A THUMBNAIL HISTORY
Food cooperatives in San Diego County began in June 1970 when approximately 50 students from' UCSD unified their enthusiasm with two grants from the University and an assessment of ten dollars a household. They formed the Solana Beach People’s Food Store, currently thriving at 503 North Highway 101 in Solana Beach.
The precedent was set. Two years later, in the summer of 1972, the second co-op, the Ocean Beach People’s Food Store, got underway. Located at 4859 Voltaire (to be relocated in a refurbished Billiard Den at 4765 Voltaire, the week of September 29), the OB coop was made to order for the antiestablishment nature of Ocean Beach. Like most co-ops, the OB store has a hard corps of regulars that do much of the work.
The new Ocean Beach store will have five times the space and may have a small snack bar with nutritious edibles and juices. There may also be an oven for fresh baked goods. Future plans call for addition of a library, camping equipment, gardening supplies, and hardware.
About the time the OB People’s Store was beginning, several regional neighborhood co-ops were also forming. The largest and currently best known of these in the county is the Golden Hills coop. With over 300 households, this group once folded due to lack of involvement and use by people who merely saw it as a chance to get good cheap food. Fortunately, the people of the Golden Hills area resurrected the co-op, and it now appears to be doing quite well, accounting for a greater volume than all other neighborhood cooperatives. Ocean Beach and Solana Beach excepted.
New members can join the Golden Hills group by coming to the headquarters at 2963 Beech Street, any Saturday morning from 11:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. There will be a modest membership fee for each person in the family and a one-time refundable deposit equal to approximately 75% of the member family’s weekly food bill. Virtually all co-ops require a $2 per adult and SI per child membership fee to help pay for supplies, rent, and to discourage free riders.
There are at least ten other ongoing, relatively small co-ops throughout San Diego County. Some, like the co-op in Del Mar are “closed membership.” This means there is only room for a limited number of members, but if one family withdraws there is then room for another. Most closed memberships are quite small, usually involving twelve families. Obvious advantages include easier bookkeeping and distribution.
One member of the San Dieguito food co-op elaborates on the side-benefits: “Our co-op is teaching people better food habits and positive community involvement in helping ourselves and others. I now find that when the kids go snacking they no longer reach for the Cracker Jacks, instead you find them with a hand full of raisins and nuts.” Overcoming our sweet tooths, conditioned in many of us since our first slurp of Gerbers, is one of the worthwhile objectives of many of the cooperatives.
STARTING YOUR OWN
Starting a food buying club is usually not as difficult as sustaining one. Basically, there are three steps in forming a new venture.
- Organizing members. One interested individual can start the process by posting notices in stores, community centers, bulletin boards, other co-ops and in newsletters. The Breadline, the official newsletter of San Diego area coops, is a good place to post a notice, (for information contact Candy Michel at 299-8852). Word of mouth is a good idea in getting started. See how your neighbors feel about paying 89c a dozen for eggs compared to 57c at a co-op. Ask an existing co-op to help you get started.
- Bookkeeping. Aside from equitable distribution of labor, financial records is a difficult problem facing co-ops. All organizations should have good records in the event of an audit and for the benefit of its members. A simple checking account is recommended as it is probably the easiest way to record all income and expenses. Every bank has a special form for non-profit associations requiring the signature of at least two responsible individuals.
- Labor. Getting members to share in the necessary duties is certainly an- influential factor in the success of a co-op. Several have folded due to insufficient commitment on the part of some members. This concern can be dealt with in a number of ways: posting a work sign-up sheet, rotating needed tasks, or charging a sliding fee based on who works and who doesn’t.
Participation by all members in some capacity should be the objective of each coop. Taking food orders, unloading, separating, filling orders, cleaning, and finances require involvement. If a dedicated few are forced to assume a disproportionate share of the burden they may become discouraged, thereby increasing the chance of the co-op’s demise. Some local cooperatives have found that committees are most effective in meeting the labor needs. Filling orders, transportation, finances, and cleaning are possible areas where committees would be useful.
The real advantage in bringing back good, cheap food through group purchasing and working together lies in dealing directly with the wholesaler. Right away prices are cut by as much as 25%.
Most of the co-ops have had good results dealing with Moceris’ Produce, located at 5225 Lovelock Street off Morena Boulevard. The quality is good and prices reasonable. The owner is also helpful answering questions about your produce needs.
In most cases, smaller co-ops work with the larger when it comes to bulk ordering. The three major ones are People's Food Solana Beach and Ocean Beach, and the Golden Hills Co-op. This may be a good idea for a new group, rather than dealing directly with the wholesaler. The well-established groups are most helpful in this regard.
Although the recipe for initiating a food co-op is relatively simple, the results are not always positive. Despite the increase in the number of buying clubs in recent years, it is misleading to give the impression that success is guaranteed or that anyone can or should begin one simply by getting a few friends together. Like anything else this kind of cooperative venture will only succeed as long as its participants do their share.
- Food Co-ops in the San Diego Area
- Balboa Food Co-op 295 8116
- Clairemont co-op 565-1244
- The Community Market 753 9885
- Del Mar Co-op 453-2775
- Golden Hills Co-op 2963 Beech St. S.D. 92102 232 8623
- La Jolla Co-op 7055 Via Valverde, La Jolla 92037 454-2479
- Lakeside Co-op 561-0850
- Mid-City Food Conspiracy 283-2117
- Ocean Beach Peoples Food Store 4765 Voltaire St. O.B. 92107 224 0110
- San Dieguito Co-op 436-5433
- Solana Beach Peoples Food Store 755 3863
- Yellow-Rose Co-op 1911 Gardena PI. S.D. 92110 276 4039