About 5 years ago, as we were heading into a more natural, organic lifestyle, I was looking for a less expensive way to feed my family on healthy, chemical-free and non-GMO foods. A friend introduced me to a co-op known as Azure Standard. Based in Oregon, it was a little, family-run company that had started out serving its local folks. Due to the need for similiar wholesome foods in other regions, they gradually began expanding. By the time I was introduced, they were trucking food to “drop points” in other states like California, Utah, and Nevada. The drop was only once a month, so I had to plan ahead when placing my orders. They also contracted with other food suppliers. I was able to purchase all the same foods I could find at Whole Foods for a fraction of the cost in most cases. In addition, I was able to get whole grains and raw ingredients for cooking with, both of which were rather difficult to come by otherwise. I spent a couple years as a member, and then we moved to Colorado.
I was quite dismayed to find that Azure was still too small to deliver this far east. I was forced to go back to Whole Foods to buy my supplies–an expensive endeavor, to say the least! I made a few calls, and eventually located a drop point a bit over an hour away. The big problem was that the drop had crazy hours. Some months I would be on the road or waiting at a truck stop (the drop location) at midnight, while other months, it might be 7 in the morning–meaning I had to load kiddos in pajamas and leave around 5:30 to get through the rush hour traffic on the drive. One night, around 11 p.m., a trucker at the truck stop saw us gathering around the back of our semi unloading our food, and he was convinced it was a drug deal going on. The next thing we knew, we were surrounded by police, and we weren’t allowed to leave until our boxes were checked out and we explained ourselves to their satisfaction. It was a hassle, no doubt. I made other calls to find out how to bring a drop closer to me. They essentially put me on a “host list” and told me I had to drum up enough demand. I began talking it up to my friends, offering to pick their orders up for them if they would place one. The reasoning was that the more folks I could get to order from our area, the more Azure would see our demand for their supplies. It worked. Not long after, I received a call that a new contract with a new trucking company was in the works, and they needed a host in our region. I jumped at the chance, and within a short time, began hosting my own drop for Azure Standard.
As the next 2 years went by, we got bigger each month, as new customers joined. Eventually, I was a little overwhelmed with my customer base. A friend offered to split and take the members from up north, and started her own drop. Still, though, the demand was so intense that we had folks driving over 7 hours round-trip from New Mexico, to pick up food. The trucking company expanded, and I helped the NM folks get set up with their own drop. Still, I had members joining as fast as I could get rid of them. I soon found myself with a handful of difficult members that were making the drop miserable for everyone. This handful didn’t understand that my position as host was strictly voluntary, and I received NOTHING from Azure for my time–not even a discounted price. Change was needed. I worked at length with Azure, and we came up with a new system for my drop. It worked. Because my drop had expanded to over 70 members, with around 20-25 ordering each month, my order totals were high enough that Azure offered to set me up with a wholesale account. This meant that I received all my personal items for a wholesale price, and I received the difference between the wholesale and retail price for all member orders. It wasn’t much–maybe a couple hundred dollars a month, but it helped pay for the costs involved in the way we ran our drop–paper and ink for invoices, gas for our vehicles that picked up the supplies for everyone, electricity to power our fridge/freezer that stored member items until pick-up, plus a little left over for our time. Everyone was happier, and for those who did like to gripe, I politely offered that they go start their own drop (generally, though, as soon as they learned what was involved, they remained in my drop and quit complaining so much!)
For the last few months, I have been training a new host to take over my drop. Although anyone can potentially start a drop, mine was run very differently since it was a wholesale account, and I had one of Azure’s largest drops. I didn’t want to just hand over that type of responsibility to just anyone. We were blessed with a wonderful family though, who weren’t even familiar with Azure originally, but who jumped in with both feet, showed up at every drop to help me enter orders, set up invoices, go with S to pick up the items (often around 3,000-4,000 lbs worth!), and finally sort all the items into individual member stacks, ready for pickup. After a few months of helping, they feel ready to take over. Good thing, because February was intended to be my last drop as host.
So, that’s it. Now that this drop is over, I am handing it all over to the new host this week, so they can prepare for the March drop. It is a huge responsibility off my shoulders as we move into “moving season,” but at the same time, it is fun to look back and feel like maybe, just maybe, I helped bring better food to this area–to the now 5 drops that have seemingly resulted from splits linking back to my original one. I will miss the fellowship I always enjoyed during member pick-ups, as we chatted about new things we’d learned, what was happening in our lives, etc. I watched women go through pregnancies and have healthy babies while eating this food. I observed members who originally found us because of some severe food allergy in their family or some special dietary need their family had. Either way, some of these members were at their wits’ end trying to figure out how to afford to feed their family in the way they needed to, and finding our drop seemed like a breath of fresh air for them. As if that all wasn’t enough, some of these families would come out to our farm and catch the vision of decreasing their dependence on our unstable economy. Several began purchasing their eggs, milk, chicken, and rabbit from us, while a couple went so far as to buy live animals and start their own little farms. It truly was a wonderful experience getting to know these people and their situations.
Where do I go from here? I have no idea, actually. It happens that Azure now delivers throughout the Midwest, and is rapidly moving further east and south. Unfortunately, what comes along with that is the decreased quality of long-distance hauling, the lack of “supporting local,” and the “bigger business” profit-driven practices that aren’t always desirable. Don’t get me wrong, as I still highly recommend them. They are a wonderful way to acquire healthy, pure foods, especially if you are just getting started in this type of organic lifestyle. In fact, they are the only company of their type that exists. While there are other companies that have whole foods, they are much smaller, and generally more focused, such as only selling grains. They also tend to be much more expensive. Azure is great for having access to an incredible selection of affordable foods. We, however, desire to find more local. So far, I have had no luck finding anything more than a few stores that offer organic, processed, packaged foods for a hefty price in our new area. Even the nearest Whole Foods store is a good 2 hours away. As a result, I may continue to order my necessities through them, as we increase the foods we are able to grow for ourselves. S is also suggesting I form a local co-op, by bringing supply and demand together in our new area. I have no idea if it will work, but I admit, the idea tempts me. It would be a great way to support our local farmers, and spread the vision of sustainable, land-healing, God-honoring, farming methods. I suppose only time will tell what comes of all this.