 1 – Start a group

Contact family and friends and gain participation. 10-12 people works well. Add them all into a group chat e.g. Whats App.

Step 2 – Sync your schedules

Using a calendar, highlight every second Saturday for a visit to the market. Members can choose dates that suit best for their turn to do the shop. If a member can’t make their date, it’s their job to swap with someone else in the group. Keep it in an excel spreadsheet and arrange for one member to manage it.

Step 3 – Decide what food you want

Working with 3 categories – fruit, vegetables and salad, decide in advance what the shopper will purchase. Members can make requests but aim for a box of each to get maximum value. Try to keep things basic e.g. tomatoes, lettuce, onion, apples, potatoes, carrots, broccoli etc.

Step 4 – Money transfer

On the Tuesday of shopping week, the shopper messages the group to confirm who is in for that week. Not everyone will participate every fortnight because of holidays etc. Those participating transfer approx $40 to the buyer (you must work out approx what your group cost is going to be, which may take a few shops to determine).

Step 4 – Shop!

Shopper Tips

  • Empty your boot before your shop
  • It’s best to arrive by 5.30am – after this, it gets too busy and harder to get a park
  • Entry is free on Saturdays
  • When you drive in the gates, drive in then turn left at the roundabout. The big shed towards the left-hand side is where you are headed so you want to park as close to there as possible
  • Don’t park in the multi-storey building as this will make it hard to get your groceries back to your car!
  • Stalls are CASH ONLY so take a messenger bag with a small your cash and a note pad & pen inside
  • Trolley hire will be required and will cost around $10 but you will get $6-7 back so the final cost will be $3-4. The silver ones (versus red) are slightly deeper so get one of those! When you return your trolley, use that money for some herbs or shallots on your way out so you spend it all
  • Some sellers/grocers have a mix of items – they probably bought these off others and are on selling. You will most likely get fresher items and better value from those who focus on select produce
  • When looking at blueberries, strawberries, cherry tomatoes or boxes of fruits/vegs – turn them over and check them all to ensure there are no bad ones at the bottom. You can’t afford for 20% to be poor quality when shopping for others
  • Discounts – Do a brief walk around first and see what’s on offer and check out prices. Don’t be afraid to ask for a little bit off what sellers are asking, especially if you’re buying a few boxes/items from one location
  • Mark items off your list as your purchase them and write down anything you’ve purchased that’s not on the list
  • You may need to make multiple trips to your car depending on how many people you’re buying for
  • A shop will probably take 1 or 2 hours. The markets start to get really busy by 7.30/8am so try to be done by then

Step 5 – Sorting

When you get home, choose a large area, e.g. your garage or front porch, and sort the items. Use the boxes provided during the shop as well as paper bags (200 pack from Woolworths works well) to sort things like beans, mushroom, rocket etc. Consider purchasing reusable bags for members to reduce packaging waste. It’s handy to have a couple of boxes available that are already empty to sort directly into.

New Members

When someone new joins your group, arrange for them to do a shadow shop with an existing group member. This will help show them the ropes so they won’t be so overwhelmed on their first shop and help them get better quality/selection etc.

Flower Markets

You may like to stop by the flower markets on your way home from the food markets. It’s across the other side of the roundabout (on the right as you drive in). Your group may even want to include flowers as a regular feature of the fortnightly shop!

Hopefully this helps you with the process of starting your own co-op. Getting up early to go to the markets once every few months is really fun and quite an adventure. Why not give it a try?

I would love to know about how your co-op works – comment below!