Local food co-op grew organically

Families pool funds to get deals with natural food buying club in Hagerstown

December 01, 2010|By TIFFANY ARNOLD |
  • Many hands make light work as Mindy Cawley, from left, Jeana Baxter and Jessica Reehl distribute packaged foods into boxes before members of Green Sanctuary Natural Foods Cooperative Buying Club pick up their orders.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

The Green Sanctuary Natural Foods Cooperative Buying Club was what happened when a bunch of Washington County moms got fed up with driving to D.C. for groceries.

Five years later, they say they’ve got more organic goods in their cupboard and more money in their wallets thanks to Green Sanctuary. The Hagerstown-based food-buying club affords members access to the same distributors that deliver goods to The Common Market, Whole Foods and other organic grocers out of Washington County’s reach.

“I wanted to eliminate my trips to the grocery store and give other people the chance to do that, too,” said founder Mindy Cawley, a Smithsburg resident and stay-at-home mother of three.

How it works

Green Sanctuary formed in 2005. Subscribers pay a one-time, $25 membership fee and are then able to order foods via an online catalogue. Cawley said Green Sanctuary had about 15 regular buyers. The idea is simple: The more families they can get to pool resources, the more each family will save on their monthly grocery bills.

“We wanted access to all the things we were driving to D.C. to buy,” said Tara Petite, a Hagers-town mom of three, who is one of Green Sanctuary’s founding families. Her son Joseph, 7, has several food allergies, which can make food shopping tricky.

Green Sanctuary has an agreement with United Natural Foods, the wholesale-distributor that serves Common Market and Whole Foods. The wholesaler makes monthly deliveries of organic packaged foods to Unitarian Universalist Church of Hagerstown, off Cearfoss Pike. Produce is delivered through organic produce co-op Tuscarora Organic Growers, based in Mercersburg, Pa. Dairy products are delivered through Trickling Springs Creamery in Chambersburg, Pa.

Produce and milk are delivered weekly and must be picked up from a designated location.

Why you can’t just go to the store

Food-buying clubs emerged out of need. A decade ago, you probably weren’t going to find what you were looking for at a major grocery store if you had food allergies or simply preferred eating organic food.

Cawley said she chooses to feed her family organic, locally-produced foods because she thought it was the right thing to do.

“I think it’s definitely a safer, healthier way to eat,” she said. “It’s better for the environment.”

But this was no easy feat 10 years ago.

Cawley said that before moving to Washington County several years ago, shopping for organic, locally grown produce meant having to make the 40-minute drive from her home in Union Bridge, Md., to the Common Market in Frederick, Md.

Ultimately, she decided to join an organic food-buying club in Carroll County, Md.

“I figured I’d be spending $600 a month on groceries and not getting a lot of organic,” Cawley said. “And when we went to this, I was spending $400 a month and getting 90 percent of my stuff organic.”

Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture considers organic farming to be one of the fastest growing segments of U.S. agriculture. Organics also have a stronger presence in major grocery stores, which could seem like a disincentive to participate in a food-buying club if the goods you’re ordering are sitting on a shelf at your local grocer.

Petite, who hosts a monthly vegetarian meetup, said it comes down to savings and access to a broader variety of products — things she said you won’t find at the local grocer.

“It’s a good thing that you’re seeing some of these things at the stores, but it comes down to saving money in my budget,” Petite said.

On the Web

Visit Green Sanctuary Natural Foods Cooperative Buying Club on the Web at

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