Organic Consumers Association

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Buying Clubs of Fresh Produce Gaining Popularity

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Every week, dozens of trucks packed with organic fruits, vegetables and other goods are bypassing South Florida's big box supermarkets, community grocery stores and farmers markets.

Rather than dropping off their loads at the typical commercial locales, these haulers are heading down residential streets to homes, colleges and even places of worship where shoppers have established a relatively unknown niche in the food chain: the buying club.

The concept?

By pooling their money and appetites, club members are strengthening their buying power and cutting out the middle man. Some buying clubs have a membership or start-up fee. Others do not.

"It's convenient. It's less expensive. It's healthier," said Julie Garcia-Diaz, a member of Annie's Organic Buying Club, one of the larger buying clubs in South Florida.

On a recent Monday afternoon, Garcia-Diaz picked up a $35 box stuffed with organic cherry tomatoes, carrots, blueberries, bananas, chard, beets and other vegetables and fruits from the South Miami home of Maddy López, where about 20 members go either weekly or bi-weekly to stock up on produce. Lopez, a single mother and bookkeeper, is a group host who gets her produce for free in exchange for providing a pick-up point.

Buying club members choose different orders but don't directly choose their food. Most buy only produce, though some pay extra for yogurt, milk, bread, and in some cases, meat. Except for a few specifically requested items, the food is selected by the buying club, and members take whatever comes.

"It's like they're doing your shopping for you," said Garcia-Diaz.

Nationally, buying clubs are growing in popularity, according to farmers, distributors, consumers and national analysts.

Ronni Blumenthal, vice president of administration for Global Organic Specialty Source Inc., a Sarasota-based distribution center that handles food from around the country and supplies both buying clubs and major chains throughout the Southeast, called buying clubs the center's "fastest-growing" base.

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