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A Story of Heartache and Headaches That Led to Organic Produce Club

After this post comparing an organic produce buying club to Whole Foods, I got an email from the club's owner explaining how the whole thing came together.

Annie Malka, owner of Annie's Organic Buying Club, has a heart-wrenching story about how she came to distribute produce from the Keys to Tallahassee. She explains it in a question-and-answer via email:

How'd you get started in all of this?

My husband, Jack, and I ran Delicious Organics, a full-service organic grocery delivery service.  We came out to the Keys from Miami to potentially open a brick-and-mortar store. Around this same time, the economy started to go bad. We thought it was just the time of year, so we put more money into the biz. We had moved into a bigger warehouse, so timing was just awful. We emptied out savings, our home equity, everything we had, and then came to the realization in November that it wasn't a phase. This was it. Tears. So many after five years. We were crushed, on so many levels,

because we had tapped out all our savings and lost our home, everything

we had worked for and saved over our working careers.

We simply

could not find fresh organics in the Keys -- and certainly not

reasonably priced. I would stand in front of my open refrigerator and

cry. Really. I didn't know what to feed my kids anymore.

Real

food is a passion for me, so the thought of getting cheap, nonfood to

fill my kids' tummies, well that just sent me over. I realized I had to

do something. I had the connections with farms, I knew about what to do,

I knew seasons and which farms to trust, I didn't have any money, but

certainly we could do a buying club where we all pitch in and pool our

buying power to get things direct.

What did the growers and

distributors think?

At first, gosh, we didn't command any

respect from the growers. We have members who have been with us for a

year now, and they can attest to our growing buying power and greater

value and varied shares of fresh organics. And the thought of buying

food for other people -- to choose what others would have on their dinner

table -- I literally broke out in hives from the stress of it all. Food

is serious to me. It's been quite a year, and I have learned so much.

What

sets you apart from other organic produce buying clubs?

We

offer variety, quality, value. I think what sets us apart too is that we

have different kinds of shares (full, veggie, half, fruity and add-ons

for more veg or fruit), and those speak to each of us so that we can

find a good fit. That way, there is something for almost everyone to

enable us to each eat well instead of a one size fits all, because we

all have different lifestyles, food sensitivities, and eating patterns

and we can each find the right fit with the right box. Some of

this is very new for people, eating fresh produce, so I always look for great simple recipes that are yummy to help use everything in the box. We include over 20 pages of easy-to-use recipes with each share with everything from soups, appetizers, raw and cooked foods, meals, and even desserts.

Do

you make money from this?

One day I hope to take a salary

from this. I work crazy hours like you would not believe, but for now, I

get my food and am very happy to be able to feed my family real food

even after our serious financial loss; I know there are many others who

know that pain all too well too. I am so grateful that despite what we

have gone through, we have food, our health, one another. And I'm

grateful to be able to use my passion and what I know to offer fresher

organics and more affordability. I am especially thankful that so many

enjoy it and are eating well. Our members make our club. I get emails

all the time from people losing weight, stories about kids trying a

veggie for the first time and asking for more, inspiring calls of people

that have made an entire change in how they eat and think about food

and life, emails about new friends they've made through the groups and

how they are now supported in eating better, recipes that members love. All the time, I get emails saying things like "I never knew I liked

beets" or "I have to tell you the celery was delicious." I mean, how

wonderful that people take the time to share that with me! And we are

all trying things we would not have otherwise bought at the stores, so we

have a more varied diet. We are lessening our carbon footprint and

promoting quality of life. This is much more than just an organic buying

club.

Where do you see this in, say, five or ten years?

My

husband asks me all the time, and I am not sure. I just go with it each

day. I can say that getting fresh produce directly into homes is

amazing. I find grocery stores are very strange places. There is hardly

any food there, and so much waste between the packaging and electricity.

I always feel like an alien whenever I set foot in there, so we try not

to frequent them too much, getting what we need from the club. I'd love

to see that expand so that me and others can get everything we need

directly, fresher, and at a better price with less packaging and waste.


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