One common reason you might shy away from purchasing only organically grown food is the relatively higher price when compared to conventionally grown and sourced foods.

If your budget doesn't seem to cover it, then even if you know the importance of eating organic foods for your own health (and the health of the soil and water), you'll choose the foods you feel like you can afford.

Luckily for us, the tradition of natural food cooperatives still survives. Many food cooperatives (co-ops) were formed out of necessity - natural foods and health food items were not readily available at the corner grocery store - but have survived because of the community-powered principles behind them.

The definition of a co-op, from the International Cooperative Alliance:

"A cooperative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise. Co-operatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others."

Co-ops are guided by the cooperative principles:

  1. Voluntary and Open Membership
  2. Democratic Member Control
  3. Member Economic Participation
  4. Autonomy and Independence
  5. Education, Training and Information
  6. Cooperation among Cooperatives
  7. Concern for Community

In essence, co-ops serve their member's needs. They aren't out to make huge profits for absentee stockholders, they're out to provide maximum value for their shareholders (the members). And one of the things they can do is save you money on food - sometimes on regular prices, but most often in the form of bulk purchasing.

Many co-ops have discounted pricing for bulk orders, for example, on bags of grains, beans, oats, even produce, personal care, and prepared foods. This means that by purchasing the foods you eat regularly in large quantities, you'll not only be assured of having your staples on hand, you'll also pay less per serving. You do have to come up with the cash up front, plus a place to store the food, but it's definitely worth it.

Other advantages of buying in bulk:

  • You may have access to other food choices that aren't carried on the shelf at the store.
  • It uses much less packaging than buying packaged goods.
  • The foods you usually eat will be on hand, making it less likely to eat junk food or go out to eat.
  • The less times you have to enter the grocery store, the better, as you're likely to purchase extras each time you go.
  • Whole natural foods purchased in bulk generally means fresher food.
  • By ordering ahead and keeping staples on hand, you will be better able to plan your food budget and stick with it.

To find a co-op near you, search the Food Co-operative Directory. (U.S. only)