How being part of a co-op has changed my thinking
There’s a quote that goes something like: “Before people can begin something new, they have to end what used to be and unlearn the old way” – William Bridges.
Most of us get our fruit and veggies from supermarkets. It's so easy because you can buy your produce at the same time as the rest of your household needs.
Many of us have lofty internalised goals like supporting our local farmers and using less plastic packaging. Yet each time we shop at the supermarkets, we miss these goals again and again filling our lives with extra guilt. It is easy to be steered by supermarket advertisements which feature clips of “local farmers,” trying to lead us to believe that there is a form of support. In actual fact, the aesthetic standards required by supermarkets on their fresh produce often mean that the local farmers cannot sell a portion of their produce. And contrary to our internalised goal of using less plastic, we purchase baby spinach in a plastic package because it has been washed and is ready to eat. Alternatively we could bringing our own reusable container to the supermarket and pack it with loose leaves but the latter simply doesn’t seem to be an available option these days anyway.
Joining a fruit and vegetable co-op may therefore seem to be a very large leap in a consumer’s thoughts and behaviour space. It takes time to unlearn old patterns before you can truly appreciate all the pros that go along with a new option. I first joined a fruit and vegetable co-op more than a decade ago. Here is what I have learned so far:
Your produce doesn’t have to look perfect:
Because supermarkets have provided us with a myriad of choice, we have been conditioned to poke and prod our produce and to examine it to make sure it’s the “best colour, shape and size”. I have put this phrase in inverted commas because these three characteristics have mostly been defined by what supermarkets have deemed “acceptable” to put on their displays.
If you’ve ever ventured to a farmer’s market, much of the appeal that the fruit and vegetable stands bring are the vibrant colours and interesting shapes of the heirloom varieties that they grow. Each item is different and unique, even when they all belong to the same produce family. The best thing is that they are absolutely bursting with flavour. That blemish you saw on the skin before doesn’t matter anymore.
It’s also kind of satisfying when you open up your fridge to find loads of odd shaped and odd coloured items and know that this is way nature intended them to be.
You can be flexible and creative:
I have many clients and friends who prefer to work off a weekly meal plan. I, on the other hand, know of no such type of planning because I prefer to cook on the fly. Also, I’m also never 100% sure what my fruit and vegetable shop is going to look like that particular week. We are so reliant on our local farmers, what's in season, and on the other families in our co-op, that we just aim to go with the flow. As a result, my sense of culinary adventure, encyclopedia of quick and easy weeknight dinners, as well as weekend entertaining ideas, has vastly broadened since I joined my local co-op. I am flexible enough to incorporate the ingredients that I purchase any given week and it’s been an absolute pleasure learning how to cook dishes that I may never have considered before. It is such fun.
You can be sustainable:
Most food co-ops give you the option to pack your goods into your own shopping bags and produce mesh bags. Some people go that extra bit with their creativity and pack soft items like figs into egg cartons. Once you get into the groove, you’ll see that providing your own bags etc is not a big commitment. It simply becomes a habit. Tip: Always leave a set of shopping bags and produce bags in the car just in case you forget.
You are part of a team:
Most times, being part of a food co-op requires a bit of give and take. Some weeks, you’ll get to buy the stuff that you want to buy, and on other weeks, you’ll just have to go with someone else’s flow. Essentially, you’re part of a larger team and that’s ok. There is a lot of camaraderie that comes along with that because if you’re not sure how to use an eggplant, there will be someone else in the group who’ll have the best eggplant recipes in the world.
* In saying this though, our Minifarms App aims to override this issue by bringing together larger groups of people in order to increase buying power, to make choice always an option. Keep watching this space.
You can be organised:
Being part of a co-op usually means that you can’t shop whenever you feel like it. Co-ops are usually open for shorter hours or are only open at certain times during the week. This means that you have to do a little bit of advance planning. Over time, I have gotten much better at estimating how much food my family will consume in a week, so that we aren’t left with too many odd pieces of produce at the end of the week, nor do we run short (which usually means a trip to the supermarket! Eek!). I have factored in the co-op opening hours into my weekly schedule so that it becomes a non-negotiable appointment. Ultimately this can be a huge time saver.
So what are you waiting for? It’s time to take a leap of faith and see how much you’re going to enjoy being part of a little food community. We will be bringing our first co-ops (Pods) to life very soon – make sure you stay tuned in for more!