I have participated in a food co-op for about a year now. It first started as a group of friends, neighbors actually, that shared a commitment to eating healthy, salubrious foods prepared from scratch from home. The layout of a food co-op can vary depending on the people that participate. One main theme around co-ops is the economy of time and money: triple batch your cookies and granola, or soup since it’s pretty much the same amount of work, and then exchange what you don’t keep for yourself and household with others in exchange for their food stuffs.
My particular group of friends meet once a week (Sunday) for half an hour to make our exchanges, and we extend our get together once a month to learn a new kitchen technique, or how to use a kitchen gadget. We made jam one week, which was so fun, and something I would never do on my own. I walked away with two different kinds of jam, and now might invite new friends to my house for a jam-making session.
Pittsburgh is the perfect city to start a food co-op because it is so “neighborhoody.” It almost doesn’t matter where you live–Bloomfield, Squirrel Hill, Friendship, Highland Park–I’m sure there are probably at least three other people that would be willing to exchange great food with you. And, the great thing is, you don’t have to participate each week if your schedule doesn’t allow.
A food co-op can help you to:
1) Learn new kitchen techniques.
Like how to make your own pasta (and how long can you store it), how to can fruits and vegetables when they are abundant at the farmers’ markets or your garden. How to pickle vegetables. Putting everyone’s collective knowledge (or lack thereof) into the project ensures best-practices and new ideas are shared.
2) Learn new tools that you can all share.
How many of us have a dehydrator? How many of us need one? I’m sure someone you know in your neighborhood probably has one, or a juicer, or a pressure cooker, and perhaps you’ve never become familiar with these appliances and want to learn. Ever used an immersion blender to make creamy soups right in the pan? They are amazing! Have a soup making day with your friends!
3) Know where your food comes from.
If participants agree to use locally sourced foods, you can ensure you’re eating foods that do not have pesticides or hormones. The friends in my food co-op have decided that as much as possible we will use locally sourced foods–and many of them have their own garden. The higher up an animal is on the food pyramid, the more we care about where the food comes from, and therefore typically don’t use meat in our exchanges.
4) See your friends!
Often I joke that with busy schedules, for me, volunteering is the only way I see many of my friends. The food co-op is another way that I’m guaranteed the chance to spend time with my foodie friends.
I highly recommend a food co-op to anyone with a busy schedule that likes food, likes to cook, and likes friends that like these things as well. We recently helped a second food co-op get up and running, and I’d be more than happy to talk with YOU about starting one as well!