April 26, 2010

Computers aid comeback of co-ops

Facebook and Google Groups help Mainers seeking healthy, local food meet and work together.

By VALERIE TUCKER Morning Sentinel

FARMINGTON - Food co-ops never died. They just simmered on the back burner, waiting for a revival of the 1960s' and 1970s' enthusiasm for whole foods and healthy eating.

Renewed awareness of the importance of safe, local food sources brought the movement out of quasi-retirement, but today's food co-op members have something their parents didn't: computers.

They can do business through Facebook and Google Groups, skipping paperwork and dozens of phone calls to schedule deliveries and pickups.

The food suppliers, unlike their predecessors, can share news quickly and easily.

Martha Putnam, manager of Farm Fresh Connection, a Freeport wholesale food distribution site, sends cheerful e-mail bulletins to her retail and food co-op customers statewide.

"Spring parsnips are wonderful and available. We have a freshly packed inventory of potatoes from Patten. Spuds are sized from baby D and C. Carrots are no longer available. Another room of apples has been unlocked, and varieties include: Granny, Mutsu, Empire and Jonagold," she wrote recently.

Putnam delivers to food co-ops and retailers, with customers including Colby College in Waterville and the seasonal Green Spot Market in Oakland.

Crown O'Maine, a Vassalboro-based distributor, has a similar audience for organic produce and products in and out of state.

Manager Marada Cook said her drivers make deliveries and pickups from Boston to Aroostook County.

"We deliver baked goods and mixes, dairy and cheese, eggs, grains, honey, soaps and vegetarian items," Cook said.

One of her customers is the Farmington Food Co-op.

A founding member, Joanna Wilbur, sends her members' Excel spreadsheet order every other week to Cook and Putnam through Google Groups.

After drivers deliver orders to the West Farmington Grange, Farmington Food Co-op members arrive to weigh, measure and bag their orders.

Member Edie Davis checks the master list to make sure everyone receives the correct share. Orders have to be paid in full, so prompt member payments are a critical component.

Members should be computer savvy, "or have a friend who is," said Davis.

Most importantly, they agreed, everyone must have a flexible mindset and show respect for each other.

 

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