A food-buying club (FBC) is just what it sounds like: a group of people getting together to purchase food. There are several reasons to join or start an FBC, the most obvious of which is the increased buying power provided by a collective. By purchasing items directly from farmers and vendors, an FBC avoids the overhead costs that drive up retail prices. Members also benefit from greater choice and flexibility, enhanced freshness and quality, customized quantities, reduced packaging, and greater connection to the source of their food. Benefits to the environment and local economy include reduced food miles (transportation from producer to consumer) and increased reliance on local producers.

If you want to start your own FBC, read up on the Oklahoma Food Co-op, which served as the inspiration for two of Portland’s successful buyers’ clubs: Brooklyn neighborhood’s Know Thy Food and the North Portland Food Buying Club. Both FBCs use free software designed specifically for cooperative buying, also created by the Oklahoma Co-op. Check out NoPO FBC’s simple checklist for neighbors interested in the start-up process, and consider contacting an FBC to inquire about visiting a steering committee or volunteer meeting.

Fortunately, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Portland abounds with successful FBCs, and there are plenty of guides to help you learn to incorporate meal-planning and bulk-buying into your life. Consider a workshop with Monica Dupre, owner of Vancouver-based Sustainable Living on a Budget, or Chris Musser of Lost Arts Kitchen.

Ready to get started? Read up, sign up, eat up.

Our Community Pantry

Monthly pick-ups; online orders; join any time

Brion Oliver of Our Community Pantry
Brion Oliver of Our Community Pantry. Photo: © Heather Zinger

This FBC began when local nutritionist Andrea Nakayama’s clients told her they wanted an inexpensive source for the fresh nuts, seeds, and superfoods she emphasizes in her consultations. Run by a small staff, its monthly ordering and pick-up schedule is designed to ensure freshness and quality, with an emphasis on raw foods and a maximum turnaround window of five days. There is no membership fee or minimum purchase. A small percentage is taken from each order to cover administrative costs. The availability list is determined by the membership, currently comprised of busy families concerned with fresh, quality, local foods. Staff member and founder Brion says the FBC is “committed to supporting local farmers, buying direct where we can, helping Oregon farmers transition to organic, and supporting the small farmer over larger farms.” Choose from three pick-up locations: two in the southeast and one in the northeast. As membership grows, new drop locations can be arranged.


Know Thy Food

Annual membership, weekly pick-ups
This direct-to-consumer FBC recently acquired a warehouse location in the Brooklyn neighborhood to accommodate a steadily-growing membership. Founded in 2008, Know Thy Food currently offers an impressive variety of organic and pasture-fed meats, eggs, honey, produce, and locally-roasted coffee. Visit their website to browse the catalog or become a member.

North Portland Food Buying Club

Waitlist only, get on the list

Michelle Lasley of the North Portland Food Buying Club
Michelle Lasley of the North Portland Food Buying Club. Photo: © Heather Zinger

This highly-organized FBC was founded in 2009, when two North Portland clubs merged. The steering committee meets monthly to assign order coordination, and all members are encouraged to attend. There are no markups; an annual fee helps cover expenses. “We rely 100% on volunteer labor from our members,” says Michelle Lasley, FBC president. “To control that, we maintain a waiting list to plan carefully, weigh how much we can take on, and ensure we are taking care of our members.” With an upcoming consensus training seminar and a focus on community-building and leadership-development in 2011, this FBC is serious about reconnecting to “what sustains us in a healthful, community-building way.”


Montavilla Food Buying Club

Join the MFBC
The MFBC began as a way to “buy better together.” According to its steering committee, members get better quality at better prices with better (read: less) packaging. The Food Buying Club is separate from the Montavilla Co-op, though they stem from the same initial neighborhood meeting. Most of the FBC drop-off locations are near 70th & Glisan, making it a more convenient choice for the Montavilla neighborhood than the Lents Buying Club. (They do partner with the Lents club on some deals to meet vendor minimum-orders.) The entirely volunteer-run MFBC also features periodic specialty items offered by members connected to local farms, such as blueberries, beef, lamb, and onions.

Salt Fire & Time

Weekly pick-ups, monthly membership, or three-month membership (at a small price break); Join the club

Tressa Yellig of Salt, Fire, and Time
Tressa Yellig founder of Salt, Fire, and Time

Salt, Fire, and Time’s Community Supported Kitchen (CSK) Club is a fusion of a CSA box and a food-buying club membership. It gives you the option to purchase nourishing foods at a discounted rate, prepared at SFT and sourced exclusively from local farmers and vendors. Items include cultured vegetables, bone broths, organ meats, sprouted grains and beans, and cultured dairy products—things you can later learn to make yourself at SFT. “I give people back the ability to feed themselves nourishing foods and take control of their health without trying to find the time to do it themselves, while building the pantry of their dreams,” says SFT founder Tressa Yellig, who developed the club as a way to provide Portland with more access points to community and food. Plus, you can sign up for Pedal Power delivery.

Lents Grocery Buying Club

For a membership application, join the email list
This is a non-profit corporation encompassing a food buying club and co-op in the making. The FBC is currently accepting new members while actively working to create a storefront cooperative grocery store in or near the Lents neighborhood. (Buying club members can choose to accrue equity in the future co-op, but co-op membership is not required.) Both drop-off points are located near Glenwood Park, at 85th & Bybee and 87th & Tolman. Depending on volunteer availability and proximity, deliveries can also be arranged. If you’re a web-savvy volunteer, you can help build the Lents Grocery website, which should contain updated information within the next six months.