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Food co-ops: Cooperating to make food buying easier and cheaper

Part of our quarterly bulk food buy. Buying food in bulk is a great way to save money and reduce packaging

Buying food through a food co-operative or bulk buying club is a great way to save money, reduce packaging, and connect with your community. They’re also one of the easiest ways to source organic, local, ethical and sustainable food.

Our household is half way through the Plastic Free July challenge – avoiding all single-use plastic. Buying through a bulk buying co-op has eased the challenge a little. Here in the Hunter and particularly in Newcastle there are a number of food co-ops to choose from, including The Healthful Pantry, Beanstalk, and Hunter Co-op. I’ve ordered through both Beanstalk and The Healthful Pantry and love that between the two co-ops it’s possible to source almost all your grocery needs.

Beanstalk sources ethically and sustainably produced food direct from local farmers and suppliers. Members pick up a box of local fruit and vegetables once a week and can also buy a range of fresh produce including milk, eggs, honey, bread and organic meat.

Organic bulk pantry staples such as grains, beans, nuts, dried fruit, flours, rice and pasta can be bought through The Healthful Pantry. This co-op began a few years ago with only a handful of members and has since grown to more than 350 members. Last month 120 families ordered though the co-op totalling three tonnes of food.

Another option is to start your own bulk-buying group. I’ve heard of a group of friends that take it in turns to visit Newcastle Markets at Sandgate which is open briefly to the public on Friday mornings. Fruit and vegetables are bought by the box and then split among the friends.

I’m currently buying our pantry staples through a similar small and informal bulk-buying group. We order every few months direct from Sydney wholesaler Honest to Goodness and pick up from a friend’s house. The long-term plan is to combine the pick-up with a dinner party.

A dinner party with friends every three months appeals to me a whole lot more than a weekly trip to the supermarket.

Originally published in my column 'Less Is More', Newcastle Herald 13th July 2013

Interested in finding a food co-op near you? Here's a list of Bulk Food Co-ops in Australia