“The whole idea is that we want to get as close to our food as possible.” These are the words of Patti Cohen, one of the founding members of the Marco Island Organics Buying Club. No, members are not staying up at night telling their deepest wishes and desires to their fruits and vegetables, they’re just making sure that they know what’s in the ones they’re buying and where they actually come from.
It is getting more and more difficult to navigate the labels on our foods these days. Between what’s on the labels and what isn’t (pesticides, GMOs, hormones) how does one know what they are putting in their bodies? Or in their children’s? The members of Marco Island Organics Buying Club don’t have to ask these questions because they know. They know that every Tuesday they will pick up a bin full of the freshest, organic fruits and veggies from local farmers. They even have the option of purchasing organic meats, cheeses, bread, eggs, seeds and more.
It all started seven years ago in Naples with the Green Village Organics Co-op. According to their website, co-founders, Danielle Holimon and Beth Housewert, “wanted to provide naturally grown, pesticide-free food for our families, but found the cost at local supermarkets to be too high for our budgets. By cutting out the middleman, we have reduced the price of healthier food for our own families and our co-op members.”
A group of Marco mothers joined the co-opand began sharing the burden of driving to Naples every week to pick up their produce. The interest on the island grew and a year and a half ago, the co-op added a new pick-up location on Marco Island. The club, which is run by volunteers, quickly grew to over 100 members at the height of last season. In need of a larger area for pick-up, the club recently found a home at Island Garden Center on San Marco Drive.
Every Tuesday, club members pick up their bins of fresh produce. Bins come in two sizes: $25 which contains three fruits and seven veggies, or $15 with two fruits and five veggies. All club members receive the same produce and pay ahead of time for the next week’s shipment. They also have the option to buy extras. “Everything is at whatever it cost the club,” adds Patti. “Nobody’s making any money. It’s not a business, just a club.”
The club collects money in advance so they know how much they can spend the following week. Purchasing their produce by the caseload and having a slew of volunteers helps keep costs at a minimum. “We’re sharing and we’re learning together,” states Patti. “We’re heavy into sharing information and we’re learning that organic isn’t necessarily what we think it is sometimes. For example, just because something says it’s grown organically, doesn’t mean that it wasn’t sprayed. Because if it’s coming in from another country then it’s been sprayed.”
Anotherlearning aspect comes through club get togethers. “Last year we had a whole bunch of cooking classes because when you buy in bulk, you’re getting things you’ve never heard of before so it’s definitely expanded our palates.” Another class offered lessons on fermentation. “Whatever anybody’s looking for, they can find it through the club. Everybody helps and brings their unique interests and energy to it.”
This rule also applies when purchasing food. If certain members are interested in gluten free options, organic seeds for their garden, kosher products or whatever it may be, “as a club, we try to satisfy all interests.”
So far, it seems to be working. The club is even hoping to start their own community garden thanks to Chris Burt, owner of Island Garden Center, who has offered space at his store. By starting a community garden, the club hopes to see a future where Marco Island is self-sustainable and prices for produce are kept at a minimum. The garden will also serve as a learning tool for local name schooled children, many of which already volunteer their time sorting bins and learning the club’s buying methods. “It’s amazing to watch both kids and their parents grow in their healthy eating habits,” adds Patti.
It’s also been amazing watching the club grow, which has really only happened thanks to word of mouth. That’s even the way Patti first heard about it. To join the Marco club that’s keeping pocket books fat and waist sizes slim, visit www. greenvillageorganics.com