Food co-op 101

Guest writer Joyce Jordan

In early 1983, I received an invitation to be part of a counter-culture and unapologetically Christian group of women who had been veering off of the food mainstream for several years. The food pendulum was swinging back to basics. I was thrilled to accept, and to join the ranks of the Target Food Co-Op.

The idea of shooting at a target is to aim for the center, and the co-op’s goal was to aim for foods that were as healthy and economical as possible. This was an ambitious task for a group of Midwestern women in their 20s and 30s, raised on traditional Midwestern foods cooked in traditional Midwestern ways. We were banding together to head into the unknown. No radical changes – just a step by step process toward feeding our families in a way we thought would be better. Every family was different than the others, and this uniqueness of preferences, goals and budget was always respected.

As in any co-op, the basic premise is to share in the effort so that we can share in the result. We each had jobs related to bulk food purchase and preparation, and we took turns presenting a lesson at the monthly meeting. We purchased things like 50# bags of oatmeal, 25# blocks of cheddar cheese (you cut it with a guitar string), 25# bags of shredded cheese, cases of frozen veggies, large containers of pepperoni, etc. Each of these was divided into the portions that a Target member had ordered. We contracted with a local health food store, with a local dairy, with a wholesale food supplier, with people who raised beef, etc. Buy in bulk and share the savings.

I was the treasurer for many years, which was a much more ambitious job in the pre-computer era! We had a small monthly service charge that covered postage, plastic bags, and paying a babysitter to watch our children.

Through the years we studied and cooked our way through many cookbooks, we intensely studied principles of nutrition, we launched ourselves into whole grains and complementary proteins, we investigated food fads, and we read books on simpler living. We discussed budgeting, food storage, dealing with food allergies, feeding children, new cooking gadgets, showing hospitality, entertaining on a shoestring, and making holidays fun AND nutritious.

I attended my first meeting of Target with a very tiny Diana in a carseat, and left when I had three children in elementary school. We were moving into a new family phase, and I needed to make some adjustments to manage my time differently. The women of the Target Co-Op had become dear friends through the years, and we supported one another through life events far beyond the scope of the kitchen.

I’m still picturing that image of the target. Learning to cook as empty nesters has brought changes, but I continue to be enthusiastic about eating healthy, being thrifty and aiming for the center in all aspects of life!

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