Buying Club a boon for locavores

How can you eat well while saving money, shopping from home, and supporting local farmers, the environment, and Maine’s economy?

The Boondocks Buying Club has the answer. The club works like an on-line farmers’ market, giving members access to locally-grown organic and natural foods year-round.

Club members Bonnie Pooley and Anna Sysko recently led a workshop at Telstar High School, sponsored by the Western Mountains Senior College, to encourage more people, especially seniors, to participate in the buying club, and to demystify the ordering process.

Boondocks was started in 2010 by a group of local people with a mission: to provide the community with easy access to a wide variety of products made and grown in Maine, and to keep costs down by joining together to purchase in bulk.

The club purchases products from Crown o’ Maine Organic Cooperative in Vassalboro, which has been distributing locally-grown produce throughout the state since 1995. They also carry products from “uber-local” suppliers, including Anna’s Greenhouse in Newry and Abbott’s Family Farm in Sumner.

In its four years of existence, the buying club has grown to about 60 members, and increased the frequency of orders from monthly to every two weeks. Orders are delivered to The Local Hub in Locke’s Mills, where they are divided by volunteers and picked up by members.

Members receive notifications via email and Facebook when a new order is opened every other Thursday, usually at about 11 a.m. They then use buying club software to log in to their accounts, view the products available, and make their selections.

To give club members the best prices, some items are sold in bulk quantities, and the software allows several buyers to chip in to make a purchase. Carrots, for example, are sold in 25-pound bags. Members can each choose how many pounds they want to buy, and can see how many more pounds must be sold in order for the order to be placed.

The informational session at Telstar allowed attendees to see an actual open order form from the club’s website on a large screen, and to follow along as Boondocks and WMSC member Pooley placed her bi-weekly order. They then had a chance to sample foods Sysko had prepared from products purchased through the club.

Claudia Lowd of the Western Mountains Alliance attended the event. She said her organization is coordinating a grant from AARP aimed at promoting buying clubs to seniors as a way to increase the amount of fresh, local foods in their diets.

Pooley demonstrated how people can choose from a wide variety of foods and other items, nearly all of them grown or produced in Maine, including fresh vegetables, herbs, and flowers, jams, honey, maple syrup, butter, and even gelato, made by Maple’s Organics in Yarmouth.

Frozen meats and seafoods are also available, as are grains, flours, dry beans, environmentally friendly cleaning products from Maine’s Greener Cleener, and artisanal soda sweetened with honey from Green Bee in Brunswick.

All of the products available for purchase through the club are either organic or all-natural.

Pooley said she is encouraged to see more young people becoming involved in growing and producing food in Maine.

“I am doing this because I so believe in local foods and local farmers,” she said. “As an older person in this community, I also see this as a way for us to support young people who are starting businesses. As elders, it’s our role to do what we can to support them. I am passionate about this!”

The club has a tiered membership fee structure that allows people to decide how much they want to pay based on how much of a volunteer commitment they are able to make, from $20 annually with a commitment to assist with at least six orders per year, to $60 annually for people who are unavailable to help out on Fridays when the order arrives.

Once people enroll in the club and pay the annual membership fee, it is up to them to decide how often and how much to order, Pooley said.

The Boondocks Buying Club website, www.boondocksbc.org, has information about membership and answers to frequently asked questions. Those wishing to join or find out more about the club can also email the club coordinator, Michelle DeIulio, at boondocksbc@gmail.com.

Boondocks Buying Club members Anna Sysko and Bonnie Pooley offer samples of foods made with products purchased through the club at a recent public information session.

Boondocks Buying Club members Anna Sysko and Bonnie Pooley offer samples of foods made with products purchased through the club at a recent public information session.