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FW: [permaculture] Re: Alternative Food System Description

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  • jamie
    ... From: permaculture-bounces@lists.ibiblio.org [mailto:permaculture-bounces@lists.ibiblio.org]On Behalf Of Robert Waldrop Sent: mercredi 24 décembre 2003
    Message 1 of 3 , Dec 30, 2003
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      -----Original Message-----
      From: permaculture-bounces@...
      [mailto:permaculture-bounces@...]On Behalf Of Robert Waldrop
      Sent: mercredi 24 décembre 2003 16:04
      To: Guy Koehler, Rivendell Ranch; permaculture
      Subject: Re: [permaculture] Re: Alternative Food System Description

      "The Amazing Portable Food Cooperative."

      That was my thought about 11 AM this morning as I
      looked around the gathering space in front of
      Epiphany Church's gymnasium
      at the 23 tables arranged along the walls and in
      the center of the space, with 43 bags set up ready
      and waiting for our December Delivery Day
      order pickin'.

      There were 2 grocery carts and 3 kitchen carts
      ready for work. The producer areas on the tables
      surrounding the walls were labelled with
      the producer's names, organized in alphabetical
      order, so one circuit around the room would access
      everybody's products. One table had
      extra brown paper and plastic grocery bags. We
      bought a bunch of superinsulated ice chests,and
      they were arranged on top of the tables,
      in the producers' areas that would be bringing in
      refrigerated and frozen foods. The tables in the
      center, with the customers' bags to be filled
      with groceries, were arranged by delivery/pickup
      area. There was one office table, with a
      clipboard with lists of producers and customer
      notes, paperwork from the producers to us, pens,
      pencils, binder clips, tape, staplers

      The order pickin' went smoother than November
      Delivery Day, and took less time. We did decide
      that before we start picking the January order,
      there will be a short orientation regarding the
      procedure, and we will implement a better system
      of checking to make sure each order is complete,
      both when it is picked and when it leaves to be
      delivered or picked up. We had 43 orders, with
      994 items, $4457.12 product value. We had 7 order
      pickers, 13 labor hours to pick 42 orders, for an
      average of 18 minutes/order, $342 product
      value/labor hour. In November we had 36 orders,
      and our gross was $3221. The number of orders
      increased 16% in December over November, and the
      gross value of the December order was 38% higher
      than Novembers. Our total gross sales for our two
      month history total $7678.

      We used 13 ice chests, plus several brought by
      producers, and we needed every one of them. Most
      were the 36 quart size, one was 100 qt.
      The superinsulated 36 quart ice chests worked very
      well. They were more expensive, but well worth it.
      When we opened the one we brought home with our
      household order, after 6+ hours in the ice chest,
      there was still frozen ice on the outside of the
      rolls of hamburger. In many of the chests we
      packed refrigerated items with frozen items, and
      the frozen items kept the refrigerated items very
      cold. But note "we needed every one of them." We
      probably will need to buy more if the January
      order is much bigger than the December order.

      In addition to the order picking time, there were
      3 labor hours of setup (putting up the tables,
      preparing the customers bags, setting up the
      area, etc. There were 9 coop admin on site hours
      today (Jonalu doing the finances and bookwork, and
      me answering questions and finding/getting things,
      making adjustments, making phone calls, and other
      general administrivia). There were three round
      trips (Tulsa, Waynoka/Enid, and Webbers Falls)
      bringing producer products inbound and customer
      orders outbound, about 800 miles and 12 hours
      between three vehicles/persons. There were four
      home deliveries, and seven pickup
      locations had orders: OKC NW, OKC Central,
      Norman, Edmond, Tahlequah, Enid, and Tulsa. Three
      of those locations (Tahlequah, Enid, and Tulsa)
      were part of round trips that included producers.
      OKC Central, Norman, and Edmond had drivers. Take
      down, pack up, and clean up at Epiphany Church was
      2 labor hours.

      Customer pickup and delivery hours total about
      five (this was is a bit fuzzy for various reasons,
      but it's needed for "accounting" purposes).

      Another fuzzy area is coop admin for Order Week:
      receiving the orders from the customers,
      processing them into order for the producers,
      communicating that information to the producers,
      getting the information we needed back from the
      producers. This was primarily Sandra and me, with
      Emma blazing away building
      the online invoice creation software. I'm pretty
      sure my time for that was in the neighborhood of
      10 hours. Sandra is estimating her time for this
      at five hours.
      I'm thinking that is a low estimate, but part of
      both of our problems is differentiating between
      "capital expenditure" time and "operating expense"
      time, since often we were doing both at the same
      time. There were times when the three way emails
      between myself, Sandra, and Emma were covering a
      dozen different
      subjects at once and it seems to me like that
      about every other email we would discover
      something new that had to be done. hehehe.

      The total "operating effort" for this order
      therefore would be, APPROXIMATELY:
      Order week: 15 hours
      Site setup: 3
      Order picking: 13
      Order admin: 9
      clean up: 2
      Retail Pickup and delivery: 5
      Out of area routes: 12
      Labor hours: 59
      Route Mileage: 880 miles

      If we use a pro forma value for the labor hours of
      $7 (which would be our cost if all of the
      volunteers turned in their time for compensation
      in the form of credit towards future orders), that
      would be $413 for labor, mileage at 36 cents/mile
      would be $316, for a total coop pro forma cost of
      $729. Actual out of pocket costs were
      considerably less, of course. the purpose of this
      exercise is to show the extent of effort involved
      with Order Week and Delivery Day. This helps us
      where we need to work on procedures and systems to
      bring down the "cost of doing business", whether
      it be actual dollars expended or volunteer hours.

      It also tells us how we need to increase our
      revenues to cover irreducible expenses. It's
      going to cost X amount to do the Tahlequah run,
      whether it
      involves $200 in product or $2000, the latter
      would obviously be more profitable and sustainable
      for all concerned.

      Coop revenues from this order total $182.50 from
      coop charges, out of central area charges, and
      home delivery fees. Actual expenses will pretty
      balance that revenue, as I am proposing that after
      taking care of those expenses we divide anything
      left from this order's coop fee among the drivers
      of the three routes in order to reimburse for some
      of those costs, since those routes benefitted
      everybody in the coop, as nearly every order has
      one or more products that originate along those

      I think all our volunteers are happy to be doing
      what we are doing, but I know 2 volunteers (Sandra
      and I) who are very eager to see our systems and
      procedures and practice develop to the point where
      the coop admin "cost of doing business" decreases
      considerably. Sustainability is one of our three
      prime values, and this is as important for our
      human resources as it is of our financial
      resources. We are of course still making things
      up as we go long, and while that
      is working fine for us, it is time consuming. I
      see a definite light, though, at the end of that
      tunnel, and I am reasonably certain that it is
      NOT the headlight of an on-rushing train. The
      effort that has produced this December Delivery
      Day (a 3 D Day for sure) produced a considerable
      amount of permanent capital infrastructure, in the
      form of both our developing online
      ordering/invoicing software and our standard
      operating procedures and experience.

      The second critical area of sustainability is our
      out of area routes; Waynoka/Enid, Tulsa, and
      Webbers Falls/Tahlequah/Muskogee, also Ponca City
      (new for January), Ada (just getting going), and
      Stillwater (presently producer only). Of the
      total "cost" (including volunteer subsidies) of
      our operations, those routes are a significant
      proportion: most of the mileage, plus at least 12
      delivery hours (this is probably a low estimate,
      I'll try to get more precise figures after
      Christmas). The primary practical way to increase
      their sustainability is to recruit more customer
      members and producer members in those areas, a
      second strategy is for the producers on those
      routes to increase their gross orders.

      After the January order, we will have enough
      information (I think, anyway) to make an
      assessment of our method of financing the
      of the cooperative. We established the basic coop
      charge as a best guess, after next month we will
      have 3 months data that we can use to analyze
      whether we need to charge more, less, the same, or
      charge differently. There are so many things to
      consider in that regard that I won't enumerate
      them here and now
      but this is something we need to be thinking about
      so we can discuss what we are going to do.

      Besides these operating costs, over the last few
      weeks, and rather intensively for the last ten
      days or so, Sandra Storey and Emma of
      Red Earth Design have been involved with creating
      our online ordering and invoicing architecture,
      and this process is on-going, the goal being (I
      think anyway) to have a shopping cart available
      for customers for the January order. I am
      peripherally involved with this mostly in the
      process of figuring out what we need
      our systems to do (I barely understand the
      technical talk).

      The inbox is conspicuosly absent of any
      complaints, although we did have a couple of
      "oopses". One long distance route left behind
      some items for one person, and we have some
      mystery products left over when all the customer's
      bags had been prepared, mostly pecans. 5 bags
      belong on the route we know had an
      incomplete order, but 5 bags are complete
      mysteries at this point (all customers who ordered
      pecans, make sure you got what you ordered and
      paid for and if not, let me know). There was a
      missed connection on one route, and one package or
      product that was shipped to us wasn't delivered

      Order week itself was a bit stressful on the coop
      "staff" (such as we are). We are still having
      communication problems. 3 producers didn't receive
      timely notice of their orders because our faxes
      and emails went astray, one of those was caught
      early by a phone call, the other two weren't
      caught promptly. There were several other more
      minor but still vexing communication problems.
      This is probably my highest priority for resolving
      for the January Order Week and Delivery Day as
      these communications snafus can burn staff time
      like it crazy and are problems for both producers
      and customers.

      There are an increasing number of "details" to
      keep track of -- consider the number of items that
      went through our hands this December Delivery Day,
      nearly 1000 items, each with a price, a unit, an
      amount, a producer, a customer, a delivery area,
      maybe a pickup route, and often details, such as
      "mostly red", or a flavor.

      For January, we need more redundancy in our
      communications with producers, and we have some
      ideas on that and streamlining the rest of the
      order week process. We hope, for example, by then
      for producers to be able to enter their own
      weights for the random weight items such as
      packages of meat or produce.
      Not all producers have internet access, but enough
      do that this will take a tremendous load off of
      coop staff during Order Week.

      I also think we need to divide up the
      responsibility for communicating back and forth
      between producers and the coop. If all 33
      producer members need to communicate with the
      coop, that bottlenecks with me and also Sandra.
      And this is also potentially true for customer
      members, 67+ (I've lost track of our total
      membership, but we are either at or above 100,
      with 33 producers and the balance customer
      members). If everybody needs to ask a question,
      on the same day, at some hypothetical time in the
      future, well, that's a lot of phone calls or

      So we need some additional volunteer coop staff.
      After we send the producers their orders, instead
      of me calling 33 producers to make sure they
      received the fax or email, we could have five
      people contact 6 or 7 each. We can help this
      process also by further defining our procedures
      and doing
      producer and customer education to ensure a high
      level of understanding of those procedures and
      compliance with them. Maybe group our customer
      members by "neighborhoods" (i.e. geographic
      locations) and inviting someone to be the coop
      staff for that neighborhood. This could also help
      recruitment, i.e. someone calls us for info, I
      send them a packet and then their name and contact
      info to their neighborhood coop staff, who could
      then maybe give them a call.

      We also need to more carefully define our product
      units. Some products are better defined than
      others, and we need to get everybody to a higher
      standard by the January order. e.g., if you order
      say 3 packages of pork chops, what is a package?
      Is it one pork chop, or is it perhaps two or three
      pork chops weighing maybe 1.5 to 2 pounds? This
      is necessary on multiple levels: customers need
      to know how much they are ordering so they order
      enough, but not too much or too little/
      Coop staff need accurate information so invoices
      can be calculated and orders assembled. Better
      definitions will help reduce errors, and every
      error or mistake costs the coop staff time and
      attention. One or two is not a problem, but 20 or
      30 or more issues starts to burn time and energy.

      We also want to do a better job of communicating
      with our customer members. We have been focusing
      a lot on producer issues, and that has been
      necessary, but we have to do the same job for the
      customer members that we are doing for the
      producer members. Customers can help us by
      offering feedback, what is working, what isn't,
      and ideas for improvement are always welcome. In
      January we will mail the January price list to
      everyone besides posting it on the internet, and
      we plan at this point to do this in a more timely
      manner. The January Order Day will be Thursday,
      January 15th, and Delivery Day will be Thursday,
      January 22nd. We want to have the price info and
      product availability in the customer's hands by
      Thursday, January 8th, which means we have to
      finish whatever updating/additions/deletions that
      we have by January 5. So the producers need to
      get us that info in advance of January 5.

      So now I am sitting here, looking at one of the
      fruits of this day. A gift box I made for my
      father: a cedar box made by Don McGehee of PDH
      packed with Honeysuckle Hollow's Calendula Comfrey
      salve, Honey Hill Farm's honey, Whipporwill Farms
      pecans, Swinging Gate Farm and Honeysuckle
      soaps, Vans Pig Stand Barbecue sauce, and Country
      Sunshine's Wild Sand Plum Jelly.

      It has been a lot of work to get to the place
      where I can so easily make a gift like this to
      send to my father (not to mention the many meals I
      will cook from the foods we bought for this
      month), but this work is beginning to return
      dividends already. I am also happy to report that
      we did not forget the poor this month. Coop
      mnembers provided $391 to buy food from Oklahoma
      farmers for the poor, and additional food was
      donated by producers and customers alike, so about
      10% of our gross was ear-marked for those who are
      in need in the midst of our abundance. Curious
      thing, how this spontaneous order of
      people united for a common cause works out. This
      could catch on.

      The conversation that goes on during these
      delivery days is also interesting. Much of course
      pertains to the job at hand, but these days are
      also gatherings of people from all over the area,
      producers and customers. Today Sean Kay and me
      (of OKC ) and John Herndon (Buffalo Roam Farm,
      Norman) did the set up. Order pickers included
      Leava Major (who is becoming the Official Order
      Pickin' Honcho, no doubt about that), Walter
      Kelley of Norman, Pamela Harmon of Tulsa (whyo
      also brought the Natural Farms order down and
      carried 2 retail orders back up to Tulsa), Kim
      Barker of Waynoka (who brought producer products
      in and took retail orders out), , Mark Parman of
      Redbird Ranch, who also did the Tahlequah route,
      Jerry Logan of Honey Hill Farms. Jonalu Johnstone
      of OKC, our treasurer, was on-site keeping track
      of what was going on, writing checks, collecting
      invoices, and making adjustments. John Herndon
      did the Norman pickups/deliveries. David Inselman
      of Kygar Road Greenhouses brought his stuff in,
      and his tomatoes btw were really beautiful, he and
      some of the others were talking aquaponics for a
      while. We saw Mrs. Steppe (Wichita Buffalo) and
      one of Ron Bechard's boys who brought the Sleeping
      Bear Creek Bottling. Styxx Company showed up and
      I was glad to see the two bottles of Hells Kitchen
      bbq sauce, hehehe. I hope I didn't forget
      anybody, if I think of anyone else I will have
      more to say tomorrow. Many many thanks to all who
      worked so hard to make this December Delivery Day
      such a great success.

      The high holiday season is upon us. On Christmas
      our household will feast on a PDH Farm ham, Worley
      Farms butternut squash pies (I've been saving some
      squash from the November order for Christmas),
      pecan pies made with Whipporwill pecans and Honey
      Hill Farms honey, Christian cheese, home garden
      sweet potatoes, Redbird Ranch deviled eggs, rolls
      made from PDH wheat, dressing made from Horn's
      corn, and of course green bean casserolle. We'll
      use supermarket canned green beans, but we'll make
      our own mushroom gravy uising Lost Creek Mushroom
      Farm's shitaake soup mix and our own homemade
      onion rings. We'll wash it down with a hot wine
      wassail drink I make every Christmas. Mix one
      part red wine (I use a value priced sangria), one
      part apple juice, 1/4th part orange juice, sugar
      to taste. Place in a kettle and put on the stove,
      add cinnamon sticks, whole allspice berries, and
      whole cloves. Simmer over a low fire for about 2
      but don't let it boil. Serve hot. Refrigerate
      leftovers. Regarding amount of spices, if I am
      making a gallon, I will typically add 2 or 3
      cinnamon sticks,
      a dozen whole cloves and 16 whole allspice
      berries. Strain out the spices before serving.
      Drink a toast to absent friends and world peace
      and good food.

      May prayers of peace, joy, abundance, wisdom, and
      serenity for all y'all.

      Season's Eatings,

      Robert Waldrop, Oklahoma Food Cooperative

      Group website:
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/okfoodret/ , which
      is also the location of the archives where
      previous messages can be read.
      Yahoo! Groups Links
      To visit your group on the web, go to:

      permaculture mailing list
    • jamie
      ... From: permaculture-bounces@lists.ibiblio.org [mailto:permaculture-bounces@lists.ibiblio.org]On Behalf Of Robert Waldrop Sent: mercredi 24 décembre 2003
      Message 2 of 3 , Dec 30, 2003
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        -----Original Message-----
        From: permaculture-bounces@...
        [mailto:permaculture-bounces@...]On Behalf Of Robert Waldrop
        Sent: mercredi 24 décembre 2003 16:01
        To: Guy Koehler, Rivendell Ranch; permaculture
        Subject: Re: [permaculture] Re: Alternative Food System Description

        We are presently an Oklahoma not for profit
        corporation, "the Oklahoma Food Cooperative
        Organizing Committee", but early in 2004 we will
        probably incorporate under the state's cooperative
        organization law. Your state certainly has a
        similar statute, but a simple state not for profit
        will work
        to get you going. We are not a 501-c-3 federal
        non profit, however, and don't intend to apply for

        Here is a short summary of how we got this going.

        Almost one year ago to the day, I sent an email
        message to all the oklahoma sustainable living
        listservs I knew about (Ok-sustainability, OK
        green party, New Okie Pioneers, etc). Several
        months previously I had put up a website,
        www.oklahomafood.org and started offering free
        publicity to farmers selling direct to the public.
        I sent press releases to state newspapers, and a
        guy in the state dept of ag talked the Daily
        Oklahoman into doing a large article about my
        idea. Then I scheduled a series of meetings
        statewide, 11 total, publicizing them by sending
        press releases to local media, churches. Most of
        the meetings were at church social halls. Most of
        the meetings were attended by 2 to 5 people,
        except for the first one, in Tahlequah, in
        conjunction with Kathy Carter White who is also
        posting in this thread and the Cherokee Small
        Farms group, and there were 15 people there. Each
        meeting elected a representative
        to be on the organizing committee. I think we
        started having meetings in April, and in the early
        summer we decided to go ahead and incorporate the
        organizing committee. We applied for and received
        a small SARE grant (which we haven't spent much
        of), so we needed some structue.

        Our original idea was to do a store, but the more
        we studied that, the more expensive it got,
        running right on up to $350,000. We looked
        around at our assets and decided that wasn't
        happening soon. Our research suggested that most
        food cooperatives begin as buying
        clubs, and I had already been doing some stuff
        like that, i.e. during wheat harvest, several of
        us bought wheat directly from a farmer, same with
        peanut harvest. So we decided to see what we
        could do with starting a buying club. We charge
        $50 for a membership, this is a one time fee, not
        a annual fee like a Sam's Club membership. At
        every stage we have made things up as we went
        along, and have continually changed and adapted as
        discovered new things we needed to do and
        challenges we needed to surmount.

        We use all volunteer labor, although volunteers
        are eligible for compensation in the form of
        $7/hour credit towards purchases, and borrowed
        space. All of the producers bring their orders to
        Epiphany Church on the morning of Delivery Day,
        and then we set up the customer bags
        and go to work picking orders. The producer
        orders are arranged along the walls, the customer
        bags are on tables in the middle. Each order
        picker takes one order, puts it in a cart (among
        the carts we use are two Wal Mart carts donated to
        the church to receive food donations for the poor,
        which I think is one of the little ironies of our
        operation), and then makes one circuit around the
        room filling the order. Frozen and refrigerated
        stuff goes into ice chest (we borrow some from our
        members, but we have also bought a bunch of super
        insulated ice chests that work very well).
        Drivers take the bags to pickup places,
        or do home deliveries if the customers have paid
        extra for a home delivery.

        Our goal is still eventually to have stores, at
        least I think it is still our goal, but lately I
        have been wondering if in fact we haven't found
        better than stores. As we discovered, operating a
        store takes a HUGE amount of overhead. Labor
        alone, for a seven day a week, 12 hours a day
        store is a big cost, especially since we believe
        in paying just wages. While the store would still
        have volunteers, we don't think it could work
        without paid
        staff on site all of the time.

        Eventually we will get big enough where we will
        have to have our own space. We want to go to a
        weekly order, and at that point, we
        will need our own space we think. But instead of
        renting expensive retail, we will look for cheap
        warehouse space. We will need more orders more
        frequently of course to afford that overhead, but
        that is the direction we are going.

        Such is the story thus far of "The Amazing
        Portable Oklahoma Food Cooperative". I will send
        a post to this list describing our most recent
        delivery day so you get more of a feel for how the
        practical aspects of this work. It was a report I
        sent to the membership.

        Robert Waldrop, OKC

        ----- Original Message -----
        From: "Guy Koehler, Rivendell Ranch"
        To: "Robert Waldrop" <rmwj@...>;
        "permaculture" <permaculture@...>
        Sent: Wednesday, December 24, 2003 7:23 AM
        Subject: Re: [permaculture] Re: Alternative Food
        System Description

        > How did you create the legal, business structure
        of the co-op? So far, what
        > you're doing matches what I want to accomplish
        here, but I have no idea
        > where to start. I'd like to have, as much as
        possible, the business
        > infrastructure questions answered before asking
        my neighbors to join. I
        > suspect they're going to ask the same questions
        I am now.
        > Guy Koehler
        > Rivendell Ranch
        > www.geocities.com/rivendell_ranch

        permaculture mailing list
      • jamie
        ... From: permaculture-bounces@lists.ibiblio.org [mailto:permaculture-bounces@lists.ibiblio.org]On Behalf Of Robert Waldrop Sent: mercredi 24 décembre 2003
        Message 3 of 3 , Dec 30, 2003
        • 0 Attachment
          -----Original Message-----
          From: permaculture-bounces@...
          [mailto:permaculture-bounces@...]On Behalf Of Robert Waldrop
          Sent: mercredi 24 décembre 2003 15:01
          To: permaculture
          Subject: Re: [permaculture] Re: Alternative Food System Description

          Our effort in Oklahoma is still a work in
          progress, but here are some of the characteristics
          of our cooperative:

          1. We have customer and producer members, both
          have equal rights and the use of the terms is
          mostly for our convenience. Customer members can
          sell and producer members can buy.

          2. The co-op stays out of the pricing of the
          products. 100% of the retail price goes to the
          producer. The co-op pays its expenses via
          a small surcharge per order, currently $3.50 in
          the OKC area and $5 elsewhere. After the January
          order, we intend to revisit that charge
          and consider whether it needs to be increased,
          decreased, or changed to a percent. It is my
          opinion that one reason for our early success
          is that the co-op is staying out of the pricing

          3. Producers are not required to meet an organic
          standard., but they are required to fully declare
          their production practices. All of our
          vegetable producers thus far are certified organic
          except for one corn producer. No Confined Animal
          Feeding Operation products can be
          sold through our co-op. We are presently
          developing a set of product classifications to
          use, but that is still a work in progress.

          4. Regarding community, we eat together a lot.
          Every board meeting is a pot luck, and we started
          this with our very first potluck. We have
          an Oklahoma Food Banquet each quarter, table
          fellowship is our primary marketing outreach.

          5. As far as local economic development,
          obviously we are just beginning, but thus far the
          future seems promising. Our first order, in
          November, grossed $3220, with 36 orders. The
          December order grossed $4450, with 41 orders.

          Robert Waldrop
          www.oklahomafood.org see also

          ----- Original Message -----
          From: "Guy Koehler, Rivendell Ranch"
          > I am hoping that you may have already solved a
          lot of the problems I am
          > trying to address:
          > - sustainability
          > - organic grass fed
          > - fair profit to farmers
          > - fair prices to consumers
          > - development of local economy
          > - community
          > Thank you for your time,
          > Guy Koehler
          > Rivendell Ranch
          > Hoquiam, WA 98550
          > www.geocities.com/rivendell_ranch

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