Before I explain why I do it, I need to let you know what being the facilitator entails.
Overview of the co-op cycle: Saturday afternoon after we are done distributing every one's produce, I log onto the website and update my “inventory” for the co-op coming up in two weeks. I change what specialty basket we are doing, reset the amounts of baskets available, and re-install the order form on the website. I log on to the accounting site I use (google checkout) and place all the orders from that morning into an archive folder. Each one has to be put in the archive individually, it takes about 10 minutes. I forward photos of that week's baskets on to a volunteer who posts them on the website.
For the next 10 days, orders come in and each day I log onto google checkout and process the orders from that day. The only way google will process the credit cards is if I “ship” the item. So, I click that the items are shipped even though there is nothing being shipped. Google holds the money for two, sometimes three, days after I click ship so I try to get the orders processed as fast as I can. I don't want to end up writing a check on Saturday that won't clear. I answer email questions about the co-op as they come in.
On Thursday, 9 days before the distribution, I send out an email to anyone who has ordered in the last 3 months. I remind them to place their order and let them know if there are any changes to the co-op. I receive the current price list from the produce company and forward it on to volunteers who are helping choose what will be in the up coming order.
On Tuesday night, 4 days before distribution, I update the website to disable the ordering mechanism. I need to do it on Tuesday so I have time for all the order money to be handed on from google into my account and to give us time to create the orders. My produce company salesman doesn't work on Fridays so the order has to go in on Thursday. We have all day Wednesday to decide what will go in the baskets.
On Wednesday, 3 days before distribution, I download a csv spreadsheet from google checkout of all the orders placed and run it through the program my husband spent hundreds of hours to build for me. That program creates the check out sheets for me and gives me the email addresses of everyone who ordered. I've created a spreadsheet for the orders. I fill in how many baskets of each type are ordered. The spreadsheet has fields for putting in the different types of fruits and vegetables that will go in the baskets. The person doing the ordering enters the item name, produce company sku #, price, how many cases will be ordered and case count. The spreadsheet does the math to determine how much has been spent and how much of each item will go in the baskets. I notify the people helping with ordering that the numbers are in and it's time to create the order. I do my part of the order (the specialty basket and sometimes the others as well), matching up how many baskets there are with how much money that brought in and referring to the price list I received from the produce company in order to fill up the baskets.
Thursday morning at 7:00 am, 2 days before distribution I call in my order to the produce company. The process of giving him my order takes about 25 minutes. We go back and forth on the phone. I read him the sku #, he confirms it's the right one by telling me what item that is. The item numbers are 13 digits long. Sometimes, I read it off wrong. I try to get this done before my children get up because reading off those numbers takes my complete concentration. I give him the price off my price sheet, he tells me if it's changed. Some produce items change price daily. If prices have changed on something dramatically, I make last minute changes to the order. (This is very difficult to do on the fly because I need to get the correct amount of something to give everyone a decent share for the correct price. The price list comes as a pdf that is 68 pages long. That's a lot to go through as we're talking on the phone!) I then send an email out to everyone who ordered, reminding them to pick up their orders, asking them to volunteer and letting them know of any changes for this time.
On Friday night, 1 day before distribution, we clean off the porch, move cars out of the way, put the top on the portable carport, put up portable tables, find the heater for the portable carport (it's not always easy to figure out where the kids used it last and hopefully the kids haven't left it running and run it empty of kerosene), make sure the lights in the portable carport work (when the top is off due to wind storms, the rain is not friendly to the lights), hook up the trailer to the big van and bring the baskets over. I print out check out sheets for each type of basket and print out lists of what goes into each basket for the helpers to use Saturday morning. I assemble the various things we'll need Saturday morning: dry erase board and markers, scissors, scales, gloves, plastic produce bags, calculator (when I can find one of the three we own).
Saturday morning begins when the truck driver calls me around 5:45 AM to tell me he's leaving Haggen and will be at our house in a few minutes. I jump out of bed and get dressed. I usually forget to put heater packs in my shoes and I live to regret that oversight over the next three hours! My husband takes longer to wake up and is often headed to the van with his eyes half open. We hand transfer the produce from the semi truck to the trailer, all 2 tons of it. We get a different driver each time. Sometimes the driver helps us. Sometimes he stands and watches. We drive it up to the house and park it in front. I go inside and if luck is smiling on me, I have time to eat a quick breakfast. I set out hot water for hot chocolate and apple cider along with the packets of cocoa, cider powder, marshmallows, cups, stir sticks and a trash can. When my dad arrives, he sets out cookies to go with the beverages.
Volunteers start arriving around 6:45. I put them to work putting out baskets in rows of 12 pairs, unloading the trailer and stacking all the like items together. We have three different types of baskets each week so things get sent to three different areas in the driveway. I check to make sure I have everything I ordered (at least 30 different items). Volunteers divide up into pairs and I assign them an item to put into the baskets. I supervise and start to break down boxes as I have time. I deal with issues (not enough of something, too much of something else, quality issues). If I get enough volunteers, I put them to work on collapsing the boxes. I continue to assign food items to the volunteers as they finish up with an item. The baskets are complete! Hooray! There is always produce left over that won't divide out evenly. I figure out how many “extra” items each person can select, which is where the calculator comes in very handy if I could find one that week. I try to divide out the items by value so the first people through the line don't take 3 pineapples and the people at the end of the line only get three oranges. Volunteers sign off on the check out sheet, grab their produce and head out.
There is usually 10-15 minutes before the crowds arrive. Hopefully, the people signed up to help with checkout and traffic are here before the rush and I hand them their check out sheets or orange vests and walkie talkies. I stand to the side and supervise the distribution of the baskets. I deal with problems (I ordered but I'm not on the checkout sheet, I don't know what this item is, I didn't bring a container to put my things in) and people who just want to talk with me. I also deal with my children coming out to ask me very important questions like, “Can we have leftover pancakes for breakfast? Have you seen my pink hairbrush? Isaac took the movie out that we were watching and put his in even though we said no.” I continually remind them that I'm very busy at the moment and they are welcome to take their questions to their dad. They leave in a huff.
At 8:30, I send the traffic and checkout volunteers home. Hopefully, a few people show up to help with clean up. We stack and put away all the baskets. Portable tables are folded and put away. A volunteer or I call the people who haven't shown up to see if they're on their way. Finally, my husband blows off the pavement and I go inside to begin the cycle again.
Alright, enough about what I do, the thing I really want to share with you is why I do it. Some people say to me that they can't believe I'm willing to do the produce co-op. All that work for some vegetables? For me, it fulfills a need I've had for a long time. I feel like we all have an obligation to do something to make our communities and our world a better place. The question was, what could I do?
When I only had one child, it was easy to serve in the community. Weekly, I went to the Sarvey Wildlife Center and cleaned cages. I was on bed rest when I was pregnant with my second child Isaac (14 years ago). I used to lay on the couch and eagerly read the volunteer section of the newspaper. I'd cut out things I thought I could do, ONCE I COULD GET UP OFF THAT COUCH. Once Isaac was born and I started feeling like myself again, I got out my pile of community service opportunities and tried to decide just where I'd give my time. It didn't take me long to realize that there was nothing that would work for me with my life situation at that time. That doesn't mean I lost the deep desire within myself to be a benefit to my community. To this day, there isn't a newspaper that comes through our house with a community service section that I don't read and ponder over. I've been on the look out for so long for some way I could help others while still keeping my focus here at home with the kids.
The produce co-op has been a perfect solution for me. I'm able to do it all of it right here at home while the kids are doing their school work or while I'm waiting for them to finish their classes at SVS. The co-op is a benefit to them (I can't tell you how exciting it is to see the my six children eagerly digging into the melons, mangos, carrots, etc. It's a huge warm fuzzy each time.) It also benefits the community. I don't just feel rewarded by the thank you's from the participants. What makes me feel good is Saturday mornings when I see people working together to sort the produce into baskets, talking and laughing as they work. I am gratified by the excitement I see in people's faces and hear in their voices when they dig into their baskets and find out what they're getting that time, a little piece of Christmas every two weeks.
In the grand scheme of things, providing families a way to obtain healthy foods to their family members is small thing. It won't change the world, end poverty, prevent suffering. Although the produce co-op will never earn me the Nobel Peace prize, it does provide a valuable service to the community. Money that would have been spent on food can be used elsewhere, like family events (How many produce baskets' worth of savings does it take to head off to Disneyland? If you figure it out, let me know!) Eating a healthy diet also brings so many benefits to the participants in the form of good health, increased energy, and freedom from disease. I know I've felt the difference myself. It's a win win for everyone!
When we did the Zaycon Foods order, my daughter Elizabeth looked out at the truck and asked me what was going on. When I explained it to her, she said, "How many different kinds of co-ops are you going to have?" (We have three different types here: produce, organic food, meat) I told her I didn't know and asked how many she thought we needed. We joked together that what we need next is a candy and ice cream co-op. Anyone want to join us? (just kidding!)