Buying local, organic food is an ideal for many, but it's not always practical. Higher quality foods often mean higher prices, and a single specialty market might not offer as wide of a selection as a major supermarket.
Wholeshare, a new online group-purchasing platform, operates on the idea that all people should have access to local, organic products without hassle or extra cost. The system is pretty straightforward. You create an account with a local group by submitting a name, e-mail address, and zip code, and then you have access to a directory of organic food products—most of which are supplied by local vendors. You can then browse and shop for the products online by adding them to your cart, much as you would with any other online shopping interface. Once a group has reached the order minimum, the products are delivered at a specified time and location and distributed to the members.
What's important to note about the order minimum—or a dollar amount that some sellers require your group to meet before you can place an order—is that if your group does not meet the minimum by the order deadline, the order will not be placed. The coordinator would then establish a new deadline for the group to try to meet. So, though there is an element of uncertainty in the process, the concept is based in a spirit of collaboration. In fact, a popular means of reaching order minimums is by joining splits, which allow group members to buy bulk-sized items or cases together, and then split the order on delivery day.
Noel Thompson started the NewburghFoodCo in March 2013, and it currently has over 180 members. "I saw a lack of food sources in the city of Newburgh for fresh, natural, and organic food," says Thompson. "We use Wholeshare software that enables our members to order from over 3,500 items that include 33 local area farms." The products, which range from fresh produce and meats to nuts, grains, and pantry items, are ordered by the case to get wholesale pricing. For the Newburgh group, Thompson explains, Wholeshare aggregates individual orders in one pound increments until the entire group has ordered 40 pounds of a given product. When the order arrives, it is divided and distributed to the buyers. Buying in bulk directly from the source eliminates the retail markup, which reduces costs by about 20 percent than the supermarket.
Currently, NewburghFoodCo uses a space at the Calvary Presbyterian Church on Grand Street. "It is possible that the group will evolve into a physical site which could include a casual cafe and grocery store," says Thompson. "There is interest in the idea, and we have a core group of potential customers." Wholeshare is currently working with almost 100 groups around New York State, around 20 of which are in the Hudson Valley. In addition to Newburgh, regional Wholeshare groups include New Paltz, Beacon, Montgomery, Cornwall, Clinton Corners, and Copake. Visit Wholeshare's website for more information, and to search for a group in your area.