What is a food club? Is it like a CSA? Are food clubs trending? And, if so, why?
Will food clubs help us avoid the predicted food shortages? John Moody, a well-known food grower, researcher and author, explains just what they are and how they benefit both farmers and consumers.
He describes how they are simply a concerted effort by a group of folks to obtain real food. He goes into why he started one many years ago and why you might want to start one, too. He shares the pros and cons of the clubs and how they help us avoid the fragile, single-point of failure that characterizes the industrialized food complex.
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There’s talk of food shortages. What can we do about it? How can we find local nourishing food? This is episode 375. Our guest is John Moody. He is a well-known food grower, researcher and author appearing at conferences around the country and helping people improve their lives, land and health. John explains what a food club is, why he started years ago and what a great resource it is for many people that are simply unaware of it.
He explains what characterizes them and the pros and cons of the club. He lets us know how to get one started and what the drawbacks might be. This is the first in our local food track. We were going to do a series on this show to offer a variety of ideas on how to source the best food possible in your area.
Before we dive into the conversation, I want to invite you to the Lunch Leader Training Academy run by my good friend, Hilary Boynton. She is the woman behind the School of Lunch Training Academy and the School of Lunch Podcast. She is amazing, a whirlwind of energy and know-how. From July 31st to August 5th of 2022 in the beautiful mountains of Topanga, California, she’s offering this training time for moms, dads, chefs and everyday folks who want to learn how to serve up ancestral-based meals to children at home or school. It’s a one-week intensive that teaches the ins and outs of how to go about doing this. Hilary and her team teach both the why and the how.
In 2022’s experience includes a private tour of Apricots Lane Farms and a day in their beautiful new test kitchen. This is the farm that was featured in the movie, The Biggest Little Farm. Sign up at SchoolOfLunch.com. You’ll learn about ancestral wisdom, connecting to nature and Wise Traditions-style cooking at the School of Lunch Training Academy. Hilary is a mother of five whose life was changed by the Weston A. Price Foundation.
She has been serving real food and lots of love for several years at her kid’s school in Topanga, California. The School of Lunch is expanding and launching a second school lunch program in West of Austin, Texas. Go to SchoolOfLunch.com for more information and sign up for the training academy. You will connect with the beautiful School of Lunch Community and be empowered and inspired to nourish your family and your community in brand new ways.
A lot has changed. Walking around the grocery store, there are more empty shelves. The food shortage is described as a slow-moving disaster. That is a pretty grim outlook. However, that does not have to be your story. Take control of your situation. You have the ability to move from shortage to abundance. At Abundance Plus, you can homestead and they are here to help. The team offers the inspiration to get you growing and the know-how to get you there and the community to keep you there.
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Welcome to the show, John.
Thank you so much for having me.
I’m excited about this topic. I understand food clubs aren’t just about the food. Talk to us about what your customers say about the benefits of being a part of a community that’s like-minded?
When we started the buying club, a lot of it was out of a desire to have access to good quality farmers but very quickly it became more than that for a lot of our members. Our members have always appreciated, having people like them to help them learn skills, to encourage them in doing things, especially when we started a decade ago, we are not standard because Jessica and I did a home birth with our first child. When we did a home birth back in 2006, it was rare.
All kinds of people in the buying club do home births because there’s a resource pool of people who did it. If you’re trying to learn to do sourdough, you need kefir grains or you’re a new-time mom and your daughter has an ear infection and the doctor’s pushing antibiotics but you’d like to know if you have other options, the club becomes a place for people to be able to reach out to other people in a safe and relatively private manner to get help and input that might get them banned on social media.
We’re not afraid of that because we’re going to keep putting stuff out. What’s fun is podcasts are a little bit like the Wild Wild West. There is no censorship and people say what they want to say. It’s old-fashioned like it’s 2018 or something. I want to back up and ask you about food clubs period because when I first heard about food buying clubs, I was like, “Is that like a CSA?” Give us the definition. Help us understand what it is exactly.
There are different versions of buying clubs all over the country but at their core, it’s a group of people who are working together to secure food. Some people do this. They band together to be able to order from distributors like Frontier, Azure or other such things. Some people do it to support local farms. There are all kinds of different versions, iterations and orientations of that but it’s an alternative way of supporting businesses, farms or artisans that you and some other people want to.
Like Joel Salatin always says, “You’re voting with your dollars.” You’re saying, “This is what I like and what I want.” You’re getting together with other folks who feel similarly. Talk to us about how your particular food buying clubs started.
It started with my particular health challenges. Most people in WAPF probably know when I was in seminary that I developed severe digestive health issues. I got down below 120 pounds. I turned sideways. I’d disappear. I should have gone into bank robbery because I’m 6’2 and 120 pounds. I had severe duodenal ulcers and other digestive issues. I went to a doctor and all the doctor could offer me were pills and procedures. I’ve had a professor at my school who had mentioned how they had made some significant dietary changes in their family. It had solved a lot of problems they were having across different members of the family.
I reached out to this professor. He put my then fiance, now my wife, Jessica and me on the phone with his wife. We had about a one-hour-long conversation with her. She told us about the work of Sue Gregg. Sue Gregg had an update. She said, “I’m not going to rewrite all my books but you should read all of my books through the lens of the work of the Weston A. Price Foundation and Sally Fallon. We bought Sally Fallon’s book. We read Nourishing Traditions cover to cover and then I bought Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. We went down the rabbit hole of traditional foods and all of that. In the midst of this, shopping at Sam’s Club, Walmart, Kroger and Wild Oats when it existed and the whole paycheck.
I’m going into these stores and two things stood out to me, especially, in Whole Foods but also Wild Oats. One is how expensive a lot of the true farm items were but also knowing how little of that money the farmers were getting. A lot of Americans don’t realize that the USDA has something called the farm dollar, where they break down how much of the money you spend makes it to farmers. For decades, when you spend $1 at Whole Foods or a restaurant, farmers generally get $0.20 or less on the dollar. It is decades since this has been going on. It is how much the farmers are getting.
On the one hand, the prices are very high but not because the money is going to the farmers. A lot of this is organic or all-natural junk food organic Cheerios. It’s still not food. Through a series of many events, when my daughter, Abby, was only a couple of months old, we started the buying club. We were going to a farmer’s market doing a CSA and now getting raw milk. On Tuesday, we have to meet the raw milk driver. On Thursday is our CSA pickup and on Saturday is the farmer’s market with the pastured pork provider. This is expensive but it’s also not tenable to have to spend half of your week getting food for your family.
You are describing the lives of a lot of my friends. I feel like, “I’ve got to go run and go pick up the raw milk over here where I piecemeal putting together our food sources.” You decided to start the food buying club. How did you do it? Did you go to some of these farmers and say, “Let’s put something together?” Tell us the specifics because folks are going to want to do this themselves.
I talked with a few of our farmers and said, “Instead of delivering piecemeal to a bunch of us, would you rather deliver to one of us who then takes care of getting it to everybody else?” We had two informal informational meetings that we announced through a couple of the different communities we were involved. We are saying, “We want to start a local food buying club. If any families are interested, here is the time, date and place for these meetings where we’re going to talk about what’s our vision, our goals and how it’s going to work.”
We started with four farmers. We had a farmer for raw milk, beef and chickens. We started off working with a couple of companies like Frontier Natural Foods Co-op. We started with about a dozen members and that was all. Our raw milk farmer would deliver every other week because we’re small. It’s just a dozen families. We’re getting 20 to 25 gallons of milk. Every other week, he’d deliver milk. 2 or 3 times a year, we would go pick up 2 or 3 whole heads of beef that had been butchered and divided up among everybody. Once a month, we’d order from Frontier and it grew from there.
You’ve made a good case for it. I can see where this is a win over the piecemeal situation we were describing. I can see that for both the consumer and the farmer too because everything’s more centralized. He or she is like, “I’m doing this one delivery and that’s it for the week.”
Buying clubs vary. There are different versions of them all over the country, but at their core, it’s basically a group of people who are working together to secure food.
It depends on the farmer, their location or who their ideal customer is. It’s very hard on farmers to both have to farm, which is more than a full-time job and then have to sell what they farm. This is one reason why, especially in the regenerative small farm space, that burnout is such a huge problem. How many farmers that you were working with decades ago are still farming? If you begin to think about this, a lot of people realize, “There’s a lot of turnover and failure.” Part of that is because it’s not just enough to raise good quality food. You have to get it to people.
I know farmers in the Louisville area where there are two great farmer’s markets. These people farm 6 days a week, 10 hours a day. They are 60 hours. On Saturday, they have to wake up at 2:00 in the morning to drive 3 hours up to Louisville for a 6-hour market to drive 3 hours home with no idea how much they’re going to sell. Depending on the farmer and a bunch of other factors, it’s not a great solution for them. It makes it hard on their families.
I get the picture of how this can be a win for both consumers and farmers. Let me ask you, do you think this way of obtaining food and providing food will help us avoid the predicted food shortages that we’ve heard so much about?
It’s one way that we help try and soften a possible catastrophe because, for our buying club, we have about two dozen local farms across Kentucky we work with. We have more farms we work with across the Greater Region. We’re helping them to scale up. As we get more members, people who are looking at things and going, “Eggs have gone up in the store price-wise 187% in the past months and chickens gone up this much.”
“There are constant empty shelves and holes at the stores I used to go to that were overflowing. They’re taking out shelving and replacing it with fake signs or things that look like food because there’s no longer anything for them to put there.” As people move over to supporting a sustainable alternative economy, it gives us time to prepare better and soften possible problems down the road.
We say here a lot about the importance of knowing your farmer and connecting with them. That is a more direct line in avoiding the middleman so that you can soften, if not, come up with some plan to continue to get what your family needs and help the farmer out economically. I want to ask you straight up because you were implying earlier that depending on the farmer and the different factors, these food clubs might not fly. Tell me a true story of a farmer who is like, “This isn’t for me.” Why they might’ve said that when you were broaching the subject with them about a food club?
Some farmers already have a great direct-to-consumer market. We have a few farmers who still wholesale some items to the buying club as they have them available. These are people who lived in Louisville or otherwise had deep connections to people who would buy food from them. When they started their farm, it wasn’t hard for them to find customers, whereas our main dairy supplier was the most wonderful Amish family I’ve ever met. The wife is, if I can use this word to describe an Amish person, bubbly and gregarious. She’s the sweetest Amish lady we’ve ever met and so extroverted, which is not common.
They live out in the middle of nowhere and follow regenerative grazing practices. They’re an old Dutch Mennonite-type line of Amish. For them, they need something like the buying club because it’s hard for people to go get food from them where they are. It’s not like it’s convenient. Congressman Thomas Massie gets his raw milk from this farm, for those who want to know how cool Massie is. Some farmers benefit from somebody who can come and say to them, “I want to get 50 or 100 gallons of milk a week from you.” That makes their day. It lets them focus on farming because that’s what they want to do. We’re always looking for people who want to focus on farming and let somebody else do all of the heavy lifting of distribution.
I was wondering what farmers said no because I’m concerned about how hard it might be to get one of these food-buying clubs rolling.
It depends on if you have farmers in your area who have more supply than they have demand or if they’re frazzled from trying to meet demand and they’d like to hand over some of that heavy lifting of distribution.
I hadn’t thought of this before but I’m a part of a food buying club because there is an Amish farm in Pennsylvania that delivers its several points in the DC area and there is a group of us who can avail ourselves of the products but you have to join this group. I don’t think they would like the publicity necessarily. The cool thing is that I go to this home every Tuesday and pick up my milk, eggs and meat. It’s quite diverse. The farm itself gets products from other Amish farms. They’ve become a warehouse, for lack of a more farm-friendly term, for sourdough bread, sauerkraut, different ferments and stuff. They don’t have to make it all themselves either but it benefits all the farms in their area as well.
It’s such a beautiful model because with soaring gas prices and so much else, there’s a lot wrong with the industrial food system. One thing people tend to ignore is some of the few things they get right. Efficiency in handling distribution that’s driven by a certain amount of volume is one of the things they get right. It’s like a vehicle and a driver costs the same to drive and run if it’s half-full or if it’s loaded down to the guilt. The industrial food system is one area that local food people need to learn from, you need to achieve certain economies of scale to make farms profitable but keep food affordable.
That’s one reason people appreciate grocery stores. I can swing by anytime the convenience and efficiency. They’ll have stuff in stock and it’ll probably be on sale. With a food club and other situations, it’s different. I’m investing in my health and my family’s health when I pay more. It’s also going more directly to the farmer but that’s not an easy flip for some people.
It was a transition for us. We have some members of our buying club. They probably get 70% to 80% of their food from the buying club. We have some members who get 30% of their food from the buying club but every dollar that gets moved over is $1 which is changing the food system and the ecosystem that we operate in. We’re always trying to do better on our end to make it more viable, capture more of our member’s food spending and help our local farmers.
Are you a producer or the liaison in your case?
We were living in Louisville when we started the club. All I did was all of the logistics and distribution. One of the challenges when we started our food club is when I first started looking for farmers. I’d go to the farmer’s market and talk to farmers. I’d be like, “Are these apples sprayed with anything?” The farmer would either lie to me. I knew other farmers at the markets so I would go ask farmers and then I’d go ask a farmer I trusted if the other farmer was telling the truth or lying. If the farmer didn’t lie to me, they would laugh at me and say, “You can’t raise X, Y or Z that way. You can’t raise cattle on grass. They have to be fed corn.”
Farmers have it very hard to both have to farm, which more than a full-time job and then have to sell what they farm.
You can’t have apples without pesticides. It doesn’t work that way.
After being told this for three straight years, “You can’t raise pastured chickens that aren’t fed 1/2 pound of GMO feed,” I was like, “I’m going to buy a farm and see what I can and can’t do. We’ll compare notes.” It’s amazing. In certain parts of the farming community, the reticence is to consider that they’ve been misled about what’s necessary and what’s possible.
We moved out here in 2011 and mainly raised stuff for our large family because we have a family of eight people. I have 1 teenage boy who eats the same as 4 additional family members. I’m no slacker when it comes to calorie consumption. He eats a lot, to begin with, but we raise a fair amount of some items that go to the buying club.
Coming up, John explains how bad his nutrition was growing up and how it even led to his hospitalization in middle school. He also describes the one downside of buying clubs compared to your local grocery store.
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Did you ever think that would happen?
No. Everybody thinks I was abducted by aliens because growing up I had four food groups. I eat Cheerios or other sugary breakfast cereal that I would pour extra white sugar on. I ate Chips Ahoy! cookies by the entire sleeve. My childhood diet would make the standard American diet look like something to envy. It was beyond horrible. People who knew me from years ago think, “Aliens are the only explanation.”
I want to know the other two things. You had Cheerios and Chips Ahoy!, finished the other two food groups.
It was all junk food. I was willing to eat chips and Girl Scout cookies, the thin mints. In my childhood diet, I was so unhealthy. I believe it was in seventh grade I ended up hospitalized with anemia. That’s how bad my diet was.
Things have certainly turned around. We’ve talked about all the amazing benefits of nutrient-dense food. You’ve implied that and these buying clubs but I want to ask you because I like to bring out the skeptic in me. What are the disadvantages? There certainly must be disadvantages to these buying clubs.
People move over to supporting a sustainable alternative economy. It definitely gives us time to prepare better and soften possible problems down the road.
It’s not as convenient. The hardest thing to get people to opt out of the industrial food system is America’s greatest addiction is to comfort inconvenience. Francis Schaeffer, who’s an author I like talked about this back in the 1970s. Somebody asked me, “What is the great problem with Westerners, especially American Westerners?” “They are addicted to comfort and pleasure. They view it as freedom but it’s a type of enslavement. They’re in slaved to ease.” In Louisville, there are twenty Kroger’s. Every single one is open 24 hours a day. If I want an avocado at 11:15 on Thursday night, there’s a 93% chance I can go get an avocado no matter how historically ridiculous that is.
The biggest drawback is our buying club. When we were small, we had one day a week of pickup. That’s what made sense schedule-wise to set aside. Now that we’re larger, we have 3 pickup windows but still only tally 12 hours. That’s 1/14th of the number of hours in a week, whereas Kroger covers 100% of the hours in a week. Some people have to drive to our buying club. They’re 30 or 40 minutes away. There’s a Kroger or a Walmart probably no more than seven minutes from every single member’s house.
The people who understand the importance of real nutrient-dense food are willing to go the extra mile and take the extra time. You and I know it, also from your history with raw milk that people will even go to another state to get her raw milk sometimes. I’m blown away by that dedication. I know that even though this is a drawback, those who know how life and health-saving this is will go to that trouble.
The big thing we’ve worked on is knowing that this is a challenge, what can we do to mitigate it? If you’re starting a buying club, for instance, where you locate the club is often an overlooked issue because there are going to be better places to have a club in your area and worst places in terms of access, the type of people who’d want to be part a club and having to fight traffic. Some of that stuff are considerations you need to wave through if you want to do a food buying club.
To clarify for the reader, the drop-off points are particular homes that have freezers, refrigerators and a garage that they’re willing to leave open. It’s not that we’ve got a third-party location from which we pick up our things. That’s important to know. You might need a willing homeowner who has the storage space to hold onto things until people pick them up.
The only challenge with doing it out of people’s homes is not annoying neighbors to where the neighbors report you. I’ve known probably 3 or 4 clubs over the past decades. Our club the reason we eventually ended up started in our apartment but we got up to about 30 members and that eventually began to irritate neighbors. The landlord was like, “You can’t do this anymore.”
People traipsing up the steps to your apartment with a secret knock.
You could do it out of a house at first and stuff but if you reach any moderate number of members, unless you have great neighbors, it becomes a risk of the whatever local neighbor would love to be the president of the homeowner’s association, calling and causing trouble.
Even despite these little drawbacks, we think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Do you think food buying clubs are trending?
What’s trending is alternatives to dependence on the industrial agricultural system. It’s a discussion for a different day about the millions of mysterious animal deaths and the burning down of all sorts of industrial agricultural infrastructure. P. Kennedy and I have talked about this. If you wanted to cripple the United States, you wouldn’t have to wage war on most of the nations.
If you took out two dozen of the key meat processing plants in the country, you’d bring the nation to its knees. Most Americans don’t realize that there are beef processing plants in America that are responsible for 5%, 6% or 7% of all the beef in the United States, a single slaughtering facility. You take out a couple of handfuls of the beef, chicken and pork processing. There’s no meat for anybody.
You don’t have to destroy the bridges and roads. That’s why this hardcore consolidation in the food industry is such a national security threat. We saw this during Corona where they would shut down processing plants because of cases. Within days, you had rampant meat shortages across the United States because 2 or 3 processing plants were closed. It’s causing meat shortages for the entire country. What would happen if those processing plants burned down? It was a matter of waiting out the workers’ testing clean.
Those of us who were connected to our farmers, myself included in my little buying club, didn’t even notice because we weren’t looking for meat on the grocery market shelves. We were getting it from our buying clubs. That is an amazing way to work around this single point of failure issue. This has been fascinating, John. I hate to let you go but we’re going to include this in a series that we’re doing on self-sustainability to help people be less vulnerable, should there be more crises down the line that affect our food? In light of that, I want to ask you a couple more questions. One is, do you have any other advice for people who want to become more independent and opt out of this fragile system?
When we moved out to our land, one of the reasons we did it was to look at the way the modern economy and lifestyle are built. It’s built around a dependence on ever less reliable systems. They are calling and it’s already starting in some places rolling power outages. You saw the debacle in Texas a couple of years ago. Up in Ohio, there are all these news reports that they had brownouts during the high temperatures.When we moved out here, we didn’t have a kitchen at the time. I looked at Jessica and said, “We can wash dishes in a bathtub but I can’t keep you all warm in the bathtub. I’m going to put in a wood-burning stove first and then do the kitchen second because winter is coming. If we lose power, we’re all going to freeze to death if we stay here.”
I encourage people, “Constantly build a life of resilience rather than dependence.” That’s one of the things we do here on our homestead. I have whole classes we teach on building a resilient life, small things you can do. Start small and then continue to build. A lot of this is very dependent on where you live.
It might be putting in some rain catchment, a wood stove or getting some backyard chickens.It might be putting in a root cellar or a little greenhouse but there are thousands of options in this. Choose your adventure book in building a resilient life. You got to start somewhere and begin to go through that adventure with you and yours. There are so many options for learning basic medical skills.
We have very full medical kits that let me generally take care of cuts and wounds. There are many areas you can acquire skills in that make you less dependent upon an ever less dependable system.
Do you offer any of these courses virtually?
I’m going to record some of them because I’ve had many requests to record some of the classes. I always like when people get to come in person because it’s hard to replace the tactile touch interaction with people but at the same time, with gas trending towards $6, people are like, “Record it for me and then I’ll ask you questions in a followup Zoom that you can do with the virtual participants.”
I want to pose the question I like to pose here at the end. If the reader could do one thing to improve their health, what would you recommend that they do?
For most people, get off of social media and other things. People are like, “What a hypocrite? You posted there.” By getting off social media, I mean limit and use social media well. Be a master of social media and other media rather than a slave.
Those are wonderful words to end on. I am grateful for this conversation. Thank you so much, John.
Our guest was John Moody. Visit his websites, RogueFoodConference.com and JohnWMoody.com for more information and resources. For a review from Apple Podcasts. This woman said gratefully, “My daughter-in-law told me about your show. I’ve been binge-listening ever since. There are so much wisdom, interesting topics and ideas that are challenging the way I thought the world was, along with unapologetic truth in each episode. I’m hooked on telling others about this resource.”
This makes us so happy. Thank you so much for your review. Please feel free to review us as well. Go to Apple Podcasts, click on ratings and reviews and give us as many stars as you like and tell us why you like the show. That’s it for this episode. Thank you so much for reading. Remember that all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.
About John Moody
He is a well known homesteader and farmer, and author of five books, including the Food Club and Co-op Handbook, The Elderberry Book, and the Frugal Homesteader Handbook.
John has extensive experience beating the government at its own games and helping others do the same. His buying club was the first in the nation to be raided by health authorities… and win. He has helped dozens of others across the nation do likewise.
- John Moody
- Nourishing Traditions
- Nutrition and Physical Degeneration
- Apple Podcasts – Wise Traditions
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