Green way: Rising number of local co-ops offer organics at a better price

An assortment of organic groceries waits for pickup at the home of Katie Moore who started the Neighborhood Organics food co-op after returning from a trip to Thailand that Moore describes as having a wealth of sustainably grown and reasonably priced produce. Erik Kellar/Staff

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An assortment of organic groceries waits for pickup at the home of Katie Moore who started the Neighborhood Organics food co-op after returning from a trip to Thailand that Moore describes as having a wealth of sustainably grown and reasonably priced produce. Erik Kellar/Staff

For $15, you can enjoy a gourmet salad at one of Naples’ more trendy eateries.

Or for the same amount of money, you can visit a Collier County co-op and fill a shopping bag full of organic fruits and vegetables.

To Leslie Bartos, it’s a no-brainer.

“It’s just enough veggies and fruits that I only have a few left over,” says the Naples resident. “I use it all.”

Bartos patronizes Naples’ newest co-op, Neighborhood Organics, located at the Lake Park home of Katie Moore. But there are four other Collier County co-ops she could also visit, including two in North Naples and one off Pine Ridge Road. The fifth co-op, Green Village Organics, is located in Golden Gate.

Since founding the Golden Gate co-op almost four years ago, Beth Housewert has helped the other area co-ops start up and succeed.

“After we had ours going for a couple of years, other people started to show interest in opening their own,” Housewert recalls.

“I’m really proud of all the community work that’s been done in the co-opping effort,” she says. “To me it’s really amazing to see that my co-op was successful, and on top of that, every other co-op in town has continued to grow.”

Information and locations for all the community co-ops is listed on Housewert’s website, www.greenvillageorganics.com.

To become a member of a community co-op, potential participants visit the website to find a co-op near to them and decide how many bags of organic fruits and veggies are needed. One bag is $15 and two bags are $25, although the Veteran’s Memorial Elementary school location only offers two bags for $20.

Larger bags contain a wider variety of foods, usually as many as five kinds of fruits and five sorts of veggies. The smaller bag generally includes three or four types of fruit and four veggies. The veggie selection always includes one salad green and one cooking green.

Typically, the veggie selection will also offer an organic green that’s not easily found at major supermarkets, such as sprouts, beets or leeks. That’s part of the advantage of shopping at a co-op, Housewert explains.

“We can get things through the co-op organically that you won’t see on the shelf, because they’re not big sellers,” she says.

The foods are purchased from Albert’s Organics, an organic foods distributor, and from local farms when possible, including Naples’ own Inyoni Organics and Fort Myers’ Down to Earth.

To begin, participants pay for two weeks of co-op food, and also pay a one-time fee of $5 for the purchase of a reusable bag or bin that will hold their food on co-op day. Housewert’s website also charges a one-time fee of $10 that supports the maintenance of the site, where participants can use PayPal to register. A personal check is also acceptable.

Then, on co-op day, participants stop by the co-op of their choice between 3 to 7 p.m. and collect that week’s food.

Moore’s Lake Park co-op is on Thursdays, although other co-ops are open on Tuesday. Early in the week, Moore sits down at her computer and reviews how many people have registered for the coming co-op. Then, she orders accordingly.

For example, on a recent co-op ordering day, Moore counted 33 participants for the coming week. She ordered 50 pounds of tomatoes — four tomatoes to a pound — to be divided evenly among the participants.

When Moore has a few spare fruits and veggies, she makes them available for co-op shoppers to enjoy at no additional charge.

“I take all the money I have and I spend it all,” Moore explains. “So whatever’s left, everyone can take an extra.”

For Moore, starting the co-op was a way to get to know her community and to be able to purchase organic foods affordably. She and her husband, Manlio Corradi, recently returned from living in northern Thailand and opened their own company, Filosophy, which features Thai and Nepalese jewelry and accessories.

Moore describes Thailand as having a wealth of sustainably grown and reasonably priced produce. By contrast, the price for organic produce in Naples proved to be an eye-opener. Moore shopped at a local market shortly after coming back to Naples, and says two bags of organic groceries cost her $60.

“We were just shocked at how expensive it is,” Moore says.

The co-op also grants her a chance to get connect with her neighbors and reconnect with old friends.

“These are like-minded, health-oriented people,” she says.

And if a co-op shopper isn’t always perfectly health-minded, the co-op can give them a little helpful push, Leslie Bartos explains.

“It forces me to eat healthier because I think, oh, I have all these fruits and veggies,” she says.

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